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 »


11 02 2012

Bertolt Brecht reputedly asked,”If the government doesn’t trust the people, why doesn’t it dissolve them and elect a new people?” While Robert Anton Wilson may have been the only person who knows where and under what circumstances Brecht coined this cynical bon mot, and Brecht certainly saw plenty of efforts by Nazi and Communist governments alike to put it into practice, word that a government is undertaking this program never loses its appall, and the latest place where this practice appalls me is Syria, where the government has so far killed around 6,000 people in an attempt to “continue the beatings until morale improves,” and the UN has said things are so chaotic that it is not going to even attempt to keep track of the number of dead.

Syria, like the rest of the Middle East, is no stranger to such campaigns.  When the Ottomans wanted to kill mass numbers of Armenians without having to work too hard, they just sent them out into the Syrian desert to starve.  The population of Syria’s neighbor, Palestine, has been the subject of slow-motion strangulation by the Israelis for over sixty years, and plenty of Middle Easterners would be only too happy to see that karma rebound onto the Israelis.   In classical times, the Romans crucified Maccabean rebels by the thousands, ultimately killing somewhere between a quarter-million and a million Jewish Palestinians–and now the survivors’ descendants, osmosed into Muslims through the years, are now under the heel of their brethren who remained Jewish.  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.

More recently, in Syria’s neighbor Iraq,  ten years of American sanctions in the 90’s resulted in the deaths of over half a million Iraqis, mostly children, termed “an acceptable cost” by Democrat Secretary of State Madeline Albright, whose own children were not among the victims.  Our government’s 2003 invasion is responsible for the deaths of a million and a quarter more Iraqi civilians.   So, from a certain perspective, a mere six thousand casualties is chump change.   Meanwhile, the U.S. won’t fund abortions because so many people in our Congress and our country profess a “respect for life.”  Do I detect a disconnect here?  “Protect the unborn, but once you’re out of your momma, tough nuggies”?  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today, either.

Perhaps a more apt comparison, at least for the time being, can be found in the situation in Libya last Spring, when rebels there, with the eventual help of NATO, threw out Col. Qadhafi, at the cost of  5-10,000 lives.  By that standard, the six thousand known deaths in Syria could almost be called par for the course, but there are important internal and external differences between the two situations. There are four times more Syrians than Libyans, in a country only 1/9 the size of Libya.  The populated part of Libya is the long, narrow coastal strip, which made it easier for the initial protesters to have some territorial integrity and create an alternative government in the far east of the country right from the beginning.  The Libyan rebels were able, in effect, to barricade one end of the hall and fight with their backs to the wall of the Egyptian border.  In little, triangular Syria, the population is in the situation of a hapless amateur trapped in the wrestling ring with Hulk Hogan, who keeps attacking again and again, from any and all angles, at any time. It’s enough to get a person nervous, ya know?

Another big difference is the two countries’ standing in the international community.  Qadhafi had gone his own way, using Libya’s oil wealth to maintain its political independence.  For this reason, and because he did in fact spend a fair amount of money on social programs that actually did improve the lives of most Libyans, as long as they were willing to kowtow to him, Qadhafi had a certain cachet in international radical political circles, especially when he proposed to start asking for gold, rather than dollars, as payment for his country’s oil.  But that made him a major pariah in the West.  Threatening to deny the dollar was a far more unforgivable sin than the Lockerbie bombing or murdering his own people, and with no major power to watch his back, his fall was inevitable.

Syria, on the other hand, enjoys a fairly close relationship with several world powers.  Its relationship with Russia dates back to Soviet days, when the current dictator’s father cultivated close ties.  Many Syrians go to Russia for advanced studies, but most importantly, the Syrian army uses Russian-made weapons, purchased with their oil cash, and Russia has continued to supply Syria with killing devices even as the rest of the civilized world has attempted an arms embargo on Syria.   (Just for the record, Syria’s oil production is declining sharply.) Russia’s only military base outside the borders of the former Soviet Union is on the Syrian coast.  The Russians do not want to see this relationship upset, if at all possible, especially since they gave their Chechen population similar treatment.  If they have to do something similar to some other would-be breakaway republic, they don’t want to help set the precedent of international intervention.

China, too, is more inclined to support Syria, where it has major oil interests.  Like Russia, China also has a strong interest in discouraging internal revolts in China, where the Uyghurs and Tibetans have suffered fates similar to what Russia visited on the Chechens.  Like Russia, China does not want to give the U.N. any precedent for poking around in what it regards as its internal business, nossir.

Iran is yet a third country that is watching Assad’s back.  Iran and Syria have a longstanding close relationship, going back to Biblical days, really, but most lately renewed over the Iran-Iraq war, and Syria’s provision of a refuge for Hezbollah, which both countries employ as a proxy to keep pressure on Israel.  While the Russians provide diplomatic support, the Iranians have “boots on the ground,” providing support, training, and reputedly troops to help the Assad government kill dissenters, or anybody who lives in the same neighborhood as somebody who might be a dissenter.

Add to this the fact that Russia is the source of much of Western Europe’s fuel supply, and that China is a source of just about everything for everybody, and that makes the Europeans (and Americans) shy about jumping into a situation that might turn out to involve tightening a noose around their own necks.  Now, throw in the many similar pogroms the U.S. has countenanced–the slaughter of half a million alleged “communists” in Indonesia in the mid-sixties and the elimination of around a hundred thousand citizens of East Timor who happened to object to the seizure of their country by Indonesia are just two further examples of U.S. government-approved mass murder, in addition to the ones I mentioned above, that deny our leaders any ability to claim the moral high ground on this issue.  There are many, many more.  There is blood on Uncle Sam’s hands, and it ain’t “the blood of the lamb.”

OK, just one more example of mass deaths caused by U.S. government policy–it is now estimated that about thirty thousand Mexicans have been killed in just the last four years due to the “war on drugs” (or, in this case, the war over drug profits)–that’s a kill rate similar to what we are seeing in Syria, albeit in a country with five times Syria’s population.  The war over drug profits would be over tomorrow if marijuana were legalized and thus inexpensive enough to out-compete crack and meth.  Coca?  Talk to the Bolivians–they’ve got a plan.  But, I digress.

What the Syrian situation adds up to is a dangerous pile of kindling with the potential to spark something like World War III if it is dealt with crudely.  It looks to me like the U.S. couldn’t go in there with guns blazing to protect the civilian population without our blazing guns setting fires that cause far more damage than the intervention might prevent.  Mere hand wringing is not an acceptable alternative, either.  What would a Green foreign policy on this issue look like?

I need to preface what I am about to say by remarking that it is a  very easy for me, sitting here in the safety of America, to proclaim, and not necessarily so easy for a citizen of Homs or Damascus.

First and foremost, I believe, a Green foreign policy would support the essential nonviolence of the Syrian movement.  Bashir Assad’s brutal response to his people’s peaceful protests will, ultimately, undermine him,  but only if the protestors can maintain the moral high ground.  This is where the rubber meets the road for nonviolent resistance, the place where the bombs and artillery shells start to fall–and yet fail to instill fear in the people at whom they are aimed.  Non-violent resistance is not easy, and it is carried out with no guarantee of the personal safety, much less the success, of those who undertake it.   But if we are going to create an alternative to mass murder as a government policy, we have got to start by rejecting mass murder as a way to change governments.  That is the great challenge, and the great hope, of the situation in Syria.  A non-violent revolution there will take the wind out of the sails of Russian, Chinese, Iranian, American, Israeli and Palestinian peddlers of repression alike, and mark a new, peaceful direction for unraveling the tangled knot of Mideast tension.  Violent intervention, at best, will fuel more old scores than it settles, and at worst create a regional or even global conflagration that we can ill afford at this time of planetary environmental peril.  If the essence of the Syrian uprising can remain nonviolent, and replace Assad with a truly populist movement, it would mark a major turning point in world politics.  We need a major turning point much more than we need more violence.  It’s time for a change.

music:  Judy Collins, “Carry It On”


19 06 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew….I could write a book!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for “a fearless moral inventory.”

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

Greg Brown:  “Poor Backslider

OK, next in the 12 steps:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Making amends”–just what would that entail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music:  Roseanne Cash, “I Want a Cure


14 02 2008

This is a truly inspiring story.  What it describes needs to happen for billions of people all over the planet.

Container Farming

Organic food production
in the slums of Mexico City

by Rodrigo A. Medellín Erdmann

By the middle of the 1990s, forty million Mexicans — nearly half the total population — fell below the poverty line. And of these at least 15 million live in extreme poverty — above all in urban marginal areas like the slums of Mexico City. Some seven years ago ANADEGES, a group of some 20 autonomous NGOs, launched a project to help the people there to develop their own autonomous capacity to produce food organically in small backyards or patios, balconies, rooftops — as a way to partially counteract the poverty being imposed upon them.

The technology had to address four constraints: little or no land, little or no investment in infrastructure, no purchase of chemical inputs, and be light weight for rooftop cultivation.

Three years were spent in a quasi-experimental stage. It is important to point out that these experiments were actually a trial and error process by an amateur with no agronomic training. An expert would have probably taken a much shorter time. On the other hand, an expert agronomist would probably not have dared to experiment with such lowly technology. During the last four years, the project has been introduced to several hundred families in six different slum areas of the city.


8 02 2007

What do George Bush, Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden have in common? This is not a joke!

They all want to expand ethanol production in the U.S.

And what else do they have in common?

That shows the extent to which none of them are in touch with reality, and the extent to which they are in touch with, f’rinstance, Archer-Daniels Midland, which will benefit from rising corn prices, probably more than the corn farmers will, if history is any guide. Once again, Mr. Bush has shown his proclivity for “solving problems” by benefitting the corporatocracy, and the country’s leading Democrats have shown what whores they are by falling in line behind him, in spite of the fact that we could reduce our fuel usage by mandating higher fuel efficiency for a fraction of the cost of subsidizing ethanol production.

The simple math of turning corn into ethanol should be enough to make anyone with half a brain realize it doesn’t add up. If every single ear of corn grown in the US today were turned into ethanol, it would be enough to supplant—ta da!--twelve percent of our current gasoline usage—and leave no corn left over for corn flakes, corn bread, animal feed, or export to Mexico, which, since NAFTA, has become totally dependent on US corn production, with disastrous unintended consequences, which I’ll discuss later. For now, let’s stick with turning the entire current US corn crop into ethanol.

It takes a lot of water and a lot of natural gas to brew ethanol. Water availability in the midwest is going down, and natural gas prices are going up. At current corn and gas prices, it costs around two dollars a gallon to make ethanol, and uses three gallons of water, on top of the water that is needed to grow the corn. Ethanol advocates talk glibly of “putting another thirty million acres into production,” an area about half the size of Kansas, but where those millions of acres are going to come from is a serious concern—are we going to overturn everybody’s wetland and conservation set-asides and shelterbelts and woodlots and plant them in corn, which is the most erosive, heavy-feeding crop a farmer can grow?

That’s not sustainability, that’s ecological suicide, even without factoring in that it takes more BTU’s to produce ethanol than the ethanol provides—that’s why they use natural gas to brew it—using ethanol to make ethanol would be an out-front losing proposition.

In case you’re wondering, it takes eleven acres of corn to brew enough ethanol to supply the average American car’s fuel needs. That’s enough land to feed seven people for a year…according to one estimate, it would take an area equivalent to 97% of the surface area of the US to grow enough corn to completely switch over to ethanol. Proponents promise more efficient ethanol production from crops and technologies that have yet to be developed. There will also be pie in the sky when we die, and seventy virgins waiting in heaven for every American martyr in Iraq….but, I digress…..

And of course, increased demand for corn would drive up the prices we pay for meat and dairy products, as well as corn flakes, corn meal, and…tortillas. The nascent demand for ethanol has already driven US corn prices to their highest level in decades. Because NAFTA eliminated trade barriers between the US and Mexico, Mexican agriculture was washed away by a flood of then-cheap American corn. Now that the price is going up, the price of tortillas, Mexico’s staple food, has risen by thirty percent in the last three years, sparking food riots. Used to be, when things got tough, Mexicans just headed for El Norte, but with the border tightening up and the economy up here shutting down , Mexico is turning into a time bomb. Can you say, “failed state on our southern border,” boys and girls?

And of course, the disaster called “NAFTA” was foisted on us by the same mainstream coalition of Demopublicans and Republicrats who are now cheering for ethanol, coal gasification, and new nukes. Hey, it’s lining their pockets. Who cares if it tears up the planet? They’re rich enough to insulate themselves from the consequences, and after they die, who cares? Hell, leave the kids holding the bag! That’s the way to build character in young people!

No. The way to build character in young people is to set a good example. We need to redesign our culture—not from the top down, but from the bottom up. We need to create an economy that is not so energy intensive, one in which work and play are local. We need to recreate a culture in which we can either walk or use public transportation to get where we need to go, a culture in which we do not need ever-larger homes for ever-fewer people. We need neighborhoods in which we can share childcare and lawnmowers and garden vegetables—maybe we need to forget about the lawnmowers and keep a few sheep around to graze the lawns and keep everyone in sweaters. We need to forget about stylish new clothes and the latest kitchen gadgets, turn off the air conditioning and quit worrying so much about how we smell. There simply is no way to keep on living as we have been. We can fight it or we can work with it, but sooner or later we’ll have to change, and the sooner and more cheerfully we all do, the better off we’ll all be.

music: Julian Cope, “Ain’t No Gettin’ Round Gettin’ Round


7 04 2006

Nashville just had what may have been its biggest protest demonstration, ever. Those of us who have grown accustomed to seeing the same three hundred people at demonstrations over the last decade were left with our mouths agape at the turnout for the march protesting the proposed criminalization of illegal immigration—as many as fourteen thousand people. Even the organizers of the march were surprised—in a pre-rally story posted at the Tennessee Independent Media Center, they said they expected two thousand marchers—which would still have been one of the largest demonstrations in the history of Nashville. I mean, this town does not turn out.

But the kind of stuff my friends and I have been publicly squawking about for years is abstract compared to what our Latino cousins are facing. A majority of the U.S. House voted to make it a felony to be in this country illegally, and anyone who helped those so-called felons—family, friends, humanitarian assistance organizations—without turning them in to the authorities for imprisonment and ultimate deportation would likewise be guilty of a felony. Passage of such a measure would demand the apprehension, arrest, imprisonment, and deportation of not only the eleven and a half million illegal immigrants in this country, but of possibly millions more individuals, some of whom would be deportable, and some of whom would be native-born Americans who would instead be caught up in the snares of the federal justice system, which is already overloaded by its attempt to enforce our country’s unrealistic drug laws. And speaking of our unrealistic drug laws, these delusional immigration policies are being championed by none other than drug warrior supreme Jim Sensenbrenner, a member of the house from Wisconsin, who may regard imprisoning eleven million illegal aliens as a warmup for imprisoning twenty million marihuana smokers…but I digress….

If Mr. Senselessbrainer, Tony Tancredo and their unrealistic ilk have their way, millions of Mexicans and other Central Americans will be dumped back into their home countries, where they have no way to earn a living; the already tenuous economies of these countries, deprived of the huge sums illegal immigrants send home to support their families, would collapse even further. All of Central America would start to resemble Haiti, and Haiti—you don’t want to think about it.

With its police forces beefed up to handle this mass detention, and concentration camps—I mean detention facilities—set up to handle the arrest of nearly five percent of the country’s population, the land of the free would become a police state. I mean, not since the Nazis declared the Jews persona non grata has a country intentionally set out to incarcerate so many of its inhabitants. There have been stories floating about Halliburton being contracted to establish detention centers—we in the antiwar movement thought they were for US—silly us, they’re for the Mexicans, and for those of us in the antiwar movement who happen to help out illegal immigrants on the side—which, actually, might be a lot of us. I confess, I have. Come and get me.

And, with so many prisoners, would the government start contracting out our captured Mexicans to perform labor? After all, taking eleven million people out of the workforce would create a major labor shortage. Back to the lettuce field, Jose, but this time the government’s collecting your paycheck…

Or maybe the war on immigrants would be like the war on terror and the war on drugs—lots of spending on executive salaries and hardware, occasional high-profile arrests, but no serious attempt to round up everyone —just another club to threaten people with, one that only gets used when it’s politically convenient for the party in power.

Those who want to tighten up our borders make a lot of noise about illegals choosing to come here, without really examining why they choose to come—just as they like to spout about Muslims who hate our way of life, without looking at why—so maybe we should look at WHY these people come here.

Well, as Willie Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”

And why is the money here? It’s here because Americans have been very clever about concentrating capital, but not so wise about sharing it with the less fortunate. The immigration issue is not new—Woody Guthrie wrote “Deportees” in 1948, with the lines

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

Things got worse after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which enabled cheap U.S. farm products to be sold in Mexico and ended the Mexican government’s protection of its small farmers. The result has been devastating for rural Mexico, as people face the double bind of having no money in an economy that demands money. Even the maquiladoras, the big factories just inside Mexico that were built to import into the US, and other industries that first moved out of this country into other Central American countries, are moving on as their owners respond to the lure of cheaper labor in China and other parts of East Asia, thanks to the United States and our World Trade Organization. All you folks who are sentimental for a Democrat party administration, remember it was Bill and Al who pushed that through.

So, like moths to a flame, the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free come to America—they see our television, they think they know what to expect. Hah.

Mr. Bush, who appears to be more liberal—or is it just realistic?–about this issue than many Republicans, has cast it in terms of “jobs Americans won’t do.” That’s not the complete phrase—the real deal is, “jobs Americans won’t do for the kind of wages employers are willing to pay.” Employers like to spread the myth that higher wages for workers will have to mean higher prices for everyone, but simple economic analysis reveals that in most situations, there is plenty of room to raise wages without having a substantial impact on prices. Besides, when poorly-paid people get raises, they tend to buy basic consumer goods, which boosts the economy—except for the fact that most consumer goods are made in China these days. Oh, well.

On the other hand, are there really Americans willing to do the jobs that illegals are doing, at any rate of pay? The seven million unemployed Americans have in theory been displaced by eleven million illegal immigrants, but the geographical facts of life probably defuse this comparison. Would you leave your family in the rust belt and move to California to pick grapes and chop cotton? Would you move your family to California to do that? Twenty-first century Okies, anyone?

This is a complex issue, and there are a lot of people insisting on simple answers. They are going to be disappointed. People complain about deteriorating school and health services and blame it on our newest, frequently illegal, immigrants. The truth is that our schools and hospitals are in decline because the current government would rather play Rambo and cut taxes for the rich than take care of the least of us. They often proclaim their Christianity—the Jesus I know said, “howsoever ye treat the least of mine, is how you treat me,” and I think he’d be more likely to scourge Pat Robertson out of the temple than anoint his brow with oil—but I digress.

“Guest workers.” They want “guest workers”–people who are not going to be citizens of this country who will do our dirty work. What does it do to democracy and participation in the civic process to create a permanently disenfranchised underclass? “Guest workers”? They have those in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, don’t they? Is that the kind of country we want to become? A small, fabulously wealthy elite supported by a vast, disenfranchised underclass? That’s where we’re heading. The rich are getting richer and not just the poor but the middle class are all getting poorer. That’s about three-quarters of the country losing it. The auto companies’ dumping of their workers is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Trickle down economics, right? Only, what’s trickling down is yellow and it smells baaad. This is WTO working, this is GATT working, this is NAFTA working, this is the World Bank doing what they all set out to do—put the U.S. on the same playing field as the rest of the world. You know when American high-tech workers will be competitive with Indian and Chinese high-tech workers? When we’re willing to accept the same kind of wages they are. All these trade treaties are effecting the economic genocide of the American way of life.

But—our much-touted American way of life is based on ripping off the rest of the world. “Middle class” in America is about new cars every few years and sending your kids to college. In most of the world, middle class means you’ve got a spigot in your front yard that gives you potable water that you can haul inside in a bucket to cook and wash with. We have been flying very high for a very long time, it’s a long way down, and in my darker moments I think we may just have to get used to it. The only way to solve the illegal immigration problem may be for this country to become as impoverished as the rest of the world—then there’s no impetus for people to come here looking for work, right?

That’s all the more reason to start building local economies. Large corporations are leeches that suck the money out of communities in order to enrich their management and stockholders. Until we can redistribute those ill-gotten gains, we need to do everything we can to create a personal, face-to-face, non-corporate economy, one that keeps money in the communities it supports. This is not a program that takes a bureaucracy to administer; it just takes a lot of different people in a lot of different places figuring things out among themselves. Storm clouds are gathering, folks, it’s time to get to work. All those Spanish-speaking people who come out of the deep poverty down south have practical skills that we just might find mighty welcome in the years to come. Se habla espanol?

music: Steve Earle, “What’s a Simple Man to Do?”


For the most part I’d say you’re right on the money. But one thing I’d like to comment on is your view on “guest workers.” I am a spanish speaking white American deeply involved with the Hispanic community. One misconception about most Hispanics is that they want to become citizens or permanent residents. That is not the case. They [most] just want to be able to work here legally, with no problems, and to be able able to travel back and forth from this country to their homeland with no problems. That would be a “guest worker.” Although this situation is something that most undocumented workers would prefer, another situation arises that creates a lack of laborers in their native land, less taxable income, less local investment and entrepreneurial ventures, split and damaged families, fatherless children, abandoned wives seeking new romances… the list goes on and would be rather too long a conversation to take on here.
Posted by Caryn H on 04/24/2006 10:11:02 PM

Thanks for your perspective. From what you are saying, and from my own contacts with folks who have come up from Mexico and Central America to work, (and my own experience of having to leave the depressed area I lived in for economic reasons) I gather that most of them would prefer to stay home with their families and communities, but that this is a financial impossibility. I think the real solution is to re-create economically viable, self-sustaining cultures there as well as here, and I ain’t talking maquiladoras or Chinese timber deals! I bet it would be cheaper than current enforcement proposals and a share of the military budget. I have no problem with their desire to stay connected with their home culture, I just don’t think that having a lot of people in this country who “just work here” is good for the country.

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