INTERPERSONAL PERMACULTURE

9 04 2014

written by Martin

Twenty years ago, when I was living in Vermont, a friend of mine moved from there down to middle Tennessee to join a startup permaculture community that was going to be centered around one of the big names in permaculture–honestly, I forget just who.  She returned to Vermont a few months later, saying she had been unable to get along with the guy well enough to stay.  We’re not talking boyfriend/girlfriend here, just being members of the same team/community.  Apparently, she was not the only person who couldn’t make it work with this particular guy, whoever he was, because he is no longer here in middle Tennessee, nor is there a twenty-year old, permaculture-based community in this area, to the best of my knowledge.

While I would love to be proved wrong about this and have members of this community emerge from obscurity and say, “We are here, we have been here, and here are at all the amazing things we’ve done in 20 years,” this apparently failed community is only one of a number of examples I could cite.  It seems that the tricky part of manifesting the long-term vision that permaculture demands isn’t molding the landscape, but forming and keeping together a community of people who can forge a common vision and implement it.  The same holds true for the whole spectrum of groups committed to “paradigm shift,” including, to name the first few that come to mind, political/environmental activism, the Transition Town movement, and healing centers and intentional communities. I have seen such difficulties arise, and disrupt communities and movements, numerous times over the course of my life.  That’s what I’m going to be discussing in this blog post:  what I have learned from my 40+ year involvement with intentional communities.

In college, I joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and was one of those who burned his draft card in Central Park in the late 60’s.  I attended enough SDS meetings to become discouraged by its failure to address the egos and emotions of those with a neurotic urge towards leadership and/or martyrdom, and its failure to “be the change it wanted to see.”ghandi Later I moved to San Francisco and witnessed the unravelling of the Haight-Ashbury as a viable community.  (In retrospect, my own neediness and lack of social and material skills probably helped propel that downfall, although I’m sure it all would have come apart just fine without me!)  I joined a small group that aspired to the model Robert Heinlein created in the science fiction novel “Stranger in a Strange Land,” but that succumbed to the neuroses of its founders within a month.  I slept for one night and one night only at a Digger crash pad that had slid so far down the tubes that people were peeing in a sink full of dirty dishes, because the toilets had long ago stopped working.  (OK, that was actually on the Lower East Side of New York, but it was The Diggers.)  I attended what turned to be the last meeting of the San Francisco Diggers, where those who had been in the movement for a while bemoaned the fact that they didn’t own the buildings that they were trying to maintain as The Free Store and the Community Kitchen.  I met several times with a group of people who were getting together to buy land in southern Oregon. That disintegrated in the face of actually coming up with the cash necessary for the deal.  I hung out with the folks from the Harbinger Community, who had the use of a hot spring/resort hotel north of San Francisco.  They lasted a few months before dissolving in a cloud of bad drugs and irresponsible people. Read the rest of this entry »

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THE STATE BLINKS

9 09 2012

As I reported last month, the 6th Circuit Appeals Court heard the state of Tennessee’s appeal of our case at the end of July, and apparently largely agreed with us, telling the state to go ahead and put our candidates on the ballot while they wrote their final decision.  They didn’t order the state to conduct a lottery to determine ballot placement, but shortly after the court hearing, the state primary gave, uh, “primary facie” evidence of why that might be a good idea, when the first candidate listed  (alphabetically) on the Democrat primary ballot beat out the DP’s anointed candidate by a 2-1 margin and became their official candidate for U.S. Senate, in spite of being a gun-toting racist tea partier who thinks corporate Republican Bob Corker is way too tame.

Well, at least he’s got it right about Corker being a corporate whore–although, as a multi-millionaire, maybe Corker is more of a corporate whore-monger than an actual whore. Read the rest of this entry »





DEEP IN THE HEART OF TAXES

9 06 2012

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has asked for a one-half percent increase in the property tax, but from the howls of protest you would think he had proposed sacrificing the first-born of every Tea Partier or other stripe of reactionary in town.  Apparently not all reactionaries identify with the Tea Party.  Here are the words of one commenter in “The City Paper”:

I’m against this tax increase but not a member of the Tea Party. So how accurate is this article? Why would you call all citizens that are against an illogical decision at this time in the economy ‘tea party sympathizers’. Where did that come from? What a bunch of liberal whack jobs you have working for your paper.

Speaking of “illogical”…how about that jump to “liberal whack jobs”?  Highly amusing, from my point of view–as a bit of a “liberal whack job” myself, I have considered “The City Paper” to be a conservative-leaning, business-oriented, but relatively even-handed publication, certainly not  a bunch of ‘liberal whack jobs.” But hey, people are angry.  Pitchforks and torches are being joked about here and there, possibly the first step to actually putting them, or their 21st-century equivalents, whatever that may turn out to be, to use.  After all, who’s actually got a pitchfork these days?  And who remembers how to make a serviceable torch?

But I digress.  Two questions:  first, what, beyond characterizing those who oppose the tax hike as “tea partiers,” did the City Paper actually say that aroused this person’s ire?  Second, what about the commenter’s claim that raising taxes at this point is an “illogical decision”?

To my mind, the article mentions the Tea Party frequently because most of the people the reporter talked to, apparently, self-identified with the Tea Party.  And, to my mind, one of the characteristics of Tea Partiers is irrational, hair-trigger hostility to anything and anyone who doesn’t confirm their strongly held belief that they have a right to be who they are and what they are, i.e., a right to all the privileges their wealth and position as middle-class white Americans have always entitled them.  They adamantly refuse to reconsider this. A spiritual teacher I used to hang out with called the baby-boom generation of Americans “the most spoiled generation in the history of the planet,” and while the teacher ultimately proved to have his own failings, I think he got that part right. If you’re looking for a zombie apocalypse, America’s reactionaries are the zombies.  We’ll have the apocalypse soon enough, I suspect.  Meanwhile, let’s get back to Metro Nashville’s budget and its validity, or lack therof.

When I went to Metro’s website for budget info, the oldest budget I could pull up was the 2003 one, so I’m going to use that for comparison with Dean’s 2013 proposal.

The first thing to note is that Metro’s 2003 budget called for the raising and spending of $1.3 billion, while Dean’s budget for next year is a $1.7B pie.  That’s a 25% increase in ten years.  What’s inflated the city’s budget?  Do the Tea Partiers have a point?

Here’s some facts about changes in Metro’s budget over the last ten years.  The cost of running the government itself has gone up about fifty percent, from $143M to $220M.  The cost of Metro’s court system has gone up by about a third, from $42M to $55M.  The cost of running Metro’s police department and jails has gone up nearly a third, from $165M to $212M.  The city is spending ten percent less on building inspection and enforcing regulations, a drop from $34M to $31M.  Social service spending has been cut by nearly half, from $14M to $8M.  Health and hospital expenditures, on the other hand, have almost doubled, going from $40M to $78M.   Library funding has remained nearly flat, rising only from $18M to $21M, and the parks and recreation budget has declined by about 40%, sliding from $73M to $40M.   There’s good news in the “debt service” column, as the city is paying a little less there, $159M in 2003 versus $133M now.  The kicker, however, is public school expenditures, which grew by nearly a third, from $475M to $716M, and also grew from 36% of the city budget ten years ago to a projected 42% next year.

Is there a hundred million dollars that could be trimmed out of this?  Probably.  And yes, it would probably cause some pain, mostly among those who don’t need more pain.  Cutting the salaries of Metro’s highest-salaried employees would be a great gesture, but  mere spit in a hundred-million dollar bucket.  What’s a mayor to do?

The next question to ask about the city’s budget, of course, is “where do they propose to raise the money to pay for all this?”

Those who object to higher taxes may have a point here.  Factoring in the property tax increase, Metro expects to raise $893M from property taxes, about a third more money than the $610M IT collected in 2003.  The proposed hundred million dollar tax hike accounts for about a third of the increase in this revenue source, which the city expects to provide over half its income, up slightly from  45% to 52% over the last ten years.  The city is also expecting about twenty percent more sales tax income than it received ten years ago, $295M vs. $244M.  Metro also expects grant revenue to be higher than it was ten years ago, at $330M, while a decade ago the city “only” received $240M in grants.

Two streams of thought cross my mind about this.  The first is that yes, it’s entirely possible that Nashville experienced enough growth over the last ten years so that, even with the deflation of the real estate bubble, there could be two hundred million tax dollars more infrastructure in Davidson County, at least at pre-bubble-pop prices.  Presuming the 2013 re-assessment is honest, how much of a decline will we see in the local tax base?  In my neighborhood, I have seen land and homes sit with “For Sale” signs on them for years.  That’s fine with me, since several of these are development tracts and I’d rather not see them developed, but it doesn’t bode well for Metro’s revenue stream.  The second stream of thought is that, with the country’s economy withering in spite of all the cheerleading our leaders can muster, is it really reasonable to expect continued growth in sales tax income?  Well, yes, at least in the short term. According to the Tennessee Department of Revenue, sales tax collections in, for example, the first three months of this year and last year, are on a par with or slightly above what they were back in the glory days of 2006, when a man’s home was still his ATM machine.

I intended to compare the school board’s budget for 2003 with its projected 2013 budget, but they changed their categories at some point over the last decade, making a line-item comparison impossible.  I presume, however, that when the 2013 budget allocates $559M for “personal services,” that does not mean they will be spending the bulk of their budget hiring hookers.  The Metro Nashville School Board is not, after all, the CIA!

And, after all, this tax hike is not really that onerous.   It will amount to $16 a month for the average homeowner, which is more or less the cost of one large pizza or four gallons of gasoline.  “Oh, the loss of one pizza per month!  I can’t stand it!”  And the money the county collects will, after all, be spent in Davidson County, benefitting the county’s economy, even if not quite the way a property owner might have done it himself.

So, in a way, this tax increase is pretty trivial, only magnified because feelings of community and noblesse oblige have atrophied in America.

But there are deeper questions that this tax hike brings up, questions about the city’s competence to wisely allocate funds in general, and the way we spend money on education in particular.  Let’s take a music break and then I’ll talk about that.

Music:  James McMurtry, “Comfortable

There is a very common assumption among Americans, and really among most denizens of the developed world, that the way things have, in our experience, always been, is the way it’s always going to be.  That’s clearly the assumption underlying both our city’s budget in general, and the operational philosophy of our school system in particular, and my suspicion is that it is setting us up for a major disaster.

Our Mayor, Karl Dean, likes to style himself as “green,” and  frequently mentions his desire to make Nashville “the greenest city in the southeastern US.”  His vision of what that means seems to conform to the common delusion that if we just switch to LEED buildings and hybrid cars, and get more exercise, life will go on, “same as it ever was.”  He, and, indeed, all of us, including me, are likely in for a rude awakening about that over the next couple of decades.  Increased spending on police forces will not bring us greater personal security.  A new convention center will not bring us more tourist dollars.  Increased spending on education in its current form will not create a public prepared to cope with the many levels pf changes that are about to happen.

Ah, public education….I was raised by a school teacher, and I appreciate the fact that most teachers are deeply committed to the students they teach, work their asses off, and are underpaid for the time they put in and their level of education.  It’s important for young people to be able to make a personal connection with at least one adult who is not their parent, and that’s one of the important social functions teachers serve.  I also think it’s important for the citizens of a country to have a common body of knowledge and cultural heritage, and that’s an important function of our school system.  It’s not about preparing young people for ‘jobs,” it’s about preparing young people for life.   And I am very critical of the so-called “No Child Left Behind” educational policy that has been instituted in this country because it robs teachers of their creativity and flexibility, and institutes “ability to pass standard tests” as a measure of the success of a school teacher and a school system.

And that’s also the point at which my appreciation for our country’s school system passes over into criticism.  “No Child Left Behind” is simply a logical extension of the down side of our country’s educational philosophy, which is that it is intended to standardize people, to get them used to being treated as small, powerless subjects of a large, impersonal organization, subjects who will learn the importance of quiet obedience to authority, of showing up exactly on time, of eating lunch in a hurry, of stopping what they are doing when the bell rings, the importance of cheering for your school’s sports teams (later transformed into cheering for your army).  Real democracy demands rowdy people, not subdued ones.  Real democracy demands people who think for themselves, not people who think what they are told, whether it is by a teacher or a preacher or Faux News.  And the world we are heading into, “Eaarth,” as Bill McKibben has termed it, demands people with real-life skills, like how to grow food, how to improvise solutions and fix things, how to have a good time without electronic stimulation, and how to get along well with a group of people.  These skills cannot be learned in virtual reality or measured on a written standard test, and they are very peripheral, when they exist at all, in the curriculum of Nashville’s schools.

So, maybe, in the long run, we will be better off if we don’t give up one pizza a month for the benefit of Metro’s budget.  But maybe, in the short run, we will be better off if we do.  In all likelihood, Metro Council is going to take that pizza off our table and send it to City Hall.  Maybe we’d be better off if we learned how to make our own pizzas, from growing the wheat  for the crust right on through making the cheese and building the oven to bake it in, as well as the plate and table on which we serve it, the knife we cut it with, the napkins with which we clean our sticky faces and fingers, and the soap and hot water for the cleanup.  There’s nothing like the brain-tickling smell of fresh oregano to bring people to the table, no matter how lost in the illusion of modern America they may be.  We might just have to do it for ourselves until our leaders get the picture.

music:  Ani DiFranco, “J





“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





OCCUPY EVERYWHERE

15 10 2011

I have a cousin who used to work for the World Bank, back in the day when most people thought highly of that institution.  His specialty was bringing potable water into urban neighborhoods in Africa, which is a noble pursuit, in my opinion.  My cousin has a good understanding of “the big picture,” and thus it was that he asked me a question, thirty years ago, that still rings in my ears, because it seems more and more relevant.  We were talking about The Farm, which at the time was a bustling and vigorous community of 1500 dedicated spiritual and cultural revolutionaries and our children.  The question my cousin asked me was this:  “What are you doing to make sure the younger generation has ways to fit in and take responsibility?”  At the time, his query brought me up short–I didn’t know what to tell him.

The question about the Farm became moot in just a few short years as the community imploded, scattering most of its young–and old–members far and wide.  Reduced now to a much more manageable population of a couple of hundred (at 1500 residents, our population density, and ecological problems, were on a par with Bangladesh), the community seems to be making the transition from one generation to the next fairly gracefully.  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about right now.

What I’m here to talk about is that somebody should have asked my cousin’s question–“what’s in it for the next generation?”– to the vast array of politicians, business “leaders,” and Wall Street banksters who have systematically dismantled this country for their own benefit.  They have saddled young people with enormous debts for their education–debts which, for most, cannot be shed through bankruptcy–while at the same time they have eliminated the jobs that could have paid back those loans.

The election of Barack Obama–who has turned out to be a Trojan Horse for the banksters and  other forces of greed and repression in this country–served to destroy young peoples’ faith in the political process. The unemployed and unneeded are refusing to accept the Republican idea that it’s somehow their own fault that they have been dealt out of the economy, There is nothing left for them to do but take it  to the streets–they rightfully feel that they have nothing left to lose, but everything to gain.

And the banksters have good reason to be nervous.  Everybody knows they’ve ripped off everybody, including the police on whom they are depending for defense against the mob.  The army?  The army is full of young people who joined because they couldn’t find a job anywhere else.  They have plenty of grounds for sympathy with the protests–indeed, many veterans are joining the protests.  And everyone in the military is aware of the increasingly shoddy treatment of disabled veterans.  Even the army could get shaky.  Polls show that, unlike the “Tea Party,” a majority of Americans support the Occupiers.

The biggest complaint heard about this movement is that its demands are not clear–that the manifesto issued by Occupy Wall Street wanders all over the place.  In my opinion, the same charge could be leveled at America’s Declaration of Independence.  If i had time, I’d compare the two–maybe next month.  What is happening here is a truly populist, bottom-up driven movement that is still finding its voice, as it rises up against a system that may be too far gone for mere reform.

As an aging counterculturalist, I feel both happy and sad when I see what’s going on in America now.  I feel happy because the Occupy movement is so much more widespread and appreciated than the efforts of my generation.  We have been warning of the dangers of unfettered aggression, greed, and growth for decades, and we have been ridiculed, trivialized, or ignored, while things just got worse and worse.  I feel sad because the desire for rootedness and self-sufficiency that drove my generation to “occupy” the back country is not really an option for this wave of our movement, at this point.  In the East, the forests have been clearcut and the mountain tops removed, while the West has been despoiled by oil seekers and the vacation homes of the1%.  Land is too expensive, time is too short, and the social regulatory mechanisms are still too controlling for this new generation to take the rural, communal route to freedom that my generation traveled.   But the money and the regulations will fade away over the next decade or two, and the land will fall into the hands of those who can–occupy it.   Not only is a saner future possible, it seems to be a-borning.

music:  Gogol Bordello, “Rebellious Love





DOUBLE STANDARD

10 09 2011

Not content with having a lock on the state legislature, not content with having a lock on future elections by mandating Tennessee’s continued use of unrecountable, easily hackable computerized voting machines, the state’s Republicans are now trying to dictate who can and cannot be a Democratic legislator.  When State Representative Gary Moore became President of the Tennessee AFL-CIO, Tennessee Republican Party Chair Chris Devaney sent Moore a strongly worded letter suggesting that this put Moore in a conflict of interest position and that he needed to choose between being in the legislature and heading the state’s council of unions.

Moore defended himself, saying that his position no more disqualified him than the full-time job of anybody else in our state’s legislature. Since the legislature does not meet year ’round, it does not pay what is considered a “full time job” salary–although, when you throw in a thou a month for “office expenses,” and a healthy per diem expense allowance, it’s more money than I’ve ever made working full time.  But that’s not what I want to talk about.  I want to talk about what Rep. Moore could have said.  Maybe he considered it and thought “Naah, it’s true but saying it will just make it harder to work in the same legislature as these bozos,” but here’s what I would have said:

Republicans have some nerve alleging that ties with the AFL-CIO amount to putting a labor lobbyist in the legislature.  The AFL-CIO is an organization that represents the working people of this state–well, 5.7% of them, anyway–real live human being-type citizens of the State of Tennessee, people with families and, in many cases, deep roots in this state.  There is nothing untoward about the head of such a genuine, grass-roots citizens’ group being a member of the state legislature.

Many of our state’s Republican legislators, in contrast, are the pawns of a covert, nationwide lobby relentlessly pursuing an agenda that elevates corporate profits above human well-being,  This lobby, “The American Legislative Exchange Council,” which disingenuously–and possibly illegally-claims to be an “educational foundation,” allows corporations and their lawyers to write legislation that favors the corporations, and then pass it on to willing state legislators who introduce these poison bills all over the country as if they were their own creations.  There is no transparency; ALEC’s archive of model bills is open only to its members, and thus it is difficult for citizens to know whether their legislators are introducing a bill that truly reflects local conditions and concerns, or a generic, one-size-fits all piece of legislation that was essentially created to line corporate pockets, and the public be damned.

Fortunately, ALEC’s veil of secrecy has been pierced, and its archives exposed.  What this exposure has revealed is that much of the substantive legislation introduced by Tennessee Republicans this year was crafted in corporate boardrooms and law offices.   Those who have claimed concern about me, Gary Moore, being a “puppet of outside interests” are, themselves, puppets of an insidious outside interest. Here are some of the ALEC bills we have had to contend with here in Tennessee:

Our legislature passed a law making it necessary for voters to present a photo ID.  A driver’s license or gun license is allowable; a college ID is not, a provision that makes no sense unless you are trying to disenfranchise college students, who, unlike gun owners, for the most part do not vote Republican.  Those without a photo ID can get a “free” one from state drivers’ license offices, which will require a substantial investment of time for those who live far from such an office.  There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud due to phony ID.  This is, purely and simply, an attempt to limit the number of people who vote….but then, conservatives often speak of wanting to return to our original Constitutional principles.  For roughly the first fifty years of our republic, the franchise was limited to white male property owners.  Perhaps this is what modern conservatives aspire to do?

On a lighter note, State Sen. Mae Beavers introduced a copycat bill mandating that all presidential candidates present a “long-form birth certificate” in order to get on the ballot.  In an interview, Beavers had to admit that she doesn’t even know what a “long-form birth certificate” is.  Beavers also introduced “The Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act,” a bill introduced or passed in 35 other states, which proclaims

if a firearm and/or ammunition is made totally within the state of Tennessee, and stamped ‘Made in Tennessee,’ then the federal government has no jurisdiction over that item in any fashion so long as it remains in state and outside of interstate commerce.

It strikes me as a bizarre manifestation of conservative doublethink that this bill is being pushed by those who applauded when the Supreme Court ruled against a similar case that involved marijuana that was grown and consumed in California.  OK, the “Firearms Freedom Act” may or may not have had ALEC’s backing–but the general loosening of gun laws in the state definitely comes from ALEC.

There is the “Tennessee Civil Justice Act,” passed under the conservative rallying cry, “Tort Reform!” This bill makes it much more difficult for citizens to obtain reasonable damages from businesses that have ripped them off.  Even though passed after the enormous investment scandal that has decimated our economy, this bill specifically exempts the sale of securities–stocks and bonds, etc.–from civil lawsuits.

The “Tennessee Healthcare Freedom Act” is another bill that came directly from ALEC, written by private insurers who do not want their profits and prerogatives regulated in the slightest.

On the labor front, the legislature abolished collective bargaining for teachers, and considered a bill that would have effectively criminalized union organizing of any kind.

It didn’t even take a full Republican majority to pass a bill similar to Arizona’s anti-immigration measures.  This bill came directly from ALEC, and it is no secret that Corrections Corporation of America helped write the law–which generates a lot of business for the private, for-profit prison corporation.

While Tennessee’s ludicrous “anti-Sharia law” may not have originated with ALEC, it is a product of the same dull-witted xenophobia that has resulted in a rash of ALEC-written anti-immigrant bills that were introduced in the legislature this year.  Immigrants, legal or otherwise, Mexican or Muslim,  are not the reason our economy has gone bad.  Our economy has gone bad because of the selfish actions of the corporations that are writing these anti-immigrant bills.

Here’s the facts:  there are an estimated 60,000 Muslims in the state, less than one percent of our total population.  There are an estimated quarter million Hispanics in Tennessee, around four percent of the state’s population.  There are 115,000 union members in the state, less than two percent of our population. We are in no short-term or long-term danger of having unions, Sharia law, or the Spanish language forced on us.  Got that?

On the other hand, there are over a million voting Republicans in Tennessee, and nearly 2/3 of them support the Tea Party and its program, which is driven by the same secretive cabal of corporations that directs ALEC.  The citizens of Tennessee are being misinformed into voting against their own best interests, filling the legislature with covert operatives for a corporate agenda that is rapidly turning Tennessee and the rest of America into a two-tier society that leaves 99% of us disempowered and impoverished in the bottom tier, while the wealthy live a lifestyle that makes Louis XIV of France look modest.

As one commentator put it, the Tea Party’s organizers “conflate crony capitalism with free enterprise, and free enterprise with personal liberty. Between them they have constructed the philosophy that informs the Tea Party movement: its members mobilize for ‘freedom’, unaware that the freedom they demand is freedom for corporations to trample them into the dirt.”

So yes, there is a dangerous conflict of interest corrupting the Tennessee legislature.  But it is those who are pointing their fingers and making loud accusations who are in fact the danger, not the state’s teachers, firefighters, other union members, Muslims or Hispanics.  Those of us in this state who truly value personal liberty over corporate license need to band together and expose this sham, not bow our heads and knuckle under to it.  No, Mr.  Devaney, I am NOT resigning.

And that’s what I’d say if I were Gary Moore.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Slouching Toward Bethlehem





WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

10 09 2011

Here’s my response to that “Mid-Tennessee Progressive Strategy” group’s response to the Obama indictment.  I’ve added links, and changed it a little for greater clarity and because, when I took a little more time for fact-checking, I didn’t have all my details right–but this is substantially the same post.

As I was considering how to respond to the many comments my post elicited, I read the following quote from Susan Sontag in Yes!:

Acting on principle is, we’re told, a good in itself. But it is still a political act, in the sense that you’re not doing it for yourself. You don’t do it just to be in the right, or to appease your own conscience; much less because you are confident your action will achieve its aim. You resist as an act of solidarity. With communities of the principled and the disobedient: here, elsewhere. In the present. In the future…..

The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting.”

So, with that to set the tone, here is my response to the different objections that were raised to my bill of particulars against the strategy of aligning with Obama and the Democratic Party.

I cannot support him or the Democrat Party because they are war criminals. Obama has not only declined to prosecute any Cheney administration officials for war crimes, he has continued and actually expanded Cheney’s criminal policies. It should be obvious, at this point, that he went into the Presidential race knowing full well that he would be doing that, throwaway lines like “close Guantanamo” (which never happened) not withstanding. To vote for him, or anyone who, like Jim Cooper, continues to support war crimes and war criminals is to be complicit in those crimes, just like the “good Germans” of the last century. And, like Germany and Italy, America has become a fascist state, defined as one in which the government is run in collusion with, and for the benefit of, big business.

Of course, 21st century American fascism has learned a thing or two about how to be “kinder and gentler”–nobody’s getting sent to the gas chamber–but Gaza and Palestine, and the now-60-year old Palestinian refugee camps are the 21st century equivalent of concentration camps—and they are maintained with U.S. aid. And, likewise, this fascism is sure enough of its hold on power that it won’t send us to the camps just for making accusations like this. It’s much cheaper (and better PR) to simply ignore us, dismiss tax protests as “frivolous filings” to be dealt with administratively, and save the legal big guns for those who actually do things that throw a monkey wrench in the gears of power, like Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, or Tim DeChristopher.

As for the charge that I am not “dealing with the realities of America politics,” those “realities” are insanely out of touch with real-deal reality. The real-deal reality is that our government’s willful ignor-ance of the seriousness of climate change is a serious threat to the ability of this planet to continue to support higher life forms such as ourselves. The grim difference between the late 20th century’s bane, “Mutual Assured Destruction,” and our current situation is that, while Mutual Assured Destruction turned out to be a threat that never materialized (except to the extent that military expenditures stole from our ability to make the planet a better place for everyone), every day that we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels sinks us deeper into the tar pit of runaway climate change, while our “leaders” babble about “growth” and “job creation.” This kind of unconscious commitment to the idea that the way it’s been is the way it’s going to be is a planetary suicide pact, and, weak old man that I am, it makes me want to kick and scream and raise hell to wake people from the sleepwalk of politics as usual in America.

“I” can’t do a whole lot about this, but “we” can. Vaclav Havel started out as a lonely dissident, and was ground under the heel of the Soviet empire—but he persisted, and eventually enough people came around to his point of view that the whole sorry reality of “Communist” totalitarianism crumbled–not through confrontation, but by decay from within, as an overwhelming majority withdrew their consent from the system. You can bet that he got plenty of well-intentioned advice along the way about how he needed to be more realistic and accept “Communist” domination! Something similar has to happen here. There are two ways the two-party duopoly could come undone: either an East-bloc-style revolution of belief, or the total collapse of America as we’ve known it. As a guy who would like to die peacefully of old age, I would much prefer the former, but, as it stands, I’m deeply concerned that we’re heading for the latter.

As it stands, “progressives” (a term whose definition is a whole other subject) in the Democratic Party are in the position of a woman who stays with her abusive husband, hoping she can change him. As with individual cases, that’s unlikely to happen, especially as long as he (the corporate-oriented Democratic Party, in this case) thinks he can take your support for granted, no matter what he does, because you view him as your only option. Here’s the reality: he’s too addicted to corporate money to ever listen to “progressives” again, and it’s been that way for at least 30 years. There have been some truly noble “progressive Democrats” like Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, and Cynthia McKinney, but they have been seriously mistreated by the mainstream of the Democratic Party.  Well, OK, Barbara Lee has not been harassed by her own party–she pulls 85% of the vote without even trying.  It’s pretty hard to harass somebody who’s that popular at home.

Cynthia McKinney had the good sense to jump to the Green Party, which could really take off if all the people who “hold their nose and vote for Democrats” screwed up their courage instead of holding their noses, and walked out on the Democrats instead of voting for the stinkers. One commenter said he thought the American electorate was trending rightward. I disagree. My understanding of the results of the 2010 election is not that a whole lot more people voted Republican, but that a whole lot fewer people voted Democrat, due to feeling burned by the party’s failure to deliver on their expectations of it. I am also aware of repeated polling that shows that Americans overall are much more “progressive” than the choices that are allowed in our corporate-run political system, and that the” Tea Party” is, when all is said and done, a minority voice. The fact that 50-60% of potential voters don’t vote in most of our elections means that the “Republican majority” is really only about 20-25% of the electorate, and tells me that there is enormous potential for a new political movement in this country that will actually listen to–and speak for–the real concerns of real people. The Green Party was created to do just that.  We do not take corporate money. Those of us who have been keeping it going in this state for the last ten years would love to be supplanted by “progressives” who got disgruntled with the major parties and came on over. In Canada, the New Democrats, who were a “third party” for years, have now supplanted the Liberals as the country’s main opposition party. Change can happen, but only if enough people are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Oh, and “scary Perry”? The blustering bully from Texas and the smooth-talking con-man from Chicago are working for the same masters. Choosing between them amounts to, do you want to be railroaded by the good cop (Obama) or by the bad cop (Perry, Bachman, etc.)? My response is, I haven’t done anything wrong. They have, and I’m not giving them my power. Obama’s a war criminal, Perry’s a murderer who aspires to be a war criminal. The proper response to people like them is to step away, not to try and reform them or work with their political supporters in hopes of creating substantive social change. It ain’t gonna happen, any more than the Mafia is going to become a model civic organization if we reach out to it and try to work to change it.

There are those who say that it’s too late for politics, that the only thing left to do is duck and cover and create our own community survival networks.  To me, that’s a worst-case scenario–not so far out as to be ignored, but not yet inevitable.  I believe it is still possible for the people of this country to wake up, shake off the whores who pass for politicians, and take this country back, and that’s what keeps me, as Susan Sontag put it, “acting on principle.”  Whether it has wider results or not, it’s the only way I can live with myself.

Music:  Richard Thompson, “Borrowed Time








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