INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ DAY

14 10 2018
     Last Monday was “indigenous Peoples’ Day,” still celebrated in some quarters as “Columbus Day.” In my quarter, I sat quietly on my porch that morning and did my best to reach out to the spirits of the beings, human and non-human, whom us Europeans destroyed by disease, murdered, hunted to extinction, and dispossessed in order to seize this continent. I opened my mind to the whole ecosystem they danced in, and the cultural forms in which they danced, in harmony, for tens of thousands of years before we, far cleverer and far less wise, showed up. I sincerely hope the few hundred years of our rude interruption turns out to be a small blip in a long era of peace and harmony, although the extent of our violation is so great that, when this ecosystem returns to a normal level of stasis, it is likely to be a very different stasis than the one that has prevailed here since the end of the last glacial epoch.
     After a while, my quiet time  was punctuated with multiple volleys of distant, but distinct, gunfire. We live about a mile from Nashville’s municipal shooting range, so I am used to this, and always feel grateful that, whatever the fantasies in the heads of the shooters may be, I do not need to be concerned that the shots indicate any immediate danger to anyone, including me. A great many of the world’s inhabitants do not have the luxury of staying relaxed when they hear gunfire. This particular morning, it occurred to me that the shooters, who do not normally turn out on Monday mornings–weekends are more common–were there because it was a national holiday, and that it was quite likely that to most of them, this was not “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” but “Columbus Day.” To me, it seemed that discharging firearms was an appropriate way to celebrate the life of the man who initiated the genocide of all the ancient, but firearm-free, cultures of North and South America.
     I let those thoughts go, and just kept sitting, contentedly wrapped in the trees, the birds, and the unusually warm October morning. After a while, there had were more shots. “A metaphor, perhaps?” I wondered.
      Then  the roar of a low-flying jet swelled into prominence. It occurred to me that airplanes are the modern equivalent of the sailing ships of Columbus’s various invasion fleets. Like the galleons of old, wherever airplanes go, they bring destructive, bland, corporate culture with them. Those who impose air travel bulldoze vast swathes of the natural world to create airports. Their construction, and the fuel they burn, are inseparable from corporate culture. Airplane culture is part of the problem, not part of the solution, and this reinforced my recurring thought that I can not, in good conscience, travel by air again.
     Full disclosure: the last time I flew, it was to visit family temporarily in Costa Rica, nearly 20 years ago, and that was  only after confirming that I could not book passage on a freighter from the Gulf Coast to Limon, Costa  Rica’s gulf port, which ships a great many of America’s bananas. Freighters, in any case, burn bunker oil, one of the most polluting fossil fuels.
      I kept sitting, the noise of the plane rapidly faded into the distance, and I was once again alone with my four-legged and winged neighbors and the spirits that, against all scientific evidence, I keep sensing in the world around me.
     Maybe what happened to me this morning was a message from the embodied spirits who once inhabited this valley, and the non-embodied spirits that persist here. Maybe they were telling me to hold steady, do what I can, and not be distracted by gunfire or airplanes or those who produce them. This is a time for combining clear vision, strong intention, courage, fearlessness, and, most important of all, it seems, patience. The foolish fog that has enveloped us will pass, and pass faster the less we lose our focus and contribute to the confusion.
     Mother Earth will return to a steady state. If we help Her, that steady state will likely include us. If we do not work in harmony with Her, She will cast us off in favor of whoever will, even if She has to go back to jellyfish and cockroaches and start over again from there. The choice is ours.
 




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 »





BARITT ROMBAMA IS A SHOO-IN; GREENS WILL CONTEST ELECTION ANYWAY

12 05 2012

Maybe, just maybe, the shift is hitting the fan for the one percent.  One of this last month’s big stories has been that several of America’s megacorporations have been embarrassed enough by public exposure to stop funding the American Legislative Exchange Council, which in turn has been embarrassed enough by the flood of negative publicity it has received to at least officially abandon its efforts to enact legislation that limits voting rights.  On the other hand, they can afford to–so much damage has been done to ballot access by now so that, coupled with the background level of media hypnosis, Mitt Romney might actually have a fighting chance to unseat Barack Obama, and end the shame of Amurrica’s perceived leader being the spawn of a white woman who got careless with one of the darkies…..excuse me, I know that’s horribly politically incorrect, I’m just trying to express what it seems to me that a lot of people are thinking, but are simply too polite to ever say–although one Evangelical Christian friend of mine was willing to go so far as to tell me, before the 2008 election, “It’s not right for a person of Muslim descent to be President of the United States.”  That remark has been enough to give me some satisfaction in knowing that Barack Obama’s sold-out butt is the one sitting in the Oval Office, just because of the cognitive dissonance it creates for so many Right-thinking Americans, but Barack Obama is much closer to Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, or, for that matter, Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan, than he is to Rev. King or even Jesse Jackson, let alone Malcolm X, despite the pervasive right-wing rhetoric about Obama being a “socialist.”  Hey, they call him a “socialist” because they couldn’t get away with calling him a n–and neither could I, so I’m not gonna say THAT word.  I have my limits!

Indeed, the similarities between Obama and Romney are remarkable enough that I, among many others, apparently, am tempted to refer to them as “Barritt Rombama”  and “Mitrack Obomney,” or belittle them as Tweedledim and Tweedledimmer.  Both are the best candidates money can buy, and their images are carefully crafted to appeal to their target demographics, one wing or the other of the tragically vast majority of Americans who are still asleep and dreaming the American Dream.  Obama’s image is meant to appeal to those who believe they are more open-minded, generous, and tolerant, while Romney’s message is intended to galvanize those who feel more sure of themselves, sure about what’s right and wrong and who are inclined to believe that people should be allowed to sink or swim on their own abilities.

If that were what is really going on, it would be wonderful, but that’s not what’s really going on.  What’s really going on is that the forces behind both the Democrats and the Republicans are thieves who are ripping off the world, and the big difference between them is that the Democrats want to distract the guard dog by throwing it a bone, while the Republicans would rather just shoot the dog.  Both, however, are equally intent on taking everything they can get their hands on while the getting is good.  Just where they will go with their ill-gotten gains is certainly a good question, but, apparently, being clever–and stupid– enough to be the expert thieves they are does not mean that they have the wisdom and foresight to be thinking of the long-term consequences of their actions.  Somehow

“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will some people realize that they cannot eat money.”

has failed to register in the consciousness of the people who think they own America.    If you stay in the sphere of mainstream politics, it’s all about how to get consumption growing again, without even a moment’s reflection on, for example, the fact that “consumption” is an archaic name for tuberculosis, or, in the words of that other environmental core statement,

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

Thanks to Edward Abbey for that one.  Authorship of the “last tree” quote is a little harder to track down, but it seems to originate with the native people of this continent, who, to their credit, have seen this coming and have been trying to warn us clueless white folks about it for several hundred years.  Oh, well, I guess the Green Party is not the first batch of Cassandras to appear in America!

And I guess this is the point at which to mention that the Cassandra Society of Tennessee, aka the Green Party of Tennessee, will be meeting for a nominating convention next Saturday, May 19th, at the Scaritt-Bennett Center in Nashville.  You can get the details on our Facebook page or website, but the essence is that we will be designating our official candidates for various state and national  offices, and deciding whether to endorse Roseanne Barr or Jill Stein as the party’s Presidential candidate.  The comedian or the doctor?  The country could use a good dose of both.  Anyway, there are a great many more offices open than we can contest from among our usual ranks, so we are hoping that dozens, or hundreds, or at least a handful of Green-minded citizens will come out of the political woodwork and stand for office under the Green Party banner this year.

Let’s take a music break

Richard and Mimi Farina, “House Un American Blues Activity Dream”  (the first link goes to the recorded version of the song, the second to a live, acoustic version with a more interesting video)





“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 BIOCHAR SOLUTION

19 06 2011

I recently finished reading Albert Bates’ latest book, “The Biochar Solution,” and found it a tremendously informative, inspiring, entertaining tour de force.  Albert has the polymath’s gift for taking a complex technical subject and expounding it from a broad enough perspective to make the technical parts easily digestible, even for someone like me, whose eyes start to glaze over when I get hit with too much pure science at once.

The book’s wide-ranging narrative takes us from the reductionist dreams of Rene Descartes to the seaside camp of Terra Amata in southern France, 400,000 years old, where we find  the earliest known “domestication” of fire for human use.  We float down the Amazon with the first Spanish explorers, looking for El Dorado, unwittingly spreading epidemics of European diseases in their wake.  These first Spanish witnesses reported that the Amazon basin was open, cultivated, and full of cities and villages–a claim that was treated as pure fancy by historians for centuries, until soil scientists and archaeologists only recently proved that the famed “terra preta” of the Amazon basin is a man-made artifact, one of the few remaining relics of a millenniums-old, pre-contact Amazonian culture whose people succumbed to European diseases that spread like wildfire from the first points of European contact with the New World, and whose villages and fields then succumbed to the hungry jungle, which fed voraciously on the augmented soil fertility that had enabled  these people to thrive.

At this point, Bates introduces the greater carbon cycle, asserting that “The Little Ice Age” was largely caused by decreased atmospheric carbon dioxide, as the gas was sucked into trees that grew on what had once been the cleared farmlands of the peoples of North and South America. after upwards of 90% of the population of the two continents were killed by European-introduced plagues.   At first glance, this claim is somewhat controversial , since some meteorologists date the beginning of  the Little Ice Age to the 14th century, which precedes European contact with America, but (and Bates does not mention this) European and Asian reforestation after the depopulation caused by Bubonic plague could have also played a role.  In any case, the combination of renewed deforestation and the beginning of our exploitation of fossil fuels brought “The Little Ice Age” to an end by the mid-nineteenth century.

And it was at the end of the nineteenth century that Svente Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist who would go on to win a Nobel Prize in 1903, predicted that doubling the amount of carbon in the planet’s atmosphere could raise the Earth’s temperature by five degrees Centigrade, or 9 degrees Fahrenheit.   It’s simple science, folks–you increase the amount of CO2 in a closed container, like a beaker or a planet, and it will hold more heat.   This is not a socialist conspiracy to make us all drive electric cars, OK?

As he delves more deeply into the history of human interaction with the biosphere, Bates’ tone grows more somber.  He contrasts Old World agriculture, which has created deserts in its wake, with the terra preta and other practices of Native American peoples, and laments the triumph of reductionist, mechanistic agriculture and science, which, time and again, has squeezed  the natural world  to death in a vise made from the moldboard plow and irrigation. From the once-“Fertile Crescent” of the Middle East, to North China, to the Sahel, to the Dust Bowl, the story is the same, over and over again.  Albert is charitable enough not to mention the old saw that defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.  Homo sapiens or Homo dementis?   It’s going to be a close call.

On page 70, Albert reads humanity the riot act:

On May 19, 2009, Woods Hole Research Laboratory and M.I.T. released a study involving more than 400 supercomputer runs of the best climate data currently available.  Conclusion:  The effects of climate change are twice as severe as estimated just six years ago, and the probable median of surface warming by 2100 is now 5.2C (9.4F), compared to a finding of 2.4C as recently as 2003.  Moreover, the study rated the possibility of warming to 7.4C  (13.3F) by the year 2100 (and still accelerating thereafter) at 90 percent–in spite of our feeble efforts at “cap-and-trade,” “contraction and convergence,” or ” a clean development mechanism.”

What that means for us here in Tennessee, folks, is summer temperatures in the low hundred-and-teens.  Can you say, “fry an egg on the sidewalk,” boys and girls?  Oh….good luck raising chickens in that kind of heat!

After listing the dire consequences of runaway warming, Albert continues,

Finding ourselves trapped in a burning building, we have to search out and consider any potential escape routes, and quickly…..  Our survival, and that of the experiment of life on a blue water world, depends on our ability to keep clarity and resolve as all around us the flames, smoke, and panic are rising….  We should not forget that what we need to do in order to extricate ourselves–garden Earth–is also going to make our lives vastly better than they otherwise would have become, and our children’s lives will be still better, although quite a bit warmer for a while.

And this is where “The Biochar Solution” turns the corner–makes the all-important transition from being just another piece of doomer porn into a possible solution, as promised–a solution that can be initiated, if not completed, without recourse to our politically/corporately gridlocked governments.  The third section of the book is called, “Capturing Carbon,” and it delineates activities that you and I and third world villagers can all take, right where we are living now, whether the politicians like it or not.

Bates first explains carbon-capture farming–organic no-till techniques that have proved their ability to take carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil, renewing fertility, tilth, and both drainage and water-holding capacity.  Big thick books (that make my head spin) have been written about soil chemistry, but Bates  gives us a good basic grasp of what’s going on in the dirt around us in just a few dozen pages, walking us through soil microflora and fauna, nutrient availability, and compost, explaining the chemistry of why those weird biodynamic preps work along the way, and finally digs into biochar, so to speak, explaining what it is, how to make it on both a household and industrial scale, giving references for those who want to go deeper into any of the many facets of this salvational subject.  There are those who consider biochar a menace, not a solution; he answers their objections carefully and fully.

But biochar, he points out, is no panacea.  The world’s current population is, he admits, “unsustainable,” and needs to somehow be reduced–fast.  While he accepts grazing animals as an important part of the nutrient cycle, he also observes that our current level of meat consumption is just as unsustainable as our current population.   And, while those of us with access to land can plant all the trees and bury all the biochar we can squeeze in, at some point we will have to bring our governments and their partners in global business to heel if we are going to either engage in the level of reforestation that will be necessary or quit burning the coal, oil, and natural gas that have given us so much short-term gain but are beginning to cause us a great deal of long-term pain.

Towards the end of the book, we find this passage:

Assume that,all of a sudden, we were to awaken to the threat posed by conventional agriculture to our survival.  What changes in our arrangements might, even at this late hour, offer some hope?

It would likely involve some combination of biochar, carbon farming, tree planting, and redesign of the built environment and energy systems to be carbon-negative.  I cannot imagine any alternative that excludes those strategies would remain viable for very long.

Transition is its own challenge.  Existential threats are not unprecedented in the history of our genome, and that provides some comfort.  We made it through all the evolutionary bottlenecks we know of, or we wouldn’t be here now.  Over the course of our evolution we have benefited from stable climate and dense biodiversity.  That biodiversity has given us, with our linear thought limitations, a safe refuge within the nonlinear web of life that indefatigably minds the store when we are out to lunch.

This stability is something we will soon have a lot less of, and adjusting to the suddenness of changed circumstances will likely become our greatest challenge.

In my humble, unscientific opinion, Albert’s just a little bit off here. “Adjusting to the suddenness of changed circumstances” is not “likely to become our greatest challenge.”  It is already our greatest challenge as a species.  I’m just one of too many billion grains of human sand on this planet, but I am pledging to do all I can to meet that challenge.  If enough of us make that commitment, some day there will likely be humans who look back on this point in history and say, “That is when the human race grew up.”

If the deniers have their way, then we will likely pass the torch of evolution over to the rats and cockroaches, or possibly to the bacteria that we have only recently discovered living miles under the surface of the planet.  It’s that time, people.  As Bucky Fuller prophesied in 1969, it’s “Utopia or Oblivion.”

music:  Jane Siberry, Narrow Bridge to the Millenium”

lyrics:

this is the narrow bridge
and you will stand there peering at the unraveling of the the dark line across the chasm. and you will not philosophize, decide, weigh– you will simply put your head down and start moving, feeling your way inch by inch, unguided by voices using only the sound of your own sound reflected. feeling the rope of the narrow bridge. this is your protection, as you move toward the end of the millennium. every moment spent bent over work, not cutting corners, doing things with care is protection, is the bridge to carry you through the darkness, for to do something with care is the closest thing to the feeling of love that can be found.  This is all i know. this is protection. This is the narrow bridge. And the hand reaches out for the drink the drug and it grabs a cloth instead, and you protest, and you start to clean and you clean the corners like they have never been cleaned before and you weep as you clean but you keep on going, and in this tiny gesture of respect the protection is found and the kingdom of grace moves softly down above the shoulders throwing a safety line out to
LOVE.





THE OLD WAYS

7 11 2009

So…how did people live in this part of North America, back before us Europeans overflowed our native continent and made ourselves at home on this one?  How did they survive without central heat and air, insulated buildings, or even screens to keep the flies and mosquitoes out?

Charles Hudson’s The Southeastern Indians provides definitive answers to such questions, and many more.  I spent a good portion of my reading time this summer studying this thorough, eloquent, scholarly volume, which is really at least three books in one.

It is a guide to low-impact living in this bioregion, enumerating and describing the tools and techniques used by indigenous people to live in balance with their ecosystem.

It lays out what we can reconstruct of the social relationships, political organization, and belief systems that created the matrix of everyday life.

Its closing chapters are a kind of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for the native peoples of the Southeast, telling the awful story of how they were overwhelmed, out-gunned, marginalized, ripped off, and ultimately run off.  That’s why there are virtually no “Indian Reservations” in the Southeastern US–can you say “ethnic cleansing,” boys and girls?

The first thing we have to remember about the European invasion of North America is that the native people were decimated more by the diseases our ancestors introduced than by the depredations of our ancestors themselves.  It is estimated that 90% of the native population was wiped out by diseases that spread ahead of the newly-arrived white people, and this may have something to do with why the tribes encountered by the first European expeditions had no account of the construction of the numerous mounds that dot the southeast  and proclaim a certain cultural continuity with the more elaborate native civilizations of Mexico and Central America.  Archaeological reconstruction, recounted by Hudson, tells us more about these people than the remaining tribal people knew, but there is much we can only guess at.

The people of the southeast lived in small villages, made clothing, dwelt in well-constructed homes, and maintained public buildings and other community gathering places.  The only metal they knew was copper, which was rare and reserved for ceremonial objects.  They fired pottery, gardened, and caught fish, but their main food source was the deer, and they practiced a kind of silviculture, burning the forests regularly to encourage open spaces and new growth so the deer could flourish.

They were also extensive gardeners, and I was surprised to learn some of the crops they tended.  I had long known that squash, corn and beans were introduced from Central America, but I had no idea that, before those plants traveled up the trade routes, the natives harvested the seeds of big-leaf ragweed, knotweed, and a plant I had not even heard of, sumpweed.  They also made use of amaranth and lambs’ quarters seeds and greens, as well as sunflowers, though all these crops became secondary once “the three sisters,”, with their abundant yields, arrived.

Their “chiefs” were not active rulers in the European sense,but more like overseers of the common good or a court of last resort for questions that could not be resolved at a lower level.

They had no money, but practiced barter and  “gift economy.”  In Hudson’s words:

…person A would donate his labor or a share of his food to person B as a “gift,” without specifying any kind of return.  At some time in the future, person B would return an equivalent amount of labor or food to person A, with no haggling.

This is a truly radical meme, and its widespread reintroduction might well prove to be one of the best ways to heal our excessively monetized culture, which understands the price of everything and the value of nothing.

The main “crimes” the native people had to deal with seem to have been murder and sexual infidelity.  The latter, as in our own society, sometimes lead to the former, but there were no jails, of course.  A murderer’s life might be forfeit to the family that had lost a member, but there were other ways to atone for crime, and there was also an annual general amnesty at the time of the Green Corn Ceremony, which Hudson describes in great detail.

Stealing, within a given tribe, seems to have been pretty much unknown, which is not surprising, since communities were small and tightly knit, and there was no anonymity.  Inter-tribal raiding was quite another matter.  Whatever their virtues, the native people were not pacifists.  The difference, of course, is that for them, war was, in many ways, fun.

Much of the energy of warfare found a less lethal outlet through inter-tribal or inter-village ball games.   While the game they played was a rough, informal version of lacrosse ,the enthusiastic preoccupation of whole villages in the games and their outcome seems to be carried on in the modern-day south’s love affair with high school and college football.

The story of European intrusion into this vibrant, sustainable culture casts its sad shadow through the entire book, and fills its closing chapters.  The new settlers took unflinching, cold-hearted advantage of their superiority in organization, numbers, and firepower to systematically deprive the native people of their rights, their land and property, and even the possibility of judicial remedy. Some whites, I discovered, protested these injustices, but were unable to sway the politicians and land dealers from their determination to displace the native people.  The process was remarkably similar to the institution of segregation after the Civil War, and I see its  modern echo in
Republican attempts to disenfranchise the poor and minorities across the country today.  Alas, some things just don’t change in some peoples’ psyches.

We are so enveloped by our manufactured, monetized, alienated culture that it has become difficult to imagine a realistic alternative.  Charles Hudson’s book is a window into just such a world.  While we cannot go back to it,we can take a great deal of very practical inspiration from it as we move forward into what comes after this age of oil, imports, and plastic.

music:  Buffy St. Marie, “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone





NATIVE NOTES

12 08 2005

Last week marked the sixtieth anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which to me are the two most horrible acts of terrorism ever committed. Our government promotes fear of non-Governmental terrorism, but if you look at the historical record, state terrorism has it all over the amateur variety. Dresden, Dachau, the slaughter of the Indonesian Communists and the reformers in Guatemala, Chile and Iran, the Chineses invasion and continuing occupation of Tibet, Stalin’s administration of Russia, the list goes on and on. And of course there is the United States’ treatment of North America’s original inhabitants. From the first years at Massachusetts Bay Colony to Wounded Knee, it was women and children first—as in, shoot the women and children first.

The mistreatment continues, albeit usually on a subtler level. A current example is the “Indian Trust Reform Act” that John McCain has been trying to pass for years. It never quite gets anywhere, but it attempts to address the fact that the government has, since the very beginning, both intentionally and negligently mismanaged a trust fund that is supposed to benefit the Native People.

In the mid-nineties, following the actual passage of one attempt at reforming the “Indian Trusts,” the government hired—of all people—Arthur Andersen to reconcile the accounts. The firm worked at it for over a year before reporting that the accounts were so severely mismanaged that they could probably not be reconciled, at least not for a price the government was willing to pay. This leads to questions of whether the firm’s subsequent troubles have been a form of shooting the messenger, but I’m not going there today.

This trust fund collects, or is supposed to collect, money from ranchers, oil and mineral extraction companies, and other for-profit businesses that use native peoples’ land to make their profits. What Arthur Anderson uncovered was that in many cases these monies have never been collected, and that much of the money that was collected did not actually get back to the native people it was supposed to benefit.

Senator McCain’s bill is based in a compassionate desire to get some money to the native peoples who were robbed, first of the land that was their birthright, and now of income they deserve from what we left for them. McCain’s bill, as I see it, has two drawbacks: the first is that the Native people are owed billions and billions of dollars (depending on how you figure interest and penalties) and McCain’s bill offers only pennies on the dollar. The second is that McCain’s bill expects the federal government to supply the missing funds—and the only money the federal government has is the taxes it collects from you and me and a few corporations that don’t quite have their accounting down. Why should we pay for the BIA’s malfeasance? It seems to me that the best way to collect these stolen and uncollected funds would be to get them from the businesses that failed to pay them in the first place or from the managers who pocketed the money on its way past—well, okay, some of those people are long in their graves and their ancestors are no more responsible for the current mess than you or I. Maybe we should give the native peoples the billions we owe them in the form of land—like, most of the upper midwest. Hey, they did a better job managing it than we have.








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