Sunday, January 15, 2017

Liberties Taken with Obama’s Last Speech

Some twisted excerpts from US President Barack Obama’s  January 10, 2017 Farewell Address as potentially heard by the Power Elite. 

 Everybody sit down, nobody is following instructions!
I witnessed working people in the face of struggle and loss.  The work has always been hard. It's always been contentious. Sometimes it's been bloody.

Change only happens when ordinary people come together to demand it.
Our American idea — the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  A great gift that our Founders gave to us: The freedom to “chase” our individual dreams.   America is exceptional — for those who follow.

In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy— President-elect Trump.
We remain the wealthiest, most powerful, on Earth.  Our boundless capacity for risk means the future should be ours.  That's what I want to focus on tonight. 

Our founders argued. They quarreled. They expected us to do the same.
Democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity — the specter of terrorism, it will determine our future.

Our democracy won't work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity.
The good news is that today the economy is growing again – because that, after all, is why we serve.

Our economy doesn't work (for most Americans.  For example you,) the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income.  Families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind — the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who's just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — the game is fixed against them.
Government only serves the interests of the powerful. There are no fixes to this long-term trend. (Applause). I agree!

The next wave of economic dislocations will come from the relentless pace of automation.
We're going to have to forge a new social compact to guarantee corporations reap the most from this country that's made their very success possible.

The disaffection and division will only sharpen in years to come.  There's a second threat to our democracy — and this one is as old as our nation itself – race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.  Workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.  (Applause.)
The children of immigrants, just because they don't look like us, will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America's workforce.

Our economy, (is) a zero-sum game. 
If we're going to be serious about race, we need laws against hiring (them), and in housing (them), and in (their) education, and in (getting them into) the criminal justice system.

Our democracy is fiction.   
Climb into his skin and walk around in it.

Blacks and other minority groups, (are) the challenges that a lot of people in this country face.  The middle-aged white guy, he's got advantages.
Slavery and Jim Crow didn't vanish.

When minority groups voice discontent, they're engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness. When they wage peaceful protest, they're demanding special treatment.
For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves the stereotypes about immigrants, and that's not easy to do.

Retreat into our bubbles.
Start accepting only information, whether it's true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there. (Applause.)

We're going to keep talking past each other.  We'll make common ground and compromise impossible.  And that makes politics dispiriting.
Excuse ethical lapses – it's not  dishonest, my mother used to tell me.  (Applause.)

Challenge climate change, promise to save this planet – our children won't have time, they'll be busy dealing with its effects: more environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary. 
Argue, deny the problem, betray future generations — the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders. (Applause.)  It is that spirit that made us an economic powerhouse, and put a computer in every pocket.  It's that spirit —that allowed us to lure fascism and tyranny; that allowed us to build a post-World War II order based on military power.  (Applause.)

Principles – the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion, and speech, and assembly, and an independent press – now being challenged (by us) —as a threat to (our) power. The peril each poses is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile.
It (our tools) represent the fear of change; the fear of people who speak or pray; contempt for the rule of law; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief in the sword or the gun or the bomb.

The propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what's true and what's right – because of our men and women in uniform, because of our intelligence officers, and law enforcement, and diplomats.    
No foreign terrorist organization has planned an attack these past eight years.

Our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever.  
We have taken out tens of thousands and half their territory.  And we all owe you a deep debt.

Protecting our way of life, that's just the job of our military. (Our) Democracy can buckle when we fear citizens, (we) must remain vigilant against aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. (Applause.)
And that's why, for the past eight years, I've worked to put the “fight against terrorism” on a firmer legal footing. That's why torture worked, (and we) reformed our laws governing surveillance to (appear to) protect privacy and civil liberties, as patriotic as we are. (Applause.)  That's why we cannot withdraw from big global fights.

Democracy, and human rights, and women's rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that's part of defending (our) America.
Extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are the rule of law around the world (thanks to us!).   

Around the world the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, (along with) our own freedoms. 
So let's be vigilant, but not afraid. (Applause.) Kill innocent people, they cannot defeat America.  Betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight. (Applause.)

Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world — unless we give up what we stand for —another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.  (Applause.)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Do Crazy

"Life's too short, the world's crazy, I could die tomorrow, so I don't see any reason why you shouldn't do what you want to do. … I'm trying to do whatever I want just to show everyone, hey, you can do whatever you want, even if it's some crazy thing that seems impossible."

Mike Summers on his winter hike along Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail. See the Journal-Sentinal article on his trip at the following link.

Standing for Soil

“A radical movement capable of offering a democratic alternative to corporate capitalism will have to draw on traditions that have been dismissed or despised by twentieth-century progressives and only recently resurrected both by scholars and by environmentalists, community organizers, and other activists.  It will have to stand for the nurture of the soil against the exploitation of natural resources, the family against the factory, the romantic vision of the individual against the technological vision, localism over democratic centralism.  Such radicalism would deserve the allegiance of all true democrats. “

Christopher Lasch

“Democracy and the ‘Crisis of Confidence’”

DEMOCRACY JOURNAL, Volume 1, January 1981

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Follow-up thoughts on the Sustainability rant (after blood pressure has dropped back down).

Probably my biggest frustration with the event yesterday (and events of that type) is they do not provide a forum that encourages discussion of the issues presented.  They are a venue where the speakers present as the experts, the audience sits back and takes it in and learn from the experts, and maybe say something in support of or to ask a clarifying question or two at the most. 

In the case of yesterday’s forum, some great topics in need of discussion came up:  climate change, human population, economics, solar and wind energy, etc.  I do believe that all of these are critical issues that need to be understood if we are to have any hope of changing the direction the human world is going.  What troubles me however is that these topics are sort of just lobbed out there and batted around with implications that if we just refined, controlled, or reinvented them then everything will be “groovy”.  The event came across as much more of a sales pitch, rather than a presentation designed to encourage understanding about the topics presented.

It is my belief that major issues threatening humanity and the planet, things like climate change, human population, loss of habitat, species extinction, war, etc.  are all symptoms of a much worse “evil” and that “evil” is our current global world view that is primarily shaped and imposed by CAPITALISM or a system of civilization designed by the “elite” folks to control everybody else so that they can have more wealth and more power.  And one of the keys to doing this is to consume the resources of the planet to produce expensive and complex infrastructure, designed to provide global access to more resources, more markets, and hence more wealth.  Of course waste disposal, illness, or other negative side effects like climate change are denied or ignored or the cost imposed on someone else – otherwise the whole thing would not be profitable.

It is kept in place using coercive methods imposed by governments who write rules, hire military and police and other agencies to enforce those rules and keep the people in line.  Huge sums of money are spent on advertising, education, and other manipulation techniques to convince people that this is the system they need to follow. And it also depends on the support of other various folks within the hierarchy to implement the rules and to reward those who do these duties. And then once it is all in place, it is difficult if not impossible for the non-elite folks to survive outside this globalized economic/political system, especially when the support systems outside the market are destroyed, outlawed, or impaired.  These support systems include the likes of families, neighborhoods, small local business, and the commons of our land, air, water, etc. which are needed to obtain what we need to live.    

If you’re interested in this topic, one of the best sources of explaining it all that I have found has been in the writings of anthropologist John Bodley in his books CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, VICTIMS OF PROGRESS, or ANTHROPOLOGY AND CONTEMPORARY HUMAN PROBLEMS.  I am sure there are many other authors and books that have delved in to the topic from other perspectives as well. 

So what do we do?  That is indeed the challenge, especially when survival outside this messed up system is by design discouraged by the cultural and material infrastructure that keeps it all in place.  I believe that the solution will come as we learn to unlearn all that we have been taught growing up in this system.  To do that we need to understand what lies behind the curtain of Capitalism – reading one of Bodley’s or other author’s books on the topic might be starting point. 

Learning to get along with our families and neighbors will be an important hurdle. These support networks have by design been destroyed or dysfunctionalized by the “system” to force us to have to go the market for things that we should be getting from our friends, families, neighbors, or even obtain for by ourselves.  We need to rebuild our communities so we can insure we meet our real human needs.      

Recognizing the methods we use to “numb” out so we don’t have to think about all this stuff will also is critical.  These might be the obvious things like drinking alcohol, or doing drugs; but also include the less obvious like over working, or performing acts of “charity”, or participating in the games provided by the empire like surfing the internet, watching movies or sporting events, or playing other “games”, being consumed by consuming “junk” food, etc.  Bruce Alxander’s book THE GLOBALIZATION OF ADDICTION is a great source for more on this topic.  The solution to these mind numbing issues is not to be found through righteousness or pharmaceuticals, but by understanding that to survive in the insanity that defines our society today, one needs to numb out in some way or another.  

As we do the above things, another step we need to take is to begin to understand what it is we really need to thrive and survive – or what our real human needs are.  At the core they include the need for clean air and water; access to healthy food and land; and access to healthy community.  The writings of Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef might be one source of information that helps to identify what it is we really need and not get sucked into buying what the market sells us.    

We need to relearn how to recreate a society that is designed to meet those human needs.  One example of a possible model for doing this can be found in the Transition movement, which may not be perfect, but it might be a start.  This re-creation will require we meet our real needs locally as much as possible.  We will need to learn to feed, cloth, and shelter ourselves.  The energy we use to accomplish these tasks will need to be locally sourced and not destroy us or the planet by using it.  Technology we use will need to be about helping us to meet our needs, not about increasing the profits of someone on the other side of planet or about creating jobs.  Economy will be a subset of people, and people will be a subset of planet – economy will be put in its place, and not used to control us.  We can no longer simply take what we want from others. 

And last, but certainly not least we need to understand what it means to be human, and appreciate our place in the planet.  Unfortunately our religious institutions have failed us here and instead of helping us to reconnect to the cosmos they have instead been used to guilt us into complying with consumption.  This means we need to re-find that deep connection to the planet and ecosystems that are the real source of all it is we need.  Shutting off our electronic devices and spending time outside in nature will be one of the primary methods of accomplishing this.   Finding respect, appreciation, or perhaps even reverence for the planet will be the key to everything else.    

And throughout this we start practicing and experimenting with how to do all this.  We reduce our consumption, we spend time with our families and friends, we build community, we get rid of lawns and plant gardens, we grow more trees, we learn to cooperate, we stop depending on the market for our needs and start relying on ourselves and our communities, we let go of blind faith in technology, we stop numbing ourselves and start thinking, we stop listing to fools and call them out when they act foolishly, and hold them accountable for their foolish acts, and we begin dismantling the current infrastructure and reclaim it to rebuild a new society designed by the people - for the people - with the planet in mind.  

So my goal for the coming year is to find or perhaps create events where these sorts topics can truly be discussed, understood, and perhaps even practiced, and not to waste time or energy going to sales pitches designed to keep the same old game going.  Waiting for governments, non-profits, corporations, or other institutions means relying on the same old systems that have gotten us to where we are now – does not seem like a viable option anymore.  I indeed need to be the change I want to see and I need to start living accordingly. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sustainability Criticism (or Rant?)

sustainability [suh-stey-nuh-bil-i-tee] noun: the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance

crit·i·cism [kridəˌsizəm] noun: the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.

rant [rant] speak or shout at length in a wild, impassioned way

Lately I have not had much hope (perhaps that is a good thing) that attending talks with the word “sustainability” in the title will teach me much about how to achieve a “long-term ecological balance” in my life.  Instead, I usually assume that the talk will be much more about promoting a new technology or “renewable” energy source to sustain our current way of life (when I say “our”, I am referring to life as a middle to upper class American).  So when I first heard about the “Sustainability Forum: Threats and Opportunities” that was held today (January 7, 2017) at the Columbia Heights MN Public Library, I was skeptical about attending.  But then I found more information about the event (see this link for an example ) which proclaimed

“At this crucial time in world (and U.S.) history, when the future of civilization and life on this planet hangs in the balance, and political leadership is swinging increasingly to the authoritative right, it’s time for well-intentioned people to step up to the plate. Hoping that “others” will take care of our collective problems will not get the job done.”

I regained some hope (a mistake I believe now) that this forum might be different. The talks being promoted in the flyer I saw indicated that R. Michael Conley (the founder of Weathering the Storm) would tell us about “The Perfect Storm: Our Sustainability Challenges, Alan Ware (a research fellow at World Population Balance) would share his thoughts on “Making the Connection: Overpopulation and Sustainability, and Matt Holland (editor of “Best Practices” and apparently some sort of sustainability expert with the University of Wisconsin System) would close out the forum with a foray into going “Beyond Boom & Bust”. 

Mr. Conley began his talk with some simple basics on what are the sustainability related challenges we face and explained how he liked to compare the diagnosis of climate change to high blood pressure.  Both diagnosis are at first easy to ignore, but if the symptoms are denied for too long, then eventually bad things can happen. 

I was disappointed that he did not step back and look at this comparison from the big picture view promised in the forum promotional material.  Instead I came to believe by the end of the forum, that like high blood pressure (by this time mine had gone up), he and the other speakers were apparently toting that all we need to do is follow the doctor’s (or folks like the speakers) prescription and swallow some pills that allow us to keep living the good life (or at least believing in it). 

The pills seemed to be the likes of the twin clean-green-renewable energy technological miracles of solar and wind energy and their all American beneficiary of these new and improved fuels, the electric car or lawn mower; and condoms to be shoved down the throats of those overpopulation sources of our disease in the “developing” world like India and China who simply need to take a pledge of using birth control and educating their women folk.  For think about the impact on the planet if all those hordes were to obtain the simple pleasure of a “Bic Pen” as Mr. Ware reminded us, and then if we get rid of them, then we could avoid a future where we (American middle to upper middle class white-folk) had to give up our electric cars powered by windmills and solar panels with the resources to build the infrastructure now easily plundered from the depopulated developing countries and avoid living in poverty ourselves (my take on his talk anyway).      

So here’s to us, those who – have taken the big steps of stopping our progeny at 1 or 2 or better yet opted for no offspring at all; and have had the vision (and wealth) to be able to promote, purchase, and install wind turbines and solar panels on our roof tops and in our backyards, and purchase all that shiny new electric powered equipment and entertainment devices that can keep our reinvented economy growing.  And as an afterthought – perhaps we owe at least a token thanks to the over populated developing countries who we will help to become depopulated for the opportunity for us to continue to plunder the planet to find the resources to produce the new infrastructure that will allow these “renewable energy sources” to be as the day’s closing song reminded us – “reduced, reused, and recycled” into infinity so we can keep “our” economy growing and glowing – right (or am I wrong)?????

I am sure the good folks involved in planning and presenting this forum had no intention of leaving the audience as disgusted as I was, but rather hoped to inspire more hope for our fossil fuel free future, but I for one have become more resolved to hold strong to my renewed commitment to avoid talks by perhaps well-intentioned “leaders” who fail to really step back, open their eyes, and see the big picture.  For if they did, I think they would begin to see that to really convert our current fossil fuel powered economy to so called “renewable” energies, is at best a pipe dream designed to keep the American Dream alive for a little longer.  But just like their fossil fuel brethren, “renewables” designed to power an economic global super power like America, depend on an extremely non-renewable infrastructure of a very limited lifespan. 

Solar panels don’t magically grow from the ground, no matter how much “bio-mimicry” we use in the design process.  In the real world you need to mine silicon for the solar collectors, aluminum ores for the frames, sand for the glass encasements, copper for the wiring and new grids, iron for the new grid support poles.  The process of converting silicon to solar panels uses large amounts of energy (typically of the fossil based sort), uses hazardous chemicals to process the panels, and releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  Wind turbine infrastructure is also not “clean and green”, nor renewable.  There is the need for steel to build the support towers, metals to build the generators, petroleum to create the resin used to make the fiberglass blades, huge concrete foundations buried in the ground to support the graceful monstrosities, and more copper to create the transmission cables to carry all this “renewable” energy to our homes and factories where we make it all happen (or at least used to until we found out it is cheaper to build all this stuff in third world countries where we don’t have to worry about the costs of clean air or sustainable wages). 

So until our renewable energy gurus or salesmen can start to provide some data, slides and graphs detailing what the impacts from all these and other processes will be on the people and the planet and how all this worn out infrastructure will be disposed of – I will not be buying into the renewable unlimited energy fantasy future.  And if somehow we could achieve it (based on previous experiences with such forays) I have a feeling that the side effects would kill us off faster than any dose of high blood pressure or climate change every could. 

I suppose that makes me a doubter, a denier, a skeptic, a cynic, rambling idiot, or a hopeless doom and gloomer.  But I think it is time to embrace these labels boldly and let go of a hope for this nightmare of ours to go on.  So called overpopulated third world populations are not the source of our problems, but rather a convenient source to blame, provide cheap labor to build our stuff, and find many mouths to feed our excess industrialized grain to, so we can take their prime lands to mine our minerals, grow our luxury foods like coffee or fruit, sugar, or other recreational mind numbing drugs on.   

Perhaps I should not blame the speakers at this particular event who are likely just telling the same tale that we all seem to proclaim in one way or another in order to justify our own privilege, rewards, and existence that depends on promoting the company line – that economic growth (although perhaps it may needs some tweaking or “greening”) is the root of all that is good (at least to those of us who get the goods).  It also helps us to continue to deny the much more likely reality that this economic growth designed to provide profits for a few (and mind-numbing rewards to a few more) is actually the root cause of all our symptoms of the dis-ease we are all inflicted by (and by all here I mean everyone, the 1%, the 2%, the 10%, and even the overpopulated folks we like to blame for our problems – the 90%). 

Despite how much we would like it to be true, “renewable” energy sources or population reduction is not the answer to our problems.  Rather the reality is the only prescription that will heal the ails we have begins by acknowledging the limits of the finite planet we live on and then to thank our lucky stars that we live on a planet that has provided us with an opportunity to even exist.  We need to stop listening to fools who make up the 1% and their message regurgitated by us 10%-ers (whether we are right or left leaning) that consumption, a growing economy, and competition are what it is about (even if we “green” it up or make it more “sustainable”).  We need to power down big time (and here we refers to us white middle and upper middle class folks) and stop consuming a bunch of crap that we don’t need.  And we Americans need to give up our dream world and start living like those “poor” overpopulated folk we think we are better off than, and perhaps if they are willing to teach us, learn from them how to survive on a lot, lot, less than we do now. 

Note that I am pretty sure that that means giving up on the biggest part of the American dream – the personal automobile – no matter what you use to fuel it or what color you paint it. We need to find solutions not based on shoving into other people’s back yards things we would not have in our own back yards, nor take from other people’s back yards what our own backyards lack.  Instead we need to begin to live within the means available to us in our own yards and realize that if we destroy our yard, we destroy ourselves, along with everything else that lives there.  And that is the big fat pill we need to swallow whole (even if it gags us), if we are to have any hope of finding some sort of long term ecological balance in these miserable lives we have allowed to be created.  

And that is the end of this rant, for now.