Monday, December 31, 2007

Back to Basics

Che invited me to his blog as a guest a while ago and I think I finally found the right topic to write about. Che and Trout seem to have the political side of things nailed down far more than I do so I won't go there; but I do think I can add something meaningful.

Che pondered how we can move forward with a new politics in his last post. I'm not posting to attempt to answer that question, but instead to ask bloggers and authors to think about how many people they aren't reaching because of their word choice and sentence structure. In Che's last post, he quoted Bookchin, and I requote part of that here:

"For political radicals today to simply resuscitate Marxism, anarchism, or revolutionary syndicalism and endow them with ideological immortality would be obstructive to the development of a relevant radical movement."

What a mouthful. The little I have read of Bookchin is like that too. Why didn't he just say that if political radicals want a movement that works they should drop the idea of breathing life into old ideologies that weren't developed with the problems of today in mind.

In essence, my gripe here is that leading intellectuals alienate themselves from a large segment of the population because of their word choice and sentence construction. It doesn't matter what your great idea is on a new political movement or path forward if you can't explain it in clear, concise language.

I understand that sometimes choosing a relatively obscure word will save you from writing 50 other words to explain the idea, but that isn't always the case. How often do we get stuck in the trap of using 5 dollar words to sound smart. Has anyone ever thought that if they didn't use large words or write in a certain way they wouldn't be taken seriously. Forget about that! With the fast pace of today's society, if you can't reach an audience in the first go they aren't going to bother trying to decipher what you are trying to say.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Where Has Che Been? Lived? Want to go?

ZOOM IN.

CLICK AND DRAG THE MAP IN ALL DIRECTIONS TO SEE MY MAP IN MORE DETAIL.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Trout and Che Go Fishing

Troutsky and I are currently searching for a revival of politics and a means for restoring faith in the democratic tradition that so many of us still revere. We hope to find a way that moves beyond revolutionary partisanship, individualistic liberalism, and all variety of political thinking that haunts any prospect of altering the human species path to self-immolation. Murray Bookchin describes this tension as appropriate:

"As we enter the twenty-first century, social radicals need a socialism--libertarian and revolutionary--that is neither an extension of the peasant-craft "associationism" that lies at the core of anarchism and Marxism. However fashionable the traditional ideologies (particularly anarchism) may be among young people today, a truly progressive socialism that is informed by libertarian as well as Marxian ideas but transcends these older ideologies must provide intellectual leadership. For political radicals today to simply resuscitate Marxism, anarchism, or revolutionary syndicalism and endow them with ideological immortality would be obstructive to the development of a relevant radical movement. A new and comprehensive revolutionary outlook is needed, one that is capable of systematically addressing the generalized issues that may potentially bring most of society into opposition to an ever-evolving and changing capitalist system."

While we may disagree as to the exact means for a return to the political and radical democracy, we agree traditional anarchism, Marxism, many socialist groups, unions, et. al. fall short of addressing the myriad issues and concerns a modern society confronts. The diverse variety of subjectivities struggling for social power makes individualistic liberalism untenable. So Trout and I look to challenge the traditions of simplistic sloganeering by organizations such as our very own Industrial Workers of the World. For one, we can't see how an anachronistic slogan such as "the employing class and working class have nothing in common" can possibly serve a revolutionary cause with such a misguided appreciation for modern identity politics. However the question remains of how to move forward against the tide of the incessantly encroaching capitalist system?

Friday, December 21, 2007

What is CAJA?


Community Action for Justice in the Americas (CAJA) challenges and seeks to fundamentally alter the unfair distribution of wealth, power, and resources. Through education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing, we strive for social, economic, and environmental justice in solidarity with marginalized people throughout the Americas.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Best of MESSI: Top 17 Goals


And to think Lionel Messi is only 20 years old...scary!!!


Besides, he plays for the world's greatest club: FC Barcelona. A team worthy of support for refusing to sell the front of its jersey to sponsors. Instead, they are donating $1.9 million to set up international cooperation programs by supporting the UN Millennium Development goals. Furthermore, their jerseys don the UNICEF logo instead of some huge multi-national corporation, which helps promote the UN's efforts. FC Barcelona is also the bastion of anti-fascist resistence and a team owned by their fans!

Forza Barca!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

In Your Wildest Dreams Friedmans and Co.

It is fascinating to me the way neoliberal capitalism is defended through fanciful, mythological success stories that do not bear in reality. No matter how much one researches these supposedly glowing examples (Chile, South Africa, Poland, Brazil, Argentina, China, et. al.) of neoliberalism's economic miracles, one only finds the ways in which Milton Friedman and Co. have wreaked havoc across the globe. To be fair, I must admit that neoliberalism has been very successful for a select few, including the beautification of many of the poorest countries' shiny neo-neoliberal capitals, all the while ignoring the surrounding suburbs and rural poverty. This is best exemplified by Thomas Friedman's (no relation to Uncle Milty--I think?) praise of Bangalore. It makes one wonder if he ever bothered to travel around the rest of India. Anyway, the problem is that not only were there doctrinaire promises made about how neoliberal capitalism would solve the world's economic problems and end poverty, but there are still so many people ideologically singing its praises despite contravening evidence. This makes these people either blind fools or its beneficiaries.

Freeing up markets, privatizing everything, stamping out organized labor, lifting restrictions for capital's free reign, removing environmental standards, giving corporations the rights of human beings, reinvesting social spending in production infrastructure, etc. has served its designed purposes perfectly! The gap between rich and poor has never been wider! (An undisputed fact!) Labor markets are cheaper than ever, not competitively driving wages upward as was promised. Instead we are racing ourselves to the bottom. It's as if we are sprinting backwards to the Dark Ages. Not surprisingly, most of the same families that ruled today can be traced back to the aristocracy of the old world.

Perhaps the most stunning feat accomplished by modern capitalism is the way it has been able to return our societies to global slavery, but now however, the capitalists are not even having to finance the transportation of its slaves, instead the 'wretched of the earth' are forced to gravitate where the work is on their own dime, and then forced to work as slaves away from their homes, land, families, and cultures. One will even find among those that have posted on this blog people who believe this kind of exploitation is a necessary step towards the alleviation of such insanity. Such irrational critiques ignore the social, political and economic situations prior to this latest phase of capitalist terror (the neoliberal age). For example, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil were all in much better shape prior to the neoliberal invasion, when many countries such as these and around the rest of the world were developing social democracies, socialist states, etc. Stunningly, they ask us to hold out hope for capitalism's eventual delivery of promises yet unfulfilled. You know, the classic theory in order to save the village we first have to destroy it.


So I am very anxious to hear from those that continue to praise capitalism. I'm excited to hear about their newest example of a capitalist miracle. I'm happy to do some further research and see what I can learn about capitalism in action where it is actually delivering on its promises. However, I would encourage these enthusiasts to own up to the lack of veracity in their claims since the evidence overwhelmingly denies their positions.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

We Are a Cancer

"To protest in the name of morality against 'excesses' or 'abuses' is an error which hints at active complicity. There are no 'abuses' or 'excesses' here, simply an all-pervasive system." --Simone de Beauvoir

God how I wish Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, Cochise, Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Washakie, Tecumseh, Little Wolf, Plenty Coups, Manuelito, Pontiac, Osceola, Dohosan, Little Crow, Mehkskehme-Sukubs and others had prevented our cancer from spreading across the globe.

Genocide
Environmental holocaust
Torture
Endless war
Assimilation....

Bury my heart at Wounded Knee, as well.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Michael Franti - Bomb the World

[via FoxyTunes / Michael Franti]

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Manu Chao - Me gustas tu

[via FoxyTunes / Manu Chao]

Friday, September 07, 2007

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Trickle-up" Economics

I finally decided on a study path when I was 24. I tried to pay for college through various restaurant jobs as I was attending school, but it was impossible. So, I began taking out student loans. The debt that I have accumulated over four years of undergraduate and three years of graduate school exceeded $100,000. Amazingly, all that money invested in education has landed me a job making $32,000/year as a fourth-year teacher in Montana. You can do the math.

Despite self-deluding myths, this country does not have the most competitive college graduates, nor offer the best education to the vast majority of Americans. What's more, there are countries that offer comparable if not outright superior educations and countries where a teacher's education is free or mostly free. I am not advocating for there to be a compromise that teachers continue to be underpaid in lieu of a free education, but quite the opposite! Teachers salaries should be increased without compromise immediately. Furthermore, to attract the very best and brightest young students into the venerable profession of teaching, the U.S. must move immediately in the direction of making a teacher's education FREE! In the U.K., this has happened and succeeded in encouraging an entire generation of new young educators from among the most talented and competitive pool of U.K. youth.

It is time for the U.S. to wake from its own delusional myth-making and realize that many of the most important jobs millions of Americans take are grossly underpaid before one even considers paying back student loans. The loan "forgiveness" program for teachers is laughable. Teach five years in some of the hardest areas in this country and we'll forgive $5000 of your Stafford loans. That amounts to $1000 per year. Yet if I stay put in a less harsh area where teacher pay is already higher, I can earn more than that $1000 per year after covering higher living costs! It is no incentive at all! This is thinly veiled cynicism.

In fact, they have created a system designed to fail. Not only is there no incentive, student loans demands are much less likely to be met being involved in one of these "incentive" programs. Basic math will reveal this cynical reality. So in the end, the places most in need of energetic and talented teachers who might even care to perform kind acts of civil service are unable to afford it. Screwing the Native Americans of Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota yet creating programs that allow for plausible deniability. "We care about the Native Americans...look we've even made an incentive program designed to attract teachers to help. We can't help it if people just don't want to live and work there!"

What's more, Montana is basically a Title 1 state yet we teachers are some the poorest paid in the nation. Add student loans to our teacher pay and we are unable to raise a family, buy a home, on and on. The American dream is completely bogus. A teacher should be able to buy a nice home, raise a normal size family and have money left over for satisfying basic consumer desires and retirement. Yet we know that the American family has been ripped apart by private tyrannies (corporations) that have led us to a point that there is no longer the possibility of a parent staying home to raise children and create a safe and healthy home. NO! Now our families are torn apart by an unaffordable life--driven primarily by the costs of health care, insurance, housing, fuel, food and higher education. With each passing generation we get further and further away from the basic economic rights our parents enjoyed. We have to go to our parents--even as double-income families--to ask for down-payments that our parents cannot afford on fixed incomes.

No legislator or president can claim to stand for family values through vacuous rhetoric. "Trickle-up" economics are on the way! The theory is anger and discontent with American "democracy" will result in a continued "trickling-up" of our frustration, anger and outrage until we replace this intentionally ineffectual system dominated by private corporations with one that respects an American's rights beyond the political realm to include economic rights!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More From a Decadent Empire


Don't you just love it? Around every corner is more proof of our lovely system's most endearing effects. This time it's about cheating. Cheating to get ahead. Cheating to look good. Cheating to please mom and dad. Cheating to please oneself.

Here is a fantastic survey taken by collegehumor.com all about cheating in American universities. There are some real doozies. My favorites? Well, let me be completely predictable and say I love the one that indicates that religious students cheat at a rate of 65.4% and non-religious students cheat at a rate of 58.3%. I love it! So much for the moral chumpass...err...compass.

There are some other real gems. How about the real basic 61% of all college students cheat!!! Or...perhaps the most significant in this system of have's and have-not's is that the average GPA of cheaters is 3.37 vs. a GPA of non-cheaters at 2.85. "Screw you teacher, if I'm going to get ahead in this world I'm gonna cheat. The system doesn't reward wholesome principles, or even actual knowledge...it rewards GPA!" A whopping 64.8% of men cheat versus a seemingly modest 42% of women. A sarcastic silver lining of solidarity can be found in the statistic that says that 45% of students allow others to cheat of them. Finally, students that cheat in school are 11% more likely to cheat in their relationships.

In my own high school classes I've decided to circumvent this banal tendency and simply told my students to go ahead and cheat if they want. Considering I've devalued the points they can earn from traditional classroom products such as exams, homework, etc. and based the bulk of their grade on effort and sacrifice, they find it rather pointless to cheat on any of my exams. Also, I randomly make exams worth 1000 or 2000 points to teach them of the pointlessness of grades. They never know what is worth more, a homework assignment, a test, a quiz or a presentation. They really have a difficult time letting go of the idea that I actually reward their in-class participation and attendance more than anything else.

Removing the pressure of a getting a good grade the majority of my students stay engaged in subject. They aren't competing against a system that rewards the "best," but a system that rewards their best efforts and the sacrifices of showing up. Our classroom environment is cooperative, challenging and flexible to the diverse interests, needs and learning styles of my students. My students have to un-earn an "A." And that is a very difficult task. It happens, but not often. The absence of pressure to succeed in the traditional format has invited learning for the sake of learning. We also don't bullshit each other with useless, decontextualized material. We delve into meaningful and pertinent topics. My students love engaging me in politics and cultural/social critiques. All the while, we are learning Spanish.

On the other hand, I offer no magical classroom management techniques to solve the problems colleges and universities face. Instead, I laugh and cringe at the real effects of a system that rewards greed, power, lust, luxury and self-interest. May the wheels fall off this Roman Vomitorium Bus soon!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Exploiting "Revolution"


Sonia-belle and I have been having a long exchange over my last post, which has now turned into this blog. The topic? Cuba.


This post is derived from the following comments and questions Sonia presented to me:

"Excellent questions, Che Bob.

(Che Bob asked: Did US corporations operating in Cuba prior to 1959 have to exploit and denigrate Cuban civilians to such a degree as to warrant and precipitate their removal?)

Do you really believe that Castro won his revolution because US companies were exploiting Cuban civilians ? If you believe that, ask yourself this: why Cuba ? Why not Bangladesh ? And if exploitation leads to revolution, why there was never a revolution (not even a strike) in North Korea in over 50 years.

I am not saying US companies weren't exploiting people. I know they were. But I know that THIS had nothing to do with people like Castro coming to power. Nothing at all.

The reality is that revolution occur not when oppressors are strong, but when the oppressors are weak. And they don't occur to replace oppressors by humanitarians. They occur to replace weak and indecisive oppressors by better oppressors - more ruthless and more cunning.

This applies to so-called 'leftist' revolutions (Russia in 1917, China in 1949, Cuba in 1960), but also (SURPRISINGLY) to so-called 'right-wing' revolutions - Romania in 1989 for example - there too, the ineffective Communist bureaucracy, unable to control the people anymore, was replaced by the latest, most ruthless version of capitalism.

If you really want to improve people's lives, evolution is the only ticket. Spain, South Korea, Taiwan and Chile - those are the most remarkable examples of positive changes in recent years."


My response:


I completely agree that revolutions mostly occur when oppressors are weak and not strong. This was certainly the case of Fulgencio Batista, King Louis XVI, King George III, Czar Nicholas II, Anastasio Somoza, and many others. I also agree that these weak and indecisive oppressors are often replaced by better oppressors— not always, but often enough. However, your logic does not compute when you admit that a weak oppressor is replaced precisely when he is weak, yet you cannot imagine how Castro was able to capitalize on Batista’s weakness and the historical disdain Cubans had for American imperialism (read: exploitation) that had been coursing through their veins since long before Castro. Castro, for all his faults (and there are plenty), reminded Cubans of the prophetic warnings of José Martí and the looming threat the U.S. posed to Cuba. Martí denounced and resisted the brutal and indentured slavery Cubans had endured under the rule of Spain only to see (posthumously) his descendents re-chained by oppressive American corporations under the weak, indecisive and puppet-like rule of Batista.

At the same time, I can only give cursory credit to Castro for the “revolution.” Revolution was in the Cuban blood long before Castro came along, the same way it has been in the Venezuelan society for much longer than Chavez has been on the scene. In fact, I deny Chavez’s and Castro’s cult-like following for the very reason that is stultifies the true revolutionary changes human beings seek when trying to escape oppression. Figures such as Lenin, Castro and Chavez co-opt and then stunt revolutionary change. Institutionalizing revolution with political parties and authoritarian bureaucracy they sap a revolution’s spirit and hope for genuine social and economic justice.

As far as North Korea and Bangladesh are concerned, I can only offer a guess that the extremely oppressive police state existence makes revolutions very difficult. In other words, the leaders of both these countries have ruled with a tight fist and continually crushed opposition. In other words, their grips are not weak. However, Bangladesh’s recent history has been littered with attempted insurrection, and general strikes only to see them crushed. Ironically, Bangladesh is officially recognized as a “parliamentary representative democratic republic.” Not unlike other ridiculously named “democracies” throughout history.

Which brings me to another concern: so-called “democracies.” Many democracies are by and large a complete sham when the industrial system is controlled by any form of autocratic elite, whether it is owners, managers, technocrats, a vanguard party, a state bureaucracy, or whatever. Whether State Socialism or State Capitalism, the classical liberal ideals cannot be realized under conditions of authoritarian domination or the orders of any boss including the supposedly "soulful elite" in the U.S. whose true goal is profit, power, and growth.

Besides, these false democracies have—in many cases—a far more insidious, coercive and oppressive power with which to control and dominate human beings. That is they give people the false impression of sharing wealth and power. They allow for ostensibly vigorous debate that straddles a digestible and allowable spectrum of opinion while dismissing all measure of divergent opinions that fall outside this permissible spectrum. This faux political spectrum amounts to a system of propaganda that undermines truly critical debate. Therefore, people in countries such as my own believe they are being challenged by our faux debates and that we have a vibrant political discourse here in the U.S. Under dictatorships, on the other hand, the propaganda machine presents itself as a bludgeon and is more likely to foment revolutionary/counter-revolutionary sentiments: Soviet Union, Argentina, Chile, Spain, China, Cuba (today and before 1959), Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc.

Violent discontent is pulsating in South Korea, so I’m not sure I would use that as a positive model. Likewise, the disparity between the wealthy and the poor in Chile has reached an all-time high and no ranks Chile 7th among its South American neighbors for wealth distribution. Yes, Chile has experienced tremendous growth, but so has the U.S. year after year. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people enjoy the benefits of wealth production! Chile is far from a model society. Spain is rapidly devolving into a massively consumeristic society, propelled by its “hidalgo” complex. This complex demands obedience to those whom are able to create the most compelling aristocratic appearance despite economic reality. The wheels will definitely fall off that bus soon enough. As far as using Taiwan, I’m pretty sure that place is a sweatshop hell waiting to freeze over.

The biggest error I find among many of us here in the blogosphere is our silly struggle to identify the preferred historical model. I’m not satisfied with any of the political and economic models the world has to offer…so far. As far as I’m concerned, we have a long friggin’ ways to go and a short time to get there: hello Mother Earth!!

Monday, May 07, 2007

What Do We Do When We Are Wrong?

Over on the blog Left in East Dakota, two sworn opponents of the left, Beakerkin and Sonia, have made a mess of understanding the Spanish Revolution--among other things. But, likewise, it is all too common to observe their opponents (a group to which I belong) failing to admit faults and mistakes made within the historical trajectory of our ideologies. I do not imagine that Beak and Sonia simply lack the ability to read a book (both seem to be very sharp), but rather I believe their misconceptions are blindly driven by ideology. So what if they had read the same books as I did about the Spanish Revolution? Or if I had read their books (assuming they've read about the Spanish Revolution before commenting on it)? How much different would our understandings be? Would either of us be willing to be intellectually honest and cede ground to the other if evidence and reason mounted up against our ideologies?

In the aforementioned post (and many, many others throughout the blogosphere), a discussion ensues in the comments, and one cannot help but notice the hesitation by either side of the argument to give ground, even at the expense of intellectual honesty and rational discourse. Both sides are seemingly guilty of not admitting when they are wrong--historically or about politics today.

SPANISH REVOLUTION

George Orwell had to flee Spain in late 1937 thanks to the treachery of communists of the "right-wing" Leninist/Stalinist variety, socialists and moderate republicans who, like the Western democracies, had no interest in seeing the anarchist revolution succeed. Once again, we observe the threat of a good example. Orwell discusses this in his own words in Homage to Catalonia. I would prefer to take George's own word for it over that of an ideologue like Beakerkin.

In fact, as the historical record reveals, the anarchists (numbering over one million in 1936) were completely isolated by right-wing fascists, Western "democracies" and the whole slew of supposedly leftist groups. The Spanish "communists" (authoritarian version) were no more interested in the success of the social revolution than were the fascist for an obvious reason: power!

ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY

There is a tendency for corrupt, illegitimate and oppressive power consistent throughout history with all governments. It has been especially egregious wherever right-wing communism, and of course fascism, has emerged. But let's concentrate our criticism on the communist variety that far too many leftists attempt to defend. Let's look at Cuba, one of my favorite studies and a place I have experienced firsthand. While Cuba, like no other "communist" nation, has accomplished an unprecedented level of social and economic justice (bearing in mind that the stagnant economy cannot be discussed separate from the devastating toll of the U.S. Embargo), they have done little to distribute the political power of their nation and are guilty of all variety of human rights violations. But so are we here in the U.S. We allow millions to starve and live without homes in the wealthiest nation the earth has ever known. We make money off of other people's misery. We are as selfish and greedy a nation as the world has ever seen.

However, since many of us hate to admit it, let me say for my part that Cuba is not a democracy! A student asked me last week if I want to go live in Cuba, to which I responded, "hell no!" I love many of my rights here in the U.S., but I am appalled by--and want to change--the heinous inequality and social injustice we experience across this country. Not too mention most of what we enjoy materially, politically, and economically is as a result of imperial plunder. I hate what my country represents running roughshod over the world, stuffing its face with cake, committing war crimes, violating human rights on innumerable fronts, and on and on. I, like the Cubans I visited with on the streets of Havana, am displeased with all manner of sins committed in the bullshit name of my country. We must believe more can be done here and in Cuba and everywhere else. But rather than punishing good examples because it threatens our fragile little ideologies, have the stones and honesty to admit it when something is working to serve the common good.

Castro, like most all world leaders (ESPECIALLY U.S. PRESIDENTS), has committed many crimes and should be held accountable. Especially by those of us that claim to be struggling for social and economic justice.

INTELLECTUAL HONESTY

Beak and Sonia seem incapable of intellectual honesty or perhaps a nuanced answer when discussing politics and economics. At the same time, giving ground and admitting the horrific tolls of human lives destroyed under the name (AND NAME ONLY!) of "communism," or "socialism" is imperative. We do a tremendous disservice to the merits and value, not too mention those killed struggling for these ideals, by associating them with Soviet, Chinese, and other examples. Besides, we have plenty of ideologues to try to make blanket statements about socialism. We would be smart to never defend that which is obviously beyond defense.

Perhaps we all need to ask ourselves the question my student asked me: "Would you live there?" Would any of us on the left have wanted to live in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc.? Would those on the right have wanted to live under Pinochet, Videla, Franco, etc.?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Justice!


"The ruler, the capitalist, and the priest rested that afternoon in the shadow of an ash tree whose leaves shined brightly in the mountain canyon.
The capitalist, visibly agitated, mashed a red booklet into pulp with his hands, and said between sighs:
"I've lost everything: my fields, my cattle, my mills, my factories; everything is under the power of the ragged bums."
The ruler, trembling with rage, said:
"This is the end. Nobody respects authority anymore."
And the priest raised his eyes to the sky and said remorsefully:
"Damned reason! It has killed faith!"
The three estimable persons thought, and thought, and thought...The previous night had seen fifty revolutionaries storm into the village, and the working people who lived there had welcomed them with open arms; and while the revolutionaries were searching for the ruler, the capitalist, and the priest to demand of them a strict account of their acts, they had fled to the canyon seeking refuge.
"Our domination of the masses has ended," said the ruler and the capitalist in a single voice.
The priest smiled and said, in an assured tone:
"Don't worry yourselves. It's certain that faith has lost ground, but I can assure you that, through the means of religion, we can recuperate everything that we've lost. At first glance, it appears that the ideas contained in this damned booklet have triumphed in the village, and they will certainly triumph if we do nothing. I don't deny that these evil ideas enjoy a certain sympathy among the common people; but others repudiate them, above all they repudiate those that attack religion, and it is among these that we can foment a reactionary movement. Fortunately, we three could escape, because if we'd have perished at the hands of the revolutionaries, the old institutions would have died with us."
The capitalist and the ruler felt as if a great weight had been lifted off their backs. The eyes of the capitalist flashed, burning with greed. How? How could it be possible for him to return to enjoying the possession of his fields, cattle, mills, and factories? Had it all been nothing but a cruel nightmare? Could he return to having all of the people of the region under his power, thanks to the good offices of religion? And, rising to his feet, he shook his fist in the direction of the village, whose country houses shined brilliantly white beneath the sun.
The ruler, emotionally, said with conviction:
"I have always believed that religion is the firmest support for authority. Religion teaches that God is the primary boss, and that we rulers are his lieutenants on Earth. Religion condemns rebellion because it holds that the rulers are above the people by the will of God. Long live religion!"
Fired up by his own words, the ruler snatched from the hands of the capitalist the red booklet, tearing it to shreds and throwing the scraps in the direction of the village, as a challenge to the noble insurrectionary workers.
"Dogs!" he cried. "Recieve this along with my spit!"
The scraps of paper flew happily away, blown by the wind, like big toy butterflies. They were the Partido Liberal Mexicano manifesto of September 23, 1911.
The first shadows of night began to fall in the valley, and in the twilight one could see waving, above one small house in the village, a red flag bearing in white letters this inscription: "Land and Liberty." The ruler, the capitalist, and the priest screamed, waving their fists at the village:
"Nest of vipers! We'll soon crush you!"
The final rays of the sun still shone in the west as it set; the frogs began their custormary serenade, free, happy, ignorant or the miseries that men suffer. In the ash tree, a pair of songbirds sang their song of free love, free of judges, priests, law clerks. The peaceful beauty of the hour invited the human heart to manifest all of its tortures, and for those sentiments to materialize in a work of art.
Making even the rocks shake, a formidable cry rolled up the canyon: "Who is there?"
The ruler, the capitalist, and the cleric trembled, anticipating their end. Night had finally laid all of the rays from the sun to rest; the songbirds grew quiet; the frogs fell silent; a gust of wind agitated frighteningly the branches of the ash tree; and in the darkness, frightfully, returned the ominous cry: "Who is there?"
The three estimable persons remembered in a single second their crimes: they had enjoyed all the good things of life at the cost of the suffering of the humble; they had maintained humanity in ignorance and misery in order to satisfy their appetites.
The sound of energetic footsteps grew louder: they were those of the soldiers of the people, of the soldiers of the social revolution. A round of gunfire left rolling in the dust, without life, the representatives of the hydra with three heads: Authority, Capital, Clergy."

-Ricardo Flores Magon, Regeneracion, November 13, 1915.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Debunking Choice

"The Gringos provide the weapons, Colombia provides the dead," reads a billboard near the home of Yaneth Perez who recently spoke across the state of Montana. This is Yaneth's second visit to the Big Sky country in as many years. On this particular visit to Montana she spoke in front of 18 different audiences to as many 800 people. Fortunately, nearly 375 of those able to hear her speak were high school students!

Hallelujah! because at least some high school students in Montana were exposed to the firsthand testimony of an actual Colombian whose real lived experience differs from the doctrinal version sold hook, line and sinker to them the rest of the 179 school days! Surely, dozens of those high school students didn't pay attention or even care what Yaneth had to say, but for many others, seeds of doubt and serious questions about U.S. foreign and economic policy were raised.

As I was in attendance at four of the high school presentations, I can attest to the high level of concern Montana high school youth expressed for Yaneth's precarious existence. And as Yaneth explained to them the role American lifestyle plays in the wide-spread killings in Colombia through the consumption of cocaine and oil, these students were moved. They were moved because unlike the vast majority of adults who live in massive denial about the effects of their lifestyles and who don't get the most basic lessons of economics, the high school students understood that if we stopped providing the demand then it would follow that Colombians would stop killing each other in order to provide the supply.

As a side note, one of the most disconcerting tendencies I've heard out many of my own students this year is the notion that choice plays a significant role in the harsh realities most of the world suffers. Nearly 70% of my students believe people choose to be poor, homeless, etc.! If there were one single aspect of American indoctrination that most concerns me, it is this bullshit myth.

American culture provides us with so much in the way of meaningless choices (thousands of cold beverages, shoes, etc.) that we begin to assume all areas of our lives are a matter of choices. Choices that are simple to understand, but difficult to discipline ourselves to take. Ah! discipline. If only we were all as "disciplined" as the wealthy! At least 70% of my students are convinced that "making it" is a matter of their choosing. On the other hand, they are equipped with an excuse already made for them, that if they don't "make it" it was due to poor choices and lack of discipline. In other words, they chose not to overachieve and strive and assuredly the disinterested economic and political structure had nothing to do with it. In fact, many Americans may go so far as to believe these structures provide encouragement and assistance when discipline is present. In other words, they not only failed themselves, but they failed a benevolent system and have become a drag on the whole society. Besides living in poverty, the poor should feel ashamed of having wasting a golden opportunity! A basic assumption these students are making is that these structures are in essence benign and simply a matter of disciplining oneself to learn how to navigate their complex labyrinth.

Someday soon, many of these high school students will become American adults and will join their parents in undisciplined choices, denial about the role their lifestyle plays in the rest of the world and the orgy of thoughtless consumption. Thanks to some teachers efforts to demystify American myths and deconstruct power relationships and expose the omnipresent institutional flack machine, some students may begin to question things as they seem. Thanks to Yaneth Perez, an unmediated actual person, at least a number of them have now heard some of the "unofficial" story.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Been Caught Thinking



Thanks to Troutsky and his tagging me with a Thinking Blogger Award, I'm going to have to start thinking about my thinking!


Here are five bloggers that keep me thinking
:

  1. Aprilloper at Idaho Blue is not a frequent blogger, but offers deep reflections about our world and looks at a diverse range of topics. Were she not so busy being a mother, running her businesses, remodeling her home, and volunteering perhaps she would give more time to blogging. Or perhaps she says just enough.
  2. Marie Trigona at Latin American Activism is on the front line of important struggles throughout Latin America. Her dedication to libertarian struggles in Argentina are one of a kind in the blogosphere.
  3. Graemeanfinson over at Left in East Dakota is another thoughtful blogger. He keeps me laughing with all variety of blogs. Not too mention, his sight honors the IWW!
  4. Very little need be said about the Mutualist Blog, but it definitely keeps me on my toes and gives me plenty to ponder.
  5. Without a doubt, Thoughtstreaming is the blog I always start with for my daily dose.

Should you choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging.

The participation rules are simple:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bush Unwelcome in Latin America








A quick browsing of CNN Español’s online video clips reveals the continent-wide hatred our latino neighbors reserve for our commander-in-chief—the government’s devastating economic and political policies in tow. Meanwhile, protests have erupted throughout Latin America where President Bush is desperately seeking a place to land Air Force One where he might be welcomed. Instead, Latin Americans from Guatemala to Argentina are reminding Bush that should he land his airplane in their territory it will be to voices chanting in unison: “asesino” (“murderer”).

Of course, this ire should not belong to Bush alone, as he is only the most current version of imperial master. After 500 years of regional oppression, isolation and division Latin Americans are looking increasingly towards each other for solidarity. Loosely modeling of regional integration after the European Union, today’s Latin American leaders Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Lula da Silva of Brazil, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Nestor Kirchner of Argentina and Tabare Vazquez of Uruguay are rejecting American foreign and economic policy in lieu of their own trade and diplomatic agreements.

Notable among the majority of voices rejecting Bush is one dissenting voice: American ally Alvarez Uribe of Colombia. Not surprisingly, Colombia is the third largest recipient of American military aid and is seeking to have President Bush extend our nation’s inhumane aid package called Plan Colombia. This U.S. taxpayer-funded “plan” has led to the loss of ten of thousands of innocent lives, environmental destruction and made possible the continuation of an insanely brutal war. Conspicuously absent from the list of nations highlighted in the easy-to-dismiss “Human Rights Report” issued by the U.S. each year (besides itself) was Colombia where thousands of people are killed every year at the hands of Colombia’s military/para-military forces that our glorious government funds. Does hypocrisy and irony know no limit?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Getting Horizontal


If you have not already read or heard of a newer book called Horizontalism by Marina Sitrin, RUN—DO NOT WALK—TO FIND IT.

This amazing collection of voices emerging from the nearly-impossible-to-describe Argentine reality is revolutionary. This book works ontologically to discuss all variety of issues including power structures, language, participatory politics and economics, among other important social issues.

Even now, as I try to recapitulate this book’s assessments I am denied access. The point is Argentines are recreating, reinventing and defying reification. I have even had a discussion with an American who recently returned from his stay there that spanned several years. The voices and testimony provided in this book have even eluded him despite his sincerest intentions and seemingly open mind.

If the voices Sitrin collected from across Argentina continue to exist there, it would seem there is ample reason to have hope that a complete reworking of civilizations is possible. Entire communities are asking deeply critical and existential questions about the nature of our old and out-dated ways of thinking.

“Hope,” however, is not to be confused with utopia. What is being discussed, discovered and practiced is sticky, messy and painful. However, presuppositions about the untenable contradictions of capitalism have put many of these Argentines on the doorstep of deciding to permit the dissolution of humanity or create a whole new civilization. At the same time, these horizontal processes and movements are equally suspicious of all of history’s revolutions. They seem determined, in many cases, to avoid co-optation by leftist politics as well. As the voices in the book continually resound, they are seeking new paths for organizing their societies.

In college, getting “horizontal” had an all too banal meaning. That too is being reworked in my mind.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Teachers in a World of "Shock and Awe"


As if teachers don’t get enough blame heaped on them, I’m going to heap some more. Being a teacher myself, I deserve a share of the criticism. It seems that we teachers are completely oblivious to the hypocrisy of our “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” approach to education. We also have a tremendous knack for criticizing our students for not learning things we never teach them, namely causality, critical thinking, and self-reliance. Some mention should be made that whatever negative impact we desperate teachers could be having on today’s youth, it pales in comparison to the “shock and awe” society-at-large, which includes our government, corporate capitalism and its lackey media, and the resulting deterioration of family life. However, it is my contention that teachers have a unique opportunity to provide hope for future generations by standing up to manufactured political “controversies” and discuss head-on the issues that pervade a student’s mind. We must demonstrate a willingness to confront society’s hypocrisies, social injustice, and global crises instead of perpetuating America’s hopeless delusions of exceptionality, success through bootstrap discipline, and our divine blessing.

“Shock” is exactly how I felt when I heard the news that at my high school several kids premeditated an attack of another kid in order to capture it on their cell phone video cameras. The goal was to upload it onto the Internet. The attacked kid went into convulsions and was hospitalized. “Shock” rules the day in an increasingly irreverent and impulsive society. However, the responses and reactions I heard teachers making were equally dismaying. Here is where the hypocrisy of educators begins.

We act shocked and surprised that our youth are acting out and impulsive yet my fellow teachers vapor locked when I asked them to look at the society of “shock and awe,” right down to the language chosen by our leaders to carry out a murderous rampage on innocent lives. Our act in Baghdad was an utter act of irreverence for human life and we titled it “shock and awe.” Shock jock radio and shock jock TV (Jackass) are stepping up their campaigns to shock, including a recent on-air death of a mother trying to win her son a Nintendo by drinking two gallons of water without urinating. She died from drowning her own tissue. (Radio station employees got fired, young child lost mother). One upping and shocking is rapidly devolving the most basic levels of common sense. What could this be saying about the subconscious thinking of our decadent society? Nihilism? Zero sum?...Or are we desperate to wake up from our “idiocracy”?

Enter the teacher. We have an opportunity to teach accountability by modeling it before we demand it from our students. If I was in a student’s shoes, I’d wonder what the fuck kind of hypocrite my teacher was for asking me to act more responsibly and to hold myself accountable when all around me I see the adults in society failing to hold their government accountable for crimes against humanity, and human rights violations. As a student I’d be outraged that a teacher demanded from me accountability when in textbook Orwellian fashion I perpetuated obvious lies for the sake of ideology. A psychological study needs to be done on teens in this country that aimed at assessing the anger festering in our youth on a latent/subconscious level as they must clearly know they are being handed off a much more fucked up world environmentally and geopolitically than we were given.

A common complaint among my colleagues is that “kids today don’t get causality.” As if irony knew no limits, these teachers don’t know why! Just to be snarky and smug, I sometimes ask them why they think that is. Sad to say the usual responses deflect blame from our dear old profession. So I say again, “modeling for students what we expect them to learn might yield fruit.” Besides that we can do a revolutionary thing: we can teach it! That’s right, we can teach causality. I’m pretty sure the kids get that straightforward concepts of causality they learned in science class, but they rarely see it applied by their teachers, let alone the rest of society.

In fact, I asked my students why it was we (our media, educators, government, et. al.) don’t ever seem to discuss the causes of a massive immigration problem, but instead deliberately choose to study and cover the effects down to the very last detail. I am proud to say one of my students was quick to reply, “because we won’t like what we see when we look in the mirror!”

Even if we think kids aren’t listening they are. It’s just they are good at tuning out the bullshit. When a teacher decides to be honest and stop presenting the world as a clean, linear, desexed Elysian paradise for the disciplined few, and instead models how a committed individual should be denouncing hypocrisy, social injustices, and resisting illegitimate authority without utopian illusions, that is when students may start to truly listen. However, for many school is already a lost cause and surviving it is a major struggle. Needless to say, teachers are in a unique position to model accountability beyond faux democratic processes such as voting. Teachers could get their asses organized and pressure the institutions that undervalue education, rather than modeling excuse-making. It’s no wonder students feel powerless and hopeless. Where in society do they see it modeled?

Ecuador's New Government

lonestone revolution: Latin America News Review: Ecuador's New Government Talks Default on Debt: Latin America's New Reality

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Non-profits: Help or hindrance?


"In the United States, nonprofits play a critical role. They provide almost all social services, arts and other culture, education, advocacy, religion, pro bono legal services, and free health care. In addition, nonprofits are leading the charge, and in many cases, are the only organizations working on saving the environment, ending racism, protecting civil rights and civil liberties, and promoting full acceptance and recognition of the rights of women, sexual minorities, people with disabilities, and seniors. In general, then, almost everything that is creative, humane, and promoting of justice is brought to us by a nonprofit" (Klein, Kim. Fundraising for Social Change. Jossey Bass: New York, 2001).

Ever since I read the preceding words written by one of the most important figures in the field of grassroots fundraising, Kim Klein, I can't stop wondering if in fact nonprofits prevent the possibility for true social, economic and environmental justice. Doesn't the massive nonprofit sector provide capitalists with a philanthropic out? Paulo Freire once said: "In order to have the continued opportunity to express their "generosity," the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well."

When one considers the enormous amounts of human energy through volunteer hours organizing, educating, advocating, and fundraising to provide the most basic of human rights, one must question whether or not American capitalists are avoiding their responsibility for the maldistribution of wealth, resources and power. Nonprofit activists are often caught up in a tense conflict of their principles by asking the wealthy for money to save the environment that they, "the wealthy elites," polluted; or nonprofits often have to ask for the blood money the wealthy earned in their stock portfolios from the profits of companies like Coca-Cola that has a direct role to the murder of union-workers in Colombia; and the list goes on and on.

What if nonprofits stopped providing their services? What if nonprofit activists stopped investing their time, energy and scant financial resources providing basic human services that are the responsibility of the entire society and instead focused its collective energies organizing for systemic revolution? What if the nonprofit sector stopped begging for blood money, closed its doors and forced Americans to look to its government for help? Would that apply the kind of pressure needed to get universal health care? Would that force Americans to start rethinking the myths of American exceptionality and capitalism's benevolent "invisible hand"?

Perhaps the time has come to stop bailing capitalism out and start organizing for a revolutionary future.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The "Hidden Rules" to Ruby Payne's Success

"Freedom without opportunity is the devil's gift." --Noam Chomsky


Ruby K. Payne has been bilking tax-payers, school districts, as well as their administrators and educators for over ten years with little resistance. Payne is the founder and CEO of aha! Process Inc., where she publishes her own work: making academic scrutiny of her ideas and theories impossible. Payne will be speaking in Helena, Montana on Wednesday, January 31, 2007 where thousands of teachers, Title 1 workers and administrators from around Montana will converge to give her the tax-payer’s money. What will the thousands of dollars get them? A classist and racist perspective on poverty…oh yeah, plus her book!

If Ruby Payne is so bad, then how has she been able to get away with it for so long? An education professor from Illinois State University recently decided to do some of her own investigations of Ruby Payne since she had been hearing so much about her. Professor Anita Bohn thought that maybe the next Jonathan Kozol (Savage Inequalities) had arrived to the scene to help lead the struggle against poverty and education’s role in addressing it. Bohn’s initial search in her university library catalog yielded no results. A secondary search again turned up dry. However, as the professor’s story goes, “[w]hen I typed the name “Ruby Payne” into a Google search, though, I hit a jackpot.”

Payne has reached hundreds of thousands of educators across the country “and even in Australia and New Zealand,” yet she is virtually unknown in the academic world. Just to test this theory last night, I called two professors of education at Carroll College (Helena, MT) and the University of Montana (Missoula). Neither knew much of anything about her work. In fact, only I had read her book. By self-publishing, Payne avoids having her “evidence” scrutinized and—similarly—her “theories” steer clear of scholarly analysis. In sum, Payne’s work remains outside the academic pipeline which may help explain her phenomenal success.

Payne charges between $60 and $300 per individual registrant. Missoula County Public Schools is paying $60 per person. The Townsend School District is paying $150 per person. If Payne’s past success in drawing large crowds is an appropriate indicator, Payne can expect to rake in a cool $60,000-$200,000 for her one-day conference! According to Professor Bohn’s research, “[s]ince 1996, Payne and her assistants have been conduction 200 seminars a year training as many as 25,000 teachers and school administrators to work with children from poverty, making her the single biggest influence on teachers’ understanding of children from poverty in the United States.” According to these numbers, if Payne were charging every single registrant the low end $60/head, she is taking $1,500,000 a year from tax payers to misinform the public education system! Bohn asserts that the cost to attend a conference is $300 (at this rate the income would be $7.5 million). Perhaps Montana’s poor got a break from kind Mrs. Payne at $60-$150 per head! P.S. Ruby Payne's aha! Process, Inc. is not a non-profit organization!

In two days time, I will be attending Payne’s conference. I was invited by my school district along with two busloads of fellow teachers from Missoula. When I decided to go I had not yet read Payne’s work, but like hundreds of thousands of others, my interest was piqued by Payne’s catchy book title: A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Perhaps most misleading, however, was the title Payne gave herself—thanks in no small part to her ability to self-publish—“The Leading U.S. Expert on the Mindsets of Poverty, Middle Class, and Wealth.” Amazingly, that title was not given to her due to academic achievement or by accomplished educationalists within the field of education or sociology.

Having now read her book, I don’t know what is more disconcerting: 1) that Payne appears to have few detractors which means—for the near future at least—she will continue to exert her damaging influence on public education; or 2) that so many educators have failed to demonstrate the ability to detect the blatant racism, classism, and assimilationism she is being allowed to pontificate. It is a sad state of affairs either way. The academic community must be alerted to her demagoguery and the snake-charmer’s appeal her one-size-fits-all answers profess.

Should Payne be allowed to be heard? Absolutely. If we don’t believe in freedom of speech for those we despise, we don’t believe in it at all. However, Payne’s work has not been exposed to the rigors of true academia. Therefore, she should be judged by peers and professionals, before school districts imprudently dump tax-payer’s money into her coffers. A Framework for Understanding Poverty is overtly emotional and anecdotal making it extremely alluring and seductive to teachers looking for magical solutions to the overwhelming issue of poverty. However, instead of addressing the causes of poverty, she misdirects readers to understand the effects of poverty to be understood as causes. Instead of questioning how the richest nation in the world could have such abject and deplorable scenarios of poverty, she stereotypes poverty with anecdotal scenarios and offers as a solution that educators teach children how to think, act and aspire to be middle class. Give them kids some bootstraps to start pulling themselves up by!

Why should anyone aspire to transcend to the next class level if one had previously experienced that class as oppressive? Should it be a child’s goal to obtain the money and power to oppress those below them? Are we supposed to inspire kids by explaining to them that if they make it to our level they will no longer be on the bottom and then they can have someone else dig their ditches, or pick their fruit? Where is the debate about the legitimacy of maintaining a system that allows for poverty and oppression? Are we to teach kids that poverty is inevitable and that nothing can be done to distribute the “American Dream” equitably? Payne’s attempt to abstract “the hidden rules” of the class system from the unimaginably complex “bigger picture” of economics, society, culture, and politics for observation intentionally ignores our “me-first” society’s biggest dilemma: the equitable distribution of wealth. Instead of offering a solution to poverty, Payne is helping to maintain it. The poor need money, food, housing, health care, and education, not “hidden rules.”

  • To read the ONLY TWO scholarly critiques available (please do your own Internet searches and let me know if any other school’s of education are on to her) on Ruby Payne follow these links:

  • Montana educators should also be alerted to a recent Missoulian article expressing contentions that the UM Native American Studies department has with Payne’s work.

Please help save underfunded school districts money by forwarding this story.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Diversity of Opinion

I want to thank Che Bob for inviting me to Lonestone Revolution as a contributing author. I am truly honored. Although the bulk of my first post here is not written my me. I do think that it will serve the tone which Che Bob and the other authors have set here.

One of the big differences between myself and the some of other authors is how I arrive at my opinions. Che Bob believes that the crisis is the system, capitalism, and it is here now. My beliefs are more along the lines of; the system is the cause of a worldwide convergence of three crises, global climate change, peak oil, and over population, soon to come. We both agree that capitalism has run it's course and will soon be economic history, and that economies and governance will soon be localized and not global. When and how this relocalization takes place is another differance between us.

So in honoring that we both maybe right, I want to offer the following essay from Mike Ruppert. I believe that it portrays that the two camps of thought on which crisis we are dealing with, are not mutually exclusive and that the end goal is the same for both of us.

Aprilloper

EVOLUTION
by Michael C. Ruppert

© Copyright 2006, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted, distributed or posted on an Internet web site for non-profit purposes only.

Cultural diversity is not only humanity’s hallmark of progress, but an insurance policy against extinction as a species. Diversity gives not only cultural and economic riches derived from different perspectives on natural resources and what it means to be human, but options to problem solving that are stifled in a homogenized society. When such a society is organized around economic goals that are measured by profit margins for private gain by powerful elites, where the demands of those who bear cash as the ticket of admission to the marketplace rule, rather than the needs of people, then those who are deprived – and those who have never been part of such a global economy – must necessarily suffer. The genocide of tribal peoples, therefore, is symptomatic of a deep malaise in the world’s metropolises. Indigenous peoples will suffer the most, but humanity as a whole will suffer the loss of some of its memory, not only of a unique knowledge of the natural world, but of its ability to cope with the future in various, diverse ways.

THY WILL BE DONE, The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, Gerard Colby with Charlotte Dennett

Harper Collins, 1995, p. 685
November 7th 2006, 4:39PM [PST] – Nature protects itself through diversity. It stands to reason then that when threatened – as it is now on so many fronts – Mother Earth will exert itself aggressively; enforcing rigid boundaries that ignore the lives of individuals – plant or animal – in order to preserve the diversity which protects all life. That human beings as a species also show such characteristics is proof of the connection between man and planet. In some ways this is not unlike the point in time when a child must break with parents in order to fulfill its own destiny, with its own unique life path, thus guaranteeing that the evolutionary process – life itself – is protected; that something better and new might follow.

All individual life ends so that that life as a whole may go on and evolve. As I have said in so many lectures, the human race is now being faced with a choice: either evolve or perish.

Americans tend to think of the Third World as “the frontier”, a place still open to settlement as if it were a divine right just for the willingness to endure a little hardship. With overpopulation and dwindling global resources, the “frontiers” are defending themselves to protect diversity in many ways; ways that are far more effective than any resistance to colonization in previous centuries. Global warming has been characterized as a planet developing a fever to rid itself of an infection. I believe that increasing global tensions might also be mirroring that process.

The human side of this resistance is also organic and, in Latin America, Venezuela is its heart. It has now taken solid root, emerging almost simultaneously in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador. I do not think it can be stopped. It is an anthropological resistance.

Living in Venezuela has been an amazing, brutal, and illuminating lesson. It is a truly alien culture that I find simultaneously beautiful, hard, giving, unfamiliar, uncomfortable and definitely self-protecting to the extreme. That is why I am confident that Venezuela, and most of Latin America, will survive the coming crash of Peak Oil better than any other region of the world. I believe it is already starting to protect itself. It doesn’t need me or any outsider to survive. But as a general rule, only those who are native here will be protected by its blessings.

It is not just that I am blond haired and blue-eyed, which does get me a lot of double takes – some hostile. It is as though I am a fish used to swimming in a different kind of water. The way that I swim affects the other fish here, already swimming too much in a superimposed American cultural blanket that has been enforced by scores of coups, debt enslavement, colonization, exploitation, genocide and war over the course of the 20th century and into today. In order to understand this picture a British citizen trying to drive in super-crowded Caracan traffic where there are few rules. Under stress the Brit might instinctively react in a way that might tie up streets. Now change the image of traffic to a culture adapting to dwindling energy reserves, conflict or panic. The Brit would be singled out quickly and forced off the road so that the rest might “function” in ways they were accustomed to.

However, the powerful lessons and principles of human justice, sustainability, harmony with the land, freedom from the mandate of endless capitalist growth, openness, and localization contained in the Bolivarian Revolution led by Hugo Chavez are powerful survival tools that can and must be studied and adapted to other regions. If one reads Richard Heinberg, Matt Savinar, Megan Quinn, Post Carbon Institute, FTW, or any of the great sustainability writers, one will find those same principles; arrived at through different means.

Forget labels. This is what will work.

The Bolivarian Revolution is different from the main body of sustainability literature in one key respect. It is the practical, hands-on implementation of these principles on local, national and continental levels; something all European and North American sustainability advocates know little or nothing about. How could they? While US and European sustainability advocates write about “shoulds” the Bolivarian Revolution is an evolving process of actual doing. It must be watched closely by all who would learn from it.

The irony is that for the most part, the Bolivarian revolution does not see itself as a sustainability movement but rather as a political and economic one. Now for another of my trademarked quotes: Until you change the way money works, you change nothing. The Bolivarian Revolution is doing just that.

PROTECTING DIVERSITY

The Bolivarian Revolution and Venezuelan culture inherently knows that it cannot make too many exceptions to the rule that diversity must protect itself or else the rule will have no meaning. That’s exactly what I was asking it to do (though I didn’t know it) when I came here. I am not just one migrating gringo. Mike Ruppert could not be assimilated without changing something here: the Tao of politics.

That is why, after 15 weeks of waiting, after only one interview, a formal petition and a lot of pressure from influential Americans and Venezuelan-Americans (some with direct government connections) I have not heard a word on my request for political asylum. Venezuelans are inherently suspicious, let alone of a blond gringo who is an ex-policeman who came from a US intelligence family. It is possible that within the massive and glacially slow bureaucracy, some who are not loyal to Chavez have buried my request under a pile of papers. In Latin America things take much longer and I can see now that the waiting process, never guaranteed to be successful, is part of a natural selection.

My thirty year record of activism and sacrifice in the US means little in Venezuela. Those deposits were made in a bank belonging to a different ecosystem. There are no ATMs for that kind of withdrawal here.

The first real kindness shown to me by a full-blooded Latin American with government connections, came about two weeks ago as “Tano”, a bearded artist and long-time revolutionary who had worked with Salvador Allende in Chile, looked at me with true compassion and said, “Venezuela will run you through a gauntlet. It will ignore you. It will make promises and never call you back or fulfill them. It will mistrust you even if you have lived here for ten years, twenty years.”

It took me 12 weeks to get to Tano and it was not by a linear, logical path.

Tano is a famed artist and thinker knows Hugo Chavez personally. He has traveled with him. His kindness and sympathy was abundant and visible. Kittens slept on his massive belly as he spoke from behind a desk cluttered with papers. Two dogs gravitated to him as though he was a magnet. He offered to open doors and make some introductions in certain ministries. As opposed to many other unfulfilled promises since I have been here, he meant it. Promises are made quickly here and soon forgotten, even between native Venezuelans. But it was already too late. My health was gone, I could not make one important event and I had already been rejected like an invading organism; rejected by the differences in culture and an environment I had trouble adapting to.

I was introduced to Tano by my young Venezuelan friend Ivan, who, at 27, who had just quit his job as a trader at J.P. Morgan because it was too stressful. He was too Venezuelan to live the life of a Venezuelan posing as an American. Good for him.

It would be embarrassing to many people if I named the names of all of those back “home” who, learning that I had come here, told me that they had been considering the same move. They said that when things got intolerable in the States, or the UK, or Canada, they would just move here; or to Costa Rica, or to New Zealand, or to someplace else. My pains and troubles here will serve as an object lesson for all that the time to relocate in advance of Peak Oil has, for almost everyone, long passed.

DISTINCTIONS

The important distinctions about adaptivity are not racial at all. US citizens come in all colors. American culture is the water they have swum in since birth. A native US citizen of Latin descent who did not (or even did) speak Spanish would probably feel almost as out of place here as I do. They would look the same but not feel the same. And when it came time to deal collectively with a rapidly changing world, a world in turmoil, a native-born American’s inbred decades of “instinctive” survival skills might not harmonize with the skills used by those around him.

Another one of my trademarked lines is that Post Peak survival is not a matter of individual survival or national survival. It is a matter of cooperative, community survival. If one is not a fully integrated member of a community when the challenges come, one might hinder the effectiveness of the entire community which has unspoken and often consciously unrecognized ways of adapting. As stresses increase, the gauntlets required to gain acceptance in strange places will only get tougher. Diversity will become more, rather than less, rigid and enforced.

As energy shortages and blackouts arrive; as food shortages grow worse; as droughts expand and proliferate; as icecaps melt, as restless, cold and hungry populations start looking for other places to go; minute cultural and racial differences will trigger progressively more abrupt reactions, not unlike a stressed out and ill human body will react more violently to things that otherwise would never reach conscious thought.

Start building your lifeboats where you are now. I can see that the lessons I have learned here are important whether you are thinking of moving from city to countryside, state to state, or nation to nation. Whatever shortcomings you may think exist where you live are far outnumbered by the advantages you have where you are a part of an existing ecosystem that you know and which knows you.

If the time comes when it is necessary to leave that community you will be better off moving with your tribe rather than moving alone.

Evolution is guaranteed. Useful knowledge gained by ancestors is incorporated into succeeding generations. It may not be used in the same way that it was when acquired. It may lie dormant for years or decades, safely stored in DNA or the collective unconscious. But it is there, and it will always be available should the day come when it is needed.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Playing the Game


People are failing to appreciate the system that oppresses them and continue to believe—wrongly—that a politician such as Barak Obama is the solution. Obama is being called a "unifier," and people are swallowing this shit up. Obama smiles at us, and talks to us, and makes us feel all good inside, but we know nothing about his policies. And this is very intentional. This helps maintain the wide gap that exists between public opinion and public policy. Along with keeping the public out of the policy-making arena and leaving that business to elected elites, the American political system degenerates any possibility of making meaningful elections possible by engaging the public in a tense battle of voting for personalities and forgetting about the issues. So how do we narrow the gap and make the political system respond to our demands? Do we play the game and risk expending valuable energy and money on politicians or strike out in our own direction of local organization that can lead to powerful direct action? Do we need to take more personal risks in the spirit of civil rights activists from the 60s or turn of the century workers fighting for the right to organize, or do we sit back and wait for Obama, Clinton and Tester to “deliver us from evil”?

Just like Bill Clinton before him, people see this charming personality in Obama and hear his rhetoric of unifying a divided country, but the true divide exists not between conservatives and liberals, but between public policy and public opinion. Policies in this country are generally more conservative than the American public. A prime example is that Americans want universal—even socialized—health care by a wide margin (70%), but we can't get our politicians to even recognize this demand. When we hear politicians talk of “mandates” one is in danger of dying from laughter unless they say they have the mandate of the American people to institute universal health care.

Too many assumptions are being made that a woman (Hilary Clinton), an African-American (Barak Obama), or a Carhartt-wearing farmer (Jon Tester) are going to level the playing field, based deceptively on their roles as minorities or as members of the working class. However, we never hear their proposals, their policies, etc. We only hear about how they are going to unify a divided country, but they can’t put the slightest dent in unifying the rest of their fellow policy makers in D.C. with the majority of opinions held by Americans. Most Americans believe we shouldn’t be fighting a war in Iraq, that we should be respecting the Kyoto Protocol; paying teacher’s more money; protecting the border with Canada (not Mexico); engaging antagonistic countries through diplomacy not war; respecting the international rule of law; punishing crooked politicians the way they punish other criminals; investing in alternative energy in a meaningful way; reforming campaign finance laws; narrowing the gap between CEO and worker pay; etc.

An equivalent to an “activist” doesn’t exist on the Republican side of affairs; they are just called “the base.” That which would be considered the concerns of right-wing activists (were they to exist) are simply taken up by the Republican Party since they are in line with the American political spectrum that is shaped by the wealthy, property owning class. However, non-profit and activist causes from the left exist because of gaps in public policy and a system that fails to provide for its society. Therefore, activists must dig deeply to find politicians (even from the supposed “left”) to take up their causes, and since these causes from the left generally fall outside the accepted political spectrum a champion from within the political elite is hard to find. This reality results in social justice causes dividing their energy and money between their cause and a politician that they hope will risk mentioning it on the floor of congress. On the other hand, a right-winger simply gives their money to their cause through one easy-payment to the Republican Party.

Americans need to look at the system and critically assess their blind faith in the American political structure to bring about meaningful change. Included in this assessment should be the role modern marketing and money plays in shaping elections and political decisions. A deeper and more honest analysis would surely reveal the evidence and reason to demonstrate how social justice and the American economic and political system are irreconcilable. Depending on the coddling of our American founding fathers and “heroic” politicians has only served to perpetuate on-going violence and injustice. Making a sound decision to organize oneself locally in order to give a voice with power to public opinion is just a start. Consistent and creative organization that forgoes institutional dependency and seeks to maximize pressure on the system would serve two purposes: 1) reveal the illusion that American elections equals democracy, 2) that direct action and participatory democracy are the most effective means for meaningful social change.

Granted the question of protecting oneself, society, and the world from vile politicians such as Bush, McCain, et. al. by “playing the game” and helping to elect center-right democrats is a valid one. What do we risk if we fail to participate in elections, their campaigns, etc. while working on our genuine concerns? While working for social revolution how much energy and money do we give to helping elect more moderate conservatives such as Obama and Clinton? Giving/wasting donations on Tester, Obama and Clinton in order to toss out the neo-cons means donating to the system in lieu of donating to organizations that are seeking to change the system. How can we ensure that “playing the game” doesn’t become tantamount to perpetuating it? If you look at the places in the world with meaningful democracies such as Venezuela and Bolivia, one cannot ignore the roles extreme poverty, oppression, and violence have played in prepping that society for social revolution. What do we do with complacent and morally apathetic Americans? What will motivate them? Four more years of reactionary neo-con train wrecks? Or a “democratic” revolution that lulls us further back to sleep?