CORPORATISM WITH THE GLOVES OFF

15 01 2017

Last month, I went on so long on the question of “how did we get here?” that I didn’t have time to address my next two questions,“What is the nature of this “here?” we now find ourselves in?” and  “Can we/How do we change this “here” into a different, happier ‘here’?” I’m going to address that second question–the nature of our new environment–this month. I’m also going to examine just how much choice we really had about this change.

Trigger warning: I’m going to talk about “the big O” a lot in this post–no, not the anime series, not Oscar Robertson, not that “big O.” I’m going to talk about oligarchy.

Trump has made it abundantly clear that his show of sensitivity to the needs of disgruntled, formerly or still barely middle class white Americans, was a huckster’s trick to draw in the marks. His promise to “drain the swamp” was nothing more than campaign rhetoric, like Ms. Clinton’s claim to be against the Trans-Pacific Partnership she had spent so much time promoting as Secretary of State, or her alleged concern for the welfare of that same sorta-middle class that Mr. Trump was wooing. More on that later. Trump not only isn’t draining the swamp, he’s bringing in bigger, hungrier alligators. His initial cabinet selections, if they are confirmed, constitute the wealthiest Presidential cabinet ever assembled, most have clearly made their fortunes by squeezing the common people, and none show any signs of remorse for their ruthlessness.

For example, Wilbur Ross, who may be our next Secretary of Commerce, made a good bit of his 2.5 billion dollar fortune through corporate raiding–buying companies that were in trouble and putting them through bankruptcy, which involves shedding workers, lowering wages, and reneging on pension plans. He iced his money cake by making millions in the mortgage bubble that prefaced the financial crash of 2008, and was further enriched by the policies Wall Street’s friend, Barack Obama, put into practice, which bailed out the banks and left homeowners hung out to dry. In The Nation magazine, David Dayan comments on this Read the rest of this entry »





THE DEMOCRATS ARE THE NEW REPUBLICANS…CAN THE GREENS BECOME “THE NEW DEMOCRATS”?

11 09 2016

Today’s date, September 11th, is, to borrow President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words, “a day that will live in infamy.” On this date in 1973, Salvador Allende, the Bernie Sanders of Chile, salvadorallende_251who, unlike Bernie, had succeeded in become his country’s President, was killed in a military coup that had the full backing of the United States and especially our then-Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. The Chilean military, with the assistance of the United States, didn’t just take out Allende. They jailed, tortured, and murdered thousands of Chileans, and forced tens of thousands more into exile. The US then used Chile as a base for “Operation Condor,” which orchestrated the murder of thousands of mostly non-violent left-wing activists all over South America, most notoriously in Argentina, where “the dirty war” killed at least thirty thousand people. That’s a US government program, directly approved by Henry Kissinger, that targeted people like me and, probably, people like you. So, when I think about Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly declared her admiration for Henry Kissinger, being President, when I notice the approbation with which her followers greet any mention of her faults or approval of the Green Party, when I read that a Clinton-supporting PAC has budgeted a million dollars to pay Clinton supporters to harass Sanders supporters and Greens on the internet, I start feeling a little nervous, and since today is the anniversary of the Chilean Bernie Sanders being murdered by Hillary Clinton’s inspiration, this becomes a more emotionally charged anniversary than it would be if a protegée of Henry Kissinger were not so likely to be our next President. Donald Trump is dangerous because he doesn’t really seem to have a plan.

readyforoligarchy

Do not think about a Green Party!

Ms. Clinton, on the other hand, is dangerous because she does seem to have a plan–and it’s not one she’s sharing with the general public. With a horde of pundits and bloggers ready and willing to bend the truth to discredit any criticism of her, not to mention discrediting the critics themselves, I start wondering if we have a “Ministry of Truth” in our future.

 

Oh yeah, it’s also the fifteenth anniversary of the day a bunch of Saudis apparently hijacked several US airliners and flew them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, killing a mere three thousand people. OK, it was three thousand all at once, not one by one, but…. Anyway, because the Saudis did that, the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. If that makes sense to you, then you can accept the World Trade Center story exactly as the mainstream media portray it. It doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t accept the story, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. The Allende-Kissinger story is much more apropos. Read the rest of this entry »





ROMBOMACARE INDUCES EPIDEMIC OF LONG-TERM MEMORY LOSS!!

7 07 2012

i was much less surprised than most people, it seems, when the Supreme Court, in one of its notorious 5-4 decisions, upheld the so-called “national health care plan” that has become known, among both its revilers and defenders, as “Obomacare.”  My lack of surprise came from two considerations:  what this law mandates, and where it originated.  What is surprising to me is the seemingly complete lack of public awareness of the broader context of this struggle.  But hey, this blog is called “Deep Green Perspective,”  not “Shallow Green Snap Judgement,” so if you’ve been following me for a while, it’s because you expect the long view.  Here goes.

Obamacare was upheld by the widely unexpected swing vote of Chief Justice John Roberts.  It makes perfect sense to me that Roberts would vote to uphold this godsend for the private insurance industry.  The Bush-Cheney stacked Supreme Court has never turned down an expansion of corporate power, has it?  So, in a sense, this decision was an extension of “Citizens’ United.”  Not only do “corporate citizens” have the “right” to spend freely in order to influence elections and legislation, those of us who are mere flesh-and-blood citizens  must give them our money so they have plenty of funds to expand their prerogatives.

But the really bizarre part of all this political drama is that everybody seems to have forgotten where the basis of “Obamacare” originated.  Republicans denounce it as “socialism,” Republican governors vow to do what they can to block its implementation in their states–which they can do, since part of the Supremes’ decision struck down the part of the law that mandated expansion of Medicare, and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney vows to repeal the law if he is elected.  On the other side, Democrats cheer the Supremes’ decision, viewing it as a somewhat unexpected “liberal” victory.

All this sturm-und-drang conveniently ignores, or forgets, the actual origins of Obama’s health plan.  May I remind you that Obama got the basics of it from the plan Mitt Romney passed when he was governor of Massachusetts?  It should be called “Romboma Care”–credit where credit is due! And may I remind you that Romney received the plan from the Angel Moroni–oo;s, no, that’s the Joseph Smith story–but, by the way, what does it mean that the Founding Angel of the Mormon faith has a name so dangerously close to a derogatory term for a person with a dull intellect?  But I digress….The plan Romney passed in Massachusetts originated with the deeply reactionary Heritage Foundation, spiritual home of Newt Gingrich, founded by Joe Coors, Paul Weyrich, and Richard Mellon Scaife.  The Heritage Foundation, whose patron saint is Margaret Freaking Thatcher.  Moloch!

thanks to the Platzner Post for this!

And so, all America’s Democrat Party “liberals” are celebrating a Democrat President’s implementation of a reactionary, corporatist “health care plan,” as if it were a great victory.  And somewhere, Spiro Agnew, who is reputed to have predicted, “This country is going to swing so far to the right that you won’t believe it,” somewhere Spiro Agnew smiled. Read the rest of this entry »





OBAMONSANTO AND OTHER INCONVENIENT TRUTHS

7 07 2012

A few months back, President Obama announced a three billion dollar  U.S. initiative “to help Africa feed itself, “which is a noble goal, but the devil was all over his details.  The first detail to note is that three billion dollars is a third of one percent of our country’s military budget.  About one day of our military spending to help the starving Africans.  Whoopee!

There were two major prongs to this plan. Two-thirds of the money,  (That’s about sixteen hours worth of military spending.)will be given to a European chemical company to build a fertilizer factory in Africa, which would use natural gas to create massive quantities of ammonium nitrate, which is a powerful explosive as well as a fertilizer.  (Remember the Oklahoma City Federal Building?  The first attempt on the World Trade Center?).  The second prong will introduce Monsatan’s GMO seeds to African farmers, “to increase their yields.”     This from the guy whose wife scored big publicity points by putting an organic vegetable garden at the White House.

Both these prongs are going to do a lot more harm than good.  The manufacture of ammonium nitrate fertilizer is an energy-intensive, CO2-producing process whose result is a bag of white crystals that, not unlike cocaine, provide a short-term boost, but, in the long-term, have a deleterious effect–in the case of ammonium nitrate, the impoverishment of the soil to which it is applied.  The high levels of ammonia in ammonium nitrate burn out soil micro-organisms, leading to depletion of organic matter and a decrease in the soil’s fertility and ability to hold water.  The short-term solution, as with cocaine, is to apply a bigger dose of white crystals.  Sooner or later, the excess nitrogen starts leaching into the water supply, which exacerbates the problem by polluting the water and making people sick.

.  Then, too, the fertilizer must be purchased, a financial demand that can have disastrous consequences for small farmers in the third world.  We’ll look more deeply at that soon.  For now, let’s just point out that placing  increased financial pressure on cash-strapped, subsistence farmers in the name of “improving their lives” is either cynical or naive.  Time and time again, there have been demonstration projects and studies showing that the best way to improve the lives of subsistence farmers and the communities they feed is to help them find ways to increase the “circularity” of their farming, by increasing their use of local, organic inputs such as plant, animal, and human waste, and by returning to non-mechanized farming methods that require more labor and less machinery and fossil fuels.  Neither the fact that we are running out of inexpensive ways to create those white crystals, nor the fact that producing the white crystals is destroying the soil and the atmosphere, seems to enter into the calculations of those who proclaim the superiority of white-crystal style farming–f’rinstance, President Obama, or Presidential wanna-be Romney.

The second prong of the fork with which our corporatocracy wishes to stick the people of Africa is the introduction of GMO seeds.  There’s two really bad things about GMO seeds.  The first is their toll on the humans who use them, and the second is the way their use destroys the land in which they are planted.  We have only to look to India to see what the President and his cronies are promising to deliver to Africa.  What we see in India is over 200,000 small farmers driven to suicide, often by the debts they incurred to buy GMO seeds and the chemical inputs necessary to grow them–not just the aforementioned fertilizer, but herbicides and pesticides that they lack the technology to apply “safely,” even in the manufacturer’s loose terms.   Third-world farmers have traditionally saved their own seed, but it is illegal to save the patented GMO seeds, and frequently impractical as well, for, if the seed is a hybrid, it will either fail to produce fertile seed,  or fail to produce a uniform variety–but you’re not supposed to even try planting them, because they’re patented.  Intellectual property rights must be respected, y’know!   So, when Obama talks about “helping” African farmers with chemical inputs, he’s talking about inducing a rash of debt-driven suicides.  Hey, that’ll clear the playing field and help solve the overpopulation problem, right?!  More on that perverse idea later.  Back to GMO crops.

Herbicide use itself is highly problematic.  Roundup, the go-to herbicide for GMO crops, is very nonspecific in its effects.  It kills soil microflora just as readily as it kills broadleaf weeds and grasses, and thus is highly detrimental to soil.  And, just as with ammonium nitrate, its production is energy-intensive and carbon-expensive.

So, to sum up, when we strip the facade from the President’s feel-good call to help foster agriculture in Africa, we find a plan that is likely to further impoverish the continent’s vast majority of smallholders, drive them from their land, and wreak havoc with the land’s ability to support plant life.  So, who does benefit from this kind of “help”?

One group that is helped by alienating traditional people from their land base is foreign investors, both private and national, who are increasingly looking to Africa as a place to grow food to export, rather than to feed the hungry close at hand.  China and other countries are making deals with debt-pressed, cash-starved governments, deals that involve the displacement of thousands of people from millions of acres in order to grow crops that will not feed Africans.

The other big beneficiary of Obama’s policy is the Monsanto Corporation.  It is relevant to note, at this point, the “revolving door” nature of Monsanto’s relationship with the government. At least 35 individuals, representing both of the US’s major political parties, have been both on Monsanto’s payroll and the government’s, albeit not at the same time, as far as we know.  We’re talking about some big fish here–Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Hillary Clinton both worked for Monsanto when they were private practice lawyers.  Searle Chemical Company-CEO Donald Rumsfeld  (remember him?) was paid a twelve million dollar bonus by Monsanto when it acquired Searle, giving Monsanto the right to produce the carcinogenic artificial sweetener aspartame  (“Nutrasweet”). after Rummy pulled strings to get it approved for human use, but that’s another story.

The Africa deal is not the only example of  Obama’s–and our whole government’s– apparent willingness to go to bat for Monsanto.    Attempts to pass laws allowing labeling of GMO foods, dairy products containing bovine growth hormones, and limiting the spread of GMO seeds have been shot down, and research suggesting that their widespread use might have serious negative effects has been suppressed., both in the current administration and the last several governments, no matter who was supposedly in charge.

Monsanto’s willingness to play with both major US political parties leads to another question.  Should we really blame Barack Obama for all this?  Or is he a genuinely well-intentioned guy, who thought he could make change happen by being elected President, but found, when he arrived, that his real role was to play spokesman for an unelected shadow government?  As Robert Anton Wilson put it, “was the new President shown a video of the Kennedy assassination from an angle he’d never seen it from before, and told ‘you’ve got a nice family.  Play along with us and nobody gets hurt.'”?  Perhaps.  A friend of mine who is an old smoking buddy of Al Gore’s tells me that Al told him in 1992 that Al and Bill knew the office they were running for was more ceremonial than executive, but they hoped to be able to make a slight difference in the direction of things.  We all know how that turned out.   (And remember, Gore had already written and become somewhat famous for  Earth in the Balance, which, along with Albert Bates’ Climate in Crisis was one of the first books to call popular attention to the mess we are tangled in now.)  Perhaps frustration with his figurehead status accounts for Gore’s lackluster run for President in 2000 and his subsequent flowering, at a convenient distance from politics.

So, maybe Barack Obama regrets his decision to become a kinder, gentler  face for the corporatocracy than Dick Cheney and that guy he was with, but we may never know, because, like Clinton and Gore before him, he fears for his safety and his family’s safety far too much to ever spill those beans.

But, whatever the unspeakable truth may be about Barack Obama’s motivations and intentions, the inconvenient truth is that the African policy for which he is at the very least serving as a charming mouthpiece is not a policy that will benefit Africa.  It is just another corporate iron hand in another velvet glove, grabbing for what’s left of the wealth of the continent that gave birth to us all, a corporate iron hand that doesn’t care who or what it crushes as long as it ends up with a fistful of dollars.  And that’s the inconvenient truth about the Obama administration’s “African initiative.”

music:  Terry Allen, “Big Ol’ White Boys





U.S. GOVERNMENT DROWNED IN BATHTUB!

13 08 2011

Nashville’s municipal elections are over, and to nobody’s surprise, there were few surprises.  All incumbents save one were handily re-elected,including Jason Holleman,  and the measure to obstruct sale of the Fairgrounds to a private developer was passed by a truly impressive margin.  There will be five runoff elections in September, with participation likely to be even lower than the 20% turnout for this election.  May I point out that instant runoff voting,” a system in which people get to indicate a second choice as well as a first, ends the expense and bother of delayed runoff elections?  Just sayin’, as they say.

The one incumbent who failed to make the cut was Anna Page, a fairgrounds privatization advocate whose district just happens to include the fairgrounds.  She lost by twelve votes to Tony Tenpenny, who opposed redeveloping the fairgrounds but is, alas, a political conservative.  It’s funny how people can be in touch with reality in some ways, and out of touch in others–and I’m sure there are people who say that about me–or worse.  But….losing by only twelve votes.  Think about that.  I’m sure Ms. Page is.

I actually voted against the Fairgrounds amendment, but only because it seemed to require that auto racing continue at the Fairgrounds. I view automobile racing as one of the many modern equivalents of gladiator sports, as well as a prodigious waste of precious fossil fuels and a nasty source of pollution, so, while I was in sympathy with the overall aim of the preservationists, I couldn’t see voting for something that dumb.  But I don’t mind a bit that the measure passed.  The will of the people–to keep public property public–prevailed, at least in this case.

Nationally, we were not so lucky.  In spite of overwhelming popular sentiment for higher taxes on both wealthy corporations and wealthy real people, and growing questions about the wisdom of massive military spending, the debt ceiling deal our so-called government agreed to is a complete reverse-Robin Hood measure that shifts even more of this country’s dwindling wealth from the poor and middle class to the obscenely wealthy.

Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wants to “shrink the government down to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  Well, folks, that’s what happened, and we didn’t even have to elect a Republican President to do it.  Mr. Hope and Change wrung his hands and tsk-tsked, but ultimately did nothing to stop it, like an abused wife who doesn’t like it when her husband beats the kids, but isn’t going to call the police on him.  After all, he says he’s sorry and gives the kids candy, doesn’t he?

In fact, you might be excused for thinking that Obama, deep down, wouldn’t mind getting rid of that pesky kid known as “government spending for the public good.”  Not so long ago, he appointed a commission to review Social Security and Medicare, and even his supporters complained that it seemed strangely stacked against our country’s already tattered social safety net.

But, before we get into the messy details, let’s back up and remember that Democrats and Republicans unquestioningly raised the debt ceiling for the Cheney/Bush junta seven times during the eight years of the junta’s rule, nearly doubling US debt–which stood at just under $6 trillion when Bill Clinton left office, and had ballooned to $11.3T by the time Cheney left office.  And did the Republicans insist on “fiscal responsibility” in exchange for those raises?

No.  Cheney cut taxes (mostly on the wealthy) twice, floated an unfunded, enormously expensive subsidy to the prescription drug industry disguised as a way to help Medicare recipients buy the drugs they are told they need, and burned nearly a trillion dollars in the bonfires called Iraq and Afghanistan, fires that the Obama administration has cheerfully continued to feed with our tax dollars and loans from the Chinese.

The Nobel Committee must be wondering if they can revoke a Nobel Peace Prize.

I digress–like every other real solution to America’s problems, ending our spending on foreign military adventures is “off the table.”

Back to the debt ceiling/budget cuts question–the point is, that it was completely disingenuous, if not outright hypocritical, of the Republicans to suddenly stand up for “fiscal responsibility” around the issue of raising the debt ceiling.  It has never been tied to budget cuts before–and we’re talking 74 raises in the debt ceiling since 1962–that’s quite a precedent, so it’s no wonder  many of Obama’s liberal supporters were flabbergasted when he failed to challenge the Republicans on this, and instead played right into their hands.  You start to suspect he’s secretly one of them.

Look at his record.  He didn’t prosecute anybody on Wall Street for the crash–in fact, the Wall Street firms that triggered the crash are among his strongest supporters, and their executives became his closest advisers.  By contrast,  when the Savings and Loan bubble burst twenty years ago, thousands of bankers went to jail, over a financial peccadillo that was a fraction the size of the 2008 mess–$160 billion for the S&L’s,  $7.7 trillion for the subprime bubble.  Do the math–the 2008 crash was 48 times bigger than the S&L crash, and nobody went to jail.   Can’t say the bankers didn’t learn a thing or two in twenty years!  To cap it off, not only did Obama continue Bush’s policy of bailouts for the Wall Street firms who milked the economy, his program to help individuals who were losing their homes because they had been suckered into unrepayable mortgages turned out to be a useless piece of window dressing.

There’s the war crimes issue.  Obama not only took a pass on prosecuting Bush officials for atrocities they were clearly responsible for under international law, he continued and expanded those policies, including the assassination of American citizens who might be terrorists–but only ones who are out of the country, so far, so far as we know-.  What part of “innocent until proven guilty” and “right to a fair trial” does our government not understand?

When Bradley Manning tried to blow the whistle on our government’s criminal behavior, the Obama administration just put him in jail and tortured him.   Trial?  Manana.  What part of “a right to a speedy trial” does our government not understand?   And of course, Manning is only one of many who have been persecuted by this “hope and change” guy for the thoughtcrime of hoping to change questionable government behavior.

But it’s not like Obama has changed.  In one of his first Senate speeches, on the question of whether to investigate voting irregularities in Ohio that cost John Kerry the election, Obama asserted that he believed Bush had won the election fair and square and there was no need for the Senate to look into the matter, thus stiffing the Congressional Black Caucus.  That should have been enough to sink him right there, but no……

Obama wasted no time in putting GMO-pusher Monsatan–excuse me, Monsanto–in charge of the nation’s food supply by appointing Monsanto shill Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.  Again, a totally Republican move–let the corporations run the government–“what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  Right.  But gee, Michelle has an organic garden at the White House–say it again, boys and girls:  “Window dressing.”

Our increasingly erratic climate is another crucial issue on which Obama’s approach has been to continue Republican policy, but with a kinder, gentler spin.  In spite of the Deepwater Horizon mess, his administration has approved the even more dangerous step of offshore drilling north of Alaska. In spite of Fukushima (not to mention Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island!), he remains committed to serious expansion of nuclear power.  After acting like he was going to slow down coal mining, which every responsible environmental scientist agrees needs to happen to keep the planet from going completely haywire, his administration has kept on approving mountain top removal mining, just like Bush (and Clinton) before him.  At Copenhagen, according to Albert Bates, who was there, Obama sabotaged the possibility of a real agreement and spun it like he had accomplished something.  This stands in sharp contrast to the Cheney-Bush approach, of course–they just sneered and hoisted the bird.  Some people loved it and some people hated it–but you know, the same is true of the public’s reaction to Obama–it’s just that the demographics of the lovers and haters has flipped.

It’s ironic–Obama is giving the Republicans everything they want, but can’t get when they’re in power.  Well, OK, abortion is still relatively legal and they said they weren’t going to defend the Defense of (Heterosexual-exclusive) Marriage Act–but ultimately, that’s just more window-dressing–and besides, they’re deporting  an Australian man who’s legally married to another man and citing DOMA as the reason.  Oh gee, they’ve declared that health insurance has to cover women’s’ birth control?  Great, if you can afford insurance–and, by the way, another subsidy for the pill-pushers.

Let’s take a music break–here’s a little James McMurtry for ya…a song called “God Bless America.”

So, the Republicans are on a roll.  They’re going to make sure that we don’t levy any taxes on wealthy Americans, whom they have renamed “job creators,” even though these so-called “job creators” haven’t created any jobs to speak of, lately, and in fact have been abolishing every American job they can possibly outsource for the last twenty-five years.  Rich people are “job creators”?  Can you say “big lie,” boys and girls?  How about “doublespeak”?

And reducing the debt by reducing taxes is another kind of double speak–the rate at which the government taxes the wealthy and big corporations has effectively declined by two-thirds over the last fifty years. Instead of raising money from taxation, the government generates income by selling treasury bonds, often to the rich people it used to tax.  This has the effect of reversing the cash flow–instead of corporate/high earner taxes going to help fund government operations, taxes from the middle class go to pay off the government’s debt to the wealthy.  In other words,cutting taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans drives the government deeper into debt–debt that will have to be paid off by the middle class, under the tax regime that has been imposed on us.

The Republicans have made it clear, and the Obama administration has pretty much agreed, that cuts to the military portion of our budget–which is about half of it–are off the table.  But, somehow, in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to be funded independently of the main part of the government’s budget, Social Security is on the table.  Services offered by Medicare and Medicaid are likely to be cut–without any attempt to limit the profits of the pharmaceutical and illness care industries, even though that’s a major factor in increased medical costs.  The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Education, and all Health and Human Services programs will likely be given a serious trimming.  Bottom line:  if you’re poor or middle class, and need help, there’s going to be a lot less help available–medically, educationally, and environmentally.

I have often been, and continue to be, sharply critical of the conduct of many of these government agencies.  They tend to be corporate-friendly, heavy-handed, and resistant to radical innovation–but they need to be reformed, not abolished or hamstrung.  Simply shutting them down will result in a tidal wave of corporate abuse of the environment, shoddy treatment of American citizens–the latest food contamination news is that Cargill has had to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey, while the FDA was busy sending in armed storm troopers to arrest the head of a small raw-food co-op whose products hadn’t made anyone sick.  In a better world, it would be the head of Cargill who was getting perp-walked, and those who wish to produce or drink raw milk would be free to do so without fear of arrest.  And, of course, in an even better world, there would be no Cargill and we would all live within a few miles of a producing dairy cow and some free-range turkeys.  But we’re not there yet.  I hope I live to see the day!

That last paragraph reminds me of one of my pet peeves–the fact that Americans are far more often referred to as “consumers” than as “citizens.”  We need to change that meme.  “Consumers” implies a level of passivity–a “consumer” brings to mind the image of an overgrown baby suckling at a corporate bottle.  (Corporate persons do not have teats, after all!) and periodically needing to have its poop taken care of.  “Citizens,” on the other hand, participate actively in civic life, take care of their own poop and take care not to take any poop from the government OR private industry.  I would have a lot less problem with the Tea Party if they were as hard on corporations as they are on the government.  But, at this point, the Tea Party is a puppet of corporations who want to use populist outrage to smash the only thing standing in the way of corporate domination of America.  Barack Obama, alas, is not enough of a David to stand up to this Goliath.

And that gets us back to–what can we do about the orgy of destruction that the Republicans and their Democrat enablers have unleashed on the country?  One thing we can do is to challenge it, every step of the way–politically, legally, and by where we spend our money and how we spend our time.

Politically, there has been a noticeable uptick in interest in the Green Party, as the illusion of difference between Democrats and Republicans becomes plainer to more people.  Legally, the situation is somewhat daunting, due to Democratic complicity in the Republicans’ appointment of outright fascists to the courts and the Republicans’ unhesitating blockage of any even slightly-liberal-leaning Democrats to those positions, but some legal redress of grievances is still possible.

We need to remember the example of Vaclav Havel, who started out as a beatnik-hippie poet, courageously defending his right to own Velvet Underground records and publish weird poetry against the Monolithic, All-Powerful, Communist State, and, who, over the course of twenty years, sparked a revolutionary change in the outlook of the people of the former Communist bloc that ultimately toppled a once-monolithic, all-powerful state.  If they could do it, so can we.

At the personal level, the level of our own time and our own money, it’s important to cultivate skills of self-reliance, to simplify our lives, and help our friends do the same.  Everybody has different innate talents and developed skills, and, just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a couple of hundred real, live, fully-present people to make a village.  That looks to me like where we’re headed.  I’m not sure how we’ll get there.  But that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it?

music:  Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat”





I, ME, ME, MINE

13 03 2011

I don’t know what Jules Dervaes was thinking when he trademarked the phrases “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading.”  I don’t know how he managed to convince somebody at the trademark bureau that he was the originator of these terms and of the techniques they cover.   He did not originate these terms, nor did he originate the practices they describe.  I suppose this is indicative of the vast cultural divide that exists in America:  to those of us who have been urban homesteaders over  the last forty years, the movement is widespread and deep; to somebody who lives inside the beltway (mentally if not geographically) and commutes to the copyright office, we are apparently invisible, and Dervaes was the first person who brought our movement to his attention.

Anyway, since getting his trademark, Dervaes has been acting like a bully, sending threatening letters to long-established urban homesteading groups and authors, getting Facebook pages banned, and generally making it harder for urban homesteaders to network with each other.  Will somebody please put a pie in this guy’s face?

The urban homesteaders who have been blocked on Facebook have started a “Take Back Urban Homesteading” Facebook group, as well as a petition to revoke Dervaes’ trademark.

A bizarre twist is that Dervaes shut down these Facebook sites alleging violation of “copyright,” but there is an important legal difference between “trademark” and “copyright.”  None of these sites used any of Dervaes’ copyrighted writings, but Facebook shut them down anyway, and says it won’t allow “urban homesteading” pages unless Dervaes withdraws his complaint, which he shows no sign of doing.  This is a disturbing precedent for Facebook–does it mean that Monsanto can use its trademark to get Facebook to bump pages like Millions Against Monsanto by OrganicConsumers.org, Say NO to MONSANTO, and Exposing Monsanto,  just to name a few?

Fortunately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has joined the fray on the side of freeing “Urban Homesteading,” putting their considerable legal resources to work and adding the Dervaes Institute to their “Hall of Shame.”  (EFF, by the way, was started by Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow….makes me glad “the music never stopped”! )

Dervaes did not originate the term “urban homesteading.”  Recently I was looking at a 1980 copy of the Whole Earth Catalog, which has a couple of pages devoted to “urban homesteading.”  At Dervaes’ website, a “history” page indicates that in 1980 Jules D.was  practicing rural homesteading in Florida, and did not move to Los Angeles and begin homesteading in an urban area until 1985.  So no, he didn’t coin the term.  And no, I’m not giving you a link to his website.  He can toot his own horn.  I ain’t gonna help him.

And yes, “urban homestead/ing” is in widespread use. At the “Urban Homestead” website, the opening statement reads, ” Since 1992, we have helped supply home orchardists with some of the best apple trees ever grown.”   An internet search yields 258,000 mentions of “urban homesteading,” and the the Dervaes are not at the head of the list.  Jealous, Jules?  Ruby Blume, of the Oakland Institute of Urban Homesteading, told me in a telephone interview that she had never heard of the Dervaes family before she got a letter from them recently, informing her of their 2010 copyright.  Blume’s Institute of Urban Homesteading has been up and running since 2008.  She wrote them back, requesting more information and informing them that she intends to contest their trademark.  She has yet to receive a reply.

Trademarking “urban homestead” is akin to trademarking “alternative energy” or, for that matter, “home bible study.”  For Dervaes to attempt to prevent anyone else from using the term is, simply put, nuts.  Bill Mollison couldn’t copyright “permaculture” because it had already be become common enough to be in the dictionary before he applied for the copyright, and he is quite clearly both the inventor of the term and the codifier of the practices involved.  The Green Party has been unable to trademark “Green Party” because there is just one other group in the country that calls itself “The Green Party.”  There are dozens of authors and local groups who use the phrase “urban homesteading” to describe their work, or in the titles of their books.  How could Dervaes get away with such arrogant nonsense?

Even Eric Pelton, the lawyer who helped Dervaes obtain the trademark admitted, in an unrelated interview, that

“Weak trademarks are descriptive or generic words. Generic words like ‘laptop’ for computers or ‘quick subs’ for a sandwich shop are very very weak trademarks and are only entitled to minimal, at best, protection.”

Or “weak, generic terms”  like “urban homestead,” for that matter?  Just because a lawyer will take your money, doesn’t mean he thinks you’re right.  In that light, it’s probably significant that Jules Dervaes, and not Eric Pelton, is the originator of the effort to shut down “rival” urban homesteading sites.

Here’s Dervaes’ defense of his trademark move:

“as the popularity of Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading increased and began to label everything from television productions to big agriculture products, we couldn’t shake the warning bells in our minds. You tell us… who would you rather own the trademarks? Us or a big business corporation?”

But Dervaes has not gone after big corporations.   He has gone after other urban homesteaders who have written books or established educational organizations, a  farmers’ market,  Facebook groups of urban homesteaders,  a library, and a community radio station.  No big guys, just little guys.  In the press release I just quoted, Dervaes ironically refers to Wikipedia to define what he is doing, rather than to anything he wrote himself.  The Wiki article has numerous links to urban homesteading sites, but only mentions Dervaes in relation to his effort to trademark the term.

Can you say “credibility gap,” boys and girls?

Some of what this story is about is that urban homesteading, as most of us who engage in or encourage the practice are aware,  is not just a set of material techniques.  The urban homesteading movement–and the rural homesteading movement,  too, for that matter–is  about creating a community, and about creating community consciousness.  The Dervaes family, in contrast, has never had much to say about creating community.

Nobody else who uses the term ” urban homesteading” has attempted to trademark it because it makes no sense to most of us to get territorial over language. Creative Commons is more our style than copyright and trademark.

At a deeper level, too, Dervaes’ ego trip demonstrates that technique is not enough.  To create a new paradigm, we need to purify our own consciousness first, or we will just end up creating the same mess we were attempting to escape.

This story also fits into a still wider question, the question of “intellectual property rights.”  I don’t have time to go deeply into this issue right now, but here’s a quickie about it:

There’s a place for intellectual property rights.  If you actually create a technology or a piece of music or a book or a photograph, you should be able to control its use.  Part of that control should certainly involve getting paid for your  effort and inspiration if somebody else is using it to make money for themselves.  It’s OK to prevent others from stealing the results of your own efforts.

Our trademark and copyright laws, however, have been taken to such an extreme that they threaten to cut us off from our cultural heritage. For instance, if you want to perform or record a Beatles song, you have to make arrangements with the estate of Michael Jackson, who bought the Beatles’ song rights in 1985.  Even if you have no plans to make money from use of a Beatles song, you must pay to perform or record it.  Never mind that Paul and John’s heirs will do fine for the rest of their lives and then some without another penny of royalties, and that most of the money actually goes to a bunch of lawyers.  You got to pay,

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, won my cheers when, in an interview on NPR, he said that he would love to buy the rights to the Beatles’ songs and release them into the public domain so that everybody could play them.  Then the economy fell apart, and it never happened, but it was one of those great radio moments.

Another example–some friends of mine are trying to put on a grassroots music festival,  which they are calling “The Black Swan Alternative Arts and Music Festival.”  It’s really more of a big open party than a commercial event, BUT they are getting hassled by ASCAP to pay royalties up front, even though most, if not all, the music that will be played will be originals, if not downright improvised on the spot, and most of the bands are playing for free.    My friends are just a couple of poor hippies trying to throw a party, and they’re getting jacked around, held to standards that are pretty irrelevant to what they’re trying to do by an outfit that, like that hapless dude in the copyright bureau, hasn’t got a clue about what’s going on out here on the other side of the cultural divide.

My standard answer to bureaucratic hassles like the Dervaes’ stink bombs and ASCAP’s legal threats is that the system that upholds such bizarre legalities is already coming apart at the seams, or, as with the mega-earthquake in Japan the other day, the fault lines, and all we have to do is be patient.

But even a creature in its death throes can do some damage.  Sometimes we can’t ignore crassness and stupidity, because they thrust themselves in our faces, our websites,  our wallets, or sometimes even our pants.  (Can you say “‘right to life'”, boys and girls?)

At such times, we have to depend on whatever level of inner peace and stability we have built into ourselves, trust that we will respond as appropriately as we can, pay close attention, and learn from what happens so that we, unlike so many in our crazed society, don’t end up doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result.

In urban homesteading, just likethe rest of life, the most important thing to cultivate is our own sanity.

music:  The Beatles, “I, Me, Me, Mine”





OBAMONSANTO

8 01 2011

People who like to consider themselves “liberals” and “progressives” and who are still clinging to the idea that Obama is somehow “our man in the White House” are willing to go to great lengths to retain their belief.  And even this hardened Obama skeptic has to admit that he is “kinder and gentler” than his ham-fisted predecessors, whom I was fond of referring to as a ‘junta.”  (After all, Cheney and Bush only got themselves “elected” by jiggering the system, to put it mildly.)  You may have noticed that I don’t refer to “the Biden-Obama junta.”

Whatever their faults, Obama and Biden didn’t mess with the electoral process to get into office.  The Republicans knew it was time to bow out and let the Democrats take the fall–which is what Obama has done.  A Republican health care plan has become “Obamacare.”  The deficit run up by the junta has become “the Obama deficit,” and the Republicans are happily tarring him for it.  The bank bailout engineered by the junta has become “the Obama bailout,” and they are tarring him for that, too.  In return, he has graciously declined to prosecute anyone for malfeasance in the collapse of the Great American Financial Bubble, which was blown by the Cheney-Bush junta but which the former juntoids are cheerfully pinning on Obama.  He’s such a nice guy.

Between 1990 and 1995, nearly 4,000 people, mostly rich white guys, went to jail for their malfeasance in “the Savings and Loan Crisis.”  That little imbroglio burned up about $124 Billion; the 2008 crash has cost at least $2.8 Trillion, 23 times as much.  (23!  That number again! hmmm….).   So…proportionately speaking, if 4,000 people went to jail for defrauding the public of $128B, then there should be about 92,000 people criminally liable for something 23 times as big–wow, that might just about clear out Wall Street–which is probably why it hasn’t happened.

There have been a few showcase trials of fringe Ponzi scheme operators like Bernie Madoff, but, instead of prosecuting the firms behind this shakedown of the world’s economy, “our” President Obama has invited them into the government.  Not only is Goldman-Sachs “too big to fail,” it’s apparently also too big to prosecute.  I guess it doesn’t matter if you’re caught with a hand in the cookie jar, as long as you’ve got the government by the balls with your other hand.

Or consider Obama’s promise to shut down Guantanamo.  He made a half-hearted effort to follow through, but it’s still there, the US military guarding a handful of often innocent people who got caught up in a dragnet and have now been mistreated so badly for so long that 1) we don’t dare release them because they’ll tell on us and 2) even if they didn’t hate America before, we’ve now given them good reason to, and they’ll join the anti-American jihad if the US lets them loose. It’s already happened.

And that leads to the wider issue of our ongoing financial pyromania in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where our tax dollars feed the bonfire we are ostensibly there to extinguish. You tea partiers wanna cut the budget?  Forget about diddling around with Social Security, Medicare, and education–that’s all small potatoes compared to military spending–800 billion dollars, about $7K per household, nearly half of world military spending.  “Our” President Obama ain’t shrinking that, folks.  The empire must be defended, not defunded!

Don’t get me wrong on this.  I’m not in favor of cutting pay for the military rank-and-file. Sure, they’re hired killers, but there’s a lot of worthwhile projects that are crying out for an organized workforce, which could easily be our redirected,  unarmed forces.  Besides, our military, with its health care system, network of PX stores, and subsidized housing, is one of the outstanding examples of socialism in the world today.

I’m talking about discontinuing expensive, high-tech weapons programs that amount to a form of corporate welfare.(Not that I really think our corporate-run state is about to discontinue any form of corporate welfare, but I might as well say it anyway!). Killing Pakistanis with drone aircraft controlled by people in Nevada is, in my admittedly biased opinion, morally abhorrent.  Besides, at a practical level, it opens the door to other countries doing the same thing to us, should the tables turn, as eventually they will.  Do unto others, y’know?  Drones over America!  Think of the possibilities!

OK, so Obama pushed through the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Wonderful.  The military doesn’t care who you want to schtup, as long as you’re willing to pull the trigger for them.  Sonny, I’m old enough to remember when the gay rights movement and the women’s movement’s vision was more about ending the military and the drive to violent conflict than about asserting their right to be hired killers just like the guys, or the straight guys.  “Don’t ask?  Don’t tell?”  Don’t bother!  Whaddaya want in that club for, anyway!? Wake the bleep up!

I digress…

We can also see the continuity between the Cheney and Obama administrations in the realm of agricultural policy, where both have been unstinting in their promotion of Monsanto and its stable of genetically modified crops, despite a great deal of evidence that calls GMO crops into question on a wide variety of grounds.

Monsanto supporters like to bloviate about how Monsanto’s GMO crops are necessary to feed the world, how they are able to increase yields and confer pest resistance, but the fact of the matter is that the primary trait of GMO crops so far is resistance to the effects of …Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide, “Roundup.”  Gee, isn’t that a coincidence?  Monsanto advocates like to claim that the no-till farming enabled by dependence on Roundup for weed control keeps fields from eroding and thus saves the soil.  Well, OK, it may keep it from washing away, but it also alters soil chemistry–it’s a plant poison, after all–and, like a person who takes antibiotics all the time, extensive use of Roundup negatively affects soil fertility and health, encouraging outbreaks of plant disease that are normally kept in check by the micro-organisms Roundup kills.  Not to mention, regular Roundup use has enabled the evolution of herbicide resistant weeds, just as GMO crops created with insect resistance have both prompted the evolution of pesticide-resistant insects, and opened the plants up to attacks from insects that were not problematic before.

And then there’s a little legal nicety:  these seeds are patented, and so farmers cannot legally save seed, as they have done for thousands of years, but must buy seed–expensive seed–every year, along with expensive chemicals…like Roundup.  In India, mounting debt from these practices has contributed to the suicides of hundreds of thousands of small farmers, flooding the country’s cities with even more rural refugees and emptying out the countryside.

Consider this:the pollen from GMO seeds doesn’t keep to itself.  It blows on the wind or gets picked up by bees, and ends up in non-GMO flowers, producing GMO  characteristics in non-GMO seeds.  This is very bad news for anybody who is attempting to grow organic crops anywhere near a GMO field.  The good news is, the courts have decided that Monsanto can’t sue people whose fields their GMO pollen contaminates. The bad news is, it took the Canadian Supreme Court to get Monsanto to back down on this.  If it had come to the US Supreme Court, my guess is they would have backed Monsanto.  Corporations are more equal than people in this country, dontcha know?

Monsanto has won many cases against farmers who attempted to save their own GMO seed, and has hired the company formerly known as Blackwater to spy on anti-GMO activists and  enforce their monopoly–er, patent rights, excuse me.  The Justice Department is looking into whether Monsanto’s tactics are illegal, but, considering Obama’s track record, I doubt that anything will come of this investigation.

There are also major questions about the edibility of GMO crops.  Analysis of Monsanto’s “safety studies” by independent scientists revealed that Monsanto manipulated the data to get the results it wanted, and that GMO crops present a double threat:  “Roundup ready” GMOs incorporate the herbicide into every part of the plant, and thus, when we eat GMO corn, we are eating Roundup.  Yummy!  Even when Roundup is not part of the plant’s makeup, GMO crops produce effects like digestive problems, liver damage, and reproductive difficulties.  Here in the US, where, in 1992, thanks to Dan Quayle, Monsanto easily persuaded the USDA that GMO crops were not substantially different from non-GMO crops and thus did not need to be vetted for health effects, we are now a nation of lab rats for a massive, long-term experiment with eating GMO crops, and our government, as Wikileaks has  revealed, is firmly behind Monsanto’s push to spread GMOs.

OK, back to the Obama administration, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” department: Nina Federoff is Hillary Clinton’s science advisor.  Before that, she was…Condoleeza Rice’s science advisor.  Before that, she worked for an Israeli….biotech firm!  Isn’t that amazing!  She has publicly expressed her disdain for organic farming.  I got news, Ms. Federoff:  organic farming is the only kind of farming that will be possible in the mid- to long-term future, so we’d better start getting good at it.  Dig this, all you folks who think Hillary would be an improvement on Barack!?

Back to Barack:  he put Tom Vilsack, who was the biotech industry’s (like, Monsanto’s) “governor of the year,” in as Secretary of Agriculture.  Vilsack also championed the spread of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations in Iowa,  and pushed through a law that prevents Iowa counties from banning GMO agriculture.

Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto executive, who, as Bill Clinton’s guy at the FDA, pushed rGBH down America’s throat, is now in charge of food safety.  Doesn’t that make you feel safer?

Roger Beachy, formerly head of the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, will serve as the first director of a new federal agriculture agency, the National Institute on Food and Agriculture, which will direct agricultural research grants.  The Danforth Center is heavily funded by… Monsanto.

Islam A. Siddiqui, recently Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America (the organization that sent the First Lady a letter admonishing her for not using pesticides on the White House garden) is now America’s Chief Agricultural Negotiator, who works through the Office of the United States Trade Representative to promote US crops and ag products abroad.  “Croplife America” is a lobbying group that represents…Monsanto.

So there they are, “the rogues’ gallery,” “the usual suspects,” call them what you will. It boils down to another example of how Obama is not a change in direction from the Cheney-Bush junta, just a rebranding of the same basic agenda.  “Too rough?  OK, we’ll ease up a little–but we’re still in control.”

The good news is that Monsanto, like the US government, appears to be a little past the peak of its power.  The patent on Roundup has expired, and Roundup knockoffs are available for a fraction of Monsanto’s price. Farmers are rebelling against the high price of GMO seed.  Despite the US government’s attempts to go on the offensive for Monsanto, worldwide suspicion of GMO crops is growing, especially as more and more science and practical experience calls the wisdom of genetic meddling into question. A recent court ruling halted cultivation of GMO sugar beets, finding that the USDA had paid only “cursory” attention to numerous environmental concerns about the crop.  The court had to do it, because Obamonsanto’s USDA was staying the Bush junta’s course  and  allowing the GMO beets to go ahead.  A similar controversy still rages over whether to allow “Roundup-Ready” alfalfa.

Monsanto will not give up easily.  The company will try, and try, and try again, doing its best to wear down the mere humans who are wary of its profit drive–which is, after all, the central organizing principle in a for-profit corporation.   It is unlikely that Western civilization will come unglued fast enough to prevent a great deal of harm coming from Monsanto’s actions.  This is what happens when profit-driven corporations run amok.

music:  Laurie Anderson, “The Monkey’s Paw








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