Thursday, December 31, 2009

...The More They Stay the Same

Not that many years ago a Canadian mining firm proposed an open pit, cyanide heap leach gold mine in the headwaters of our famous Blackfoot River. A broad based citizens initiative campaign was able to defeat it ( and managed to get all cyanide processes banned) because we had powerful ,privileged people on our side, ranchers, sportsmen, celebrities and the Non-Profit NGO Complex.

In Latin America the process is much less gentile. The corporations hire para-military killers to terrorize any resistance, they buy local police and politicians to thwart investigation and they utilize right-wing elites, local ranchers and developers who stand to gain financially for cover. This story is so old it is being turned into Hollywood action films ( like the new blockbuster Avatar). It is currently playing out in Ecuador, Honduras, Chiapas Mexico and El Salvador and in many of these cases it is the Canadian corporations who are the most ruthless.The Stock Exchange and many large pension funds are involved. Canada, who reneged on their Kyoto obligations, is also producing huge quantities of filthy crude from oil sands. They must be stopped.

On the health care front, I watched an interesting report on Americans going to Mexico for cheap, quality health care. State provided insurance is $300 a year if you have no pre-existing conditions and they still take gringos. One man had a hip replacement priced at $85 to $115,000 in the states. Including airfare and hotel it was $13,000 in Puerta Vallarta. I see where the US Senate Bill would impose a 10% excise tax on indoor tanning services which would mean Minority Whip John Boener would fund the entire Head Start program himself.

Speaking of Avatar, wowser.that was a trip. I haven't been to an action/adventure film in years and had no idea what they were capable of, technologically speaking. With the 3D it is seat-gripping eye candy and in how many post 9/11 films has the rugged Marine been the bad guy? Scientists versus military is also provocative. I wonder if kultur locates the natives in a pre-civilized, ecstatic terrain? If I can ride a giant velociraptor count me in.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ray of Hope

I went to one last Holiday party last night and after an acquaintance asked about my year I ended up with a great new Wobblie. Step by step, as the song goes.Turns out there are people out there yearning for an alternative to politics-as-usual, looking to connect.This was my Christmas present!

Che Bob pointed me to an interesting manifesto of sorts by a group known as the Tarnac 9. In the style of Guy Debord it lays out a cultural/political critique full of irony: "Here lies the present paradox: work has totally triumphed over other ways of existing at the very moment when workers have become superfluous." Here they refer to Western Europe which like the U.S. has exported work to cheaper realms but still worships it's moral curative power.

In the "7th circle" called "We are building a civilized space" there are many ideas similar to those kulturcritic presents in his book The Recovery of Ecstacy.They don't try to identify a "departure point" as such but it is a piercing critique of our most basic "civilizing" structures and myths.

There is an interesting unpacking of the new Green Economy/Great Turning sort of progressivism": "The petite bourgeois is quick to embrace the new fad of 'degrowth'" which "preserves the economic as morality". "Consume and produce less. Become joyously frugal.Eat Organic, ride your bike,stop smoking,and pay close attention to the products that you buy." "Don't use up our natural capital." "Avoid a social crisis that would threaten humanism and democracy." Simply put: become economical. This new 'bioeconomy' cannot be established without screening subjects and zones singled out for transformation. "The chaos that we hear about will either provide the opportunity for this screening or for our victory over this odious project."

It would be easy to argue that Copenhagen demonstrated precisely this "screening" process, which is nothing new I suppose, but compliments the "dispossession" David Harvey talks about. Some of what they write appears contradictory, such as this warning to "don't become an organization or milieu" followed a paragraph later by the injunction to "organize...and spread this necessary disposition towards fraud." I find this poorly defined boundary fairly often with "autonomistas". The forms of resistance that are advocated in the text such as fraud and theft against "the system" is different than Freeganism. The workers will simply be taxed more to pay for their leisure.Also, the Tarnac 9 advocacy for "self-dependence" sounds a great deal like what I heard at Celebrating Conservatism, survival kits and skill sets from the frontier days.

My real question is, what did the "fires of 2005" really accomplish? This growing unrest can be linked to movements in Greece and perhaps Mexico,anywhere else? What autonomous movements exist in Europe? Are they growing? Where would one look?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Perfect or Good

It is a season of discontent.At a Christmas party last night, friends both liberal and conservative were expressing their utter dissatisfaction with the state of things as we bid adieu to 2009. Malaise is nothing new but there is an increasing level of irrationality on the right as evidenced by fellow blogger Craig Bardo: "Yet it is our right to alter or abolish this government. In fact, it is our right ,our duty, to throw off such a government." He's bummed about our Corporate President who he believes is a socialist.He can't mobilize anything but neither can I.

The liberals at the party were a little less insurrectionist but were nonetheless frustrated, disappointed, grasping for a new direction ( one that involved no risk or cost,however.) While I don't see Bardo forming a militia, there are folks in my neck of the woods who might actually act on those sentiments. Liberal apologists, on the other hand, tend to find silver linings and accuse restless radicals of "sacrificing the good for the perfect". The "good" in this case is incremental progress on health care reform or "not losing ground" on climate change. If the Right-Wing is a reality TV show these "progressives" are ANOTHER Christmas Nut Cracker ballet. One grotesquely absurd, one boring as dirt.The Left is not even at rehearsal.

One old friend cornered me as soon as I walked in with something momentous he had just discovered, Insurance companies enjoy an anti-trust exemption! Alerting the citizenry and abolishing this onerous provision was for him the key to a better health care system! What could I say? My wife claims I was curt and dismissive, that to change his belief system I needed to consider his analysis more thoughtfully. What I did was rejected the notion that "more competition" by private insurers was a miracle cure, that it was in fact buying in to a Spectacular Illusion.I said "then you must be for the public option!" just to test his logic.He doesn't like government run anything. I argued against profit taking in a health system. It was the typical foggy, useless discussion one has with conservatives.

If Bardo wants to overthrow the capitalist government, I say fine.I should go back to his blog and encourage him. At least he is not a milktoast liberal arguing that we should be satisfied with U.S. policy because there were only 31,991 deaths by starvation on Christmas ( down by 9) so look at the progress we are making! Slowly but surely! This is the "good" that we wouldn't want to risk by insisting on "perfection". Of course Bardo will not form a Chrysler Convoy or a Briefcase Brigade because that would involve risk. And if liberals want substantive change that is also what they are going to have to accept a measure of. What will the World Social Forum call for?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Of White Bread and Coal

If yesterday was the shortest day it sure didn't feel like it. I was up at 3:00 am to get to the Montana state capitol ( on icy ,foggy roads) for a little lobbying of the Land Board. You know how much I believe the "democratic process" actually exists or influences capitalist government? A Spectacular amount! In truth, it varies at the local level and this is not just sour grapes, although in the interest of full disclosure, I admit almost every bill or effort I have supported has been defeated.ANYWAY, I knew this was going down in flames because it involved large energy corporations and lots of money but I went in solidarity with my new comrades the Northern Rockies Rising Tide.

The five member land board, whose mandate is to sustainably manage state lands for enhancing school trust funds,was to decide whether to lease many sections on Otter Creek for a huge, dirty coal development.Mining would require a railroad down the pristine Tongue River valley.The coal is so full of sodium it might have to be shipped to China to burn to kill us all slowly.The Board heard many impassioned moral and ethical pleas concerning social, aesthetic and ecological impacts ( Students for Social,Environmental and Economic Justice really piled it on) but in the end it came down to easy money. Remember, this is capitalism. One member, a native American, voted to protect ranching, wildlife, water and air and four others went for the cash. ( two of those I helped endorse as a board member of Montana Conservation Voters, a long story for another day)The officials never mentioned justice.They spoke of the coal "serving" certain Markets. Bids and revenue and royalties.

Our rancher governor, known for his advocacy on "Clean Coal Technology", explained his vote thusly: "I am a believer in the free-market and the state will not subsidize building a railroad." He can, like our President, make this statement in the Age of Irony with a straight face even though he manages STATE LANDS! He went on to say : "If Montana, which only produces a small fraction of the planets coal, were to stop because it is 'bad for you', would we also have to stop producing wheat because white bread is 'bad for you'? Sugar beets? Red meat?"

These are all Democrats remember, using the "slippery slope" logic to justify their grotesque obedience to the logic of capital. "Why should I have to sacrifice?" "How do I know I am not giving up more than my share?" "This is for jobs and schools!" It is Kyoto and Copenhagen and the G20 and World Bank all synthesized into it's purest essence and I hope it wasn't lost on the young students yesterday. The big Environmental Groups, Sierra Club, MEIC, Northern Plains, Conservation Voters etc..will never say the word capitalism but I truly hope Rising Tide understands this on a tactical and strategic level.It's not about a White Bread Governor or a 4 to 1 vote. This is about human survival and emancipation.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sugar coated

I discovered the quintessential "progressive" blog called leftinthewest.com where mostly Montana Democrats try to justify why supporting capitalist "politics" still makes sense even after all the "hope for change" fairy dust has worn off. It is fascinating to observe the contortions they go through to rationalize incremental legislative "change" and cling to some liberal notion of "left" that so obviously serves to feed the system.

Laura Ingrahams "First they came for the rich" is perfectly easy for me to understand but for a Max Baucus staffer to write about "health care and the rather unfortunate news of the last few days" is a much more perverse phenomena. In a humanistic fashion it crushes any type of utopian imaginary or inspiration. Like a British Petroleum "greenwash" commercial they justify utter defeat with "democratic" jargon like "this bill is progress.And it lays the groundwork for more progress. That's a win."

Put a little sugar on a turd and really, it's not that bad! When I challenge these folks from the actual Left they get outraged that I want to sabotage all their "progress". They threaten me with Sarah Palin because in their choked and circumscribed vision these are the only two choices: Sugar coated shit or Sarah. "Lays the groundwork"? What were the last sixty years? Oh yeah, I remember, "progressive" acceptance of Market Ideology.

This "health reform" imposes annual limits on what Insurance Cartels have to pay and exempts them from anti-trust law. It has taxes that start in January but benefits that don't start till 2014.It bans negotiations over drug prices and has no cost controls so premiums will rise $1000 dollars a year. It taxes union health plans and mandates we buy this Corporate Crap under penalty of law. This is the "unfortunate news" Baucus' lacky speaks of.

See if this sounds familiar: From todays Gaurdian "Obama warned African and island countries that the alternative- of no deal- was worse."

Add this health care abortion to the Copenhagen sell-out, the Afghanistan sell-out, the Wall Street sell-out and on and on and it is just hilariously absurd to hear these same folks wonder why "young people are no longer excited about politics".They continue to defend capitalism as a system we must reform and regulate.Their only alternatives are to eat various quantities of shit.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More on the Carbon Front

I just returned from a virtual listening session. The Montana Land Board was invited to come to Missoula to hear citizen concerns over a proposed lease of state land for a huge coal development/railroad project but all there was of our elected officials were place names in front of empty chairs. Many concerned folk spoke to a camera, the footage of which would be delivered to said Board. Most raised valid points about the harmful effects of this development all of which are so far beyond obvious as to be an insult to even the most mediocre intelligence.They spoke of spiritual and aesthetic qualities, of historical connections and social meaning attached to this rare, fragile and beautiful landscape. The Land Board will thoughtfully consider all these concerns and then vote in favor of the lease citing fiscal responsibility,funding woes, need for jobs etc..Nothing new there.

A number of young highschool students spoke which was interesting because revenue from state land goes toward education in this state, the perfect extortion leverage. The students spoke passionately about their foreclosed possibilities, global climate change,and future perils which faced their generation and many expressed guilt and disgust at having blood money finance their continuing education.There is still a shadow of a conscience in America.The Northern Cheyenne Tribal leadership has also been blackmailed into supporting the desecration of their sacred lands by the offer of a few jobs and a little revenue stream. They can't be blamed for caving when you understand their condition. It is just an added dose of the white man's bargain to add to their shame.

I, of course, had to be the downer, reminding folks that the logic of capitalism requires these little Spectacles of civil societal "action" in order to mystify it's own legitimacy.In an upside down world it is logical to propose massive coal development as island nations drown and vast quantities of methane stand poised to be released from tundra and shallow sea floors. My point was not to destroy hope but to actually build capacity. By squarely facing the almost absurd quality of this egregious example of "democracy deficit", as Chomsky calls it, these folks young and old might develop better strategies for resistance and refusal. We need to join the Global South in calling for a massive slowdown in growth for the North and a huge transfer of investment and technology to the South so they can catch up to our standard of living without a huge carbon imprint. This is the debt the developed countries owe for having occupied so much more than our fair share of atmospheric space. Reparations begin by halting all coal and oil development immediately.Mitigation of the damage already done and currently ongoing is the first priority. Climate refugees can no longer be "externalized" costs. The debt payments, reparations and mitigation must come out of every ones pockets (progressively?) so everyone understands the logic.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Liberal Fraying

While the Camels Back has a virtual mountain of straw piled upon it, this is one tough camel! But it could very well be that the so-called "Danish text" which has emerged at the Copenhagen Climate Summit will finally crush the liberal/ progressive consensus that planet saving reforms are possible through "political" negotiations and market based solutions. Folks are pissed! Combined with the vast array of betrayals on multiple fronts, foreign policy, health care reform, civil liberties, bank bail-outs and on and on, the Spectacle of Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for "multilateralism" while continuing the traditional ass raping of developing countries might just be too much hypocrisy for the Global South to take. In his acceptance speech he actually said "the goal has been to advance American interests."

Adolph Reed has an article out titled Liberals, I Do Despise. Chris Hedges has a good piece called Liberals Are Useless and even Robert Sheer has one titled Barack, Spare Me Your Emails.( commondreams.org) Renegade Eye put it succinctly in the last thread: Liberalism is the Enemy. I could get picky and try to make a distinction between traditional liberal values (some of which I promote) and the spineless practitioners of a market variant once called "social democrats" but the point is these people cling to the charade of "democratic politics" and legislative/ market solutions and do it cravenly in the face of this "mountain" of evidence that their actions are complicit in the destruction of freedom, justice and the planet.We know who they are.

The climate negotiations are on an international scale what single payer was to the national, a direct challenge to capitalist ideology and the same fierce push back by capital and caving by liberals is being witnessed.Angelica Navarro, the climate change negotiator for Bolivia, is not afraid to spell it out: Rich countries must "liberate atmospheric space they have occupied unrightfully." These negotiations are not just arcane financial configurations, not just battles over intellectual property rights, or "mitigation". She is articulating a much more essential battle over justice itself and the developing world is standing together for actual reparations.They are challenging the basic structures and logic of capitalism on a world stage and combined with Clinton's hand shake of Lobo in Honduras, the global food shortage, and global economic meltdown caused by financialization, this is a showdown for the liberal consensus. The decades of diffuse struggle over global justice may have found their lightening rod.

The climate is the site for the most modern form of imperialism. Liberals think they can "negotiate" or bargain for their lifestyle. Conservatives are much more honest and say out front that our economy is more important than other humans or any other species life.Fuck off and die.Liberals worry about "violent" protest. Conservatives promote mass murder through climate change. Is this the last straw?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

We've Moved On

As I've noted, many American's only geography lessons occur when we attack some country. I heard a lecture by Juan Cole yesterday on the Iraq aftermath; upcoming elections, the broader dispensation and political alignments, etc.. and he pointedly said that "Dick Cheney won." Neocon rhetoric about "democratization" notwithstanding, it was about oil and oil will determine the fate of the country going forward.I associated the various towns and provinces with battles or militias. Of course , Americans have already moved on to the next lesson with new provinces to learn how to pronounce and new generalized categories of humans to compartmentalize, war-lords, Taliban, Pashtun Achakzi,Hazara etc..But we now have a new understanding of how valuable the last of the sweet crude is, how much blood and treasure we are willing to expend to gain access. Iran.

I was raised in the Golden State back when community college was free.For all it's shortcomings California seemed to care about education but all that has changed. University of California enrolment plunged by 2,300 students this fall and the regents plan 10% tuition hikes in each of the next two years. The community college system will turn away 250,000 students and many others will see fees raised beyond their capacity to pay. As Cowboy Americanism turns this once lovely place into a dystopic range war, the most virulent, ignorant bigots and property rights fundamentalists flee to my valley here in Montana where they believe they can "live free!"

Some will fault me for not being inclusive enough, too elitist, but I can't include people who think Prop.13 was a great idea, who still support the Contras, who think we could have won in Vietnam, who think de-regulation and trickle-down is successful, who believe we got bad intelligence on WMDs, who think man caused global climate change is a hoax, who want to impose Biblical law. For want of a better term let's just call them the Wrongs. Or we could take the term "Deniers" and expand it but either way, this is not about a lack of empathy. I understand them. They are still just as wrong.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Fred Hampton 1948-1969

Last Friday marked 40 years since the murder of "Chairman Fred" and Mark Clark and it is instructive to notice the difference in "martyrdoms" between Hampton the Panther and ML King Jr the pacifist. One gets a baloney sandwich on white bread while the other gets a sumptuous banquet. To understand how far we have come in forty years we compare the grin on the faces of the killer "pigs" ( these boys were real oinkers) and the serious look on the new black presidents face as he sends ghetto youth to job training programs in Afghanistan. " I have a dream!"

Barbara Lee did cast a lonely vote and there are plenty of courageous blacks still in resistance but you do not hear much of Fred's fiery rhetoric any more nor see his serious "community organizing".A few students at some California universities and a few workers striking and occupying plants but for the most part the "pacification" of the people has been complete while the Capitalist State continues it's serial rampage.

In "political" terms it doesn't seem that well organized that we have the run up to Copenhagen, the announcement of the "Surge" and the Senate debate on health care reform going on simultaneously. But maybe in the upside down world of spectacular politics there is a logic I am missing. To some extent the Deer Hunting With Jesus crowd seems neutralized a bit ( or they are focused on Tiger Woods ) He was living the "Dream" but things fall apart and I suspect Bill Cosby will be terribly disappointed. Black celebrity-hood has taken some hits lately and if you like scary/weird check out a documentary called Tyson about the ex-champ.

Up here in Montana the days are ridiculously short now and the recession is catching up to us. We are a lagging indicator! I found a "progressive" blog called Left in the West where there is a discussion about the demise of Obama-mania I wrote about a couple posts back. No one wants to talk capitalism ( it's not THAT left!) but they are having trouble analyzing the disaffection because their frame is the same, exhausted legislative policy making. I might go to the gun show today and see if the Celebration is affected by light deficiency syndrome or cold weather.I wonder what the Second Amendment enthusiasts would think if Fred Hamptons ghost showed up wanting to buy some AK 47s ?

UPDATE I just read in Roll Call Max Baucus is admitting an affair with a staffer he nominated for some high post. Hangin with Tiger?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Cowboy Way

So I'm in my local book store doing a little research for my new story and I see a big coffee table glossy called Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn From the Code of the West. Perfect, my story centers around destructive western mythology! The book is predictably a goldmine of simplistic platitudes expressing a system of ethics derived from John Wayne movies accented with stunning Marlboro Man photos and quirkey little homilies. But dig a little deeper and here's our old Tea Party buddies working their Libertarian schtick to the bone. The gist of it is something like this:

Our country is in trouble and "we need leaders", modern "heroes to remind us of our capacity for greatness" (Sort of sounds like Obamas speech!) and who better exemplifies these values than the Cowboy? "Strong ,steadfast, he'll never hesitate to do what's right." The unwritten Code of the West which he lives by should be the model for our whole society. Optimism, honesty, loyalty, "moral courage" without wearing it on your sleeve.Self-reliance and "faith in the rightness of the natural order of things."

We all watched westerns, Little House on the Prarie,Gunsmoke,etc, but some internalized it more than others. The book says "If you're lookin for a helpin hand, try the one on the end of your own damn arm",make do with what you have, be humble,confident,cheerful. "It was up to each man to uphold virtue and stand square against evil." and these qualities which made America great ( but have slipped away) are still in our national DNA.To "cowboy up" means to "follow the wagon boss through hell and never complain." Sappy, sentimental, illiterate and anti-historical,this narrative has a political agenda that is anti-worker, anti-social and anti-plural, the juvenile, intellectually bankrupt ideology upon which Ronald Reagan manipulated mass fear and anxiety.

Following the author,James P Owen, into the rabbit hole we find out he is a partner in Austin Capital Management and "Director of Corporate Values" at the Paragon Foundations "Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership". I shit you not.This Texan Master of the Universe saw a western movie one day and had an epiphany! And it ties in nicely with Celebrating Conservatism and Tea Baggers and every Sagebrush Rebelling moron Iv'e ever come up against as demonstrated by their mission statement:

"The Paragon Foundation provides for education,research and the exchange of ideas in an effort to promote and support Constitutional Principles, individual freedoms, PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS and the continuation of rural customs and culture..."

But even on Bonanza there were problems and it turns out Austin Capital Management is being sued by different pension funds for losing all their money in Bernie Madoffs ponzi scheme! Also for sending out a tax reminder to Hispanic males that read ; "Muchas Gracias! 21 million illegal aliens are depending on you!" On the Paragon website you find James P Owens' Investors Guide to Hedge Funds: Profiting From Uncertainty followed by "John Wayne: A Western Celebration" followed by "Minutemen: The Battle to Secure Americas Borders"

It's time to expose some of the less, humble, cheerful honest aspects of the "Cowboy Way".

Choices

I was came over a rise in an old VW decades ago and saw a multi-lane traffic jam below. I went for the brakes but they were suddenly gone. My only choice was which car to slam into. I can't imagine what criteria I used as they drew closer and closer but obviously I picked one over the others as I weaved around, my options rapidly closing.

This was basically Obama's choice in Afghanistan and as he looked out over the young cadets he must have realized their choice was similarly limited. Die now, die later. Of course other profound choices had been made in the past that determined the range of choices present in the moment. With the VW I had postponed fixing the emergency brake and so that option was not available. With Afghanistan you can go back and back and still farther back and look at choices linked to consequences. In the meta-scheme of things capitalism has been chosen despite knowledge that it creates vastly un-even development leading to conflict.Every President from now to the end of the current system will have to decide how many lives to waste, which car to hit.
P.S. While seven cars were totalled, no one was killed in the crash, miraculously.

"Underdevelopment is not a stage of development. It is it's consequence."
Eduardo Galleano

In all the media chatter, liberal or conservative, it is the discussion of those past choices which you will not hear. Meanwhile, gold keeps hitting new record highs. Financial Times downplays the Dubai debt, the stock market has it's own logic as the dollar falls and as Ducky points out, stock traders and right wing militias are arming themselves despite the ammunition shortage. The centre cannot hold in the Age of Weariness as the Salahis join Sarah Palin on a trip to visit the Sphinx.

Frank Zappa asked: "What would you do if they made you go home? And the plastic all melted and so did the chrome?