OUT OF THE FRYING PAN, INTO THE FIRE

18 12 2016

music: Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows

I confess, I didn’t really expect it to happen. I’m kind of in shock that it did, and I still wonder if some strong wind will suddenly rise up and blow this strange, new, apparent reality away, but for now, the fact remains: On November 8, a strategically located minority of America’s voters–barely a quarter of those eligible–rose up against being slowly roasted in the frying pan of the Democratic Party’s kinder, gentler neoliberalism and…jumped directly into the fire of an undisguised corporate/reactionary/climate denialist takeover of the United States Government. That strategic minority of voters didn’t jump alone, however. They took the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, with them. That’s the bad news. The good news is, millions of people who might have thought everything was OK because Hillary Clinton was in charge now feel extremely insecure, and with good reason. That may not sound like good news, but it’s actually an improvement on what their state of mind with Clinton as President would have been, namely, “feeling secure, but without good reason.” More on that later. It’s one of the several facets of this complex question that we are going to be examining.  We’ll call that “Bad news/Good news.” The others are “how did we get here,” “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’?”

So…how did we get here? Let’s start by looking at a couple of intertwined longer-term phenomena: our overall national sense of well-being, which, I think, is the force that’s been driving the second phenomenon, the waxing and waning of political party ascendancies since the late sixties and early seventies. The Kennedy-Johnson years and early Nixon years were the point in our country’s history when American workers were at the peak of their earnings. A guy with a blue-collar job could buy a house, support his stay-at-home wife, have a family, and send his kids to college if they wanted to go, or into a high-wage blue-collar job of their own. Note use of pronoun “his.”

Psychological sophistication was, not, and still is not, a hallmark of this culture, however, and white, working-class America’s response to change has been to perceive it as stress, and to respond to change/stress by rejecting the change/source of stress. Thus, some people perceived the Civil Rights movement and the Democratic Party’s efforts on its behalf, the hippies, and the anti-war movement as emotional threats, and reacted viscerally to them, rejecting Johnson’s heir apparent, Hubert Humphrey, and voting instead for Richard Nixon, who promised “law and order,” but proved to be pretty disorderly and unlawful himself. Too much stress. Jimmy Carter is a very unstressful Democrat, a Southerner that Northerners feel comfortable with. He’s the Pres.

But another, far more visceral, source of stress had started to kick in in the late 70’s. Workers’s wages quit rising, but the rest of the economy didn’t. In other words, everything cost more, but workers didn’t have more money at their disposal. Source of stress. Throw in a small Middle-Eastern country grabbing America by the crotch, aka the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and a botched rescue attempt, too much stress–Jimmy Carter is outta there after just one term, replaced by an entertainer, who had received hundreds of hours of television exposure as an easy-going, but principled, actor and show host. Much less stress! “It’s morning in America!” Ronald Reagan actually managed to hand the show off to George Bush, Sr., for one term, but the economic stress was continuing, even intensifying, and here’s two nice young Baby Boomers with a fresh approach. Hey, we all know he really did inhale, and so did his VP…they’ll chill us out way better than that crusty ol’ WWII vet. Read the rest of this entry »





FROM PARIS TO NASHVILLE

9 01 2016

In December, the 21st “Council of Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Paris. Almost everybody seemed to understand that we are in “no more fooling around” territory, with some notable exceptions, like, f’rinstance, India and Saudi Arabia. Ironically, these are two of the countries with the most to lose from further climate change–like, their inhabitability.  Even so, it has become common knowledge that climate change denialism has largely been, um, fuelled by oil companiesbig-oil-the-new-big-tobacco-29081 who did the research in the 70’s and 80’s and, like the tobacco companies before them, realized that their product was lethal, and who nonetheless chose to elevate their short-term bottom line over the long-term survival of not just their customers, as with the tobacco companies, but of the human race, along with most other species on the planet. I could be snide and sneer about the oxymoronic quality of the phrase “corporate ethics,” but it’s not just corporations that prioritize reaping short-term benefits over preventing long-term threats.  It’s a fairly common human trait, it turns out, and one that is plaguing our efforts to stop doing things that release more carbon and accelerate climate change, and to start doing things that will capture carbon and reverse our ever more tightly spiralling spin into planetary oblivion. In order to reverse climate change, we must reverse our own conditioned responses.  The outer depends on the inner, as always.

Read the rest of this entry »





A NATION OF (ILLEGAL) IMMIGRANTS

24 11 2012

music:  Buffy Ste. Marie, “Universal Soldier

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

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

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

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





“LET FACTS BE SUBMITTED TO A CANDID WORLD”

12 11 2011

So, let’s revisit that American foundation document, “The Declaration of Independence.”

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

OK, first of all, nobody in the Occupy movement is calling for overthrow of the government.  For one thing, that’s a certain route to violent suppression .  But–“Governments…deriv(e) their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”  What we who are in the 99% are saying is that the current government of the United States, whether “Republican” or “Democrat,” is not pursuing policies that are conducive to our “Life,Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness.”There has, once again, been “a long train of abuses and usurpations.”  That would seem to indicate that it is, once again, our “right and duty” to “throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for (our) future security.”

Next in the Declaration come the “Facts submitted to a candid world,” a detailing of the “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.”  Let’s read through them and see to what extent they still, or once again, apply.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

OK….I could spend the whole hour talking about that item alone.  The only difference is that, instead of a single, mad monarch sitting on the throne England, our modern “he” is our Congress, which is held in thrall to special interests, and does their bidding rather than doing what is “wholesome and necessary for the public good.”  Let’s see–universal single-payer health care, serious regulation of our banking and financial sector, meaningful environmental legislation, the legalization of at least medical marijuana–these and many more causes enjoy widespread public support and would bring widespread public benefit, but are not “politically possible” because they would reduce or eliminate the profits of certain corporate “persons” who are, apparently, more equal than us mere flesh and blood persons.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

The most outstanding current example of this is how the federal government is interfering with state medical marijuana programs, from the ruling in Raich vs. Ashcroft in which the Supreme Court held that marijuana grown in somebody’s back yard for their personal consumption was somehow covered by the interstate commerce clause and thus subject to federal law, to the current DOJ campaign against any kind of business providing marijuana to people with medical needs.  Other examples:  the not-so-strict federal “do not call” law superseded Wisconsin’s stricter statute, and a wide array of local environmental regulations.

”It is the 1970s in reverse. Then, the feds stepped in with more stringent standards than the states to ensure that the environment was protected,” said Steve Hinchman, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Maine. ”Now, as states get ahead of the federal government, they’re stepping in to protect industry at the expense of people who are forced to breathe this air.”

That was said of the Cheney administration, but Obama has, according to many observers, been no great improvement on Cheney.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

Nothing domestic here–but look at the role the U.S. has played in supporting dictators and repressing popular movements around the world–think Palestine, think Pakistan, Indonesia, fill in the blank.  Sure, we helped topple Qadhafi, but he was not only repressing dissent in Libya, he was about to ask to be paid for his oil in gold, rather than U.S. dollars.  That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The Syrian government can shoot or torture anyone it wants, apparently, as long as they don’t challenge U.S. hegemony.  The Occupy Declaration echoes this:

  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
  • They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

OK, back to the Declaration of Independence:

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

Two hundred years ago, the speediest land transportation was a fast horse.  Today, the ruling class has made legislative bodies “uncomfortable and distant”  by raising the cost of campaigning so high that the only way to run for office with any hope of success is to be independently wealthy, or to be dependent on contributions from the ruling class–who will not support anyone who does not support them.  As a result, our state and national governments are primarily concerned with maintaining the privileged position of those who have bought them, leaving the rest of us  exposed to various economic and social “convulsions within,” all the while scaring everyone they can with the danger of “invasion from without.”  Again, the Occupy Declaration touches on this point:

  • They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.

The D of I, again:

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

This is one of the few issues where I have some sympathy for the English position.  One of the complaints of the Europeans who settled what is now the USA was that the English wanted to keep them east of the Appalachians, and reserve the territory west of the mountains for the original inhabitants.  Because of that, and because the English were concerned about their colonies being subverted by too many non-English immigrants,  Crown policy attempted to limit the number of Europeans who invaded Turtle Island. Those doing the invading, on the other hand, sought safety in numbers.  To me, it is one of the great ironies of US immigration policy that a bunch of people of European descent are trying to stop native people from Mexico and Central America from entering this country–a trade and migration route that predates European arrival by thousands of years.  And, of course, there’s the further irony that it is US foreign trade policy that has destroyed the economies of these people’s native countries, pushing them to come here because, as Willie Sutton said, “it’s where the money is.”  The Occupy Declaration touches on immigration only obliquely, saying

  • They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

Back to the Declaration of Independence:

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

These three provisions are all about the proliferation of bureaucracy and the perversion of civil government by money and power, which is at the heart of the complaint of the Occupy movement.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

Hey, no problem!  We’ll just buy the legislators and get them to approve the maintenance of a large standing army–and make sure it looks like it’s never  a time of peace!  And that bought legislature will never question the importance of military appropriations, making our military effectively “independent of and superior to the Civil power.”  Quoth the Occupiers:

  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
  • They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
  • They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

If I were a right-winger, I’d start raving about U.N. black helicopters at this point, but that, in my opinion, is pure paranoia.  The real way in which America has been “subject(ed) to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws,” has been U.S. participation in NAFTA and the WTO, both of which subordinate local environmental and labor safeguards to the profit motives of transnational corporations.

music:  REM, “Cuyahoga

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

The U.S.A. accounts for nearly half of the world’s military spending, but it’s invisible to most of us:  our armies are spread across over 700 overseas military bases.  The Americans to whom this is not invisible are the families of our soldiers, often from small towns where U.S. government/corporate policy destroyed the local economy and job market, leaving many young people with no choice but the military.  And the second point, “protecting (military personnel) from punishment for any Murders which they should commit”?  That’s why we have (kind of) withdrawn our armies from Iraq–the government we installed refused to give us carte blanche to go on killing civilians and getting away with it.  Gee, the U.S. has been murdering civilians in Iraq with impunity ever since the invasion–What’s the big deal?  Oh, well, we can keep on killing civilians–even American citizens–in Pakistan and Yemen, and probably some other place we haven’t heard of yet.  All is not lost.

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

As The Living Theater used to exclaim, “I cannot travel without a passport!”  Nowadays, the problem is not the “cutting off of Trade,” but the opening up of trade:  Chinese imports have destroyed US manufacturing capacity, and US grain exports have destroyed Latin American agriculture.  In both cases, the people lose and the corporations win.  On the other hand, in the 18th century, individuals could travel without passports, in most places.  Nowadays, governments use their passport authority to keep people out of their countries:  here in the U.S., Palestinian Fulbright scholars, German publishers, Afghani women’s rights activists, and English environmental activists, among others, have been excluded so that they will not infect the American public with their subversive ideas.

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

Since our government has been taken over by corporate interests, our tax system has, in essence, been changed without our consent:  the share of government revenue that comes from corporate taxes has shrunk, so that the burden of supporting corporate government falls predominantly on the shoulders of individuals of modest means, who have to deal with not only income taxes and sales taxes, but property taxes, which keep rising as municipalities receive less money from state and national government coffers.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

This issue is not on Occupy’s radar, but it is a serious one.  According to PBS, 95% of all criminal cases never go to a jury; they are decided by what is called “plea bargain,” but should more properly be termed “blackmail.”  What happens is this:  prosecutors charge a defendant with everything they can possibly think of, a laundry list that will likely result in decades of prison time, but then inform their victim that if he or she will plead guilty to just one of the charges, or, in the case of drug busts, turn someone else in, they will avoid the expense of a jury trial and, the likelihood of much longer incarceration.  Maybe the defendant is innocent, or was acting on principle, but the pressure to agree to a plea bargain is overwhelming, 95% of the time, it seems.  Deprived, indeed, of the “benefits of Trial by Jury.”

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

Uuhh…ever heard of “extraordinary rendition”?

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

Several claims in this section of  the “facts submitted to a candid world” seem to me to duplicate ones that have already been stated, but the last one, about plundering the seas, and so on, while it was set in a military context at the time, is true today in a corporate framework.  Corporate fishing has plundered our seas, and globalization has “burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

BlackwaterWackenhut.  Corrections Corporation of America.  ‘Nuff said.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

The modern parallel of this charge is, again, the way exploitive corporations have destroyed communities.  For example, in the Appalachian coal fields, mountaintop removal provides a very few people with good-paying jobs–destroying the country and culture they live in.  And, lastly…

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Again, my sympathies lie with the Native Americans, who only subjected us  undocumented European immigrants to “undistinguished destruction” after we did the same to them.  When all is said and done, all of us who are not of Native American descent are trespassers on this continent.  In the 21st century, we’re just accessories after the fact, so to speak, but many of the framers of the Declaration of Independence actually killed Native Americans in order to steal their land.  This theft kind of erodes the “sacred honor” of our nation’s founders, but, at this point, hey–it is what it is.  Nowadays in America, we don’t get real politically-inspired mayhem–just the threat of it, trumpeted by our national insecurity apparatus.  And, finally….

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

We, too, have “Petitioned for Redress in humble terms…have appealed to (the) native justice and magnanimity” of our allegedly representative government, decade after decade, issue after issue.  How many on-line petitions did you sign today? At this point I am reminded of the words of a populist activist who was active about halfway between the time of the Declaration of Independence and the present day, William Jennings Bryan:

We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest. We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came.

We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!

For all his fervor and popular appeal, Bryan went down to defeat, at the hands of the same forces we face today.  He, a very Jeffersonian Democrat, was overwhelmed by Republican promises of growth and prosperity, and slurs that associated him with “anarchists,” who were to voters of that day what “socialists” are to modern American voters–boogeymen.  Some things don’t change much, it seems.

But some things have changed.  Unlike the eighteenth and early twentieth centuries, we no longer live in an era when resources and possibilities seem unlimited.  Promises of future growth and prosperity now ring hollow, and only the delusionaries in the Tea Party retain their faith in the Corporate American Dream.   We have, in the words of the Declaration, endured “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.”  It is, indeed, time to “alter our former system of government.”  If we don’t, we will fall even further under the power of sociopathic corporate “persons,” who, like vampires, have no thought of altruism, only self-aggrandizement.

To borrow the words of the chief writer of The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, we must “swear upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

music:  Patti Smith, “People Got the Power





THE MYTH–AND THE REALITY–OF “RECOVERY”

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





TRUTH IN STRANGE PLACES

10 04 2010

It’s been a while since I made any “Truth in Strange Places” awards, so I’ll make up for that by giving out three of them this month, to Nashville’s Congressman Jim Cooper, former President Bill Clinton, and current “Drug Czar” Gil Kerlikowske.

Cooper gets his award for this quote:

But when you look at TN Blue CrossBlue Shield you see a company that claims to be non-profit but just built a brand-new $400 million headquarters in Chattanooga, and they leveled a small hill to build their headquarters. And I’ve discovered the Blues(BCBS) nationwide get a billion dollars every year from the federal government. You see those sort of abuses and you think, ‘Can’t we do better than this?’ There are countless tens of thousands of people in our area and millions across Tennessee who need a fairer, better deal. Why can’t we do that? Truth is, the insurance lobby has the most powerful lobby in all of American history. They’re so powerful there really isn’t an oversight committee in Congress. They got in 1946 a provision that basically banned congressional oversight, which is the catbird seat if you’re an industry. Very few industries if any have had that sort of privilege. Plus they get exemption from antitrust laws. I think they should be competitive, private businesses — not favored with all these government perks, and that’s the way they’ve been for a long time.

Thanks for coming so  close to telling like it is, Jim, even if you don’t agree with me that these corporate persons deserve capital punishment for contributing to the death and suffering of so many  real human beings.

And Bill Clinton?

He called U.S. free trade policies in Haiti, which helped destroy the country’s ability to feed itself and pushed hundreds of thousands of people out of the countryside and into the cities, as well as into illegal immigration to the U.S., “a devil’s bargain,” and said

Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.

Of course, that’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as this country’s interference in Haiti, not to mention all the other blowback from NAFTA, which he campaigned against as a candidate but then supported as President.  (Barack Obama is not the first Democrat who ran to the left and governed to the right!)  NAFTA, after all, had the same consequences in Mexico and the rest of Latin America as it did in Haiti, collapsing self-sufficient local economies and displacing millions of people, who went streaming to the big cities of their own countries and across borders to this country, where the Faux News approach has been to blame these refugees for what our government did to them. Blame the vicitim….right.

And lastly, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, when interviewed, of all places, on Faux News, about the possibility that California might legalize and tax not just medical but all marijuana use, responded

Why would anybody pay taxes on a substance you can grow in your back yard?

Good point, Gil.  Let’s hear it for the local option!  That’s all for tonight!

Greg Brown–Spring Wind






HANK AND BILL’S EXCELLENT BLACKMAIL SCHEME

12 10 2008

It was a blackmail scheme, for sure.  “THIS IS A SERIOUS CRISIS!  Give us what we want or we’ll trash the economy, (and maybe declare martial law)  THIS IS A SERIOUS CRISIS,” was the mantra of all the talking heads in the Bush junta–hardly the way to calm a serious crisis, more like the way to fan the flames.   Congress blinked, and gave them the money, and agreed to overlook the fact that Paulson and Bernanke (and their godfather, Alan Greenspan) were the ones who ran the economy into the ground in the first place.

If Bernanke and Paulson had a shred of integrity, they would have offered their resignations.  If they were traditional Japanese, they would have committed seppuku….(hey, I can dream, can’t I?) but no, they’re neocon men from Wall Street, aka American Fascists, so they just asked for more money. That’s a fundamental rule in the neocon playbook–never, ever, ever admit that you screwed up.  No way anything they did could have been what trashed the economy, nossir.

They admitted that $700 billion was a number they pretty much pulled out of their asses. They even admitted that this was something they’d seen coming for a while.  But somehow that didn’t matter when they said, “pay up NOW, on THESE TERMS or we’re all screwed!”  (even though they’re not actually going to start handing the money out until mid-November!)  They had America by the short hairs and everybody knew it, and so the Senate and ultimately the House  squawked and grumbled and grew the proposal from three pages to over four hundred, with a few half-assed conditions thrown in, plus a lot of bribes to get people to feel a little better about the whole ugly mess–a hundred and fifty billion dollars worth of tax breaks for everything from toy wooden arrows to solar panels.  Talk about perversion!

But hey, if they didn’t, Bush might declare martial law–after all, Congress gave him the power, since he was gracious enough to ask for it, and a brigade of US Army regulars has recently been reassigned to the US from Iraq, and are busy training in “non-lethal crowd control”–rubber bullets and tasers, which have proved lethal to plenty of people in their time. Uhh..anybody seen the Posse Comitatus act lately? Hmmm……but there’s no significance to that, no, none at all….just give us the money in small, unmarked bills, like what you gave us for Iraq…..

And what did these neo-con artists propose to buy with our seven hundred billion dollars?  Worthless assets that banks created and got stuck with in the course of the Ponzi scheme that has been the American economy ever since Bill Clinton crammed NAFTA down our throats and America’s manufacturing economy literally went south.

Seven hundred billion dollars worth of bad mortgages.  Seven hundred billion dollars for overvalued, trashed-out, abandoned houses, many of which would not sell for a dollar at public auction.  Houses that it will cost money just to tear down.  Actually, the financial instruments are so Byzantine that owning the debt on the house may not convey title to the house, so that means we’re not even getting the lot under a trashed-out house, we’re just getting a piece of paper, and good luck ever selling it for anything besides making “Save your CDO certificates/The United States Will Rise Again!” posters.

Hank and Bill will be generous with our money, giving the poor bankers whatever price they claim those mortgages are worth, but basically, Congress voted to spend seven hundred billion dollars on–nothing.  We couldn’t afford thirty-five billion for childrens’ health care.  We can’t afford to take proper care of Iraq war veterans.  We can’t afford to rebuild our country’s infrastructure in a way that will mute the effects of climate change.  We can’t afford health coverage for all.  None of those things we really need will cost seven hundred billion dollars, all would have a clear payback, and in fact will save not only our money but our asses to the tune of far more than seven hundred billion dollars, but we can’t afford them.

Seven hundred billion dollars is what we spend every year on imported oil, and we can afford that.  Seven hundred billion dollars is about a quarter of what the war in Iraq is likely to cost us, maybe less than a quarter. The tax cuts for the wealthy that the Bush junta pushed through have cost the government about four hundred billion dollars a year since 2003, for a total of two trillion dollars and counting, but none of the high muckamucks in our government seem to have any qualms about the cost of any of that.  Hey, that’s all money into (or at least not out of) their pockets, and besides, they own the presses, they can print more dollars if they need ’em.  Sure, they’ll be worth less (worthless?  or just worth less?  who knows!), and foreign governments and other investors may be a lot less interested in taking them, but the asses of the wealthy have been covered, and that’s what counts to the neo con-men.  They will all be going off to someplace safe, leaving you and me to go down with the ship–and the bills.

Oh, and just in case Obama gets elected and has any ideas about doing anything creative, this will tie his hands, just like his pledge to continue the “war on terror” by escalating in Afghanistan will tie his feet.  Smooth move, Mr. Rove!

There are a few sops thrown into this bill.  Some of them could mitigate the chilling effect this bill will have on our national budget, if Obama’s government is progressive and courageous and not just a replay of the Democratic Leadership Council-led Clinton years that set us up for this mess.  Now, maybe I’m crazy to expect courage from the Democrats at this point, but if Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury has the nerve, he can, instead of buying bad bank assets at high prices, buy preferred stock in the banks, so that the government will then own them in exchange for bailing them out.  As bank owners, the government can change bank policy–and fire the scheming, selfish jerks–I mean executives–who got us into this mess.  Paulson has this option, too, but you can bet he won’t take it.  He’s not gonna sell his banker buddies down the river.  From all indications, Obama is going to feel the same way–his main economic adviser is Jason Furman, who thinks Walmart has been great for the economy and free trade is a wonderful thing.  La-la land stuff, y’know?

The bill also suggests that banks could renegotiate their nonperforming loans and mark them down to the real value of the homes involved, but that’s like asking Dracula to pretty please quit sucking the blood out of people.  He ain’t gonna do it.

If they wanted to provide some real relief, they could have outlawed eviction, directing banks to negotiate a reasonable rent with folks who can’t make their mortgage payments.  They didn’t do that.  They could have loosened up our country’s newly draconian bankruptcy laws, which Joe Biden championed and which make it all but impossible for individuals to get out of debt,  but they didn’t.  Individuals need to take responsibility for their actions, but big rich banks can count on having the government to fall back on.  That seems to be the lesson here.

Oh, by the way, one of the main reasons people fall behind on their house payments, besides losing their jobs due to corporate downsizing, is falling into debt and out of work due to serious illness or injury and consequent serious medical debts, even with insurance.  But we are not going there, people, we can’t afford to do anything about that, no way–we got rich bankers to bail out–they’re more important than you common folk, dontcha know?

Congress capped the income and bonus payments to the top five executives in companies that accept a certain level of federal help, but you can bet there are loopholes in that provision.  They also kept in most of Paulson’s original bid for dictatorial powers, saying that he could only be challenged legally if Constitutional grounds are involved.

What the bill does not admit is that home prices in this country are seriously inflated, and need to come down to reflect reality.  The other thing this bill does not admit is that there are going to be more economic crises after this one, and the government has just used its last ammunition.  In fact, as I write this, the headlines tell me the Down Joe average is, yep, down seriously, and that more economies around the world are in trouble.

Whatever comes next, we as a nation are now too strapped to do anything about it.  Make sure you’re stocked up on food and have a way to cook it, and get set for some real fun.

music:  James McMurtry, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore








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