U.S. GOVERNMENT DROWNED IN BATHTUB!

13 08 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





THE MYTH–AND THE REALITY–OF “RECOVERY”

19 06 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew….I could write a book!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for “a fearless moral inventory.”

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

Greg Brown:  “Poor Backslider

OK, next in the 12 steps:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Making amends”–just what would that entail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music:  Roseanne Cash, “I Want a Cure





ISLAMIC TERRORISTS? WHO NEEDS ISLAMIC TERRORISTS? WE’VE GOT TORNADOES (AND FINANCIERS)!

7 05 2011

Suppose I told you that terrorists had launched a series of attacks on the U.S. that killed over 400 people, caused billions of dollars in damage, and leveled large sections of several cities?  Suppose I told you that these same terrorists had also caused the flooding of  hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and numerous small towns?  And suppose i told you that our government seems utterly clueless about the identity of these terrorists and is doing nothing to stop them–that, indeed, a great many legislators, including a majority in one house of Congress, are simultaneously denying that these terrorists exist and passing laws that seem designed to aid and abet them?   And suppose I told you that our government is not only ignoring these terrorists, but dashing madly off in the wrong direction, using its resources to combat imaginary enemies, and even prosecuting  people who attempt in some way to counter the real threat to our national, not to say individual, security?

It’s happening.  The terrorists didn’t use bombs, or airplanes, or anthrax.  Tornadoes and torrential rain did the trick.  Our country is undergoing a massive, sustained terrorist attack from the natural world.

And suppose I told you there was yet another gang of terrorists who are doing everything they can to destroy this country economically–by defunding and demoralizing our educational system, eliminating every middle-class job they can get their hands on, and throwing people out of their homes, even when they’re not behind on their mortgages?  And that this gang of terrorists seems to be proceeding with the overt backing of not only our government, but millions of voters?

I mean, it’s like “mice for fat cats” or “rabbits for hawks.”  Instead, we’re calling it “The Tea Party.”Finally, suppose I pointed out to you that the government, instead of going after these terrorists, who are doing such widespread, real damage, is spending our tax dollars prosecuting environmentalists who attempt to bring attention to the real terrorists, whistle blowers like Bradley Manning,  who draw attention to what a poor job the government “of the people” is doing “for the people,” and luring Muslim youth into government-fabricated “terrorist plots” so it can prosecute and incarcerate them at our expense, as well as threatening to arrest state employees for helping implement state-run medical marijuana programs, and busting Amish farmers for selling raw milk to willing customers.

Can you say, “straining out gnats and swallowing camels,” boys and girls?  Is there a pattern here?  Can you connect the dots?

The dots most people aren’t connecting here are the ones that point to how we, including me,  my wife, our numerous internal combustion engines and our dependence on grid-generated electric power, are feeding both the power of our planet’s weather systems and the power of our insatiable financial elite.

Both equations are simple.  The planet is warming, and we are turning its forests, with their ability to sequester both water and carbon dioxide, into various single-use consumer goods that sequester neither water nor CO2, meanwhile burning all the carbon-based fuels we can, as fast as we can, throwing even more CO2 into the atmosphere, warming the planet.  A warmer atmosphere creates more evaporation, putting more water in the atmosphere.  More moisture in the atmosphere creates the potential for more and stronger storm systems.  And here we are, biting our own ass.

Similarly, it’s almost impossible to function in this country without feeding the corporate demons that seem to be hell-bent on devouring the world.  Automobile?  Insurance? Property?  Internet connection?  Tools of any kind?  Medical care?

Food and clothing?  Maybe you grow most of your own food and buy most of your clothing at yard sales, but unless you’re saving all your own seeds, using only homemade compost, and scratching the ground with a pointed stick, you’re still dependent, and, let’s face it, all that second-hand clothing came from a factory somewhere.  Still dependent.

And, if you try to hole up and devote all your time to being self-sufficient, you’re likely to have your local codes people knocking on your door, and, by the way, how are you going to pay your land taxes?

Truly, we are all caught in a web.  Some people are resigned to being spider food, but some of us are doing everything we can to free ourselves.  The Hopi had a word for our situation–“Koyaanisqatsi,” which means

“crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living”

So, just how are we going to get back in balance, find that other way of living?

In the Tibetan tradition, when you are afflicted with a demon, sometimes the best thing to do is to create a bigger demon who will smash the one who is attacking you; and that, I think, is what we have done.  Financial vampires may seem to have the upper hand right now, but the natural world demons they/we have unleashed will, in the end, prove to be much more powerful than any financial instrument, weapon, or government.

I’ve said it before, stolen it from James Kunstler, actually, but–get yourselves plenty of popcorn and drinking water, and a good umbrella.  It’s gonna be a great show from the cheap seats.  The expensive seats?  You wouldn’t wanna be in those.  That’s where things land when they go off the track.

music:  Jackson Browne, “Before the Deluge





SHOCK DOCTRINE COMES TO THE CUMBERLAND?

13 03 2011

Last month, I attended a meeting called by the Nashville Peace and Justice Center, at which we “brainstormed,” as they say, on how to pursue a progressive agenda in Tennessee, given the state’s sharp tilt to the right over the last several elections.  I have to say, the results were not encouraging.  The old traditional tactic, “lobbying the legislature,” no longer works, and our current state government brushes off such mass demonstrations as we can muster as implacably as Qadhafi’s counterattack on the Libyan rebellion.

One call for a “mass demonstration” produced about 400 local union members and justice advocates–basically the usual suspects, from what I observed when I was there. A “statewide” gathering a couple of weeks later pulled in, I’m told, 3-4,000 people, the largest gathering of non-Chicanos to hit the state capital in quite some time, but hardly critical mass, especially since everybody went home promptly when the demo was over.

As far as the state’s Republican legislative majority is concerned, they probably could have just stayed home in the first place.  The party has an agenda to pass, and they don’t intend to be swayed from it.  As long-time activist Bernie Ellis has commented,

If you spend any time on the hill these days (as a few of us are), you will know that our legislature has indeed been taken over by flying monkeys. Opposing freedom of religion, dictating to local governments what protections they can extend to their citizenry (or not), creating our own Tennessee state currency — the list of anti-American lunacy goes on and on. Democratic legislators say that the Republicans are not even speaking with them anymore about any bills and (one) said to me yesterday that, in committees, Democrats are being gaveled as “out-of-order” as soon as they open their mouths. This is lawlessness of the highest order, and there is no solution available to us anymore that involves logic, rationality or politeness. The solution is in our Tennessee history books, which we should reread before this particular stain of Republicans burns them all.

(When I hear from liberals trying to work with our legislature) I am reminded of the TV commercial of the single Homo sapiens in an office full of chimpanzees. If I wanted to be around dung-slinging animals, I would go to the zoo. If I wanted to honor and observe the power and wonder of the consent of the governed, I would go to a lawfully and democratically elected legislature anywhere on this planet. These days, since the TN legislature was (s)elected by other means, it is not the place to admire democracy — it is a place to pack peanuts and wear a raincoat.

….All votes… will be strictly along party lines and anyone who doesn’t realize that by now needs to get off the kool-aid. We lost our democracy in 2008 when we allowed the Republicans to conduct “just one more” election on the DREs. If anyone wants to go to the U.S. Department of Justice (or the barricades), get in touch. If not, then have a nice life.

Thanks, Bernie, for laying it out so passionately.  I’m going to spend the next few minutes elaborating on his compact commentary, which mentions a great many more issues than it explains.

Last things first–the Tennessee legislature, which happily passed a bill mandating a return to recountable ballots in 2008, continues to backpedal on that promise.  Republicans are committed to the idea that switching from computer voting to paper voting will cost more money, and are using their “commitment to cut expenditures” as a reason to retain our current, unverifiable, expensive, computerized voting system.  It is Bernie’s strong belief that Republicans took advantage of computerized voting to fix the last election and seize power in the state.  I think this may well be the case, and Republican insistence on retaining the computer voting machines is certainly highly suspicious, given their general rejection in the US and around the world, but I also can see that the state’s rightward slide may be attributable to a reactionary trend among rural white Tennesseans and the general lameness of the state’s Democratic Party.

A Department of Justice investigation would be helpful, but, given that the Democratic Party’s lame response to the Republican Party’s pro-business offensive goes right on up the line to the DOJ and the White House, I don’t think we’ll get any clarification on this any time soon, and the question in Tennessee will continue to be “Who did your voting machine vote for?”

“The solution in the Tennessee history books” to which Bernie refers is an incident commonly known as “the battle of Athens,” in which an organized group of returning WWII vets successfully took up arms to overthrow a corrupt county government in Athens, Tennessee, shortly after the war.  It’s a wonderfully romantic image, but I don’t really see it as a practical option at this point.  This time around, alas, they’ve got the guns AND the numbers.  We are in the same position as the Good Government in Gomorrah party, but, unlike Lot, we can’t just leave, because nearly the whole country, and most of the world, is in no better shape than we are here.  We’re gonna have to ride it out where we are.

As for general lunacy and dung-slinging, here’s a short list:  the “anti-Sharia” law, revocation of collective bargaining for Tennessee teachers, unilateral abrogation of the national health care bill, a proposal to limit cities’ ability to enact local anti-discrimination, fair wage, and zoning laws, a state constitutional amendment forbidding an income tax, a proposal that the state issue its own currency…this is getting to be a long “short list.”

Let’s take, as an example, the “anti-Shari’a law.”  This bill defines Shari’a as follows:

“Sharia(h), as defined and understood by traditional and authoritative sharia scholars and leaders, is a legal-political-military doctrinal system combined with certain religious beliefs; further, sharia is based historically and traditionally on a full corpus of law and jurisprudence termed fiqu and usul al-fiqh, respectively, dealing with all aspects of a sharia(h)-adherent’s personal and social life and political society.”The bill also states that Shariah “requires all its adherents to actively and passively support the replacement of America’s constitutional republic, including the representative government of this state with a political system based upon sharia(h).”

The bill would give Tennessee’s attorney general the power to designate an organization as “a Shari’a organization,” and forbid individuals from giving support to such an organization.  Since our state government has already been the source of a complaint calling Bernie Ellis a terrorist, this does not bode well for any of us whose politics are in any way left of center. The legislation seems to conflate “shari’a” and “terrorism,” which is simply incorrect.  Shari’a is the Islamic version of Judaism’s Talmud, a long and constantly evolving discussion of how professing a certain religious faith applies to one’s daily life.

In the same vein, many Christians look to the Bible for guidance, and if you’re looking for something scary, the idea of Biblical religious law is at least as scary as anything in shari’a.  Everybody knows about the famous “what’s a good price for my daughter/why can’t I own a Canadian?” letter, but that only scratches the surface.   If Christians are serious about “following the word of the Bible,” then they (and we) are going to have to take this passage seriously:

If any man take a wife, and  … and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: ….if this thing be true…. Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die. Deuteronomy 22:13-21

That’s Christian shari’a., and it isn’t purely theoretical.   There are “Christian dominionists” who want to institute this kind of “Biblical law” here in America.  They constitute a major component of the “Tea Party,” and they are much more numerous and active than “Islamic terrorists,” most of whom have to be recruited by the FBI. And Bill Ketron is worried about Muslims?

This is some of why our Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….”  It’s a minefield.  Directing a law at shari’a without banning Talmudic studies or Christian Dominionism is plainly religious discrimination, but, as Bernie commented, our state legislators are not interested in logic–when it comes to religion, finances, or any other issue, they want it their way.  Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

While much of the state Republican Party’s agenda seems like sheer lunacy, other aspects of it are in line with the party’s national agenda, which, as Naomi Klein has commented, is an attempt to use the country’s weak financial condition as an excuse for instituting American fascism–the takeover of the government by big business interests.  She calls it “The Shock Doctrine.”  Of course, this has been going on for years, but it is gaining momentum, playing on people’s fears and directing their anger at phony targets–“Obamacare,” “Socialism,” “entitlement programs,” just to name a few–so that the wealthy can pick our pockets and bend the law to favor their own interests rather than the common good.

After having cast doubt on the legitimacy of state elections and the rationality of state legislators, it may seem pointless to talk about the Green Party of Tennessee and our attempts to get our party name on state ballots, but part of being the Good Government Party of Gomorrah is to act like you expect to be taken seriously, and let the chips fall where they may.  To that end, I would like to let you know that we will be having our annual meeting at the Ecovillage on the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee, on the weekend of April 9-10.  We will be posting details on our websites soon.  Anyone who shares the Green Party’s “Ten Key Values” is welcome to attend.

The other bit of Green Party news is that a bill has been introduced into the state legislature in an attempt to respond to our court victory over the state on the ballot access question.  Here’s what our lawyer, Richard Winger, has to say about it:

SB 935 would still leave Tennessee with a requirement that a minor party submit 40,042 (signatures on a petition) for the 2012 election, no later than four months before the Tennessee primary.  SB 935 would still leave Tennessee with an unconstitutionally difficult law, especially given that no minor party has petitioned successfully in Tennessee since 1968.

The solution is to provide that Tennessee let newly-qualifying parties nominate by convention, something that 43 states permit.  The National Civic League published “A Model Direct Primary Law” in 1951 (back then it was called the National Municipal League) and recommended that small qualified parties nominate by convention, not by primary.  This saves taxpayer dollars.  Tennessee permitted small qualified parties to nominate by convention until 1961, and the old pre-1961 system worked well.  Letting a newly-qualifying party nominate by convention would make it possible to have a deadline that passes constitutional muster…..

Early petition deadlines, if in place in 1854, would have prevented the Republican Party from getting on the ballot.  The Republican Party was founded on July 6, 1854, and it went on to win a plurality in the US House of Representatives in the autumn 1854 election.  Back then there were no government-printed ballots, and therefore no ballot access laws.  But if there had been ballot access laws, a petition deadline earlier than summer would have stopped the birth of a very important new political party.  I hope you amend SB 935 so that it is more like SB 617, a bill by Senator Campfield that lets newly-qualifying parties nominate by convention, so that the petition deadline is later in the year.  Thank you.

How cool to find a way to pitch it to Republicans, Richard!

So there it is…and bizarrely enough, it’s Stacey Campfield, whom I have berated in these pages before, who is working to do the right thing.  Goes to show, you don’t ever know, eh?

Well, if it’s all rigged, maybe having the Green, Libertarian, and Constitution parties on the ballot will just give the puppet masters more columns into which to shunt would-be Democrat votes.  Or maybe it will be a genuine step toward broadening the political discussion in this state.  My choice is to act in good faith and presume that everybody else is, too–but watch each card and play it slow.

music:  Grateful Dead, “Deal





ON, WISCONSIN!

13 03 2011

Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya….who could imagine they would freak out in Wisconsin?

Actually, Wisconsin is one of the more likely powder kegs in the US , a state with a traditionally progressive voter base (the birthplace of the Progressive Party, after all!) that woke up after the last election to discover it had been taken over by Tea Partiers.   Sure, there are states with a more radical tinge to them, like California and Vermont, but both of those states rejected the Republican invitation to self-immolation.

Tea Party governor Scott Walker’s budget proposals, likely to pass in the state’s now-Tea Party dominated legislature, represented a giant step backwards for many of the state’s residents.   As Hannah Arendt observed in her classic book On Revolution, revolutions tend to occur not when the poor are oppressed to the breaking point, but when the middle class, which had something, senses that it is losing its privileges.

Walker’s credibility was tarnished when he got “punked,” as they say these days, into believing that he was conversing with David Koch, when he was actually talking to Ian Murphy, a blogger from Buffalo, New York.  The “confidential” twenty-minute conversation revealed that Walker planned to use layoffs of state workers as a tool to push for getting his way, and also captured him agreeing to quid quo pro arrangements with “David Koch.” Both are illegal under Wisconsin ethics laws–but the state Attorney General is a Republican, so don’t hold your breath.

Since conservative pranksters had been responsible for at least two well-publicized media stunts–the “how do we start a whorehouse?” ACORN video and the spurious trashing of Shirley Sherrod, Republicans could hardly complain about it when one of their own got fooled.  Unlike Republican efforts, Murphy didn’t  have to edit their conversation in order for Walker to make a fool of himself. While Walker  claimed that the tape didn’t reveal anything he hadn’t said in public, it did.  Beyond the potential ethics violations, Walker fantasized about “taking a baseball bat” to his political opponents.  A Deputy Attorney General in Indiana who suggested using live ammunition against the protesters in Wisconsin was fired; why should it be any different for a governor who threatens violence against peaceful demonstrators?

This just in: the same so-called “conservative” who trashed ACORN recorded NPR exec Ron Schiller saying that

public opinion is driven by “this very large uneducated part of the population.”

and

“(Tea Partiers). believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting.   I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”

All of that’s true enough, but apparently telling the truth is enough to get you in trouble these days.  People don’t want to hear the truth.  It’s too hard on their precious, threatened egos and lifestyles.  Republicans hope to use this to cut NPR and PBS out of the federal budget, which will save each of us $1.43 a year.  Don’t let the prospect of so much additional wealth go to your head!  Defense spending, meanwhile, is costing each of us  $3,000 a year, but that’s sacrosanct. As so often happens, I digress….there are a million stories on the Naked Planet.

The day-to-day drama of this struggle is fascinating, but let’s take a few steps back from the crowd and get a feel for the big picture.

Much has already been made in the media of the connection between organized labor’s support of the Democratic Party and Republican efforts to destroy union power as a way to undercut the Democrats.   Plenty of commentators have also pointed out that unions have shifted over the last several decades from a blue-collar to a more white-collar demographic.  I would like to take this one step further.  The Republican propaganda machine is whipping up public sentiment against teachers and state employees because they still enjoy the lifestyle and perks that many Americans have lost as the country has been  de-industrialized (and de-unionized) over the last several decades.  In other words, the party of “Christian values” is promoting anger, greed, and envy to bring down the last remaining bastion of middle-class America.  Nice work, guys.  I’m sure Jesus would be proud of you.

At the same time, right-wingers have been horrified by any suggestions, such as Michael Moore‘s, that there might be something wrong with the fact that the wealthiest 40 Americans have more resources at their disposal than the bottom fifty percent.  Yeah, that’s forty people (OK, plus their families) put together who are wealthier than a hundred and fifty-five million of us .  From the Tea Party perspective, it’s class warfare to point that out, but somehow it’s not class warfare when conservatives work to destroy public health care for those who can’t otherwise afford it, unions, community organizations like ACORN, or public service organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Can you say “doublethink,” boys and girls?  Ever wonder how a scenario like Orwell’s 1984 could possibly come to pass?  We may be living it, if things don’t fall apart first.

While I would be the first to admit that middle-class American expectations are, considered on a global scale, immoderately luxurious, it is simply not fair for the wealthy to insist that the middle class take a hit so that the upper class can continue its even more immoderately luxurious lifestyle.  All of us here in America need to come down a few pegs. As with climate change, the problem will not go away if the Tea Partiers succeed in muting the nation’s conscience.  It will return to haunt us again and again, more and more forcefully.

“You can have my money and my guns when you rip them from my cold, dead fingers.”  That’s the deal you want?  That’s the deal you’ll get.

And where has Obama been during all this?  If he were really a socialist firebrand, as the right-wing media love to assert, he would have been in Madison, addressing the rally and reclaiming the base that elected him in 2008.  But no, Obama was nowhere near Madison.  His staff instructed the Democratic National Committee to back off efforts to support the Madison demonstrators, wile he offered tepid words of encouragement, similar to his pronouncements on the revolution in Egypt and the ongoing revolt in Libya, similar to the way Bush I encouraged the Iraqis  to revolt against Saddam and then did nothing while Saddam slaughtered them.  No, Obama’s allegiance is not to the people, his allegiance is to them that bought him.

It’s not clear to me where this movement is going, but I see a couple of  possibilities.

If the protesters’ energy ebbs and the anti-populists, the Republican Tea Partiers, prevail, America will slip further into being a two-tier society.  We will be less organized, less flexible, less able to meet the challenges that will shake us harder and harder as time goes on.

If the protesters prevail, then they will, to a certain extent, be in the position of the dog that chased cars and actually caught one.  There will be plenty of difficult decisions to make, and no “other” to blame for poor outcomes and unintended consequences.   Reinstating the business taxes that Governor Walker abolished in order to create his “fiscal crisis” justification for ending collective bargaining, will, in all likelihood, discourage business, if only because Republican business owners will get mad and find ways to avoid paying taxes.  Freedom to keep all the money you make is, after all, at the head of the list of Tea Party freedoms, right up there with the freedom to ignore compassion, facts, and logic in the interests of having things your way.

So, I certainly stand with the Wisconsin protesters to the extent that I don’t want to see the wealthy win this battle in the class war.  But I can’t, in all honesty, join them in “defending the American dream.”  The American dream is built on the backs of millions of people in the third world who cannot have a decent life because we need their poverty to support our wealth.  We need to wake up from the American dream, but we need to all wake up from it.  The majority of Americans should not be made to suffer more so that the wealthiest one percent can keep on dreaming.  It’s time to share the pain.

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





SEEING THE LIGHT IN DARK TIMES

8 01 2011

Sometimes, when you have an inspiration or a vision or a premonition, there are parts of it that don’t quite make sense at first.  It’s only later, as you start to realize (as in, bring into reality) your vision, or as your premonition takes shape in your daily life, that you understand its full import.

That’s what happened with “bioregionalism,”  which  emerged as a vision and a movement in the late sixties and early seventies, when many of us abandoned mainstream culture to go “back to the land” and found ourselves in intimate relationship with trees and forests, hills and mountain ranges, waterways and watersheds, and all the animal life (including the humans) who co-existed in our local ecosystem.  Some of us began to relate with our environment in much the same way as the native people our predecessors had displaced, and to sense the logic of a political organization that recognized communities based on organic boundaries, rather than lines drawn on a map.

This emerging vision was nourished by the first shocks of the possibility of resource depletion in the late 70’s, when OPEC first exhibited its control over the world’s oil supply.  But then, but then….North Sea oil and North Slope oil, among other factors, fed a borrowing and spending binge that all but erased the idea that there might be “limits to growth,” as the Club of Rome famously warned.  The idea that one’s watershed might be the de facto limits of one’s world seemed like a quaint hippie anachronism.

Now, nearly forty years after “Limits to Growth” and the first stirrings of bioregionalism, the full import of that early vision is starting to come into focus.  New oil discoveries are not keeping pace with increasing demand for petroleum products.  An increasing number of the commodities our culture depends on, from coal to uranium to rare earths, are  showing signs of depletion.

–C’mon, you say, there’s new oil discoveries being made all the time–they just found twenty freakin’ billion barrels under the Caspian Sea!  Peak oil, shmeak oil!

–Twenty billion sounds impressive, but current world consumption is thirty-one billion barrels a year, and demand is increasing–so that’s an eight-month supply.  Whoop-de-do.  New oil finds are increasingly small, difficult to access, as in a mile under the Gulf of Mexico, or difficult to process, like Canada’s tar sands.  What new oil we are finding is expensive to pump and/or expensive to process, and the environmental risks involved are costly, as well.  The price of oil is going nowhere but up, even as our ability to pay for it (at least in this country) is going down.

And I haven’t even mentioned the CO2/global warming factor…

Moreover,the “global marketplace” is coming unglued.  In order to lower labor costs, the US government and big business colluded to demolish our country’s industrial infrastructure, promising the average American that this would mean lower prices.  Most people didn’t buy this, but the government (can you say “Bill Clinton,” boys and girls?) went ahead and did it anyway, and sure enough those lower prices didn’t matter much because most people’s’ wages were lowered, too, if they were even lucky enough to keep their jobs…I’m getting ahead of myself.  More on that in the next segment!

Back to the topic–bioregionalism.  So, after the idea of bioregionalism was first floated in the late seventies and early eighties, and then buried under a heap of transnational trading trinkets, it’s coming back up out of the ground like grass in the cracks of the sidewalk, like the return of deer and woodland in Detroit, which I predict will soon be occurring in many more formerly urban locations around the country.

I think “bioregionalism 2.0” is a change for the better. While earlier bioregionalists tended to wrestle with big philosophical issues, the reborn bioregional movement has a more practical, from-the-ground-up focus–quite literally.  It tends to crop up most often in the form of local food activism, as people comprehend the insecurity of eating a diet that depends on “the kindness of strangers” in far-away places, and decide that they would rather grow their own, or at least know the person who grows for them.   This familiarity allows feedback, and thus control.  From this “seedling” of concern, as it were, it’s easy to see how other sprouts could soon begin to arise:  can we relocalize, and thus reclaim control over,  the production of our clothing and other household goods? What about the energy that heats and lights those households?

It is increasingly the case in this country that, despite the rhetoric, national and even most state politicians don’t serve the people, but the highest bidder, and it’s truly a shame that the corporate-funded Tea Party has, at least for the time being, stampeded many into supporting a movement that will only make that situation worse.  With the government increasingly divorced from and unresponsive to the needs of real people, the local food movement is, I believe, the kernel of a from-the-bottom-up regrowth of genuine democracy in this country.

Speaking of genuine democracy, it’s hard to talk about the history of bioregionalism without a shoutout to the Green Party of the United States, which was born out of a desire by some in the North American Bioregional Congress to bring the bioregional agenda into the political arena.  While perhaps most famous for nominating Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney as Presidential candidates, the  party has met with the most success at the local level, electing Mayors, City Council members, and other local officials whose ability to translate the party’s ideals of sustainability and participatory democracy into practical solutions to everyday problems has won them the hearts of the citizens they serve.

OK, enough self-congratulation for now.

The national situation, in which the North American Bioregional Council begat the Green Party, replicated itself here in Tennessee, where we have a small but active Green Party that is, to a certain extent, a subset of a larger Bioregional Council, and this is where I get down to, as they say, “brass tacks.”

“The Cumberland-Green (River) Bioregional Council” has been convening regularly here in middle Tennessee for nearly thirty years, and our winter gathering is coming up at the end of this month, from the 28th through the 30th of January.  And yeah, I know what happened last month with the local food potluck (which, alas, still hasn’t been rescheduled)–the Bioregional Council’s “snow date” is the following weekend.

Reflecting the continuing economic downturn and the wave of reactionary (not “conservative” at all!) politics that is sweeping the country, the gathering is entitled “Seeing the Light in Dark Times.”  Crisis and opportunity…you know.

Friday night, there will be a party, and all day Saturday, at Brookmeade Congregational Church on Davidson Road on the West side of Nashville, there will be events, starting with an introductory circle that’s a kind of open mike for attendees to introduce themselves or catch their old friends up on their year’s activities–summing up the highlights of your year in 2-3 minutes is a very interesting exercise!

In the afternoon, there will be workshops on a variety of subjects, from solar hot water to conflict resolution.  I’d tell you more, but the details are still being figured out.

Saturday night, another party–the Green Party ain’t the only party that came out of the bioregional council!  The whole thing is very informal–it’s at least as much about personal connections as it is about any kind of formal subject matter or agenda.

Sunday starts with a morning meditation, followed by a business meeting.  Does that sound like an odd combination?  I think most business meetings should be preceded by a meditation session.  I believe it would change the tone of this country.  The business meeting is followed by a potluck brunch and….another party–kind of a wrap-up.

There is no charge for this event–expenses are covered by a fund-raising auction that takes place around the Saturday potluck lunch.  Some people attend all of it, some only come for whatever part of it fits their schedule or their fancy.  You’re invited–go to the Cumberland-Green Bioregional Council’s meetup.com site for details, and get involved.

music:  The Indigo Girls, “The Wood Song”





GOP WINS MIDTERMS BY DEFAULT

14 11 2010

The recent election was a good one for Republicans, and the mainstream, corporate media are busy spreading the big lie that this represents a “turn to the right,” a rejection of Obama’s leftist policies,” and similar drivel.  I’m here to tell you that nothing of the sort happened.

OK, sure, the Republican party now has a lot more say in the national and many state governments, and this will push government policy in a somewhat different direction, but Obama’s policies have never been leftist, and great numbers of people did not change their minds and vote Republican.  Great numbers of people were very disappointed with Obama’s failure to deliver any of the progressive agenda, from health care reform to foreign policy, and stayed away from the polls.  The result:  “a different electorate“–older and more conservative, got to decide the results.

Why did so many of Obama’s 2008 constituency stay away from the polls?  As Dubya once attempted to put it, “Fool me once, shame on you–fool me twice, shame on me.”  Many former Obama enthusiasts were not up for being fooled twice.

How did Obama fail to deliver?  As Green Party activist Scott McLarty puts it,

Which Democratic president escalated the Afghanistan War, protected Bush officials who okayed torture and other abuses of the US Constitution and international law, maintained warrantless spying on US citizens, hired Wall Street front men like Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, authorized more taxpayer-funded Wall Street bailouts and new taxpayer-funded nuclear plants, appointed a ‘Catfood Commission’ to explore Social Security reductions, opened up more coastal waters to offshore drilling, promoted the myth of ‘clean coal’ and permitted more mountaintop removal mining, and left a substantial residual occupation force, including military contractors, in Iraq? You know who.

I would add to Scott’s list: Obama’s failure to prosecute not only Bush-era war criminals like John Yoo and Dick Cheney, but financial meltdown criminals like…gee, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, two of his closest advisers.  Obama’s small gestures at helping people who were being thrown out of their homes were widely and correctly perceived to be ineffectual, in line with his overall policy of helping the rich and letting the middle class catch the dreck and pay the bills.  And that “Catfood Commission”? the “Deficit Commission” was a rigged jury, and it comes as no surprise that it recommends cutting Social Security (i.e., forcing the elderly to eat cat food) so we can continue to fund military adventures in the oil-rich regions of the world.  Under Obama, the American empire and its military budget have remained sacrosanct, as has the so-called “War on Drugs.”

When you throw in the way the Obama administration has been in bed with Monsanto from the get-go, and current moves to investigate anti-war activists for possible  (albeit highly unlikely) collusion with terrorists, what’s left to like about the “hope and change” guy?

To add insult to injury, we also had White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs bitch-slapping the progressive movement:

“They will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality….they ought to be drug tested.”

What a way to “energize the Democratic Party’s base”!

For a lot of people, that was three strikes and out right there.  With Canadian health care, a radically downsized military, and an end to the war on some drugs, this country would be on the road to the right track–but, to the neoliberals running the Democratic Party, “that’s not reality.”  That such obvious common sense is “not reality” in this country speaks directly to who’s in charge and the nature of their agenda, which is not “leftist” at all.  Democrats, just as much as Republicans, exist to serve their corporate masters…er, donors.

And thus it is deeply ironic to see the “Tea Party” and the Republicans portrayed as “a populist uprising.”  What kind of “populist uprising” is funded by billions of dollars of corporate money and calls for deregulating big business, ending environmental protection, cutting taxes for the wealthy, and sharply curtailing aid to the poor, sick, and elderly?  This is not your father’s populism, kids.

The Democrats’ failure at the polls was not due only to their own incompetence; it was compounded by the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, which allowed virtually unlimited spending by the corporate sector…oh, yes, and the unions, too, but hey, they’re pretty much broke and toothless these days.  Through this opened flood gate, about four billion dollars poured, washing away Democrat after Democrat.  It’s almost enough to make me feel sorry for them.

This decision from the Supremes should not have been a surprise; after all, it was largely the same bench that anointed the Cheney/Bush junta in 2000.  Republicans like to decry “judicial activism” when a judge overturns a truly unjust law, but they are strangely silent when “judicial activism” favors their agenda.  In both these cases, the Supremes, despite promises to the contrary at their confirmation hearings, kicked precedent out the window and made law out of whole cloth.  In both cases, after a few sputtering protests, the Dems dropped trou, bent over, and took it.  “Oh, baby, make it hurt so good!”

Let’s face it. One major party in this country, the Republicans, is largely sociopathic; the Democrats are the sociopath’s enabler.  They’re not in opposition to each other, they’re a co-dependent team.  The Democratic Party mindset is not healthier than the Republican one.

Their mutual addiction is corporate money.  No matter which party wins the election, corporate influence on our government grows.  At this point, it’s good to remember what Franklin Delano Roosevelt,  the man who saved capitalism from itself, had to say about this influence:

“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

Thanks to Ralph Nader for that quote.

To reduce it to Tweet length:

When government is controlled by big business, that’s fascism.  Our government is controlled by big business.  This is fascism.

“Democrat”? “Republican”?  Doesn’t matter.  Our electoral process, and our government, are demonstrably controlled by big business.  We are living in a fascist country. Obama is not a “socialist,” he’s a fascist–and so is Sarah Palin. Whether it’s Republican Rand Paul’s brown  shirts stomping a woman protester or  Democrat Max Baucus having single-payer advocates arrested at a Senate health care hearing, the intent and the result are the same.  “Democrats”?  “Republicans”?  Fascists.  As Paul Simon commented so many years ago in Mrs. Robinson:

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Listening to the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Ev’ry way you look at it, you lose

If I’m trying to sing, it must be time for a music break.  Here’s some Greg Brown for you, and after that I’ll talk about how our little David of a Green Party fared against Goliath in this election.

Greg Brown:  “Fooled Me Once”

OK, here’s the Green Party’s election wrap up:

Greens drew enough votes in Massachusetts, Texas, and New York to give the Party the right to be listed by name on the ballot in the next election cycle.  In Massachusetts, Green/Rainbow Party candidate Nat Fortune pulled in over 100,000 votes in his bid to be State Auditor, just over 5% of the total.  Gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein didn’t do quite so well, receiving only 32,000 votes, but she raised enough money to take part in public debates with the duopoly candidates.  Yep, money talks!

In California, on the other hand, Green governor candidate Laura Wells received over 100,000 votes, but was arrested just for showing up as an audience member–with a ticket , no less–when she tried to attend the Brown-Whitman debate.  What was I saying about this being a fascist country?  The plutocracy allows us freedom of thought and action as long as it doesn’t pose a serious threat to them.  But I digress….

In South Carolina, Green Party Senate candidate Tom Clements, whom I featured in an earlier story,  received over 120,000 votes, about 9% of the total.  Democrat Alvin Greene, who did not campaign and is under indictment on felony obscenity charges, got 360,000 votes.  Talk about “yellow dog Democrats”!

Here in Tennessee, the news was not so good.  We were only able to field two candidates, Howard Switzer for Governor, and John Miglietta for Nashville’s seat in the US House.  Both candidates were constrained by lack of funding and the need to keep their day jobs–Howard as an architect, and John as a professor at Tennessee State–and were not able to do much in the way of campaigning or publicity.  Howard received about 1800 votes, off 25% from his  his previous total, and John received less than 400 votes, only a tenth of his 2008 mark.  About the best I can say concerning Howard’s showing is that voters in all but 5 Tennessee counties cast ballots for him, even if the so-called “hippies” at the Farm were no help–Howard only got 18 votes in Lewis county.  C’mon guys!  Won’t even throw down for one of your own when you know the Democrat’s a loser?

In addition to time and funding issues, both Howard and John suffered from a more crowded ballot and the state of Tennessee’s continuing failure to name the Green Party on its ballots.  We are an internationally known and recognized brand, dammit, and voters deserve to know our party affiliation!  We will be talking with our legislators about this soon, believe me.

There’s two more questions to address in this electoral report:

1)was the voting honest?

2) how will this influence the course of events in the US and the world?

Honesty–so far, there are few allegations of fraud, although, with touchscreen machines, it’s very hard to tell.  It looks to me like this election was “thrown” by throwing the Democrat Party’s progressives out of the boat and by conservatives throwing lots of money at it.  Who needs to cheat when you can buy an election fair and square?

My predictions for the future–we will continue to drift helplessly towards the waterfall.  The party of dithering has been replaced by the party of denial.  Whether you do nothing about the waterfall that you know lies ahead or deny there’s a waterfall ahead, there’s still a waterfall in our future, and we’re still unprepared as a nation for the end of cheap oil and American hegemony.  This election just makes it clearer that the government will not bail us out.  We’re going to have to do it on our own.   You’re not going to hear that on the news, for two reasons:  one, it’s not new, and, two, the revolution will not be televised.  Never has been, never will be.  You just gotta do it.

music:  Gogol Bordello, “Raise the Knowledge”








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