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On Political Idealism in Our Time

money

Here’s the thing: Most of my friends on the left are idealists. They believe that if they support and elect the right people we will have a just, egalitarian, and ecologically sound society. They have purity tests to decide on acceptable candidates. They blame the Democrats for being weak, or for being to corporate. They either think they can win at electoral politics merely by voting, or they think that the current system of global capitalism will be overthrown in a glorious revolution.

They can’t see that no matter whom they elect, none of those things will come to pass. The purist of hearts, if elected, would hurl themselves against a powerful and ancient system, only to be corrupted in turn, or destroyed.

I am not an idealist. There will be no revolution and if there were we would die in droves. The streets would run red with our blood, not the blood of the ruling class. Yes, we can march, for now. But, to the ones pulling the strings, destroying the planet and beggaring our children, this is a small annoyance, nothing more. We are insects to them.

They have always been with us, the parasitic aristocrats. They have run this country at other times, but perhaps never as completely as they do now. They hated the new deal, and the rise of civil rights. They are old school, and much better at statecraft then those who believe as we do.

They have planned long and well for this day. And they have won. At least for now.

For those who say the two parties are the same. that is not true. The Democratic Party is full of principled men and women who always prove to be ineffective at creating any real and lasting change. They have, over the last decades, managed to reign in the worst policies of the Republicans, a wholly owned subsidiary of the global capitalist class. But, they too believe in things like free trade being necessary to democracy and that privatization is good for everyone, and that we should show our good faith through compromise. They can’t see that this is tantamount to negotiating with terrorists. They believe these things because they want to be reasonable, and because these things are common wisdom. What they can’t see is that the common wisdom is merely a set of right wing capitalist talking points. It is like a fish not seeing what water is.

We can’t win because they have set the agenda. Because they have framed the debate. Because they have seized the narrative and corrupted it. And they have done this so thoroughly that their philosophy seems like common sense to most people.

You may think me a cynic, but I am not. Seeing clearly is not cynicism. No, I have very little hope for an immediate good end to this story. In time, the earth and her patterns will put a stop to it, but that will not help the 99.9 percent of humanity seeking relief from this psychopathic enterprise.

What then shall we do, if neither peaceful protest, armed revolt, or faith in the laws will do any good? For me it is simple. Be good. Do good where you can. Vote, of course, but don’t expect that to do much but fend off the worst. Act locally, and prepare to be self-sufficient. Grow food, and share. Live with grace, and walk in beauty, the beauty found in every day things. Love your family, your friends, your home, and your natural surroundings.

These are great forces, the turning of the great wheel. As Gandalf told Frodo, we do not get to choose our time, only how we acquit ourselves living in it. Love is a great force too. This is what I choose, as I have the power to do so. As do we all.

 

The Politics of Plutocracy

I have been reading various posts attacking Obama and Clinton from the left. I too would prefer a fairer and more conscious world. But–here is the thing. We live, at this moment, in an oligarchical plutocracy. This means that the people we elect to the highest positions don’t have nearly as much power as you think. Oh–they can accomplish things on the purely social sphere–marriage rights, marijuana decriminalization, things like that. As long as they don’t put a finger on the cancerous heart of the corporatocracy.

On the one hand, it matters who you elect because the Republican thugs are in ALIGNMENT with the true rulers and will give the color of law to all manner of evil things while at the same time turning back the clock on social issues to the mid-nineteenth century.

But, the converse is not true. If you elect someone who is not a true member of the plutocracy, and is not in alignment with the ruling entities, they can only do so much. You have no idea what is going on behind the scenes, or what pressures they are being plagued with. If we hand them a Republican congress this slows whatever progress might have been made to near zero. As has been the case with both Obama and Bill Clinton. We will never know what could have been accomplished if Mr. Obama had been given a super majority in the congress.

A bad president can place wretched appointees to the agencies created to protect the public and ensure the smooth running of our society. And, when a Republican gets to pack our Supreme Court it only gets worse.

As for the charge that Obama or either of the Clintons are trojan horses or traitors to the left, two things:

What would have been the outcome if McCain had won in 2008 or Romney in 2012? Would the progressive cause have been advanced? And what about now? Does any thoughtful person really believe Hillary Clinton would have been worse than this?

I know it’s not fair–the game is rigged and the two party system is broken. But it is what we are living with right now. There is no magic pill. We lost control a long time ago.

Secondly, what do you think would happen if we were able to elect an Elizabeth Warren or any other member of the progressive wing? They would very soon become “traitors” themselves, or die. See paragraph one–We live in an Oligarchical Plutocracy. The president doesn’t have nearly the power you think, unless they are fundamentally aligned with the Plutocrats–the enemies of democracy.

So, what do we do? Ah, the impossible question. I would suggest starting with getting out of the cult of personality, stopping the ad hominem attacks on Democrats, no matter how disappointing they may seem, and looking for real points of influence. Keep voting for the best candidate that can actually win. Think strategically. Under our present system, it is about which party controls the house and senate. That may mean being OK with a blue dog in some districts.

If we are ever to change this, the change will come from the bottom up. To those who favor a frontal assault I would remind you to remember who has the heavy artillery.

That is part of why I moved to the desert. To start a sustainable low impact homestead where I have a chance of surviving the difficult days ahead.

And I am always looking for other points of influence. My goal is to be like water, which can cut a gorge through bedrock given time.
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Is This the Hill You Want to Die On?

Earth

This phrase has become popular lately. The implication is usually that whatever it is you are fuming over is not worth it. But–is ANYTHING worth making it that hill?

First of all, I would like to look at the language. I like to think in terms of things I LIVE for, not that I would die for. And there are a great many things in that basket. Love, beauty, good friends, the natural world, the critters, good food, work that I can love, curiosity over what makes it all tick, the future for our children and their children, and so much more. We all have a list like this. It is what keeps us going.

The thing is, there are strong forces trying to destroy all of these things. It started with a misrepresentation of Adam Smith and John Locke and other enlightenment philosophers. This was used by politicians, media, and most importantly, the plutocrats to create a corrupt modernity whose chief feature is capitalism unbound. And it is killing us all.

Given these circumstances, it is clear what hill I am willing to die on. The war for the future of our species and much more is upon us. I know where my honor lies. I hope that there are enough of us.

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Is America Civilized?

December 30, 2017 3 comments

The American EagleThis government is free to behave any way it wants. It’s a rough unfair world, and there are plenty of terrible governments that rule by might alone. This government is free to enforce the wants of the very rich at the expense of the poor. It is free to wage war on the world, and to spy on everyone in the name of national security. It is free to force environmental degradation on its own people in the form of fracking, GMOs and a myriad of other practices that poison our land for the profit of the few. It is free to let policies stand that create an ever-widening income inequality. It is free to destroy the social safety net, and to abrogate the entire social contract.

006aBut–if is does so, it must give up the right to call itself a civilized nation. Under the present regime (going back about 30 years) we are a savage third world country pretending to be a rich and civilized country. Our very rich are as out of control as the French aristocrats just prior to the revolution. Those who want to privatize America (and a privatized world) are winning, and no one in power is putting up much of a fight.

And yet our rulers (both in the government and in the trans-national corporations) still use the story that we are the premier democracy and the light of the world. Let’s admit that this is a lie. We are an oligarchical plutocracy waging a imperial war on the world, using economics where possible, and force of arms where “necessary”. In short, we are no longer fit to sit at the table with the true civilized world.


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The Puppet Show of the Apocalypse

June 19, 2013 1 comment

puppetI am sitting at my kitchen table.. It is early June, an election year. I can hear the television droning softly from the living room, bringing me the evening news. They are reporting on one of the men vying to be the presidential candidate for the out of power party. He has apparently just implied something insulting about women and rape. Cut to an ad for viagra. Outside my back door I can hear the soft hum of bees and the little screeches of birds looking for a nesting spot. Outside, in the real world, everything looks just fine–on the surface. Just don’t look to deeply or you would see a flower that is the main food of an important butterfly, which now blooms a week too early for the caterpillars to eat it.There will be none of that type of butterfly this year, or likely ever again in these parts.

Now it is late October. The evening news is on. If I were to look around the corner at my television I would see two men speaking about who said what in the latest scandal, and how they are not to blame for it, and how they would bring prosperity back to the middle class, one by lowering taxes a bit more and the other by cutting a few programs.There are a least 12 political parties in the United States that have candidates for president. But only two of them are allowed to speak publicly where it counts, on television. In fact, one of the “lesser” candidates is outside in chains. Her crime? Trying to enter the hall where the debate is taking place. In other news a hurricane just wiped out two small towns in the delta, foreclosures are up again, and there is unrest in one or another impoverished country.

The puppet show continues. The puppets may be politicians, or celebrities, or, quite often, news “providers” We see their lips move, and words come out. Meanwhile, in the real world, outside our doors, a million more pollinators died. A large American company released another organism into wild nature that will eventually cause a food shortage for a key species, causing an entire ecosystem to crash. On the streets of America, huddling under a freeway over-pass, two children are hungry. Their parents lost their jobs, first him then her. The house went a couple of years later.

In other news, the stock market is up by 30 points, and a Republican congressman just floated a bill to close down what is left of the food stamp program after the last time it was gutted. No one connects the dots. If the tax code were merely put back to what it was in 1950 there would be no hungry children, no homeless families. It is OUR children that are going hungry. Or they used to be before a culture of pure self interest took root and we all became individuals, divorced from any notion of a “community”. Instead, the puppet show drones on–” These welfare families are ruining the country–stealing your prosperity” they say. Who can remember the concept developed in Nazi Germany of the “big lie”? Make the lie big enough and repeat it often enough and it becomes the “truth”. It is the social safety net that is ruining the country, not the top one tenth of a percent that are hoarding sixty percent of our wealth. Repeat after me…

Outside in the real world 14,000 more hectares of rain forest fall. It seems that clear cut rain forest makes great pastureland for the cattle that another large American company prefers for its burgers. That and a bunch of filler, sawdust maybe.  Cut for a commercial. Happy kids eating happy meals. The kids under that overpass eat them, but no one would call them happy. It is all they can afford, and they are lucky to get that.

The puppet show continues. In Oakland another shooting, in Mississippi a flood. A Kafkaesque international manhunt for a whistle-blower. His crime? Telling the truth about criminal activity in his government agency.  Outside in the real world, there are forests silent as graves. Empty forest syndrome. The puppets drone on as we preside over the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs. And we are likely the new dinosaurs. Honey bees account for about thirty percent of the human food supply. Even the “food-like substances” that we in the developed world are receiving from the processing plants rely on some form of organic base. Cut to commercial for pesticides. Kills everything, don’t worry. We don’t need insects. Or anything else in the food web that might be collateral damage. Just spray and enjoy the antiseptic landscape, and then pop open a beer and watch more of the puppet show.

A large ship full of plastic goods arrives from Asia. The news anchor jokes about hitting those sales. A large American company, a discount store, boasts that 60% of Americans shop at their stores. Meanwhile, across the world, large piles of old plastic burn, and the air stings. Meanwhile, in the real world, there is a 270,000 square mile garbage patch, filled with the detritus of the free market. Nothing lives there. Anymore.

The puppet show continues. I sit at the kitchen table. It is early summer.I can hear the drone of the evening news. There was an oil spill from the Tar Sands along the Canadian border. It hit an Indian reservation. Nothing can live there now either. The black earth is poisoned and will remain so long after we are just bones. In other news, a stringent anti-abortion bill passed the house, but is expected to die in the senate.

Outside, in the real world, I can hear the soft hum of honey bees in the Bottle Brush. I can hear the chirps of the hummingbirds and the tiny song of dozens of bird babies as the mama birds bring dinner home to the nest. I live in a very fortunate place. It is hard to see that anything is wrong on this gentle summer evening. It is impossible for us to detect the loss of diversity, the collapse of ecosystems, with the information gathering tools that we have. Even when we see it it is almost impossible to see that our way of life is at fault. Further-even if we see both the destruction and our part in it–there seems to be little we can do. And until we collectively decide to commit our full energy to tearing down the machine we have built and replacing it with something that supports the entire biotic community, it is true.  Nothing can be done.

I turn back to the puppet show of the apocalypse. In other news, the largest fire in Colorado history took another twenty homes. As for the weather-it’s gonna be a scorcher out there…

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A Brutal Capitalist Regime–The Key Problem of Our Times

June 4, 2013 2 comments
The Money Problem

The Money Problem

If you are old enough you will remember that during the Cold War, we in the USA were told tales of the “brutal communist regime” in the Soviet Union and China. Actually, anywhere that professed to be Communist. I cannot pretend to know all of the facts regarding actual conditions in these countries, then or now.

But, one day a while ago, as I was riding the bus into the city it occurred to me-we live in a brutal CAPITALIST regime here in the America of the 21st century. And–we have exported this regime across the globe at the point of a rifle (or a drone). This means that however good- hearted you may be, or how much you may hate the system and the entities that enforce the system–you will participate or die.

But let me unpack this statement,word by word. First of all let us look at the term “capitalist”. By this I mean the peculiar strain of large C capitalism that has sprung up in the United States in the late twentieth century. This includes share-holder primacy, corporate personhood, and the colonization of the people’s government by big business.

Then, let us look at brutality. We live in a place where the extremely poor are allowed to die in the street, and the slightly better off die from lack of medical care. Where public works are being attacked as frivolous by politicians in the pockets of shadowy figures who pay no taxes but reap the rewards of citizenship. Where government is handing over our wealth (and its responsibilities) to private companies who take the money and destroy the services without accountability. Where food is allowed to rot with-in the sight of the starving if they can’t pay.Where a few sleep between thousand dollar sheets and control enough wealth to start their own counties  while the many huddle in project housing and work two jobs without earning enough to feed themselves. Where poverty is created by the elite, and then criminalized. Where  big money comes before the safety and welfare of our children. Two examples are the failure of the government to pass gun laws that protect school-children and the failure to control banks from preying on our college kids. Where big banks and their shareholders robbed us all, stole our pensions, and took our houses, and got away with it.

And it is brutal in other ways as well. The human condition demands that we struggle with our own worst qualities. People in any system can be greedy, power-hungry, and selfish. But only capitalism demands these qualities as a condition of survival. It forces us all to place the dollar ahead of all other things. If you don’t have money and you are too weak, old, young, or foolish to get it, you will live in misery and die painfully. Under these conditions “getting mine” trumps all else. This is as true for me as it is for all of you.

If this crushes the spirits of those in the middle and bottom, it does something just as bad to the rich. It gives those already prone to bad behavior the ugly justification and hubris of neo-Calvinism. Great wealth brings a propensity for social blindness, loss of introspection, and intense pressure to do wrong. Those born into wealth are conditioned from birth to believe a very distorted view of reality. Those who acquire great wealth may start out with a clear view, but in the absence of a powerful inborn moral compass the natural tendency to privilege one’s own self interest wins in the end, and the distortion takes hold.

In the brutal capitalist regime, no one is allowed to become fully human. And very few ever reach their full potential. Excellence is unnecessary when mediocrity sells, and under corporate rule both education and advertising are controlled by those doing the selling.

Now all we have left to un-pack is the word “regime”. The dictionary defines this as the government in power. In the United States we are told that this is either the Democratic Party, or the Republican Party. But this is a lie. We actually live under corporate fascism with a regular democratic charade. For example, a long list of our public servants have also worked at the Monsanto Corporation. Monsanto has ruthlessly fought against even labeling modified products intended to be eaten. I can’t bring myself to call these products food. Knowing what we are eating seems to be a reasonable request. But, instead of passing laws protecting citizens by making Monsanto label their products, congress, all full of once and future Monsanto employees, instead pass the Monsanto Protection Act, forbidding us citizens from complaining. And that is just one instance.

In the brutal communist regime, the people were afraid to speak and afraid to act. In the brutal capitalist regime, you can say anything you want if you still have the energy after breaking your back to earn your bread, and you can do almost anything you want, as long as you don’t interfere with the property rights of the rich. But just don’t expect anything to change, and don’t stop buying stuff.

I have not discussed the global reach of the regime and this post is getting long. So stay tuned, I’m back!

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Tea Party on a Train

October 10, 2011 4 comments

North Dakota Flooding

I was on a westbound train out of Minneapolis, heading for for Portland, when I had one of the more remarkable experiences this journey has provided. It was mid-June and the Empire Builder route had been out of service for a week due to heavy rains. The night I left Minneapolis was the first run west this train had made since the immediate flooding had gone down enough to allow safe passage. But by morning the train was already behind schedule.

In the early morning I went and found myself a seat in the observation car. A pleasant looking man in his forties asked if he could have the next seat. He hailed from Louisville Kentucky where he owned a successful company. His two tween aged kids were with him and there were frequent calls and texts back to Mom, who was enjoying some “me” time. He and the kids were going to explore the Glacier Park in Montana. As the train moved slowly from Minnesota into North Dakota we chatted with the train’s barman, stationed right next to us. When politics entered the conversation I soon realized that my companion was a very suave well educated member of the tea party. I said nothing about my own political affiliations and just listened.

While the rest of the country labors under this, the fourth year of the 21st century depression, North Dakota is in the middle of an oil and gas boom. Wizened farmers are taking their newly gained wealth and leaving for Hawaii. Any able bodied man tough enough to be a rigger can get a job that pays enough to support a family. Women are welcome to apply to sling hash.

In the spring of 2011 record breaking snowfall became record breaking flooding. In Minot ND, a rigger heading home to Montana boarded and joined our small party in the observation deck. Minot is the same town that suffered a devastating flood just days after I passed through.

Our new traveling companion was as rough and hardened as the first man was smooth. But they shared a political ideology, and the talk soon turned to the news of the day. Mr. Louisville’s children, especially the boy, were very expressive in their hatred of Mr. Obama, to a point which would have raised eyebrows if they had been adults.  Mr. Montana’s loudest derision was saved for “Obama’s global warming”. After all, the northwest had been laid waste by snow, not heat. And god dang it, Montana has an un-employment rate of 50% or so, and that was the government’s fault. Obama’s fault he had to ride twelve hours to get to work, and missed being with his wife and kids…

The train had slowed to a crawl, with frequent complete stops as conditions changed on the tracks. We were supposed to reach the Glacier Park at sunset, but now the estimated time of arrival there was just before dawn. Food was running out on the train as well. We were promised that they would take on a delivery of fried chicken somewhere down the line.

At some little whistle stop the border patrol boarded the train for a citizenship check. Each passenger was asked their citizenship. Most were not asked to prove it. There was a contingent of German’s on board, all with proper passports. When they reached our group, Mr. Montana told them they should ask Obama the same thing.

Then something odd happened. I had been mostly silent the whole way. Mr. Louisville was a good conversationalist except for the political thing, and the evening had passed quickly enough. But I was getting hungry. And I was arguing with myself about whether to spend some of my last precious dollars on food. Just as the fried chicken was delivered the Kentucky group said good night and departed for their sleeping car. I would be sleeping in my seat on the observation deck.

That is when the man from Montana offered to buy me a chicken dinner. I accepted. We munched on our chicken and talked in the fading light. He talked about his family and life in the big sky country before things got so hard. He also asked me about myself, whether I was married, had kids etc. When I said no, and told him I was widowed he offered sincere condolences. We spoke of how hard it was to raise kids now, to know they were safe.  In short he became human to me.

I began to realize that this person and his fellows were not my enemy. I may find him ignorant. His birther comments may offend me. His anger may scare me. But he is one of the people being most affected by the wickedness of the free market and the excesses of Wall Street. It is the job of the progressive left to show people such as this who the real criminals are. If we are not making our case with the words we are using now, we need to find new words. It is very important to know who the real enemy is, and not allow the angry words of a poor family man distract me from the real villain in this story—the elite rulers who crashed our economy for profit’s sake.