Greener Times

Promoting a sustainable society…one day at a time.

GT for January 19 – 25

Posted by Trey Smith on January 18, 2009

Greener Times for the Week of January 19 – 25

Volume 3 No. 40

an e-publication for Greens anywhere and everywhere

Trey Smith – Publisher/Editor
Tom Herring, Duff Badgley & Maryrose Asher – Columnists


In This Week’s Issue
* That Bastion of American Socialism
* Obama’s Silence Over the Atrocities in Gaza Speaks Volumes
* Thoughts By the Way: Janus
* Our Climate Crisis:
* Un-Spinning the Spin: Countering Israeli Propaganda Regarding a “Jewish State”
* This Week in History
* Letters to the Editor
* Pencil Shavings: Historical Day of Sorts
* News You May Have Missed

That Bastion of American Socialism
by Dmitry Orlov for Culture Change

Over the past few months the American mainstream chatter has experienced a sudden spike in the gratuitous use of the term “Socialist.” It was prompted by the attempts of the federal government to resuscitate insolvent financial institutions. These attempts included offers of guarantees to their clients, injections of large sums of borrowed public money, and granting them access to almost-free credit that was magically summoned ex nihilo by the Federal Reserve. To some observers, these attempts looked like an emergency nationalization of the finance sector was underway, prompting them to cry “Socialism!” Their cries were not as strident as one would expect, bereft of the usual disdain that normally accompanies the use of this term. Rather, it was proffered with a wan smile, because the commentators could find nothing better to say — nothing that would actually make sense of the situation.

Not a single comment on this matter could be heard from any of the numerous socialist parties, either opposition or government, from around the globe, who correctly surmised that this had nothing to do with their political discipline, because in the US “socialism” is commonly used as a pejorative term, with willful ignorance and breathtaking inaccuracy, to foolishly dismiss any number of alternative notions of how society might be organized. What this new, untraditional use of the term lacks in venom, it more than makes up for in malapropism, for there is nothing remotely socialist to Henry Paulson’s “no banker left behind” bail-out strategy, or to Ben Bernanke’s “buy one — get one free” deal on the US Dollar (offered only to well-connected friends) or to any of the other measures, either attempted or considered, to slow the collapse of the US economy.

A nationalization of the private sector can indeed be called socialist, but only when it is carried out by a socialist government. In absence of this key ingredient, a perfect melding of government and private business is, in fact, the gold standard of fascism. But nobody is crying “Fascism!” over what has been happening in the US. Not only would this seem ridiculously theatrical, but, the trouble is, we here in the US have traditionally liked fascists. We had liked Mussolini well enough, until he allied with Hitler, whom we only eventually grew to dislike once he started hindering transatlantic trade. We liked Spain’s Franco well enough too. We liked Chile’s Pinochet after having a hand in bumping off his Socialist predecessor Allende (on September 11, 1973; on the same date some years later, I was very briefly seized with the odd notion that the Chileans had finally exacted their revenge). In general, a business-friendly fascist generalissimo or president-for-life with no ties to Hitler is someone we could almost always work with. So much for political honesty.

As a practical matter, failing at capitalism does not automatically make you socialist, no more than failing at marriage automatically make you gay. Even if desperation makes you randy for anything that is warm-blooded and doesn’t bite, the happily gay lifestyle is not automatically there for the taking. There are the matters of grooming, and manners, and interior decoration to consider, and these take work, just like anything else. Speaking of work, building socialism certainly takes a great deal of work, a lot of which tends to be unpaid, voluntary labor, and so desperation certainly helps to inspire the effort, but it cannot be the only ingredient. It also takes intelligence, because, as Douglas Adams once astutely observed, “people are a problem.” In due course, they will learn to thwart any system, no matter how well-designed it might be, be it capitalist, socialist, anarchist, Ayn Randian, or one based on a strictly literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

However, here a distinction can be drawn: systems that attempt to do good seem far more corruptible than ones that have no such pretensions. Thus, a socialist system, inspired by the noblest of impulses to help one’s fellow man, quickly develops social inequalities that it was designed to eradicate, breeding cynicism, while a capitalist system, inspired by the impulse to help oneself through greed and fear, starts out from the position of perfect cynicism, and is therefore immune to such effects, making it more robust, as long as it does not become resource-constrained. It seems to be a superior system if your goal is to keep the planet burning brightly, but when the fuel starts to run low, it is quickly torn apart by the very impulses that motivated its previous successes: greed turns to profiteering, draining the life blood out of the economy, while fear causes capital to seek safe havens, causing the wheels of commerce to grind to a halt. It could be said that an intelligently designed, well-regulated capitalist system could be made to avoid such pitfalls and persevere in the face of resource constraints, but the US seems laughably far from achieving this goal.

Taking intelligence itself as an example, if having more of it is a good thing, then a bit of socialism could have helped a lot. Let us start with the observation that intelligence, and the ability to benefit from higher education, occur more or less randomly within a human population. The genetic and environmental variation is such that it is not even conceivable to breed people for high intellectual abilities, although, as a look at any number of aristocratic lineages will tell you, it is most certainly possible to breed blue-blooded imbeciles. Thus, offering higher education to those whose parents can afford it is a way to squander resources on a great lot of pampered nincompoops while denying education to working class minds that might actually soak it up and benefit from it.

A case in point: why exactly was it a good idea to send George W. Bush to Yale, and then to Harvard Business School? A wanton misallocation of resources, wouldn’t you agree? At this point, I doubt that I would get an argument even from his own parents. Perhaps, in retrospect, they would have been happier to let someone more qualified decide whether young George should have grown up to incompetently send men into battle or to competently polish hub caps down on the corner.

Many countries, upon achieving a certain level of collective intelligence, or upon finding themselves blessed with a sufficiently intelligent benevolent dictator, followed a similar line of reasoning, and organized a system of public education that meted out educational opportunities based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay. In countries where such reforms were successful, society benefited from the far more efficient allocation of resources, becoming more egalitarian, better-educated, and more stable and prosperous. The United States is one such country, where, following World War II, the GI Bill did much to mitigate against the oppressive social stratification of American society during the Great Depression, giving it a new lease on life. In a politically honest country, this achievement would have been touted as a great socialist victory. Here, instead of building on this success, it was allowed to ebb away, until now fewer and fewer qualified candidates can shoulder the high cost of higher education, and even these have to forgo education proper in favor of vocational training, in order to be in a position to pay back student loans.

To read the rest…

Obama’s Silence Over the Atrocities in Gaza Speaks Volumes
by Howard Switzer, 2006 Green Party candidate for governor of Tennessee

Gaza is being bombed by Israel, the frightened children; their hungry mothers and the rest of their poor families are being bombed. Schools, hospitals, mosques, markets and other public places are being bombed. The cover for this, the terrible excuse, is that they are attacking terrorists.

But what could be more terrifying that to take your children to school only to see it bombed and your children crushed to death under a pile of rubble? Israel says it is retaliating for the occasional angry rocket fired from Gaza, all puny fireworks compared to the awful might of the Israeli military’s 100-pound bombs. As is so often the case, the term ‘terrorism’ is but a rhetorical smokescreen behind which the strong crush the weak. People of conscience everywhere are protesting.

President-elect Barack Obama, while spending the holidays with his family in Hawaii, failed to acknowledge the demonstrators along the road he traveled to and from his physical workouts. Like many Americans, most of them voted for him, filled with hope that at last we would have a strong peacemaker for a president. Is the president-elect afraid to offend the Israeli lobby who were so generous to his campaign? Is he afraid that if the continuous flow of arms from the U.S. to Israel were to stop the economy would take yet another hit?

Was the illusion that he was a peacemaker a mere campaign trick? There is an election campaign now in Israel, too, each candidate trying to prove they are tougher and more strident than the other in their condemnation and support for the bombing of Palestine, playing on the toxic hatred too many Jews have for the Palestinians.

We have elected the first black man to office and he has turned his back on the peace movement. His cabinet is filled with staunch supporters of the corporate status quo, the military industrial complex. Will he also turn his back on the poor, on the homeless and on ordinary Americans who are in danger of losing their family homes?

We missed an opportunity to elect the first black person as president of the United States who was the embodiment of all the ideals in the mythology built around Obama for his election campaign who was also a woman. Cynthia McKinney was the Green Party candidate for president and, despite having no press following her around or the support of the U.S. government, she is using all her meager connections in the region and risking her life to get humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.

Israeli gun ships rammed the small yacht carrying her along with a doctor, other medical workers and three tons of medical supplies, warning them to stay away. The boat, damaged and taking on water, thankfully made it to Lebanon. We missed that grand opportunity but we cannot afford to miss any more such opportunities. Despite the hopeful and confidant demeanor of Obama, his silence is much more than cowardice. No, such silence in the face of such sustained atrocities is nothing short of vicious.

Thoughts By the Way: Janus
Tom Herring is a Community Council member on Vashon Island. Catch more of Tom’s thoughts on his blog.

The two headed god who was a positive influence in the Roman Empire now stands malevolent at the open doorway between past and future of the American Empire. This modern Janus is whiteblack, the white face looking back without sight, the black face looking forward without voice. A body with no heart joins them. Worse yet, the black face masquerades as the scion of a true hero whose assassination anniversary dates the opening of this door. The door has opened on the utter degradation of America by the silence with which it watches women and children being slaughtered with US arms under the protection of a US veto of ceasefire. How many of the adulating mass of fools at the inauguration realize the irony? Obama could have said this must stop.

The light over America has dimmed. Most likely, the carnage in the Middle East and Asia Minor will continue until one day, very soon, the climate will change very quickly and then it will be every manwoman for self and family.

Our Climate Crisis:
Duff Badgley is the leader of the One Earth Climate Action Group and was a candidate for Governor as a Green in 2008. He can be reached at 206-283-0621.

Duff is taking the week off to re-charge his battery. He hopes to resume writing in the next edition.

Un-Spinning the Spin: Countering Israeli Propaganda Regarding a “Jewish State”
Maryrose Asher is a former Chair of the Green Party of Washington State and a tireless activist of many causes.

We released Maryrose’s column earlier this week.  If you’re reading this edition of Greener Times on the front page, then scroll down to the previous entry.  On the other hand, if you’re not reading this edition via the front page, go here to read her column.

This Week in History
This Week in History, published by Carl Bunin and edited by Al Frank, is a collection designed to help us appreciate the fact that we are part of a rich history advocating peace and social justice. While the entries often focus on large and dramatic events there are so many smaller things done everyday to promote peace and justice. Find more info at http://www.peacebuttons.info/E-News/thisweek.htm.

January 20, 2001: Tens of thousands lining Pennsylvania Ave. to protest the legitimacy of the inauguration of Pres. George W. Bush were systematically excluded from almost all media coverage of the event. They called attention to the election irregularities in Florida, the dispute over a recount, and the ultimate effective choice of the president by a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court.

January 22, 1953: The Arthur Miller drama, ”The Crucible,” opened on Broadway. It was a parable that reflected the climate of fear that pervaded American society and the politics of its time, witchcraft in the late 17th century, communism in the mid-20th. In both times there existed also the fear of false accusation.

January 25, 2002: A group of Israeli reservists issued a declaration saying they would not serve the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) if assigned to the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip. It was called the Combatants’ Letter, and the organization Courage to Refuse grew out of their resistance. Captain David Zonshein and Lieutenant Yaniv Itzkovits, officers in an elite unit, realized the missions confided to them as commanders in the IDF had in fact nothing to do with the defense of the State of Israel, but were rather intended to expand the colonies at the price of oppressing the local Palestinian population.

Letters to the Editor
Got something you want to get off your chest? Did an article in a previous edition of Greener Times make you madder than a hornet or cause you to stand up to say, “Right on!”? Well, this space is reserved each week for your comments and opinions.

The article by Starhawk is so well written and so informative that I wish she/he would submit it to a major national publication. I hope the national GP will print the article. Do you know if they have already? I read the article in today’s Seattle Times on the Jewish protest here. Starhawk’s article is much more complete and objective.

Thanks for printing it.
~ Marjorie ~

Dr. Riki Ott’s video, playing everyday in Whatcom County (and San Juan?), is showing the Exxon/Valdez oil spill must be over 70 times larger than the Tennessee Valley coal ash spill- all the way to the Aleutian Islands on a graphic- not the reverse. She says underestimating the size and area was a corporate strategy: guess it worked. Her 2nd book is, ‘Not One Drop.’
~ Johnny Grames ~

Riki Ott playing 5 times a week at 9:40am on San Juan Public Access Television.
~ Tom Munsey ~

Pencil Shavings: Historical Day of Sorts
Pencil Shavings appears in this space most weeks and solely represents the opinions of the publisher. If you’d like to read more of Trey’s ruminations, visit The Rambling Taoist.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009, will be an historic day…of sorts. On the one hand, it WILL mark something significant in American history — the day a man of color is sworn in as the President of the United States of America. For every person who has fought for civil rights over the past 200 years, this act will represent a crowning achievement. Only the most jaded and cynical person could see it otherwise.

On the other hand, however, Tuesday will not be as significant as it could be. If you’ve listened to what Obama has said to date OR has not said and you look at the Clinton-like nominees he’s gathered for his cabinet, it’s painfully obvious that the new administration is ready to launch “politics as usual”. It will still be a national apparatus sworn to fight for and protect the interests and bidding of global capitalism.

For me, the most important Inauguration Day is the one still in our distant future. It will be the day when a man or a woman, not beholden to corporate interests, is sworn in as president. On that day, we will begin to participate in the great transformation of our nation from a country of preemptive war and environmental degradation to a land that promotes peace, justice for all and seventh-generation sustainability.

Until THAT day comes, I won’t get overly excited about the significance of any other Inauguration Day. Yes, we will pass some important milestones along the way (like electing the first black president or woman president or non-Christian president), but until we reach the genuine “promised land”, each will only be a brief rest stop.

News You May Have Missed

Just Say “No” to the Credit Rating Agencies
The credit rating agencies have got us, coming and going. First they help cause the biggest economic calamity since the 1930’s. And now they tell us we can’t take the fiscal measures needed to get us out of this mess. Meanwhile, they are laughing all the way to the bank (that is, if they can find one that is still solvent). Why are we still listening to them? The role played by the big credit rating agencies – such as Standard & Poor’s and Fitch – in the unfolding financial crisis is now well-known. By giving complex, opaque and ultimately toxic mortgage-backed securities high ratings and therefore, their own ringing stamp of approval, the credit agencies enabled banks to market these destructive securities around the world. We are now all paying the price…

Dirt-Cheap Gas in 2009: Be Careful What You Wish For
Oil costs a third of what it did in July, and prices keep dropping. That may seem like a godsend now, but we’ll pay through the nose later…

Rich Get Poorer, Poor Disappear
Ever on the lookout for the bright side of hard times, I am tempted to delete “class inequality” from my worry list. Less than a year ago, it was the one of the biggest economic threats on the horizon, with even hard line conservative pundits grousing that wealth was flowing uphill at an alarming rate, leaving the middle class stuck with stagnating incomes while the new super-rich ascended to the heavens in their personal jets. Then the whole top-heavy structure of American capitalism began to totter, and -poof!-inequality all but vanished from the public discourse. A financial columnist in the Chicago Sun Times has just announced that the recession is a “great leveler,” serving to “democratize[d] the agony,” as we all tumble into “the Nouveau Poor…”

Follow Jesus Like Nazis Followed Hitler
On April 17, 2005, at the southern California Anaheim Angels sports stadium thirty thousand Saddleback Church members, more than ever gathered in one spot, assembled to celebrate Saddleback’s 25th anniversary and listened as Rick Warren announced his vision for the next 25 years of the church: the P.E.A.C.E. Plan. Towards the close of his nearly one hour speech, Pastor Warren asked his followers to be as committed to Jesus as the young Nazi men and women who spelled out in mass formation with their bodies the words “Hitler, we are yours,” in 1939 at the Munich Stadium, were committed to the Führer of the Third Reich, a major instigator of a World War that claimed 55 million lives…

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