"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Greed’

“What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?”: Rich Californians Balk At limits, Increase Water Use By 9%

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Riley, a Labrador Retriever, plays in a pool at a residence in Rancho Santa Fe, California. (Sandy Huffaker/The Washington Post)

Oldspeak:”I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world… You could put 20 houses on my property, and they’d have families of at least four. In my house, there is only two of us, so they’d be using a hell of a lot more water than we’re using.” -Gay Butler, Interior Designer, Rancho Santa Fe, California

“Interesting piece. While the attitudes of people like this well-to-do party member are abominable and ignorant, They are completely predictable and logical, for persons reared, nurtured, educated, and benefiting disproportionately unquestioning, within a system of infinite growth and consumption. These people have internalized the world view of their oppressor; Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy or Industrial Civilization.  What’s left unsaid is how these people reflect, the nature of the life-extinguishing culture and environment in which they live. Also unsaid is how insignificant the actions of these people and most people is when compared to the actions of our most spoiled and privileged “citizens”:  energy, agribusiness, and water bottling corporations who consume and poison more water than any actually citizen could, and have had none of the usage restrictions placed on them, that have been placed on humans. No questioning of the suicidal implications of this decision. No attention is drawn to the ongoing and ever expanding extraction and destruction of irreplaceably essential resources for a “profit” by said “citizens”. In the context of the destruction of our world, we have to at least wonder, is profit worth most all that lives on earth?” -OSJ

Written By Rob Kuznia @ The Washington Post:

Drought or no drought, Steve Yuhas resents the idea that it is somehow shameful to be a water hog. If you can pay for it, he argues, you should get your water.

People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed recently on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

Yuhas lives in the ultra-wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic Southern California hamlet of ranches, gated communities and country clubs that guzzles five times more water per capita than the statewide average. In April, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for a 25 percent reduction in water use, consumption in Rancho Santa Fe went up by 9 percent.

But a moment of truth is at hand for Yuhas and his neighbors, and all of California will be watching: On July 1, for the first time in its 92-year history, Rancho Santa Fe will be subject to water rationing.

“It’s no longer a ‘You can only water on these days’ ” situation, said Jessica Parks, spokeswoman for the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which provides water service to Rancho Santa Fe and other parts of San Diego County. “It’s now more of a ‘This is the amount of water you get within this billing period. And if you go over that, there will be high penalties.’ ”

So far, the community’s 3,100 residents have not felt the wrath of the water police. Authorities have issued only three citations for violations of a first round of rather mild water restrictions announced last fall. In a place where the median income is $189,000, where PGA legend Phil Mickelson once requested a separate water meter for his chipping greens, where financier Ralph Whitworth last month paid the Rolling Stones $2 million to play at a local bar, the fine, at $100, was less than intimidating.

All that is about to change, however. Under the new rules, each household will be assigned an essential allotment for basic indoor needs. Any additional usage — sprinklers, fountains, swimming pools — must be slashed by nearly half for the district to meet state-mandated targets.

Residents who exceed their allotment could see their already sky-high water bills triple. And for ultra-wealthy customers undeterred by financial penalties, the district reserves the right to install flow restrictors — quarter-size disks that make it difficult to, say, shower and do a load of laundry at the same time.

In extreme cases, the district could shut off the tap altogether.

The restrictions are among the toughest in the state, and residents of Rancho Santa Fe are feeling aggrieved.

“I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world,” said Gay Butler, an interior designer out for a trail ride on her show horse, Bear. She said her water bill averages about $800 a month.

“It angers me because people aren’t looking at the overall picture,” Butler said. “What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?”

Rancho Santa Fe residents are hardly the only Californians facing a water crackdown. On Friday, the state said it would impose sharp cutbacks on senior water rights dating back to the Gold Rush for the first time in four decades, a move that primarily hits farmers. And starting this month, all of California’s 400-plus water districts are under orders to reduce flow by at least 8 percent from 2013 levels.

Top water users such as Rancho Santa Fe are required to cut consumption by 36 percent. Other areas in the 36-percent crosshairs include much of the Central Valley, a farming region that runs up the middle of the state, and Orange County, a ritzy Republican stronghold between San Diego and Los Angeles.

“I call it the war on suburbia,” said Brett Barbre, who lives in the Orange County community of Yorba City, another exceptionally wealthy Zip code.

Barbre sits on the 37-member board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a huge water wholesaler serving 17 million customers. He is fond of referring to his watering hose with Charlton Heston’s famous quote about guns: “They’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

“California used to be the land of opportunity and freedom,” Barbre said. “It’s slowly becoming the land of one group telling everybody else how they think everybody should live their lives.”

Jurgen Gramckow, a sod farmer north of Los Angeles in Ventura County, agrees. He likens the freedom to buy water to the freedom to buy gasoline.

“Some people have a Prius; others have a Suburban,” Gramckow said. “Once the water goes through the meter, it’s yours.”

Yuhas, who hosts a conservative talk-radio show, abhors the culture of “drought-shaming” that has developed here since the drought began four years ago, especially the aerial shots of lavish lawns targeted for derision on the local TV news.

“I’m a conservative, so this is strange, but I defend Barbra Streisand’s right to have a green lawn,” said Yuhas, who splits his time between Rancho Santa Fe and Los Angeles. “When we bought, we didn’t plan on getting a place that looks like we’re living in an African savanna.”

Others are embarrassed by such defiance. Parks of the Sante Fe Irrigation District said she was mortified when the report came out earlier this month showing that Rancho Santa Fe had increased its water use — the only community in the region to do so.

“I kind of take it personally,” she said last week as she toured the community in an SUV bearing the water district’s logo.

Parks said she doesn’t know exactly what happened, but she has heard rumors that some people jacked up their water use in a misguided attempt to increase their baseline before rationing kicks in. With sprinkler restrictions already in place, she said the dynamic between local gardeners and her small team of enforcers is getting interesting.

“Everyone seems now to know what our cars look like,” she said. In Fairbanks Ranch, a gated community, “whenever one of our trucks go in, the gardeners all seem to call each other — text-message each other — to let them know that we’ve arrived. So then all of a sudden we see water kind of draining off the property but no sprinklers on.”

Because the restrictions that took effect in September didn’t register, the district further tightened the screws this month. Sprinkler days were reduced from three a week to two, while car-washing and garden fountains were banned altogether.

Holly Manion, a real estate agent who has lived on the Ranch, as it’s often called, for most of her 62 years, supports the restrictions. Although Manion cherishes the landscape of manicured lawns and burbling fountains that has long defined the Ranch, she thinks the drought requires a new way of life that emphasizes water conservation.

“Just take a drive around the area. You’ll see lakes low, rivers dry and hillsides parched,” Manion said, adding that she is appalled by people who tolerate leaking sprinklers and the resulting cascades of wasted water.

“There are people, they aren’t being responsible,” she said. “They’re just thinking of their own lives.”

Ann Boon, president of the Rancho Santa Fe Association, insists that most residents are taking the drought seriously. She said she was shocked by the reported 9 percent increase, arguing that it “must be some anomaly.”

“Everybody has been trying to cut back,” she said.

For example, many Rancho Santa Fe residents have enthusiastically embraced drought-tolerant landscaping. Manion took advantage of a rebate to rip out much of the turf on her three-acre property and replace it with succulents and decomposed-granite pathways. She left only a small patch of grass for her two dogs to play on.

“It makes me happy when I look at it, because it’s thriving,” she said.

Butler said she, too, is replacing grass with drought-friendly native landscaping on her four acres, at a cost of nearly $80,000. (She’ll get a rebate for about $12,000.) But she came to the decision grudgingly, she said. And she defends the amount of water she and her neighbors need for their vast estates.

“You could put 20 houses on my property, and they’d have families of at least four. In my house, there is only two of us,” Butler said. So “they’d be using a hell of a lot more water than we’re using.”

Rancho Santa Fe resident Randy Woods was feeling burdened by his lush landscape and opted to downsize. The 60-something chief executive of a biotech company moved a year ago from a two-acre estate — replete with two waterfalls, two Jacuzzis, a swimming pool and an orchard — to a condo in the tiny core of town known as “the Village.”

Woods said some of his friends would like to do the same, largely to cut down on their bloated water bills. But they have encountered an unforeseen obstacle, he said: The drought has dampened demand for large estates in San ­Diego County.

Woods said his girlfriend is among those struggling to sell. Her home boasts a yard designed by Kate Sessions, a well-known landscape architect and botanist who died in 1940. But now, the rare palm tree specimens, the secret garden and the turret-shaped hedges are a liability rather than a selling point.

Another friend, Woods said, has seen the value of his nine-acre plot plummet from $30 million to $22 million.

As for Woods, his monthly water bill has shriveled from $500 to around $50.

“My friends,” he said, “are all jealous.”

U.S. West Coast Sardine Population Collapses, 91% Decline Prompting Ban On Commercial Fishing 2 Months Early

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2015 at 8:32 pm

https://i2.wp.com/i.ytimg.com/vi/N-1d7Lt7ptM/0.jpg

Oldspeak:”This is a huge step,this is one of the most lucrative fisheries in California, so to completely shut it down is a huge deal… We believe the harm has been irreparable and will already have ramifications for decades to come… We’ve basically reduced the carrying capacity of the ecosystem to support the populations of other species that depend on sardines. The more fish we take, the more it is going to make that situation even worse.” Geoffrey Shester, California campaign director for Oceana

The collapse this year is the latest in a series of alarming die-offs, sicknesses and population declines in the ocean ecosystem along the West Coast. Anchovies, which thrive in cold water, have also declined over the past decade due largely to fluctuating ocean temperatures and a lack of zooplankton, their food of choice…The number of herring seen in San Francisco Bay has fluctuated wildly, reaching a historic low in 2009….Record numbers of starving sea lions have recently been washing up on beaches in California because there aren’t enough sardines and anchovies for pups to eat. Fisheries scientists estimate that 70 percent of sea lion pups will die this year due to a lack of food…Brown pelicans, too, have suffered from mass reproductive failures and are turning up sick and dead in California and Oregon. A 2010 study by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey and other scientific organizations found that many of the starving and emaciated pelicans are eating worms and other prey inconsistent with their normal diet of anchovies and sardines.” -Peter Fimrite

“Utterly unsurprising, given the reality:Phytoplankton — which form the base of ocean food chains — have declined 40 percent since 1950..The trend is linked to warming of the surface of the oceans….The die-off could affect climate, fisheries and ocean health…In oceans around the world, there has been a surprisingly large and extensive decline in phytoplankton — the tiny algae that keep marine food webs afloat. So when the most abundant and essential part of the ocean food wed starts dying off, you’re gonna see things like this. The fact that humans are overfishing is just accelerating the inevitable. The real story here is the entire marine food web is in the process of collapse. Expect to see more stories like this as time passes and conditions worsen.” -OSJ

By Peter Fimrite @ The San Francisco Gate:

The sardine population along the West Coast has collapsed due to changing ocean conditions and other factors, including allegations of overfishing, prompting regulators Monday to cancel fishing next season and schedule a vote this week on an immediate emergency ban.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council agreed to close the fishery from Mexico to the Canadian border starting July 1, when the 2015 season begins, after federal scientists documented a 91 percent decline in sardine numbers along the West Coast since 2007.

The council, a 19-member policymaking organization made up of fishery representatives from California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, scheduled a vote Wednesday on whether to take the bigger step of immediately halting sardine fishing. The current season would go until June 30 or until between 3,000 and 4,000 metric tons of the schooling fish are hauled out of the water, fulfilling this season’s quota.

“This is a huge step,” said Geoffrey Shester, the California campaign director for Oceana, an international conservation organization that has been fighting for eight years to lower the annual sardine take and implement stricter regulations. “This is one of the most lucrative fisheries in California, so to completely shut it down is a huge deal.”

Causes of crisis

A lack of spawning caused by unfavorable ocean conditions was blamed for the decline, but fishery biologists say faulty abundance estimates contributed by allowing regulators to set sardine fishing limits too high. It was a problem that scientists have been warning fishery managers about since 2012, Shester said.

“There’s a management failure here,” said Shester, whose group filed a lawsuit in 2011 demanding action. A judge refused to hear the case on grounds that it was not filed in a timely fashion, but the case is now on appeal.

“They didn’t respond fast enough to the decline,” said Shester, who blamed overfishing for worsening an already bad situation. “Now we find ourselves in a crisis situation.”

Don McIsaac, the management council executive director, said sardine populations often fluctuate, and cold water over the past three or four years has lowered the birth rate.

“Sardines like warm water,” McIsaac said, adding that staff biologists ruled out overfishing as a cause. “Their spawning plummets when it gets cold.”

The dilemma harkens back to the mid-1950s when the Monterey Bay canneries of author John Steinbeck fame began failing, mostly as a result of overfishing. Stiff quotas and catch limits required by the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act helped save the sardines. The population of the tiny epipelagic fish increased throughout the 1990s.

Monterey Bay is once again the Bay Area hub of sardine fishing, but the oily pilchards can also be caught off the coast of San Francisco. Huge quantities of the nutrient-rich fish are hauled up at the Channel Islands in Southern California and along the Oregon coast, where fishermen are now catching as much as 65 tons a day of the schooling pescados. The only spot where sardines are known to be currently spawning is off the coast of Oregon.

The sardine fleet has been known to bring in between $10 million and $20 million in annual revenue from sales in recent decades, Shester said.

Sardines are mostly sold for bait. The fish are generally frozen in big blocks for use in commercial long-line fishing and for feed at Australian and Japanese blue fin tuna farms. There are some efforts, including among local Indian tribes, to promote it as a healthy local delicacy.

Severe downturn

The sardine population peaked in about 2007, according to a March 19 report issued by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But things recently took a turn for the worse. This season’s quota was set at 23,293 metric tons based on biomass estimates calculated last year, but the National Marine Fisheries Service report concluded the estimates were “unrealistically high.” The sardine population, it said, is about 26 percent lower than the estimates because of a lack of spawning due to poor ocean conditions in 2014.

Sardine numbers — which can only be measured using their collective weight — have dropped from 1,037,000 metric tons in 2007 to 96,688 metric tons, a 91 percent decline, the report said.

“We believe the harm has been irreparable and will already have ramifications for decades to come,” Shester said. “We’ve basically reduced the carrying capacity of the ecosystem to support the populations of other species that depend on sardines. The more fish we take, the more it is going to make that situation even worse.”

The collapse this year is the latest in a series of alarming die-offs, sicknesses and population declines in the ocean ecosystem along the West Coast. Anchovies, which thrive in cold water, have also declined over the past decade due largely to fluctuating ocean temperatures and a lack of zooplankton, their food of choice.

The number of herring seen in San Francisco Bay has fluctuated wildly, reaching a historic low in 2009.

Record numbers of starving sea lions have recently been washing up on beaches in California because there aren’t enough sardines and anchovies for pups to eat. Fisheries scientists estimate that 70 percent of sea lion pups will die this year due to a lack of food.

Sick pelicans

Brown pelicans, too, have suffered from mass reproductive failures and are turning up sick and dead in California and Oregon. A 2010 study by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey and other scientific organizations found that many of the starving and emaciated pelicans are eating worms and other prey inconsistent with their normal diet of anchovies and sardines.

Strange diseases have also been proliferating in the sea. Large numbers of sea lions have recently been found convulsing with seizures caused by a neurotoxin found in algae blooms or red tides. The blooms suddenly proliferate for unknown reasons, cover large areas and infuse shellfish, mussels, anchovies, sardines and other filter feeders with toxins that are then consumed by sea lions.

The number of epileptic sea lions has been growing for at least a decade, according to researchers.

The fishery management council, which is required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act to close ocean fishing if the number of fish do not reach conservation objectives, did not place limits on the sardine trade that supplies recreational fishers with bait. Nor are there additional limits on the quota for anchovies, which are also in decline, Shester said.

The council allows up to 7,000 metric tons of sardines to be caught annually as bycatch, meaning it is not the targeted fish. That includes 1,000 metric tons granted to the Quinault Indian Nation, along the port of Washington. Mistakenly netted sardines cannot make up more than 40 percent of a single catch, according to the rules.

“It’s a serious situation,” McIsaac said of the closure. “It’s a great disappointment and financial hardship on many ports up and down the coast, but this is being done to try to make things better.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: pfimrite@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @pfimrite

A Global War On Nature & The Politics Of Extinction- An Introduction To The Most Beautiful Animal You’ll Never See

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2015 at 3:13 pm

The saola, one of the rarest and most threatened mammals on the planet. In 2010, villagers in Bolikhamxay captured a saola, but the animal subsequently died.

Oldspeak: “Where is the madness which you should be cleansed?  Behold I teach you the Superman: he is that lightning, he is that madness!… When Zarathustra had spoken these words he again looked at the people and was silent.  There they stand (said he to his heart), there they laugh: they understand me not; I am not the mouth for these ears.  Must one first batter their ears that they may learn to hear with their eyes?  must one rumble like drums and Lenten preachers?  Or do they only believe those who stammer?  They have something of which they are proud.  What do they call it that which makes them proud?  Culture they call it; it distinguishes them from the goatherds.  They therefore dislike having the word ‘contempt’ said of them.  So I will appeal to their pride.  I will speak to them of the most contemptible man: and that is the Ultimate Man!”  And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people: It is time for man to fix his goal.  It is time for man to plant the seed of his highest hope.  His soil is still rich enough for it.  But this soil will one day be poor and exhausted; no lofty tree will be able to grow from it.  Alas!  The time is coming when man will no longer shoot the arrow of his longing beyond mankind— and the string of his bow will have forgotten how to twang!  I tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star.  I tell you: you have still chaos in you.  Alas!  The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars.  Alas!  The time of the most contemptible man is coming, the man who can no longer despise himself.  Behold!  I show you The Ultimate Man.  “What is love?  What is creation?  What is longing?  What is a star?”  – asks the Ultimate Man and blinks.  The earth has then become small and on it there hops the Ultimate Man who makes everything small.  His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the Ultimate Man lives longest.  “We have discovered happiness”— say the Ultimate Men and blink.  They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth.  One still loves one’s neighbour and rubs again him; for one needs warmth.  Sickness and mistrust they consider sinful: they walk warily.  He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or over men!  A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams.  And a lot of poison at the end for a pleasant death.  One still works for work is a pastime.  But they take care that this pastime does not weary them.  No-one becomes poor or rich anymore; both are too wearying.  Who still wants to rule?  Who still wants to obey?  Both are too much of a burden.  No herdsman and one herd!  Everyone wants the same, everyone is the same: whoever thinks otherwise goes voluntarily into the madhouse.  “Before, the whole world was mad”— say the cleverest amongst them and blink.  They are clever and know all that has ever happened: so there is no end to their mockery.  People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled— otherwise indigestion would result.  They have their little pleasures for the day and their little pleasures for the night: but they respect health.  “We have discovered happiness “— say the Ultimate Men and blink.” -Friedrich Nietzsche, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”

“Behold! The Madness Of The Ultimate Man… I have no words, but much Grief. *Blink* ” -OSJ

By Tom Engelhardt &William deBuys @ Tomsdispatch:

In her bestselling book The Sixth Extinction, the New Yorker‘s superb environmental journalist, Elizabeth Kolbert, reports on an event, already unfolding in the present moment, the likes of which may only have been experienced five other times in the distant history of life on this planet. As she writes, “It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion. The losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific and in the North Atlantic, in the Arctic and the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys. If you know how to look, you can probably find signs of the current extinction event in your own backyard.”

Scientists believe that this round of mass extinction is accelerating, and one way or another, it all traces back to us, whether thanks to the way we are changing the planet’s atmosphere or to what Kolbert terms a human-induced, often disastrous “intercontinental reshuffling of species.” But of all the ways in which that mass extinction is being pushed forward, none is more straightforwardly obvious than the quite literal slaughter that constitutes the illegal animal trade.  In recent years, environmentalist and TomDispatch regular William deBuys set out to see the results of that aspect of mass extinction for himself, and what a grisly spectacle it proved to be.  In the process, he penetrated deep into the jungles of Laos in search of a deer-like creature you’ve undoubtedly never heard of that may — or may not — still exist.

It was an adventure of the first order, which deBuys depicts in his remarkable new book, The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth’s Rarest Creatures. He captures both the grimness of what’s happening to animals of every sort in the distant forests of a land we’ve paid no attention to since the Vietnam War ended and the glorious beauty of the species we humans are indeed destroying. The result is both a personal adventure story and a missive from a planet undergoing a rare form of destruction. Today at this site, he offers us all a look at one of what could be the final “achievements” of humankind: the ability to devastate this planet in a way no other creature would be capable of.

Kolbert ends her book on a question that any mass extinction on planet Earth would naturally have to bring up sooner or later: What about us?  In extinction terms, could we potentially be just another form of rhinoceros? Are we, in fact, capable not just of creating civilizations but engaging in a kind of species suicide? This is, of course, a question that can’t be answered, but she adds, “The anthropologist Richard Leakey has warned that ‘Homo Sapiens might not only be the agent of the sixth extinction, but also risks being one of its victims.’ A sign in the Hall of Biodiversity [at the American Museum of Natural History in New York] offers a quote from the Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich: ‘In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.’” Take a moment, then, with deBuys to experience what that sawing-off process is like, up close and personal. -Tom

The Politics of Extinction
An Introduction to the Most Beautiful Animal You’ll Never See
By William deBuys

Maybe baby steps will help, but the world needs a lot more than either the United States or China is offering to combat the illegal traffic in wildlife, a nearly $20-billion-a-year business that adds up to a global war against nature. As the headlines tell us, the trade has pushed various rhinoceros species to the point of extinction and motivated poachers to kill more than 100,000 elephants since 2010.

Last month China announced that it would ban ivory imports for a year, while it “evaluates” the effectiveness of the ban in reducing internal demand for ivory carvings on the current slaughter of approximately 100 African elephants per day. The promise, however, rings hollow following a report in November (hotly denied by China) that Chinese diplomats used President Xi Jinping’s presidential plane to smuggle thousands of pounds of poached elephant tusks out of Tanzania.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has launched its own well-meaning but distinctly inadequate initiative to curb the trade. Even if you missed the roll-out of that policy, you probably know that current trends are leading us toward a planetary animal dystopia, a most un-Disneyesque world in which the great forests and savannas of the planet will bid farewell to the species earlier generations referred to as their “royalty.” No more King of the Jungle, while Dorothy’s “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” will truly be over the rainbow. And that’s just for starters.

The even grimmer news that rarely makes the headlines is that the lesser subjects of that old royalty are vanishing, too. Though largely unacknowledged, the current war is far redder in tooth and claw than anything nature has to offer. It threatens not just charismatic species like elephants, gibbons, and rhinos, but countless others with permanent oblivion.

If current trends hold, one day not so very long from now our children may think of the T. rex and the tiger as co-occupants of a single Lost World, accessible only in dreams, storybooks, and the movies. Sure, some of the planet’s present megafauna will be bred in zoos for as long as society produces enough luxury to maintain such institutions. Even the best zoo, however, is but a faint simulacrum of wild habitat and its captives are ghosts of their free-roaming forebears.

That’s why the Obama administration deserves some credit for highlighting the urgent need to curb the wildlife trade. Its plan calls for using assets of the National Intelligence Council to advance enforcement efforts. Unfortunately, the administration proposes boosting the enforcement budget of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency with primary responsibility in this area, by only $8 million. Such an increase would lift its force of inspectors just slightly above the levels of 30 years ago when the illicit trade in wildlife was far smaller.

To grasp the breadth of the carnage now going on, it’s essential to realize that the war against nature is being waged on an almost infinite number of planetary fronts, affecting hundreds of species, and that the toll is already devastating. Among the battlefields, none may be bloodier than the forests of Southeast Asia, for they lie closest to China, the world’s most ravenous (and lucrative) market for wildlife and wildlife parts.

China’s taste for wildlife penetrates even the least visited corners of the region, where professional poachers industriously gather live porcupines and turtles, all manner of venison, monkey hands, python fat, pangolin scales, otter skins, gall bladders, antlers, horns, bones, and hundreds of other items. These goods, dead or alive, are smuggled to markets in China and elsewhere. Meanwhile, an expanding economy enables ever more millions of people to purchase expensive animal commodities they believe might stave off disease or provide the fancy restaurant meals that will impress in-laws and business associates.

To put the present war in perspective, think of it this way: every year, more and more money chases fewer and fewer creatures.

Slaughter at the Ground Level

In a typical forest in Southeast Asia you might encounter a snare line stretching a kilometer or more along a mountain ridge or running down one side of a canyon and all the way up the other. These barriers are waist-high walls of chopped brush, with gaps every few meters. They are hedges of death.

Almost any mammal traveling in this landscape, if larger than a tree shrew (which would fit in a modest handbag), sooner or later will have to pass through one of these gaps, and in each a snare awaits. Powered by a bent-over sapling, it lies beneath a camouflage of leaves and hides a loop of bicycle brake cable — or truck winch cable for larger animals like tigers. The trigger controlling each snare is made of small sticks and can be astonishingly sensitive. I’ve seen snares set for deer and wild pig that were no less capable of capturing creatures as light of foot as a jungle fowl, the wild cousin of the domestic chicken, or a silver pheasant, the males of which shimmer in the dusky forest like bundles of fallen moonbeams.

On an expedition to central Laos, my companions and I made our way into a forest distinguished mainly by its remoteness. The Vietnamese border lay perhaps a dozen kilometers to the east, closer by far than the nearest village, four days’ hard march away, where we’d recruited the guides and porters traveling with us. That village, in turn, lay two days by foot and motorized pirogue from the end of the nearest road. The head of our expedition, conservation biologist William Robichaud, the only other westerner in our group of 14, told me that, unless a distressed American pilot had parachuted into the sprawling watershed that lay before us during the Vietnam War, ours were the first blue eyes that had glimpsed it.

Isolation, however, failed to protect the canyons and ridges we surveyed. Evidence lay everywhere of commercial poachers who had crossed the mountains from Vietnam to feed the Chinese market. In a matter of days, we collected wires from almost a thousand snares. In them, we found the decaying carcasses of ferret badgers, hog badgers, mongooses, various species of birds, and several critically endangered large-antlered muntjacs, a species of barking deer, one of which, in its struggle to free itself, had pulled off its own foot before dying nearby.

We camped by fish-rich rivers that had been stripped of their otters and saw the remains of dozens of poachers’ camps, some elaborately equipped with butchering tables and smoking racks. Saddest of all was the sight of a red-shanked douc (also called a douc langur), perhaps the most beautiful monkey in the world, dangling upside down at the end of a snare pole, having succumbed to as slow and cruel a death as might be imagined.

The indiscriminant wastefulness of this massive trapping enterprise is hard to absorb even when you see it yourself. Poachers check their snare lines haphazardly and leave them armed when they depart the area. This means the killing goes on indefinitely, no matter if the bodies languish and rot.

A Unicorn Still in the Wild?

Though we were in that forest in part to remove snares and assess the nature of the ongoing damage, our main goal was to find a unicorn — or actually an animal almost as rare, a creature that might indeed have already moved, or might soon move, from Earth’s natural realms to the realm of mythology. We were searching for any sign of saola(Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), one of the rarest large mammals on the planet. Its very existence, though known to locals, was revealed to science only in 1992, when researchers spotted a strange set of horns on the wall of a hunter’s shack high in the mountains of Vietnam.

Saola proved to be much more than a new species. It represented a new genus, possibly even a new taxonomic tribe, although the jury is still out on that. A kind of bovid, a ruminant with cloven hooves, its nearest evolutionary relatives appear to be wild cattle, yet it looks nothing like a cow or bison. A saola stands a little higher than a carousel pony. Deer-like, but thicker in form, its powerful build helps it push through the densest vegetation. Its muzzle is splashed with camo patterns of white, and its tri-colored tail — white, chocolate brown, and black — blends with similar bands of color on its rump. Its long, nearly straight horns are elegantly tapered, and in profile they seem to blend into a single horn, giving the creature the otherworldly look of a unicorn.

At best, the existing population of saola numbers between a few dozen and a few hundred, making it nearly as rare and hard to find as a unicorn. Even stranger, its disposition, except when the animal is directly threatened, appears to be as gentle as that of the unicorns of medieval European lore.

In 1996, Robichaud spent two weeks in a rough crossroads town in central Laos observing a captive saola. The unfortunate creature did not survive long in the menagerie in which it was held — no saola has lasted more than a few months in confinement and none is held anywhere today — but he had ample opportunity to note that it reacted alertly, even violently, to the presence of a dog outside its enclosure. (Wild dogs, or dholes, are among its natural enemies.)

Eerily, however, the saola was calm in the presence of humans — far more so than the barking deer or the serow (a species of mountain goat) in nearby cages, even though they had been in the menagerie far longer. Captured in the wild just before Robichaud arrived, the saola proved calmer than any domestic goat, sheep, or cow he had known from farms in his native Wisconsin. The captive saola even let him pick ticks from its ears. Local information buttressed Robichaud’s sense of the creature’s almost unearthly serenity. A Buddhist monk from a nearby temple told him that people in the area had dubbed the creature “sat souphap,” which translates roughly as “the polite animal.”

Today, no one knows if the clock of extinction for the species stands at two minutes before midnight or two minutes after. The greatest threat to its survival is the kind of snaring we witnessed on our expedition, which is doubly tragic, for saola do not appear to be a target of the poachers. In spite of its exotic horns, the animal is unknown in traditional Chinese medicine. (Its omission from that medical tradition’s encyclopedic command of Asian fauna and flora testifies to its profound isolation from the rest of the world.) Rather, the last living remnants of the species risk being taken as by-catch, like sea turtles in a shrimper’s net.

The Politics of Extinction

The situation may be terrible, but at least there are parks and protected areas in Southeast Asia where wild creatures are safe, right?

Alas, wrong. Our travels took place in an official National Protected Area in Laos where snaring of the kind we witnessed is blatantly illegal. Yet the deadly harvest continues, there and elsewhere, thanks to insufficient investment in protection and law enforcement, not to mention insufficient political will in countries whose overriding priority is economic development. Last year in the protected area of more than 4,000 square kilometers (1,544 square miles) that we visited, a small number of government patrols removed nearly 14,000 snares, undoubtedly a small fraction of what’s there.

The same is true elsewhere. According to the Saola Working Group, a committee sponsored by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, patrols that its members help to fund and supervise in just five protected areas in Laos and Vietnam (including the one in which we traveled) have destroyed more than 90,000 snares since 2011. And yet that, too, is just a drop in the bucket of the wildlife trade.While the trade’s reach is global, the stakes may be highest in Southeast Asia (including Indonesia and the Philippines). About half the world’s people live there or in the adjacent countries of China, Bangladesh, and India. The region leads the world in the proportion of its birds and mammals that are endemic; that is, found nowhere else. Unfortunately, it also leads in the proportion in imminent danger of extinction, due in large measure to the wildlife trade. Worse yet, no country in Southeast Asia possesses a tradition of effective biological conservation.

Already many forests that once were rich in tigers, leopards, gaur, banteng, and gibbons are devoid of any mammals larger than a cocker spaniel. If the rest of the world truly wants to protect the planet’s endangered biodiversity, assisting the governments and NGOs of Southeast Asia in safeguarding their region’s natural heritage needs to be a global priority.

Critics often point out that the West is hypocritical in urging the East to do what it failed to accomplish in its own grim history of development. Indeed, the present sacking of Asian forests is analogous to the stripping of beaver from western American streams and the subsequent extirpation of bison herds in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, if the West has learned one thing, it’s that conservation in advance of calamity costs much less than repairs after the fact and that it is the only way to prevent irreparable mistakes. No matter what moral ground you stand on, the facts in the field are simple: our best chance to avert catastrophe lies before us, right now.

Other critics complacently observe that extinction has always been part of evolution and that other epochs have seen similar waves of species loss. New species, they say, will emerge to take the places of those we destroy. Such a view may be technically correct, but it commits an error of scale.

Evolution will continue; it cannot not continue. But the inexorable emergence of what Darwin called “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful” proceeds at a nearly geological pace. By comparison, our human tenancy of Earth is a fleeting breath. Within the time frame of what we call civilization, the extinctions we cause are as eternal as any human accomplishment.

A Loneliness That Could Stretch to Infinity

The essential conservation task before the world is to protect key habitats and wildlife populations long enough for generational attitudes to change in China and its neighbors. At least in part, this means meeting the war on nature with a martial response. Whether protecting elephants in Kenya, mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (a cause movingly depicted in the documentary film Virunga), tigers in Thailand, or saola in Laos, one has to prepare, quite literally, to meet fire with fire.

In the case of our expedition in Laos, three of our guides doubled as militia and carried AK-47s. The weapons were not for show. Poachers are generally similarly armed. On one occasion, such a band, traveling in the dead of night, nearly walked into our camp, only to melt back into the forest when they realized they’d been discovered.

Good news, however, glimmers amid the bad. Although the shift will take time, cultural values in Asia are beginning to change. Witness the recent abandonment of shark fin soup by Chinese consumers. The San Francisco-based NGO WildAid reports that sales of shark fins have plummeted 82% in Guangzhou (formerly Canton), the hub of the shark trade, and that two-thirds of the respondents to a recent poll cited public “awareness campaigns” against the global destruction of shark populations as a reason for ending their consumption.

Only by rising to the challenge of species protection — not “eventually,” but now — can we ensure that nature’s most magnificent creations will persist in the wild to delight future generations. Only through generous cooperation with Asian partners, boosting both law enforcement and political resolve, can we preserve the stunning, often cacophonous, and always mysterious diversity of a large share of the planet’s most biologically productive ecosystems.

The dystopian alternative is terrible to consider. Uncounted species — not just tigers, gibbons, rhinos, and saola, but vast numbers of smaller mammals, amphibians, birds, and reptiles — are being pressed to the brink. We’ve hardly met them and yet, within the vastness of the universe, they and the rest of Earth’s biota are our only known companions. Without them, our loneliness would stretch to infinity.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

William deBuys, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of eight books. His latest, just published, is The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth’s Rarest Creatures (Little, Brown and Company, 2015). His website is williamdebuys.com.

Why We Couldn’t Care Less About The Natural World

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Greendex survey of consumer attitudes

Oldspeak: “The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.” –George Monbiot

Wherever i travel in the realm of industrial civilization, i encounter human beings who are far less than alive. Body language, facial expression and lack of animation and passion often communicate more than their predictably articulate speech ever could. Most of the time these folks live in their heads, with little indication of sensation below the neck. Consequently their words are not consistent with the actions with which they profess to be engaged. But i am not surprised by the deadening effect of modernity. After all we are socialized into numbness and encouraged to feel almost nothing except short, bursts of happiness – never any emotion that lasts more than 5 minutes. Otherwise we risk being called “Drama Queens”. it seems that only our indigenous friends in tribal cultures know how to feel about their feelings and fully inhabit their bodies. i suspect that as collapse intensifies, we will be compelled to choose whether we will feel our emotions and work consciously with them in the context of our own bodily experience or will we remain numb and therefore perilously at risk of physical and emotional breakdown?…. Domestication may be the most damaging emotional and spiritual catastrophe of enlightenment, which prized lack of emotion, intellect, and a ghastly disowning of the body as inferior to and even perhaps the enemy of the mind. i believe we must commit to radical aliveness if we are to navigate the turbulent times and remain emotionally and spiritually intact. Only if we settle for nothing less than full aliveness will we be able to discover the resonance of a full spectrum outer reality of external chaos with our inner most being.” -Carolyn Baker

“Humans were just puttering along, for millions of years, in perfect balance with our ecology. But when we lost our connection to it, and got the big idea to create industrial civilization, everything went to shit. i thought the distribution on the scatter chart above was fascinating and telling. Most of the oldest, more mature, pre-industrial cultures  have the most guilt about our impact on the environment, while the younger cultures, largely products of industrial civilization are not very guilty. Think about the profound dysfunction of the pathologically anthropocentric, narcissistic, terminally atomized, life-extinguishing greed and growth fueled  planet hyper-consuming happiness machine populated “civilization” we’ve wrought. The symptoms of this dysfunction are everywhere we care to look. Record levels of mental and physical ailments.  Maladaptive, imbalanced and unsustainable  ways of being viewed as normal. Busying ourselves with endless and ever multiplying distractions from actual reality.  Slavishly working ourselves to death, expending our life energy at jobs we can’t stand, rushing home to briefly interact (maybe) with our family before grabbing a few hours of restless sleep and getting up and doing it all over again. ignoring the hopeless emptiness of our corporatocracy managed lives. We have ‘civilized’ the true and authentic being out of humans. As a result of our near exclusive focus on intellect, science, infinite progress and growth,  ecological collapse, including industrial civilization is certain. We’ve triggered Earth’s most devastating extinction event. Our complete and utter lack of regard for our Great Mother has brought about our end.” -OSJ

By George Monbiot @ The U.K. Guardian:

Locals cross flooded railway lines after the river Thames burst its banks in Datchet.

That didn’t take long. The public interest in the state of the natural world stimulated by the winter floods receded almost as quickly as the waters did.

A YouGov poll showed that the number of respondents placing the environment among their top three issues of concern rose from 6% in mid-January to 23% in mid-February. By early April – though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just published two massive and horrifying reports – the proportion had fallen back to 11%.

 

CarbonBrief has plotted the results on this graph:

Public response to UK floods. Photograph: /CarbonBrief

Sustaining interest in this great but slow-burning crisis is a challenge no one seems to have mastered. Only when the crisis causes or exacerbates an acute disaster – such as the floods – is there a flicker of anxiety, but that quickly dies away.

Why is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend?

And why do you encounter a barrage of hostility and denial whenever you attempt it (and not only from the professional liars who are paid by coal and oil and timber companies to sow confusion and channel hatred)?

The first thing to note, in trying to answer this question, is that the rich anglophone countries are anomalous. In this bar chart (from the New York Times) you can see how atypical the attitudes of people in the US and the UK are. Because almost everything we read in this country is published in rich, English-speaking nations, we might get the false impression that the world doesn’t care very much.

Attitudes to climate change. Photograph: NYT/Pew

This belief is likely to be reinforced by the cherished notion that we lead the world in knowledge, sophistication and compassion. The bar chart puts me in mind of the famous quote perhaps mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. When asked by a journalist during a visit to Britain, “What do you think of western civilization?”, he’s reputed to have replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Our erroneous belief that we are more concerned about manmade climate change than the people of other nations informs the sentiment, often voiced by the press and politicians, that there’s no point in acting if the rest of the world won’t play its part. For example, last year the chancellor, George Osborne, remarked:

I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.

But we’re not “the only people out there in front of the rest of the world.” In fact we’re not in front at all. As this map produced by Oxford University’s Smith School suggests, we are some way behind not only some other rich nations but also a number of countries much poorer than ours.

Oxford University’s Smith School climate change map. Photograph: Oxford University’s Smith School

As for the US, Australia and Canada, they are ranked among the worst of all: comprehensively failing to limit their massive contribution to a global problem. We justify our foot-dragging with a mistaken premise. Our refusal to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pure selfishness.

Both the map and the bar chart overlap to some degree with the fascinating results of the Greendex survey of consumer attitudes.

For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.

As you can see from the following graph, the people consulted in poorer countries feel, on average, much guiltier about their impacts on the natural world than people in rich countries, even though those impacts tend to be smaller. Of the nations surveyed, the people of Germany, the US, Australia and Britain feel the least consumer guilt; the people of India, China, Mexico and Brazil the most.

Greendex survey of consumer attitudes. Photograph: /Greendex

The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.

All this is accompanied in the rich anglophone nations with the extreme neoliberalism promoted by both press and politicians, and a great concentration of power in the hands of the financial and fossil fuel sectors, which lobby hard, in the public sphere and in private, to prevent change.

So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money.

How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.

 

 

In A System Of Coercion & Predetermined Choices, “Freedom” Is Just A Word

In Uncategorized on September 24, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Oldspeak: “For the overwhelming majority of us, our whole lives revolve around meeting our basic needs and keeping our families from starvation and homelessness. Most individuals are at the mercy of the economic system and have little time for anything else – survival is their main concern. What kind of a life is that? Is this a life lived in absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action? People spend most of their lives working for a ruthless system and benefit very little from the incredible work and labor they put into it. And despite their best efforts, they are barely making it.

But being a human is about more than just earning a living, working 40 plus hours a week for someone else’s benefit, and wasting countless more hours commuting to and from work. We get a few hours to ourselves for lunch or at home after work, and (if we are lucky) two weeks of vacation per year. This is not freedom – it’s more like temporary release. Living means more than merely existing; living is about experiencing life by expressing one’s passions, connecting with one another, and contributing creatively to our communities. For the most part of our existence, our bodies and our time belong to our employers, the “owners.” The only reason the current system “works” is because it threatens us with starvation and homelessness – this is coercion. It is not freedom by any definition.” –Kali Ma

“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

“The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. “Many of them are normal because they are so well-adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does.” They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted.”-Aldous Huxley

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Freedom is Slavery””Ignorance is Strength” –George Orwell

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” –Nesta Robert Marley

Don’t believe the hype. All the consumables, you’re being encouraged to spend your life force acquiring in the name of “personalization”, “independence”, “freedom”, “convenience” are being used to control and enslave you. Let go of your attachments to stuff. Don’t live your life in insatiable and relentless pursuit of “more”. Our Mother Earth cannot support us if we don’t drastically re prioritize our civilizations to value conservation over consumption. Sustainable, clean, regenerative energy development over toxic, extractive and destructive development. Creation, abundance, and balance over destruction, scarcity and imbalance. The revolution begins in you.” –OSJ

By Kali Ma @ The Hampton Institute:

Freedom is a word and idea that has become synonymous with America. President George Bush told Americans in the wake of 911 that the reason terrorists attacked the country was because “they hate our freedoms.” The national anthem proudly proclaims that America is “the land of the free.” Every July 4, Americans celebrate Independence Day and the freedoms that America represents. But what does freedom actually mean? What do politicians, those in power, and everyday individuals mean when they use freedom to describe the essence of America? In the sense that we have been conditioned to think of freedom and America as synonymous, there is actually no true meaning or definition of freedom. It is what George Orwell termed a “meaningless word” because it conveys nothing specific.[1] In reality, freedom means different things to different people: the right to free speech; the right to vote and participate in the political process; the right to privacy; the ability to accumulate great wealth and consume various products; or the right to live unmolested and to move about freely without constraints. [2] Essentially, the meaning of freedom is a personal one that has no official consensus.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, freedom means: a)the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; b) liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another. Freedom, then, is about autonomy and independence – to be in control of oneself and to choose one’s destiny. If we apply this definition as the standard, do we truly have freedom?
“Work Until We Keel Over and Die”

The reality for most people in the world today is one in which we serve the needs of the economic system, and in turn, those at the top who benefit from the status quo. For a human being to do anything in the world, his or her most basic needs – such as food, shelter, and clothing – must first be met. Since all individuals need money to survive, the economic system within a country is one of the primary – if not the primary – determinant of an individual’s course and quality of life. Since money is directly tied to survival, it serves as a major factor that guides our decisions.

Frontline’s recently released documentary Two American Families vividly depicts the extent to which money and the economic system affect our everyday reality. The film follows the lives of two working-class families (the Neumanns and the Stanleys) over the course of twenty years as they struggle to live the “American Dream.” Their troubles begin when both Tony Neumann and Claude Stanley lose their well-paying, unionized manufacturing jobs to overseas outsourcing. What follows in the next two decades for both families is a painful struggle to keep up with their bills, feed their children, and cope with the constant stress of being unemployed, underemployed, and on the brink of poverty and homelessness. Throughout the years, the Neumanns and Stanleys work various demanding jobs (sometimes two at a time) and eventually hope to live a life of “purpose and a lot more self-respect.” The Neumann kids worry about the family’s finances and, at one point, even offer to sell their baseball cards. The Stanley boys start their own lawn care business and have no time for fun during the summer because, as the oldest son Keith says, “You have to go out there and help your mom and dad.” Only one Stanley child makes it through college while the rest are unable to attend due to medical bills that put the family $30,000 in debt. Even with all their hard work, resilience, and refusal to give up, both families express their disappointments and blame themselves for the struggles they have endured over the years.

One of the most disturbing examples of the injustice and ruthlessness of our system is the foreclosure of Terry Neumann’s home. After 24 years, Terry loses her house in 2011 because her part-time job wages are not enough to cover the mortgage. If we assume that the monthly mortgage payments stayed the same for 24 years, the Neumann family paid JP Morgan close to $236,160 for a house the bank sold for $38,000 in foreclosure and for which they demanded an additional $120,000 from Terry as a buy-out.[3] After years of barely “making it,” Terry has little faith in the future and believes that most of us will simply “work until we collapse, keel over and die.”
Poverty – As American as Apple Pie

Unfortunately, the Stanleys and the Neumanns are not unique. Their stories are typical and happen to millions of Americans every day. According to recent surveys, 76% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and 80% of Americans struggle with unemployment and near-poverty at some point in their lives. Since the 2008 economic crash, millions of Americans have slipped into poverty, lost their homes, gone bankrupt, become unemployed, and are now working part-time jobs in an economy where not even full-time wages are enough to make a decent living. But these conditions have always been present, as evidenced by families like the Stanleys and Neumanns; it’s just that now an increasing number of Americans are living this reality that had previously gone mostly unacknowledged. Currently, there are more than47 million Americans on food stamps (most of thememployed), and almost a third of working class families earn wages below the official poverty threshold. In the more updated poverty measures, which include additional living costs such as medical expenses, almost 50% of Americans – 146. 4 million people – are considered poor or low-income.[4] On top of all this, 69% of Americans today hold some form of debt with the median household owing $70,000. Unfortunately, the odds of overcoming these dire economic circumstances are slim: theU.S. ranks consistently at the bottom when it comes toincome equality and offers much less economic mobility than other developed countries. So, who is benefitting from this system?

The top 1% richest households in America received 121% of all income gains from 2009 to 2011, and median CEO pay increased to $15.1 million last year. Today, the richest 1% of Americans take in 24% of all new income, while in 1976 they took home 9%. The 400 wealthiest individuals – the real owners of America – have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans. Corporations have also raked in record profits, yet somehow none of this prosperity has “trickled down” to the rest of us.
Freedom to Live, Not Merely Exist

When we look at the Stanleys, Neumanns, and millions of other families struggling to (literally) survive, one has to ask: are they free human beings? What freedoms do they enjoy? For the overwhelming majority of us, our whole lives revolve around meeting our basic needs and keeping our families from starvation and homelessness. Most individuals are at the mercy of the economic system and have little time for anything else – survival is their main concern. What kind of a life is that? Is this a life lived in absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action? People spend most of their lives working for a ruthless system and benefit very little from the incredible work and labor they put into it. And despite their best efforts, they are barely making it.

But being a human is about more than just earning a living, working 40 plus hours a week for someone else’s benefit, and wasting countless more hours commuting to and from work. We get a few hours to ourselves for lunch or at home after work, and (if we are lucky) two weeks of vacation per year. This is not freedom – it’s more like temporary release. Living means more than merely existing; living is about experiencing life by expressing one’s passions, connecting with one another, and contributing creatively to our communities. For the most part of our existence, our bodies and our time belong to our employers, the “owners.” The only reason the current system “works” is because it threatens us with starvation and homelessness – this is coercion. It is not freedom by any definition.

According to studies, most workers today have completely checked out from their jobs and are practically sleepwalking through their workdays. This even includes high-income workers, which suggests that money has little effect on whether we actually enjoy our jobs. These statistics fly in the face of those who argue that our current system is necessary because it creates an incentive for people to be productive. Studies have repeatedly shown thatmoney is actually a bad motivator, and what people really care about is to have autonomy at their jobs and the opportunity to apply their talents and be recognized for their work. Turns out, self-expression and the ability to make one’s own decisions are more important than money. This may be surprising to many of us because we have been indoctrinated into an economic ideology that sees profit as the ultimate value without any consideration for human beings and the natural world. Today, our global economy is mostly geared toward consuming and producing products we don’t need at the expense of exploited workers and the degradation of our environment. In other words, we are lending our labor to forces of death and destruction while ignoring the consequences of our work. No wonder most people cannot relate to their jobs.

Unfortunately, many individuals cannot afford to quit their jobs even if they find their work morally repugnant because they have to worry about paying their bills and taking care of their families. Moreover, in an economy based on consumption and exploitation, there are few meaningful jobs that provide us with a deep sense of purpose and that create a positive impact on society. If they do exist, these jobs are mostly reserved for privileged individuals who get to choose between careers of profit or lives of purpose. It is these kinds of choices that working class people do not have in our system today.

No one is suggesting that people should not be “productive” or contribute to society; on the contrary, people want to have a purpose in life and we should be able to utilize our talents and passions for the benefit of society while still working in harmony with each other and the environment. A coercive economy only creates widespread discontent and fails to meet even the basic physical and psychological needs of the majority of people.

Unfortunately, there are still those who blame others for being poor, unemployed, or struggling in this economy. While those in power often blame people for their misfortunate in order to evade responsibility for creating and perpetuating a system of oppression, there are also those within the working class who echo their sentiments. Clearly these individuals have internalized the authoritarian and coercive mindset that keeps them obedient to the needs of those in power. Their anger, criticism and disgust are misplaced and should be directed at the ruling class who benefits from this system of oppression and degradation. They have sharp words of “personal responsibility” for working people, yet no calls for accountability of Wall Street criminality and general belligerence of the ruling class. The victim-blamers never stop to ask themselves why there is no space in our economy for people to express their passions and talents; or why every person must adapt to the needs of the system – isn’t the system supposed to work for us, the people? But, of course, it is much easier to blame the victims than to confront our own powerlessness.
Limited, Predetermined Choices

Our every decision depends on the system’s approval, and we forego many of our wishes, desires, hopes, and dreams because we have to labor to survive. This is simply a sophisticated and updated version of slavery that has most people serving the interests of the powerful with minimal benefits to themselves. And make no mistake about it – the ruling class – if they could get away with it – would make all of us work for free. They are certainly not above slavery, as the history of African Americans and today’s corporate exploitation of farmworkers,temp workers, prisoners, and millions of sweatshop laborers around the world clearly shows. We are only putting up with this system because we have no other choice; we are blackmailed and rendered passive because our survival depends on our servitude to the interests of a ruthless authoritarian structure. No one in their right mind would willingly choose this type of existence because it goes against every natural human instinct that pushes against oppression and yearns for self-expression and creativity.

We cannot even choose our own education because we have to look to the system to determine which majors will land us a job or make us a lot of money. Knowledge and education have been commodified, stripped of their inherent value, and turned into assembly-line products to be bought and sold on the market. We have lost the most basic and personal freedoms to determine how we wish to cultivate our lives – it is all about the system and how we can be used to serve its needs. This type of thinking is so deeply ingrained into our psyche that most people do not even realize that this is how they approach life. Living our passions and having autonomy should not be a privilege – we all deserve the opportunity to express our talents, not just the lucky (mostly privileged) few. Anything less than that is psychological and spiritual suicide.

The issue of freedom boils down to autonomy – the dignity of self-determination which recognizes that we as human beings are more than just commodities to be used and exploited for the benefit of the few; to exercise our inherent rights as living beings to make decisions about our own lives without facing catastrophic consequences from a system created by those in power who benefit from our oppression. So the next time you hear the word “freedom,” ask yourself: do I have the autonomy to direct my life as I wish, to pursue my passions, interests, and desires without facing the consequences of starvation, homelessness or alienation? Am I free to do as I wish (without harming anyone) or am I dependent and beholden to a greater force and power than myself – one that makes those fundamental decisions for me? Do I have real choices in my life or only the superficial “choice” of Pepsi or Coke, Democrat or Republican, CNN or Fox News? In other words, do our choices have substance or is it just the same shit in a different package?

Notes

[1] Because the word “freedom” conveys nothing, individuals (and governments) can conceal the true nature of their ideas and actions behind such ambiguous words, while allowing their audience to fill in the missing definition. For instance, when politicians speak of a free economy (or economic freedom), what they really mean is an economy free to exploit workers and the environment without any regulation, rules, or oversight of corporations; however, many individuals interpret economic freedom to mean the right to work, decent wages, or better opportunities to start small businesses. Clearly, there is a disconnect between the politician’s meaning of the word and its interpretation by the audience.

[2] Even the rights we think we have are vanishing before our eyes: as a result of mass surveillance, the right to privacy no longer exists; our votes have become meaningless because regardless of who we vote for, Wall Street and the military industrial complex always win; many of us cannot even walk around freely without being harassed in the age of codified racial profiling under “Stop and Frisk”; and of course the “chilling” effect on free speech resulting from unprecedented persecutions of journalists and whistleblowers by an establishment so afraid of the truth that it jails those who expose corruption and war crimes.

[3] $820 (monthly mortgage) x 12 months x 24 years = $236,160. This sum does not include fees and penalties the Neumanns paid over the years when they fell behind on their mortgage.

[4] Some critics argue that even these figures are too low because the standards for calculating the poverty line have not been updated since the 1960s. If the measures had kept pace with living standards over the years, today the poverty threshold would be $34,000 for a family of four instead of the $25,222 in the more “updated” version under the Poverty Supplemental Measure. http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/cepr-blog/raising-minimum-wage-to-9-not-enough-to-ensure-that-families-with-fulltime-workers-live-above-poverty-line

Why Life in America Can Literally Drive You Insane

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Oldspeak: “Can you imagine the uproar, the national panic if 1 in every 78 Americans had cancer? Or was a victim of gun violence? Or if 1 in 78 Americans had AIDS? Why then is it acceptable that 1 in 78 Americans is suffering from severe and disabling mental illness? Why is it acceptable that there has been a 35 FOLD INCREASE in mental illness among children!?!!  Pathology has been normalized. Sociopathy is a key trait in the dominant institutions of our civilization (corporations) and by extension the people who work within them. 70% of Americans hate their jobs.  Lack of empathy and compassion is seen as normal.  You see it every day walking down the street; people looking upon with disdain or just plain actively ignoring the steadily growing number of homeless and mentally ill who populate our streets.  Elder abuse is institutionalized in this time where there our population is the greyest it’s ever been. Youth are increasingly disposable, with children serving as fodder for the burgeoning prison-industrial complex; pumped full of powerful toxic, illness inducing pills that no one has any idea what the long-term health effect will be. While pharmaceutical drug dealers’ profit margins explode.  Whole cities are failing while the banks & other corporations that greatly contributed to their failure are given unlimited resources. Something is terribly terribly wrong. Our society is making us crazy. Destroying our planet. How much longer well we go on without having serious discussion about restructuring our civilization in a way that healthy, beneficial and sustainable for all? ” –OSJ

By Bruce E. Levine @ AlterNet:

In “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why [3]?” (New York Review of Books, 2011), Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, discusses over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, pathologizing of normal behaviors, Big Pharma corruption of psychiatry, and the adverse effects of psychiatric medications. While diagnostic expansionism and Big Pharma certainly deserve a large share of the blame for this epidemic, there is another reason.

A June 2013 Gallup poll [4] revealed that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or have “checked out” of them. Life may or may not suck any more than it did a generation ago, but our belief in “progress” has increased expectations that life should be more satisfying, resulting in mass disappointment. For many of us, society has become increasingly alienating, isolating and insane, and earning a buck means more degrees, compliance, ass-kissing, shit-eating, and inauthenticity. So, we want to rebel. However, many of us feel hopeless about the possibility of either our own escape from societal oppression or that political activism can create societal change. So, many of us, especially young Americans, rebel by what is commonly called mental illness.

While historically some Americans have consciously faked mental illness to rebel from oppressive societal demands (e.g., a young Malcolm X acted crazy to successfully avoid military service), today, the vast majority of Americans who are diagnosed and treated for mental illness are in no way proud malingerers in the fashion of Malcolm X. Many of us, sadly, are ashamed of our inefficiency and nonproductivity and desperately try to fit in. However, try as we might to pay attention, adapt, adjust, and comply with our alienating jobs, boring schools, and sterile society, our humanity gets in the way, and we become anxious, depressed and dysfunctional.

The Mental Illness Epidemic

Severe, disabling mental illness has dramatically increased in the Untied States. Marcia Angell, in her 2011 New York Review of Bookspiece, summarizes [3]: “The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from 1 in 184 Americans to 1 in 76. For children, the rise is even more startling—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades.”

Angell also reports that a large survey of adults conducted between 2001 and 2003 sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health found that at some point in their lives, 46% of Americans met the criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association for at least one mental illness.

In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, spoke [5] to the National Press Club about an American depression epidemic: “We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between ten and twenty times as much of it as there was fifty years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression thirty years ago. . . the average age of which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5. . . .Now the average age is between 14 and 15.”

In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [6] (CDC) reported that antidepressant use in the United States has increased nearly 400% in the last two decades, making antidepressants the most frequently used class of medications by Americans ages 18-44 years. By 2008, 23% of women ages 40–59 years were taking antidepressants.

The CDC, on May 3, 2013, reported [7] that the suicide rate among Americans ages 35–64 years increased 28.4% between 1999 and 2010 (from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 population in 1999 to 17.6 per 100,000 in 2010).

The New York Times [8]reported in 2007 that the number of American children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder had increased 40-fold between 1994 and 2003. In May 2013, CDC reported in “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children—United States, 2005–2011 [9],” the following: “A total of 13%–20% of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year, and surveillance during 1994–2011 has shown the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.”

Over-Diagnosis, Pathologizing the Normal and Psychiatric Drug Adverse Effects

Even within mainstream psychiatry, few continue to argue that the increase in mental illness is due to previous under-diagnosis of mental disorders. The most common explanations for the mental illness epidemic include recent over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, diagnoses expansionism, and psychiatry’s pathologizing normal behavior.

The first DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), psychiatry’s diagnostic bible, was published by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952 and listed 106 disorders (initially called “reactions”). DSM-2 was published in 1968, and the number of disorders increased to 182. DSM-3 was published in 1980, and though homosexuality was dropped from it, diagnoses were expanded to 265, with several child disorders added that would soon become popular, including oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). DSM-4, published in 1994, contained 365 diagnoses.

DSM-5 was published in May, 2013. The journal PLOS Medicinereported [10] in 2012, “69% of the DSM-5 task force members report having ties to the pharmaceutical industry.” DSM-5 did not add as many new diagnoses [11] as had previous revisions. However, DSM-5 has been criticized even by some mainstream psychiatrists such as Allen Frances, the former chair of the DSM-4 taskforce, for creating more mental patients by making it easier to qualify for a mental illness, especially for depression. (See Frances’ “Last Plea To DSM-5: Save Grief From the Drug Companies [12].”)

In the last two decades, there have been a slew of books written by journalists and mental health professionals about the lack of science behind the DSM, the over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, and the pathologizing of normal behaviors. A sample of these books includes: Paula Caplan’s They Say You’re Crazy (1995), Herb Kutchins and Stuart Kirk’s Making Us Crazy (1997), Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield’s The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder (2007), Christopher Lane’s Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness (2008), Stuart Kirk, Tomi Gomory, and David Cohen’s Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs (2013), Gary Greenberg’s The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry (2013), and Allen Frances’ Saving Normal (2013).

Even more remarkable than former chair of the DSM-4 taskforce, Allen Frances, jumping on the DSM-trashing bandwagon has been the harsh critique [13] of DSM-5 by Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Insel recently announced that the DSM’s diagnostic categories lack validity, and that “NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” And psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, former chair of the DSM-3 task force, wrote the foreword to Horwitz and Wakefield’s The Loss of Sadness and is now critical [14] of DSM’s inattention to context in which the symptoms occur which, he points out, can medicalize normal experiences.

So, in just two decades, pointing out the pseudoscience of the DSM has gone from being an “extremist slur of radical anti-psychiatrists” to a mainstream proposition from the former chairs of both the DSM-3 and DSM-4 taskforces and the director of NIMH.

Yet another explanation for the epidemic may also be evolving from radical to mainstream, thanks primarily to the efforts of investigative journalist Robert Whitaker and his book Anatomy of An Epidemic [15] (2010). Whitaker argues that the adverse effects of psychiatric medications are the primary cause of the epidemic. He reports that these drugs, for many patients, cause episodic and moderate emotional and behavioral problems to become severe, chronic and disabling ones.

Examining the scientific literature that now extends over 50 years, Whitaker discovered that while some psychiatric medications for some people may be effective over the short term, these drugs increase the likelihood that a person will become chronically ill over the long term. Whitaker reports, “The scientific literature shows that many patients treated for a milder problem will worsen in response to a drug—say have a manic episode after taking an antidepressant—and that can lead to a new and more severe diagnosis like bipolar disorder.”

With respect to the dramatic increase of pediatric bipolar disorder, Whitaker points out that, “Once psychiatrists started putting ‘hyperactive’ children on Ritalin, they started to see prepubertal children with manic symptoms. Same thing happened when psychiatrists started prescribing antidepressants to children and teenagers. A significant percentage had manic or hypomanic reactions to the antidepressants.” And then these children and teenagers are put on heavier duty drugs, including drug cocktails, often do not respond favorably to treatment and deteriorate. And that, for Whitaker, is a major reason for the 35-fold increase between 1987 and 2007 of children classified as being disabled by mental disorders. (See my 2010 interview with him, “Are Prozac and Other Psychiatric Drugs Causing the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America [16]?”)

Whitaker’s explanation for the epidemic has now, even within mainstream psychiatric institutions, entered into the debate; for example, Whitaker was invited by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) to speak at their 2013 annual convention [17] that took place last June While Whitaker concludes that psychiatry’s drug-based paradigm of care is the primary cause of the epidemic, he does not rule out the possibility that various cultural factors may also be contributing to the increase in the number of mentally ill.

Mental Illness as Rebellion Against Society

“The most deadly criticism one could make of modern civilization is that apart from its man-made crises and catastrophes, is not humanly interesting. . . . In the end, such a civilization can produce only a mass man: incapable of spontaneous, self-directed activities: at best patient, docile, disciplined to monotonous work to an almost pathetic degree. . . . Ultimately such a society produces only two groups of men: the conditioners and the conditioned, the active and passive barbarians.” —Lewis Mumford, 1951

Once it was routine for many respected social critics such as Lewis Mumford and Erich Fromm to express concern about the impact of modern civilization on our mental health. But today the idea that the mental illness epidemic is also being caused by a peculiar rebellion against a dehumanizing society has been, for the most part, removed from the mainstream map. When a societal problem grows to become all encompassing, we often no longer even notice it.

We are today disengaged from our jobs and our schooling. Young people are pressured to accrue increasingly large student-loan debt so as to acquire the credentials to get a job, often one which they will have little enthusiasm about. And increasing numbers of us are completely socially isolated, having nobody who cares about us.

Returning to that June 2013 Gallup survey, “The State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement [18],” only 30% of workers “were engaged, or involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their workplace.” In contrast to this “actively engaged group,” 50% were “not engaged,” simply going through the motions to get a paycheck, while 20% were classified as “actively disengaged,” hating going to work and putting energy into undermining their workplace. Those with higher education levels reported more discontent with their workplace.

How engaged are we with our schooling? Another Gallup poll “The School Cliff: Student Engagement Drops With Each School Year [19]” (released in January 2013), reported that the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become. The poll surveyed nearly 500,000 students in 37 states in 2012, and found nearly 80% of elementary students reported being engaged with school, but by high school, only 40% reported being engaged. As the pollsters point out, “If we were doing right by our students and our future, these numbers would be the absolute opposite. For each year a student progresses in school, they should be more engaged, not less.”

Life clearly sucks more than it did a generation ago when it comes to student loan debt. According to American Student Assistance’s “Student Debt Loan Statistics [20],” approximately 37 million Americans have student loan debt. The majority of borrowers still paying back their loans are in their 30s or older. Approximately two-thirds of students graduate college with some education debt. Nearly 30% of college students who take out loans drop out of school, and students who drop out of college before earning a degree struggle most with student loans. As of October 2012, the average amount of student loan debt for the Class of 2011 was $26,600, a 5% increase from 2010. Only about 37% of federal student-loan borrowers between 2004 and 2009 managed to make timely payments without postponing payments or becoming delinquent.

In addition to the pain of jobs, school, and debt, there is increasingly more pain of social isolation. A major study reported in the American Sociological Review in 2006, “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades [21],” examined Americans’ core network of confidants (those people in our lives we consider close enough to trust with personal information and whom we rely on as a sounding board). Authors reported that in 1985, 10% of Americans said that they had no confidants in their lives; but by 2004, 25% of Americans stated they had no confidants in their lives. This study confirmed the continuation of trends that came to public attention in sociologist Robert Putnam’s 2000 book Bowling Alone.

Underlying many of psychiatry’s nearly 400 diagnoses is the experience of helplessness, hopelessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, and dehumanization—culminating in a loss of autonomy and community-connectedness. Do our societal institutions promote:

  • Enthusiasm—or passivity?
  • Respectful personal relationships—or manipulative impersonal ones?
  • Community, trust, and confidence—or isolation, fear and paranoia?
  • Empowerment—or helplessness?
  • Autonomy (self-direction)—or heteronomy (institutional-direction)?
  • Participatory democracy—or authoritarian hierarchies?
  • Diversity and stimulation—or homogeneity and boredom?

Research (that I documented in Commonsense Rebellion [22]) shows that those labeled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do worst in environments that are boring, repetitive, and externally controlled; and that ADHD-labeled children are indistinguishable from “normals” when they have chosen their learning activities and are interested in them. Thus, the standard classroom could not be more imperfectly designed to meet the learning needs of young people who are labeled with ADHD.

As I discussed last year in AlterNet in “Would We Have Drugged Up Einstein? How Anti-Authoritarianism Is Deemed a Mental Health Problem [23],” there is a fundamental bias in mental health professionals for interpreting inattention and noncompliance as a mental disorder. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where all pay attention to much that is unstimulating. In this world, one routinely complies with the demands of authorities. Thus for many M.D.s and Ph.D.s, people who rebel against this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world—a diagnosable one.

The reality is that with enough helplessness, hopelessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, and dehumanization, we rebel and refuse to comply. Some of us rebel by becoming inattentive. Others become aggressive. In large numbers we eat, drink and gamble too much. Still others become addicted to drugs, illicit and prescription. Millions work slavishly at dissatisfying jobs, become depressed and passive aggressive, while no small number of us can’t cut it and become homeless and appear crazy. Feeling misunderstood and uncared about, millions of us ultimately rebel against societal demands, however, given our wherewithal, our rebellions are often passive and disorganized, and routinely futile and self-destructive.

When we have hope, energy and friends, we can choose to rebel against societal oppression with, for example, a wildcat strike or a back-to-the-land commune. But when we lack hope, energy and friends, we routinely rebel without consciousness of rebellion and in a manner in which we today commonly call mental illness.

For some Americans, no doubt, the conscious goal is to get classified as mentally disabled so as to receive disability payments (averaging $700 to 1,400 per month [24]). But isn’t that too a withdrawal of cooperation with society and a rebellion of sorts, based on the judgment that this is the best paying and least miserable financial option?

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/bruce-e-levine
[3] http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/?page=1
[4] http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-employee-engagement-gallup-poll-20130617,0,5878658.story
[5] http://www.nonopp.com/ar/Psicologia/00/epidemic_depersion.htm
[6] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db76.htm
[7] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6217a1.htm?s_cid=mm6217a1_w
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/04/health/04psych.html?_r=0
[9] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/su6202a1.htm?s_cid=su6202a1_w
[10] http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001190
[11] http://www.marketwatch.com/story/15-new-mental-illnesses-in-the-dsm-5-2013-05-22
[12] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allen-frances/saving-grief-from-dsm-5-a_b_2325108.html
[13] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2013/transforming-diagnosis.shtml
[14] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Spitzer_%28psychiatrist%29
[15] http://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Epidemic-Bullets-Psychiatric-Astonishing/dp/0307452425/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354546881&sr=1-1&keywords=Anatomy+of+an+Epidemic%3A+Magic+Bullets%2C+Psychiatric+Drugs%2C+and+the+Astonishing+Rise+of+Mental+Illness+in+Ame
[16] http://www.alternet.org/story/146659/are_prozac_and_other_psychiatric_drugs_causing_the_astonishing_rise_of_mental_illness_in_america?paging=off
[17] http://www.peteearley.com/2013/07/01/nami-convention-coverage-robert-whitakers-case-against-anti-psychotics/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+peteearley+%28The+Official+Blog+of+Author+Pete+Earley%29
[18] http://businessjournal.gallup.com/content/162953/tackle-employees-stagnating-engagement.aspx
[19] http://thegallupblog.gallup.com/2013/01/the-school-cliff-student-engagement.html
[20] http://www.asa.org/policy/resources/stats/
[21] http://sites.duke.edu/theatrst130s02s2011mg3/files/2011/05/McPherson-et-al-Soc-Isolation-2006.pdf
[22] http://www.amazon.com/Commonsense-Rebellion-Taking-Shrinks-Corporations/dp/0826414508/ref=pd_sim_b_2
[23] http://www.alternet.org/story/154225/would_we_have_drugged_up_einstein_how_anti-authoritarianism_is_deemed_a_mental_health_problem?paging=off
[24] http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/social-security-disability-benefits-29686.html
[25] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mental-illness
[26] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Multinational Greed Is Threatening The Stability Of Societies Across the Planet

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Oldspeak: “Around the globe, people are getting increasingly frustrated by governments going out of their way to ensure an enabling environment for big business while making drastic cuts in public spending on social welfare. This is fuelling alienation among electorates, spurring protests. Of great concern, is that those seeking to expose the nexus between governments and big business are being subjected to various forms of persecution with state complicity….. while the power of transnational corporations has expanded exponentially, income and wealth disparities are threatening to tear societies apart. The World Economic Forum’s 2013 annual survey of global risks identifies severe income disparity as a key concern likely to manifest itself over the next decade. The International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director has admitted that the top 0.5 percent of the globe’s population holds 35 per cent of its wealth . Civil society group, Oxfam estimated that in 2012, the world’s top 100 billionaires earned enough money to end poverty four times over.  ….But despite the grave warnings from civil society, governments and financial institutions continue to spin arguments about the need to privatise services when they should be focusing on how to make the public sector fit for purpose. Shockingly, during a global economic downturn, political leaders and captains of industry have together managed to subject ordinary people to double jeopardy: having to pay taxes to the state and then having to fork out profit-adjusted higher costs for privatised health, education, public transport, telecommunications, road works, electricity, water supply and so on. These services are indeed governments’ responsibility to provide as part of the social contract between citizens and the state.” -Mandeep Tiwana

“It seems pretty obvious at this point that the people who’ve profited the most from the 2008 global economic collapse, our corporate citizens who’ve been bailed out and are constantly being supported by monthly taxpayer financed subsidies via “Quantitive Easing” policies are driving the current global economic and ecological  downturn. Depressing wages, eliminating workers, stripping worker protections, destroying food and water supplies, taking ownership of all,  replacing jobs with living wages with jobs with slave wages, asserting supra-governmental control via a number of secret laws, directives, policies, treaties and trade agreements.  Logic dictates that fewer workers with less spending power = failing economy.  Yet this logic is ignored. This is happening world wide for the most part. It’s clear that the governments worldwide are no longer representative of their people. They’re serving as facilitators and gatekeepers of a global neo-feudalist control system being emplaced. The people continue to honor the social contract between them and the state while the state has thrown it out, and entered into a new contract with the 0.5%. How else to explain half the world living in poverty, when the 100 people could end it 4 times over. How else to explain GM and Chrysler being bailed out while the city around them, Detroit, is being allowed to go bankrupt, not mentioned ONCE in Obama’s latest rhetorical master speech on the U.S. Economy, even as he crowed about saving the U.S. Auto Industry. How else to explain Citigroup’s profits increasing by 42% as it cuts its workforce and makes more than 50% of its profits outside of the U.S.? We have to have real conversations about the fatal corruption of the capitalist system by greed for money. The system is irreparably corrupted by money and amorality. What do we do when a computer’s system is corrupted? We fix it, or if it’s beyond repair, we replace it with a new system. This is what must be done with our economic system. We must replace it.” – OSJ

By Mandeep Tiwana @ Al Jazzera English:

The people are angry. In Turkey, Brazil, and most recently again, Egypt, thousands have taken to the streets to voice their anger and frustration at the lack of social and economic justice. Political and economic elites, working in tandem, have managed to neutralise the aspirations of ordinary people, in part spurring the disenfranchisement driving the protests.

Whether it is the removal of subsidies  [3]protecting the poor against inflation and price shocks in Egypt, or the enormous cost of hosting high profile sporting events  [4]in Brazil at the expense of social services, or government plans to commercialise  [5]a beloved public park in the heart of Istanbul, the headlong embrace of neoliberal economic policies by governments is likely to cause further dissatisfaction and unrest across the globe.

Neo-liberalism, using a dictionary definition, as a “modern politico-economic theory favouring free trade, privatisation, minimal government intervention, reduced public expenditure on social services etc.,” reduces the responsibility of the state while promoting privatisation to favour those with access to resources and influence. It is playing havoc with the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people.

Despite mainstream perceptions, the sad reality is that free markets don’t automatically regulate themselves nor do they naturally respect individual or community rights. In Indonesia [6], people are choking from fires set by agricultural companies to clear forests to allow mammoth palm oil plantations to flourish. In the United States [7], popular demands for effective gun control are being blocked by congressmen bankrolled by the arms industry. In Ethiopia [8], thousands have been displaced through forced villagisation programmes to make way for agricultural companies that want to make land more “productive.” In Spain  [9]and inGreece [10], public property such as hospitals and airports are being sold to private players to make the economy more “nimble.” In the UK [11], frustration is mounting about tax evasion by transnational corporations whose turnover exceeds the GDP of many countries, while the average citizen continues to dutifully pay their fair share of taxes.

Around the globe, people are getting increasingly frustrated by governments going out of their way to ensure an enabling environment for big business while making drastic cuts in public spending on social welfare. This is fuelling alienation among electorates, spurring protests. Of great concern, is that those seeking to expose the nexus between governments and big business are being subjected to various forms of persecution with state complicity.

In Cambodia [12], land rights activists opposing official plans to forcibly acquire land for big companies have been subjected to brutal attacks by security forces and lengthy prison terms. In Honduras [13], peasant farmers’ groups involved in land disputes with companies have been subjected to murderous attacks.  InIndia [14], peaceful activists ideologically opposed to the government’s economic policy have been charged under draconian laws of being members of outlawed terrorist organisations. In Canada [15], non-profit groups opposed to the conservative government’s policy of loosening environmental restrictions to enable extraction of oil and gas from ecologically sensitive zones have been subjected to surveillance and funding cuts, while being accused of being obstructive of the country’s economic development.

Widening income inequality

Worryingly, while the power of transnational corporations has expanded exponentially, income and wealth disparities are threatening to tear societies apart. The World Economic Forum’s 2013 annual survey of global risks identifies severe income disparity [16] as a key concern likely to manifest itself over the next decade. The International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director has admitted that the top 0.5 percent of the globe’s population holds 35 per cent of its wealth [17]. Civil society group, Oxfam estimated that in 2012, the world’s top 100 billionaires earned enough money to end poverty four times over [18]. CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance has argued in its annual report  [19]that the discourse on inequality is becoming commonplace with the 1 percent vs the 99 percent meme entering the mainstream.

But despite the grave warnings from civil society, governments and financial institutions continue to spin arguments about the need to privatise services when they should be focusing on how to make the public sector fit for purpose. Shockingly, during a global economic downturn, political leaders and captains of industry have together managed to subject ordinary people to double jeopardy: having to pay taxes to the state and then having to fork out profit-adjusted higher costs for privatised health, education, public transport, telecommunications, road works, electricity, water supply and so on. These services are indeed governments’ responsibility to provide as part of the social contract between citizens and the state.

In the past, the political and economic elite have erroneously sought to deride the occupy movements,indignados and anti-corruption protestors as fringe elements without clear vision or majority support. But with greater numbers of people taking to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction against corruption, environmental degradation and top down austerity policies, decision makers have a reality check staring them in the face. But will they right the ship on neo-liberal economic policies when they are privately profiting from it? Perhaps citizen action will help answer that.

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Links:
[1] http://english.aljazeera.net/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/mandeep-tiwana
[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/21/egyptians-held-back-neoliberalism-not-religion
[4] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/06/2013619134555233454.html
[5] http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2013/07/20137112549633235.html
[6] http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/press/releases/Palm-oil-companies-must-come-clean-on-Indonesian-fire-hotspots—Greenpeace/
[7] http://www.forbes.com/sites/frederickallen/2013/04/18/gun-control-a-congress-of-cowards/
[8] http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/01/16/ethiopia-forced-relocations-bring-hunger-hardship
[9] http://iberosphere.com/2013/06/spain-news-private-sector-moves-into-spains-public-hospitals/8701
[10] http://pathfinderbuzz.com/resilience-makes-greek-ports-attractive/
[11] http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/nov/12/starbucks-tax-avoidance-controversy
[12] https://www.civicus.org/media-centre-129/61-press-releases/1030-cambodia-civicus-calls-for-unconditional-release-of-detained-activists
[13] http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR37/003/2013/en/4fabe3f5-648c-4192-9383-06ae42fa9922/amr370032013en.html
[14] http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/06/26/india-stop-misuse-counterterrorism-laws
[15] http://socs.civicus.org/?p=3825
[16] http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2013/
[17] http://www.imf.org/external/np/speeches/2013/051513.htm
[18] http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressrelease/2013-01-19/annual-income-richest-100-people-enough-end-global-poverty-four-times
[19] http://socs.civicus.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/2013StateofCivilSocietyReport_full.pdf
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/neoliberalism
[21] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

War Is A Racket: The Profit Motive Behind Warfare

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2013 at 3:16 pm

WALL STREET IS WAR STREET

Oldspeak: “The Oldspeak Journal is about exploding myths. The myth of the “Just Wars” are some of the biggest myths of all. All wars are unjust.  Innocents invariably die needlessly for the profits of a safely away from fighting, well-heeled elite few. On the occasion of Memorial Day 2013 while the coporocratic demopublicans are dutifully attending ceremonies, paying respects, laying wreaths, feigning mourning & concern for our troops, bleating about how U.S. war making has always been about defending freedom, justice and the American Way, I invite you to read the truth, from, the mouth of a highly respected, highly decorated, freethinker, Major General Smedley Darlington Butler.  He knew first hand the deadly intersections between war, business & money. He exposed the “Business Plot” concocted by wall street banksters and other corporate interests to overthrow President Roosevelt in 1933. He understood, that just as with every other undesirable business enterprise, it could only be stopped by eliminating the profit motive. He understood that the people who’d be charged with fighting and dying in wars should have the final say on whether or not there should be war, not the people who stood to profit obscenely from it.  He understood that war should not be perpetual, and globally persecuted. That our armed forces should be used for defense of our homeland only.  Knowledge & education are infinitely better safeguards of liberty than standing armies. As long as profit remains paramount, there will always be War.”

By Major General Smedley Darlington Butler:

CHAPTER ONE

War Is A Racket

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

Again they are choosing sides. France and Russia met and agreed to stand side by side. Italy and Austria hurried to make a similar agreement. Poland and Germany cast sheep’s eyes at each other, forgetting for the nonce [one unique occasion], their dispute over the Polish Corridor.

The assassination of King Alexander of Jugoslavia [Yugoslavia] complicated matters. Jugoslavia and Hungary, long bitter enemies, were almost at each other’s throats. Italy was ready to jump in. But France was waiting. So was Czechoslovakia. All of them are looking ahead to war. Not the people — not those who fight and pay and die — only those who foment wars and remain safely at home to profit.

There are 40,000,000 men under arms in the world today, and our statesmen and diplomats have the temerity to say that war is not in the making.

Hell’s bells! Are these 40,000,000 men being trained to be dancers?

Not in Italy, to be sure. Premier Mussolini knows what they are being trained for. He, at least, is frank enough to speak out. Only the other day, Il Duce in “International Conciliation,” the publication of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said:

“And above all, Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. . . . War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people who have the courage to meet it.”

Undoubtedly Mussolini means exactly what he says. His well-trained army, his great fleet of planes, and even his navy are ready for war — anxious for it, apparently. His recent stand at the side of Hungary in the latter’s dispute with Jugoslavia showed that. And the hurried mobilization of his troops on the Austrian border after the assassination of Dollfuss showed it too. There are others in Europe too whose sabre rattling presages war, sooner or later.

Herr Hitler, with his rearming Germany and his constant demands for more and more arms, is an equal if not greater menace to peace. France only recently increased the term of military service for its youth from a year to eighteen months.

Yes, all over, nations are camping in their arms. The mad dogs of Europe are on the loose. In the Orient the maneuvering is more adroit. Back in 1904, when Russia and Japan fought, we kicked out our old friends the Russians and backed Japan. Then our very generous international bankers were financing Japan. Now the trend is to poison us against the Japanese. What does the “open door” policy to China mean to us? Our trade with China is about $90,000,000 a year. Or the Philippine Islands? We have spent about $600,000,000 in the Philippines in thirty-five years and we (our bankers and industrialists and speculators) have private investments there of less than $200,000,000.

Then, to save that China trade of about $90,000,000, or to protect these private investments of less than $200,000,000 in the Philippines, we would be all stirred up to hate Japan and go to war — a war that might well cost us tens of billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives of Americans, and many more hundreds of thousands of physically maimed and mentally unbalanced men.

Of course, for this loss, there would be a compensating profit — fortunes would be made. Millions and billions of dollars would be piled up. By a few. Munitions makers. Bankers. Ship builders. Manufacturers. Meat packers. Speculators. They would fare well.

Yes, they are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn’t they? It pays high dividends.

But what does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit their mothers and sisters, their wives and their sweethearts? What does it profit their children?

What does it profit anyone except the very few to whom war means huge profits?

Yes, and what does it profit the nation?

Take our own case. Until 1898 we didn’t own a bit of territory outside the mainland of North America. At that time our national debt was a little more than $1,000,000,000. Then we became “internationally minded.” We forgot, or shunted aside, the advice of the Father of our country. We forgot George Washington’s warning about “entangling alliances.” We went to war. We acquired outside territory. At the end of the World War period, as a direct result of our fiddling in international affairs, our national debt had jumped to over $25,000,000,000. Our total favorable trade balance during the twenty-five-year period was about $24,000,000,000. Therefore, on a purely bookkeeping basis, we ran a little behind year for year, and that foreign trade might well have been ours without the wars.

It would have been far cheaper (not to say safer) for the average American who pays the bills to stay out of foreign entanglements. For a very few this racket, like bootlegging and other underworld rackets, brings fancy profits, but the cost of operations is always transferred to the people — who do not profit.

CHAPTER TWO

Who Makes The Profits?

The World War, rather our brief participation in it, has cost the United States some $52,000,000,000. Figure it out. That means $400 to every American man, woman, and child. And we haven’t paid the debt yet. We are paying it, our children will pay it, and our children’s children probably still will be paying the cost of that war.

The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits — ah! that is another matter — twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent — the sky is the limit. All that traffic will bear. Uncle Sam has the money. Let’s get it.

Of course, it isn’t put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and “we must all put our shoulders to the wheel,” but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket — and are safely pocketed. Let’s just take a few examples:

Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people — didn’t one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war? Or saved the world for democracy? Or something? How did they do in the war? They were a patriotic corporation. Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn’t much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let’s look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.

Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials. Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump — or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!

Or, let’s take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240,000,000. Not bad.

There you have some of the steel and powder earnings. Let’s look at something else. A little copper, perhaps. That always does well in war times.

Anaconda, for instance. Average yearly earnings during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10,000,000. During the war years 1914-1918 profits leaped to $34,000,000 per year.

Or Utah Copper. Average of $5,000,000 per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average of $21,000,000 yearly profits for the war period.

Let’s group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137,480,000. Then along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed to $408,300,000.

A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per cent.

Does war pay? It paid them. But they aren’t the only ones. There are still others. Let’s take leather.

For the three-year period before the war the total profits of Central Leather Company were $3,500,000. That was approximately $1,167,000 a year. Well, in 1916 Central Leather returned a profit of $15,000,000, a small increase of 1,100 per cent. That’s all. The General Chemical Company averaged a profit for the three years before the war of a little over $800,000 a year. Came the war, and the profits jumped to $12,000,000. a leap of 1,400 per cent.

International Nickel Company — and you can’t have a war without nickel — showed an increase in profits from a mere average of $4,000,000 a year to $73,000,000 yearly. Not bad? An increase of more than 1,700 per cent.

American Sugar Refining Company averaged $2,000,000 a year for the three years before the war. In 1916 a profit of $6,000,000 was recorded.

Listen to Senate Document No. 259. The Sixty-Fifth Congress, reporting on corporate earnings and government revenues. Considering the profits of 122 meat packers, 153 cotton manufacturers, 299 garment makers, 49 steel plants, and 340 coal producers during the war. Profits under 25 per cent were exceptional. For instance the coal companies made between 100 per cent and 7,856 per cent on their capital stock during the war. The Chicago packers doubled and tripled their earnings.

And let us not forget the bankers who financed the great war. If anyone had the cream of the profits it was the bankers. Being partnerships rather than incorporated organizations, they do not have to report to stockholders. And their profits were as secret as they were immense. How the bankers made their millions and their billions I do not know, because those little secrets never become public — even before a Senate investigatory body.

But here’s how some of the other patriotic industrialists and speculators chiseled their way into war profits.

Take the shoe people. They like war. It brings business with abnormal profits. They made huge profits on sales abroad to our allies. Perhaps, like the munitions manufacturers and armament makers, they also sold to the enemy. For a dollar is a dollar whether it comes from Germany or from France. But they did well by Uncle Sam too. For instance, they sold Uncle Sam 35,000,000 pairs of hobnailed service shoes. There were 4,000,000 soldiers. Eight pairs, and more, to a soldier. My regiment during the war had only one pair to a soldier. Some of these shoes probably are still in existence. They were good shoes. But when the war was over Uncle Sam has a matter of 25,000,000 pairs left over. Bought — and paid for. Profits recorded and pocketed.

There was still lots of leather left. So the leather people sold your Uncle Sam hundreds of thousands of McClellan saddles for the cavalry. But there wasn’t any American cavalry overseas! Somebody had to get rid of this leather, however. Somebody had to make a profit in it — so we had a lot of McClellan saddles. And we probably have those yet.

Also somebody had a lot of mosquito netting. They sold your Uncle Sam 20,000,000 mosquito nets for the use of the soldiers overseas. I suppose the boys were expected to put it over them as they tried to sleep in muddy trenches — one hand scratching cooties on their backs and the other making passes at scurrying rats. Well, not one of these mosquito nets ever got to France!

Anyhow, these thoughtful manufacturers wanted to make sure that no soldier would be without his mosquito net, so 40,000,000 additional yards of mosquito netting were sold to Uncle Sam.

There were pretty good profits in mosquito netting in those days, even if there were no mosquitoes in France. I suppose, if the war had lasted just a little longer, the enterprising mosquito netting manufacturers would have sold your Uncle Sam a couple of consignments of mosquitoes to plant in France so that more mosquito netting would be in order.

Airplane and engine manufacturers felt they, too, should get their just profits out of this war. Why not? Everybody else was getting theirs. So $1,000,000,000 — count them if you live long enough — was spent by Uncle Sam in building airplane engines that never left the ground! Not one plane, or motor, out of the billion dollars worth ordered, ever got into a battle in France. Just the same the manufacturers made their little profit of 30, 100, or perhaps 300 per cent.

Undershirts for soldiers cost 14¢ [cents] to make and uncle Sam paid 30¢ to 40¢ each for them — a nice little profit for the undershirt manufacturer. And the stocking manufacturer and the uniform manufacturers and the cap manufacturers and the steel helmet manufacturers — all got theirs.

Why, when the war was over some 4,000,000 sets of equipment — knapsacks and the things that go to fill them — crammed warehouses on this side. Now they are being scrapped because the regulations have changed the contents. But the manufacturers collected their wartime profits on them — and they will do it all over again the next time.

There were lots of brilliant ideas for profit making during the war.

One very versatile patriot sold Uncle Sam twelve dozen 48-inch wrenches. Oh, they were very nice wrenches. The only trouble was that there was only one nut ever made that was large enough for these wrenches. That is the one that holds the turbines at Niagara Falls. Well, after Uncle Sam had bought them and the manufacturer had pocketed the profit, the wrenches were put on freight cars and shunted all around the United States in an effort to find a use for them. When the Armistice was signed it was indeed a sad blow to the wrench manufacturer. He was just about to make some nuts to fit the wrenches. Then he planned to sell these, too, to your Uncle Sam.

Still another had the brilliant idea that colonels shouldn’t ride in automobiles, nor should they even ride on horseback. One has probably seen a picture of Andy Jackson riding in a buckboard. Well, some 6,000 buckboards were sold to Uncle Sam for the use of colonels! Not one of them was used. But the buckboard manufacturer got his war profit.

The shipbuilders felt they should come in on some of it, too. They built a lot of ships that made a lot of profit. More than $3,000,000,000 worth. Some of the ships were all right. But $635,000,000 worth of them were made of wood and wouldn’t float! The seams opened up — and they sank. We paid for them, though. And somebody pocketed the profits.

It has been estimated by statisticians and economists and researchers that the war cost your Uncle Sam $52,000,000,000. Of this sum, $39,000,000,000 was expended in the actual war itself. This expenditure yielded $16,000,000,000 in profits. That is how the 21,000 billionaires and millionaires got that way. This $16,000,000,000 profits is not to be sneezed at. It is quite a tidy sum. And it went to a very few.

The Senate (Nye) committee probe of the munitions industry and its wartime profits, despite its sensational disclosures, hardly has scratched the surface.

Even so, it has had some effect. The State Department has been studying “for some time” methods of keeping out of war. The War Department suddenly decides it has a wonderful plan to spring. The Administration names a committee — with the War and Navy Departments ably represented under the chairmanship of a Wall Street speculator — to limit profits in war time. To what extent isn’t suggested. Hmmm. Possibly the profits of 300 and 600 and 1,600 per cent of those who turned blood into gold in the World War would be limited to some smaller figure.

Apparently, however, the plan does not call for any limitation of losses — that is, the losses of those who fight the war. As far as I have been able to ascertain there is nothing in the scheme to limit a soldier to the loss of but one eye, or one arm, or to limit his wounds to one or two or three. Or to limit the loss of life.

There is nothing in this scheme, apparently, that says not more than 12 per cent of a regiment shall be wounded in battle, or that not more than 7 per cent in a division shall be killed.

Of course, the committee cannot be bothered with such trifling matters.

CHAPTER THREE

Who Pays The Bills?

Who provides the profits — these nice little profits of 20, 100, 300, 1,500 and 1,800 per cent? We all pay them — in taxation. We paid the bankers their profits when we bought Liberty Bonds at $100.00 and sold them back at $84 or $86 to the bankers. These bankers collected $100 plus. It was a simple manipulation. The bankers control the security marts. It was easy for them to depress the price of these bonds. Then all of us — the people — got frightened and sold the bonds at $84 or $86. The bankers bought them. Then these same bankers stimulated a boom and government bonds went to par — and above. Then the bankers collected their profits.

But the soldier pays the biggest part of the bill.

If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit any of the veteran’s hospitals in the United States. On a tour of the country, in the midst of which I am at the time of this writing, I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are a total of about 50,000 destroyed men — men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital; at Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed at home.

Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. There they were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and, through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all of killing or of being killed.

Then, suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face” ! This time they had to do their own readjustment, sans [without] mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice and sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them any more. So we scattered them about without any “three-minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades. Many, too many, of these fine young boys are eventually destroyed, mentally, because they could not make that final “about face” alone.

In the government hospital in Marion, Indiana, 1,800 of these boys are in pens! Five hundred of them in a barracks with steel bars and wires all around outside the buildings and on the porches. These already have been mentally destroyed. These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically, they are in good shape; mentally, they are gone.

There are thousands and thousands of these cases, and more and more are coming in all the time. The tremendous excitement of the war, the sudden cutting off of that excitement — the young boys couldn’t stand it.

That’s a part of the bill. So much for the dead — they have paid their part of the war profits. So much for the mentally and physically wounded — they are paying now their share of the war profits. But the others paid, too — they paid with heartbreaks when they tore themselves away from their firesides and their families to don the uniform of Uncle Sam — on which a profit had been made. They paid another part in the training camps where they were regimented and drilled while others took their jobs and their places in the lives of their communities. The paid for it in the trenches where they shot and were shot; where they were hungry for days at a time; where they slept in the mud and the cold and in the rain — with the moans and shrieks of the dying for a horrible lullaby.

But don’t forget — the soldier paid part of the dollars and cents bill too.

Up to and including the Spanish-American War, we had a prize system, and soldiers and sailors fought for money. During the Civil War they were paid bonuses, in many instances, before they went into service. The government, or states, paid as high as $1,200 for an enlistment. In the Spanish-American War they gave prize money. When we captured any vessels, the soldiers all got their share — at least, they were supposed to. Then it was found that we could reduce the cost of wars by taking all the prize money and keeping it, but conscripting [drafting] the soldier anyway. Then soldiers couldn’t bargain for their labor, Everyone else could bargain, but the soldier couldn’t.

Napoleon once said,

“All men are enamored of decorations . . . they positively hunger for them.”

So by developing the Napoleonic system — the medal business — the government learned it could get soldiers for less money, because the boys liked to be decorated. Until the Civil War there were no medals. Then the Congressional Medal of Honor was handed out. It made enlistments easier. After the Civil War no new medals were issued until the Spanish-American War.

In the World War, we used propaganda to make the boys accept conscription. They were made to feel ashamed if they didn’t join the army.

So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill the Germans. God is on our side . . . it is His will that the Germans be killed.

And in Germany, the good pastors called upon the Germans to kill the allies . . . to please the same God. That was a part of the general propaganda, built up to make people war conscious and murder conscious.

Beautiful ideals were painted for our boys who were sent out to die. This was the “war to end all wars.” This was the “war to make the world safe for democracy.” No one mentioned to them, as they marched away, that their going and their dying would mean huge war profits. No one told these American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their own brothers here. No one told them that the ships on which they were going to cross might be torpedoed by submarines built with United States patents. They were just told it was to be a “glorious adventure.”

Thus, having stuffed patriotism down their throats, it was decided to make them help pay for the war, too. So, we gave them the large salary of $30 a month.

All they had to do for this munificent sum was to leave their dear ones behind, give up their jobs, lie in swampy trenches, eat canned willy (when they could get it) and kill and kill and kill . . . and be killed.

But wait!

Half of that wage (just a little more than a riveter in a shipyard or a laborer in a munitions factory safe at home made in a day) was promptly taken from him to support his dependents, so that they would not become a charge upon his community. Then we made him pay what amounted to accident insurance — something the employer pays for in an enlightened state — and that cost him $6 a month. He had less than $9 a month left.

Then, the most crowning insolence of all — he was virtually blackjacked into paying for his own ammunition, clothing, and food by being made to buy Liberty Bonds. Most soldiers got no money at all on pay days.

We made them buy Liberty Bonds at $100 and then we bought them back — when they came back from the war and couldn’t find work — at $84 and $86. And the soldiers bought about $2,000,000,000 worth of these bonds!

Yes, the soldier pays the greater part of the bill. His family pays too. They pay it in the same heart-break that he does. As he suffers, they suffer. At nights, as he lay in the trenches and watched shrapnel burst about him, they lay home in their beds and tossed sleeplessly — his father, his mother, his wife, his sisters, his brothers, his sons, and his daughters.

When he returned home minus an eye, or minus a leg or with his mind broken, they suffered too — as much as and even sometimes more than he. Yes, and they, too, contributed their dollars to the profits of the munitions makers and bankers and shipbuilders and the manufacturers and the speculators made. They, too, bought Liberty Bonds and contributed to the profit of the bankers after the Armistice in the hocus-pocus of manipulated Liberty Bond prices.

And even now the families of the wounded men and of the mentally broken and those who never were able to readjust themselves are still suffering and still paying.

CHAPTER FOUR

How To Smash This Racket!

WELL, it’s a racket, all right.

A few profit — and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.

The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nations manhood can be conscripted. One month before the Government can conscript the young men of the nation — it must conscript capital and industry and labor. Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted — to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.

Let the workers in these plants get the same wages — all the workers, all presidents, all executives, all directors, all managers, all bankers — yes, and all generals and all admirals and all officers and all politicians and all government office holders — everyone in the nation be restricted to a total monthly income not to exceed that paid to the soldier in the trenches!

Let all these kings and tycoons and masters of business and all those workers in industry and all our senators and governors and majors pay half of their monthly $30 wage to their families and pay war risk insurance and buy Liberty Bonds.

Why shouldn’t they?

They aren’t running any risk of being killed or of having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered. They aren’t sleeping in muddy trenches. They aren’t hungry. The soldiers are!

Give capital and industry and labor thirty days to think it over and you will find, by that time, there will be no war. That will smash the war racket — that and nothing else.

Maybe I am a little too optimistic. Capital still has some say. So capital won’t permit the taking of the profit out of war until the people — those who do the suffering and still pay the price — make up their minds that those they elect to office shall do their bidding, and not that of the profiteers.

Another step necessary in this fight to smash the war racket is the limited plebiscite to determine whether a war should be declared. A plebiscite not of all the voters but merely of those who would be called upon to do the fighting and dying. There wouldn’t be very much sense in having a 76-year-old president of a munitions factory or the flat-footed head of an international banking firm or the cross-eyed manager of a uniform manufacturing plant — all of whom see visions of tremendous profits in the event of war — voting on whether the nation should go to war or not. They never would be called upon to shoulder arms — to sleep in a trench and to be shot. Only those who would be called upon to risk their lives for their country should have the privilege of voting to determine whether the nation should go to war.

There is ample precedent for restricting the voting to those affected. Many of our states have restrictions on those permitted to vote. In most, it is necessary to be able to read and write before you may vote. In some, you must own property. It would be a simple matter each year for the men coming of military age to register in their communities as they did in the draft during the World War and be examined physically. Those who could pass and who would therefore be called upon to bear arms in the event of war would be eligible to vote in a limited plebiscite. They should be the ones to have the power to decide — and not a Congress few of whose members are within the age limit and fewer still of whom are in physical condition to bear arms. Only those who must suffer should have the right to vote.

A third step in this business of smashing the war racket is to make certain that our military forces are truly forces for defense only.

At each session of Congress the question of further naval appropriations comes up. The swivel-chair admirals of Washington (and there are always a lot of them) are very adroit lobbyists. And they are smart. They don’t shout that “We need a lot of battleships to war on this nation or that nation.” Oh no. First of all, they let it be known that America is menaced by a great naval power. Almost any day, these admirals will tell you, the great fleet of this supposed enemy will strike suddenly and annihilate 125,000,000 people. Just like that. Then they begin to cry for a larger navy. For what? To fight the enemy? Oh my, no. Oh, no. For defense purposes only.

Then, incidentally, they announce maneuvers in the Pacific. For defense. Uh, huh.

The Pacific is a great big ocean. We have a tremendous coastline on the Pacific. Will the maneuvers be off the coast, two or three hundred miles? Oh, no. The maneuvers will be two thousand, yes, perhaps even thirty-five hundred miles, off the coast.

The Japanese, a proud people, of course will be pleased beyond expression to see the united States fleet so close to Nippon’s shores. Even as pleased as would be the residents of California were they to dimly discern through the morning mist, the Japanese fleet playing at war games off Los Angeles.

The ships of our navy, it can be seen, should be specifically limited, by law, to within 200 miles of our coastline. Had that been the law in 1898 the Maine would never have gone to Havana Harbor. She never would have been blown up. There would have been no war with Spain with its attendant loss of life. Two hundred miles is ample, in the opinion of experts, for defense purposes. Our nation cannot start an offensive war if its ships can’t go further than 200 miles from the coastline. Planes might be permitted to go as far as 500 miles from the coast for purposes of reconnaissance. And the army should never leave the territorial limits of our nation.

To summarize: Three steps must be taken to smash the war racket.

  1. We must take the profit out of war.
  2. We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war.
  3. We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.

CHAPTER FIVE

To Hell With War!

I am not a fool as to believe that war is a thing of the past. I know the people do not want war, but there is no use in saying we cannot be pushed into another war.

Looking back, Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president in 1916 on a platform that he had “kept us out of war” and on the implied promise that he would “keep us out of war.” Yet, five months later he asked Congress to declare war on Germany.

In that five-month interval the people had not been asked whether they had changed their minds. The 4,000,000 young men who put on uniforms and marched or sailed away were not asked whether they wanted to go forth to suffer and die.

Then what caused our government to change its mind so suddenly?

Money.

An allied commission, it may be recalled, came over shortly before the war declaration and called on the President. The President summoned a group of advisers. The head of the commission spoke. Stripped of its diplomatic language, this is what he told the President and his group:

“There is no use kidding ourselves any longer. The cause of the allies is lost. We now owe you (American bankers, American munitions makers, American manufacturers, American speculators, American exporters) five or six billion dollars.

If we lose (and without the help of the United States we must lose) we, England, France and Italy, cannot pay back this money . . . and Germany won’t.

So . . . “

Had secrecy been outlawed as far as war negotiations were concerned, and had the press been invited to be present at that conference, or had radio been available to broadcast the proceedings, America never would have entered the World War. But this conference, like all war discussions, was shrouded in utmost secrecy. When our boys were sent off to war they were told it was a “war to make the world safe for democracy” and a “war to end all wars.”

Well, eighteen years after, the world has less of democracy than it had then. Besides, what business is it of ours whether Russia or Germany or England or France or Italy or Austria live under democracies or monarchies? Whether they are Fascists or Communists? Our problem is to preserve our own democracy.

And very little, if anything, has been accomplished to assure us that the World War was really the war to end all wars.

Yes, we have had disarmament conferences and limitations of arms conferences. They don’t mean a thing. One has just failed; the results of another have been nullified. We send our professional soldiers and our sailors and our politicians and our diplomats to these conferences. And what happens?

The professional soldiers and sailors don’t want to disarm. No admiral wants to be without a ship. No general wants to be without a command. Both mean men without jobs. They are not for disarmament. They cannot be for limitations of arms. And at all these conferences, lurking in the background but all-powerful, just the same, are the sinister agents of those who profit by war. They see to it that these conferences do not disarm or seriously limit armaments.

The chief aim of any power at any of these conferences has not been to achieve disarmament to prevent war but rather to get more armament for itself and less for any potential foe.

There is only one way to disarm with any semblance of practicability. That is for all nations to get together and scrap every ship, every gun, every rifle, every tank, every war plane. Even this, if it were possible, would not be enough.

The next war, according to experts, will be fought not with battleships, not by artillery, not with rifles and not with machine guns. It will be fought with deadly chemicals and gases.

Secretly each nation is studying and perfecting newer and ghastlier means of annihilating its foes wholesale. Yes, ships will continue to be built, for the shipbuilders must make their profits. And guns still will be manufactured and powder and rifles will be made, for the munitions makers must make their huge profits. And the soldiers, of course, must wear uniforms, for the manufacturer must make their war profits too.

But victory or defeat will be determined by the skill and ingenuity of our scientists.

If we put them to work making poison gas and more and more fiendish mechanical and explosive instruments of destruction, they will have no time for the constructive job of building greater prosperity for all peoples. By putting them to this useful job, we can all make more money out of peace than we can out of war — even the munitions makers.

So…I say,

TO HELL WITH WAR!

And Then There Was One: Imperial Gigantism & The Decline Of Planet Earth

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2013 at 8:17 pm

https://i2.wp.com/yadayadayada.de/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/deadearth.jpg

Oldspeak:The present capitalist model (the only one available) for a rising power, whether China, India, or Brazil, is also a model for planetary decline, possibly of a precipitous nature.  The very definition of success — more middle-class consumers, more car owners, more shoppers, which means more energy used, more fossil fuels burned, more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere — is also, as it never would have been before, the definition of failure.  The greater the “success,” the more intense the droughts, the stronger the storms, the more extreme theweather, the higher the rise in sea levels, the hotter the temperatures, the greater the chaos in low-lying or tropical lands, the more profound the failure.  The question is: Will this put an end to the previous patterns of history, including the until-now-predictable rise of the next great power, the next empire?  On a devolving planet, is it even possible to imagine the next stage in imperial gigantism? Every factor that would normally lead toward “greatness” now also leads toward global decline.” –Tom Engelhardt. We can’t continue to pretend the cannibalistic systems around which we organize our civilization are working. They are is literally destroying us and our planet. We have to change before it’s too late.

By Tom Engelhardt @ TomDispatch:

It stretched from the Caspian to the Baltic Sea, from the middle of Europe to the Kurile Islands in the Pacific, from Siberia to Central Asia.  Its nuclear arsenal held 45,000 warheads, and its military had five million troops under arms.  There had been nothing like it in Eurasia since the Mongols conquered China, took parts of Central Asia and the Iranian plateau, and rode into the Middle East, looting Baghdad.  Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, by far the poorer, weaker imperial power disappeared.

And then there was one.  There had never been such a moment: a single nation astride the globe without a competitor in sight.  There wasn’t even a name for such a state (or state of mind).  “Superpower” had already been used when there were two of them.  “Hyperpower” was tried briefly but didn’t stick.  “Sole superpower” stood in for a while but didn’t satisfy.  “Great Power,” once the zenith of appellations, was by then a lesser phrase, left over from the centuries when various European nations and Japan were expanding their empires.  Some started speaking about a “unipolar” world in which all roads led… well, to Washington.

To this day, we’ve never quite taken in that moment when Soviet imperial rot unexpectedly — above all, to Washington — became imperial crash-and-burn.  Left standing, the Cold War’s victor seemed, then, like an empire of everything under the sun.  It was as if humanity had always been traveling toward this spot.  It seemed like the end of the line.

The Last Empire?

After the rise and fall of the Assyrians and the Romans, the Persians, the Chinese, the Mongols, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, the English, the Germans, and the Japanese, some process seemed over.  The United States was dominant in a previously unimaginable way — except in Hollywood films where villains cackled about their evil plans to dominate the world.

As a start, the U.S. was an empire of global capital.  With the fall of Soviet-style communism (and the transformation of a communist regime in China into a crew of authoritarian “capitalist roaders”), there was no other model for how to do anything, economically speaking.  There was Washington’s way — and that of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (both controlled by Washington) — or there was the highway, and the Soviet Union had already made it all too clear where that led: to obsolescence and ruin.

In addition, the U.S. had unprecedented military power.  By the time the Soviet Union began to totter, America’s leaders had for nearly a decade been consciously using “the arms race” to spend its opponent into an early grave.  And here was the curious thing after centuries of arms races: when there was no one left to race, the U.S. continued an arms race of one.

In the years that followed, it would outpace all other countries or combinations of countries in military spending by staggering amounts.  It housed the world’s most powerful weapons makers, was technologically light years ahead of any other state, and was continuing to develop future weaponry for 2020, 2040, 2060, even as it established a near monopoly on the global arms trade (and so, control over who would be well-armed and who wouldn’t).

It had an empire of bases abroad, more than 1,000 of them spanning the globe, also an unprecedented phenomenon.  And it was culturally dominant, again in a way that made comparisons with other moments ludicrous.  Like American weapons makers producing things that went boom in the night for an international audience, Hollywood’s action and fantasy films took the world by storm.  From those movies to the golden arches, the swoosh, and the personal computer, there was no other culture that could come close to claiming such a global cachet.

The key non-U.S. economic powerhouses of the moment — Europe and Japan — maintained militaries dependent on Washington, had U.S. bases littering their territories, and continued to nestle under Washington’s “nuclear umbrella.”  No wonder that, in the U.S., the post-Soviet moment was soon proclaimed “the end of history,” and the victory of “liberal democracy” or “freedom” was celebrated as if there really were no tomorrow, except more of what today had to offer.

No wonder that, in the new century, neocons and supporting pundits would begin to claim that the British and Roman empires had been second-raters by comparison.  No wonder that key figures in and around the George W. Bush administration dreamed of establishing a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East and possibly over the globe itself (as well as a Pax Republicana at home).  They imagined that they might actually prevent another competitor or bloc of competitors from arising to challenge American power. Ever.

No wonder they had remarkably few hesitations about launching their incomparably powerful military on wars of choice in the Greater Middle East.  What could possibly go wrong?  What could stand in the way of the greatest power history had ever seen?

Assessing the Imperial Moment, Twenty-First-Century-Style

Almost a quarter of a century after the Soviet Union disappeared, what’s remarkable is how much — and how little — has changed.

On the how-much front: Washington’s dreams of military glory ran aground with remarkable speed in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Then, in 2007, the transcendent empire of capital came close to imploding as well, as a unipolar financial disaster spread across the planet.  It led people to begin to wonder whether the globe’s greatest power might not, in fact, be too big to fail, and we were suddenly — so everyone said — plunged into a “multipolar world.”

Meanwhile, the Greater Middle East descended into protest, rebellion, civil war, and chaos without a Pax Americana in sight, as a Washington-controlled Cold War system in the region shuddered without (yet) collapsing.  The ability of Washington to impose its will on the planet looked ever more like the wildest of fantasies, while every sign, including the hemorrhaging of national treasure into losing trillion-dollar wars, reflected not ascendancy but possible decline.

And yet, in the how-little category: the Europeans and Japanese remained nestled under that American “umbrella,” their territories still filled with U.S. bases.  In the Euro Zone, governments continued to cut back on their investments in both NATO and their own militaries.  Russia remained a country with a sizeable nuclear arsenal and a reduced but still large military.  Yet it showed no signs of “superpower” pretensions.  Other regional powers challenged unipolarity economically — Turkey and Brazil, to name two — but not militarily, and none showed an urge either singly or in blocs to compete in an imperial sense with the U.S.

Washington’s enemies in the world remained remarkably modest-sized (though blown to enormous proportions in the American media echo-chamber).  They included a couple of rickety regional powers (Iran and North Korea), a minority insurgency or two, and relatively small groups of Islamist “terrorists.”  Otherwise, as one gauge of power on the planet, no more than a handful of other countries had even a handful of military bases outside their territory.

Under the circumstances, nothing could have been stranger than this: in its moment of total ascendancy, the Earth’s sole superpower with a military of staggering destructive potential and technological sophistication couldn’t win a war against minimally armed guerillas.  Even more strikingly, despite having no serious opponents anywhere, it seemed not on the rise but on the decline, its infrastructure rotting out, its populace economically depressed, its wealth ever more unequally divided, its Congress seemingly beyond repair, while the great sucking sound that could be heard was money and power heading toward the national security state.  Sooner or later, all empires fall, but this moment was proving curious indeed.

And then, of course, there was China.  On the planet that humanity has inhabited these last several thousand years, can there be any question that China would have been the obvious pick to challenge, sooner or later, the dominion of the reigning great power of the moment?  Estimates are that it will surpass the U.S. as the globe’s number one economy by perhaps 2030.

Right now, the Obama administration seems to be working on just that assumption.  With its well-publicized “pivot” (or “rebalancing”) to Asia, it has been moving to “contain” what it fears might be the next great power.  However, while the Chinese are indeed expanding their military and challenging their neighbors in the waters of the Pacific, there is no sign that the country’s leadership is ready to embark on anything like a global challenge to the U.S., nor that it could do so in any conceivable future.  Its domestic problems, from pollution to unrest, remain staggering enough that it’s hard to imagine a China not absorbed with domestic issues through 2030 and beyond.

And Then There Was One (Planet)

Militarily, culturally, and even to some extent economically, the U.S. remains surprisingly alone on planet Earth in imperial terms, even if little has worked out as planned in Washington.  The story of the years since the Soviet Union fell may prove to be a tale of how American domination and decline went hand-in-hand, with the decline part of the equation being strikingly self-generated.

And yet here’s a genuine, even confounding, possibility: that moment of “unipolarity” in the 1990s may really have been the end point of history as human beings had known it for millennia — the history, that is, of the rise and fall of empires.  Could the United States actually be the last empire?  Is it possible that there will be no successor because something has profoundly changed in the realm of empire building?  One thing is increasingly clear: whatever the state of imperial America, something significantly more crucial to the fate of humanity (and of empires) is in decline.  I’m talking, of course, about the planet itself.

The present capitalist model (the only one available) for a rising power, whether China, India, or Brazil, is also a model for planetary decline, possibly of a precipitous nature.  The very definition of success — more middle-class consumers, more car owners, more shoppers, which means more energy used, more fossil fuels burned, more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere — is also, as it never would have been before, the definition of failure.  The greater the “success,” the more intense the droughts, the stronger the storms, the more extreme theweather, the higher the rise in sea levels, the hotter the temperatures, the greater the chaos in low-lying or tropical lands, the more profound the failure.  The question is: Will this put an end to the previous patterns of history, including the until-now-predictable rise of the next great power, the next empire?  On a devolving planet, is it even possible to imagine the next stage in imperial gigantism?

Every factor that would normally lead toward “greatness” now also leads toward global decline.  This process — which couldn’t be more unfair to countries having their industrial and consumer revolutions late — gives a new meaning to the phrase “disaster capitalism.”

Take the Chinese, whose leaders, on leaving the Maoist model behind, did the most natural thing in the world at the time: they patterned their future economy on the United States — on, that is, success as it was then defined.  Despite both traditional and revolutionary communal traditions, for instance, they decided that to be a power in the world, you needed to make the car (which meant the individual driver) a pillar of any future state-capitalist China.  If it worked for the U.S., it would work for them, and in the short run, it worked like a dream, a capitalist miracle — and China rose.

It was, however, also a formula for massive pollution, environmental degradation, and the pouring of ever more fossil fuels into the atmosphere in record amounts.  And it’s not just China.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about that country’s ravenous energy use, including its possible future “carbon bombs,” or the potential for American decline to be halted by new extreme methods of producing energy (frackingtar-sands extraction, deep-water drilling).  Such methods, however much they hurt local environments, might indeed turn the U.S. into a “new Saudi Arabia.”  Yet that, in turn, would only contribute further to the degradation of the planet, to decline on an ever-larger scale.

What if, in the twenty-first century, going up means declining?  What if the unipolar moment turns out to be a planetary moment in which previously distinct imperial events — the rise and fall of empires — fuse into a single disastrous system?

What if the story of our times is this: And then there was one planet, and it was going down.

 

 

The Secret History Of The War Over Oil In Iraq: The Real Reason For The Iraq War

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Oldspeak: “Oil men, whether James Baker or George Bush or Dick Cheney, are not in the business of producing oil. They are in the business of producing profits. And that’s how George Bush won the war in Iraq. The invasion was not about “blood for oil”, but something far more sinister: blood for no oil. War to keep supply tight and send prices skyward. And they’ve succeeded. Iraq, capable of producing six to 12 million barrels of oil a day, still exports well under its old OPEC quota of three million barrels.” Behold! Grand Area Doctrine par excellence. “Military intervention at will…  it declared that the US has the right to use military force to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources,” and must maintain huge military forces “forward deployed” in Europe and Asia “in order to shape people’s opinions about us” and “to shape events that will affect our livelihood and our security.” –Noam Chomsky. When you see the full length and breadth of the depraved and anti-human logic profit-hungry corporocrats concoct to serve their anti-democratic ends, all you can do is shake your head and sigh. Why? Why were over 100,ooo poor, working and middle class Americans killed and maimed? Why have 1,ooo,ooo Iraqi men women and children been killed, with untold numbers on of Americans & Iraqis poisoned and permanently disfigured via the rain of depleted uranium bullets and shells rained on Iraq? Artificially imposed scarcity to generate exorbitant profits, or in a word: Greed. They believe wholeheartedly in the immortal words of Gordon Gekko “Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA” They see the world as a “college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business“. They see the USA as a failing corporation, and they’re looting it before it goes bankrupt. Buying and selling everything that isn’t nailed down, including people. We the people are not really people in their eyes. We’re employees. Unsecured creditors. Revenue streams. All expendable, as evidenced by the breathtaking misadventures in Iraq. The ironic thing is this diabolical plan and illegal war, will help the planet as whole. 10 million less barrels of oil have been burned. The profits accumulated and trillions of dollars wasted are artificial. The real costs in lives and resources have been unacceptably and unnecessarily high. If things remain as they are, conditions will deteriorate. These resource wars will become more more frequent, when there isn’t enough to go around.  Sadly this secret history will not become public, I don’t expect corporate media to pick up on what this intrepid journalist has reported. The official stories and counter-stories have been inculcated. War crimes will continue to go unpunished. Could we expect anything else from a civilization that organizes itself around entities like  sociopathic multinational energy corporations?

By Greg Palast @ Vice Magazine:

Greg Palast is a New York Times bestselling author and fearless investigative journalist whose reports appear on BBC Television Newsnight and in The Guardian. Palast eats the rich and spits them out. Catch his reports and films at www.GregPalast.com, where you can also securely send him your documents marked, “confidential”.

Because it was marked “confidential” on each page, the oil industry stooge couldn’t believe the US State Department had given me a complete copy of their secret plans for the oil fields of Iraq.

Actually, the State Department had done no such thing. But my line of bullshit had been so well-practiced and the set-up on my mark had so thoroughly established my fake identity, that I almost began to believe my own lies.

I closed in. I said I wanted to make sure she and I were working from the same State Department draft. Could she tell me the official name, date and number of pages? She did.

Bingo! I’d just beaten the Military-Petroleum Complex in a lying contest, so I had a right to be chuffed.

After phoning numbers from California to Kazakhstan to trick my mark, my next calls were to the State Department and Pentagon. Now that I had the specs on the scheme for Iraq’s oil – that State and Defense Department swore, in writing, did not exist – I told them I’d appreciate their handing over a copy (no expurgations, please) or there would be a very embarrassing story on BBC Newsnight.

Within days, our chief of investigations, Ms Badpenny, delivered to my shack in the woods outside New York a 323-page, three-volume programme for Iraq’s oil crafted by George Bush’s State Department and petroleum insiders meeting secretly in Houston, Texas.

I cracked open the pile of paper – and I was blown away.

Like most lefty journalists, I assumed that George Bush and Tony Blair invaded Iraq to buy up its oil fields, cheap and at gun-point, and cart off the oil. We thought we knew the neo-cons true casus belli: Blood for oil.

But the truth in the Options for Iraqi Oil Industry was worse than “Blood for Oil”. Much, much worse.

The key was in the flow chart on page 15, Iraq Oil Regime Timeline & Scenario Analysis:

“…A single state-owned company …enhances a government’s relationship with OPEC.”

https://i1.wp.com/assets.vice.com/content-images/contentimage/no-slug/c2e001a56cbf6658dfc45f72dcf71b55.jpg
An infographic produced by the author presenting the Iraq war’s secret history. Click to enlarge.

Let me explain why these words rocked my casbah.

I’d already had in my hands a 101-page document, another State Department secret scheme, first uncovered by Wall Street Journal reporter Neil King, that called for the privatisation, the complete sell-off of every single government-owned asset and industry. And in case anyone missed the point, the sales would include every derrick, pipe and barrel of oil, or, as the document put it, “especially the oil”.

That plan was created by a gaggle of corporate lobbyists and neo-cons working for the Heritage Foundation. In 2004, the plan’s authenticity was confirmed by Washington power player Grover Norquist. (It’s hard to erase the ill memory of Grover excitedly waving around his soft little hands as he boasted about turning Iraq into a free-market Disneyland, recreating Chile in Mesopotamia, complete with the Pinochet-style dictatorship necessary to lock up the assets – while behind Norquist, Richard Nixon snarled at me from a gargantuan portrait.)

The neo-con idea was to break up and sell off Iraq’s oil fields, ramp up production, flood the world oil market – and thereby smash OPEC and with it, the political dominance of Saudi Arabia.

General Jay Garner also confirmed the plan to grab the oil. Indeed, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld fired Garner, when the General, who had lived in Iraq, complained the neo-con grab would set off a civil war. It did. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld replaced Garner with a new American viceroy, Paul Bremer, a partner in Henry Kissinger’s firm, to complete the corporate takeover of Iraq’s assets – “especially the oil”.

But that was not to be. While Bremer oversaw the wall-to-wall transfer of Iraqi industries to foreign corporations, he was stopped cold at the edge of the oil fields.

How? I knew there was only one man who could swat away the entire neo-con army: James Baker, former Secretary of State, Bush family consiglieri and most important, counsel to Exxon-Mobil Corporation and the House of Saud.

(One unwitting source was industry oil-trading maven Edward Morse of Lehman/Credit Suisse, who threatened to sue Harper’s Magazine for my quoting him. Morse denied I ever spoke with him. But when I played the tape from my hidden recorder, his memory cleared and he scampered away.)

There was no way in hell that Baker’s clients, from Exxon to Abdullah, were going to let a gaggle of neo-con freaks smash up Iraq’s oil industry, break OPEC production quotas, flood the market with six million bbd of Iraqi oil and thereby knock the price of oil back down to $13 a barrel where it was in 1998.


The author.

Big Oil could not allow Iraq’s oil fields to be privatised and taken from state control. That would make it impossible to keep Iraq within OPEC (an avowed goal of the neo-cons) as the state could no longer limit production in accordance with the cartel’s quota system. The US oil industry was using its full political mojo to prevent their being handed ownership of Iraq’s oil fields.

That’s right: The oil companies didn’t want to own the oil fields – and they sure as hell didn’t want the oil. Just the opposite. They wanted to make sure there would be a limit on the amount of oil that would come out of Iraq.

Saddam wasn’t trying to stop the flow of oil – he was trying to sell more. The price of oil had been boosted 300 percent by sanctions and an embargo cutting Iraq’s sales to two million barrels a day from four. With Saddam gone, the only way to keep the damn oil in the ground was to leave it locked up inside the busted state oil company which would remain under OPEC (i.e. Saudi) quotas.

The James Baker Institute quickly and secretly started in on drafting the 323-page plan for the State Department. With authority granted from the top (i.e. Dick Cheney), ex-Shell Oil USA CEO Phil Carroll was rushed to Baghdad in May 2003 to take charge of Iraq’s oil. He told Bremer, “There will be no privatisation of oil – END OF STATEMENT.” Carroll then passed off control of Iraq’s oil to Bob McKee of Halliburton, Cheney’s old oil-services company, who implemented the Baker “enhance OPEC” option anchored in state ownership.

Some oil could be released, mainly to China, through limited, but lucrative, “production sharing agreements”.

And that’s how George Bush won the war in Iraq. The invasion was not about “blood for oil”, but something far more sinister: blood for no oil. War to keep supply tight and send prices skyward.

Oil men, whether James Baker or George Bush or Dick Cheney, are not in the business of producing oil. They are in the business of producing profits.

And they’ve succeeded. Iraq, capable of producing six to 12 million barrels of oil a day, still exports well under its old OPEC quota of three million barrels.

The result: As we mark the tenth anniversary of the invasion this month, we also mark the fifth year of crude at $100 a barrel.

As George Bush could proudly say to James Baker: Mission Accomplished!

Follow Greg on Twitter: @Greg_Palast