Thursday, December 16, 2010

WIKILEAKS is a necessary counter balance to excessive government secrecy.

It is a citizen duty to counter the oppressive potential of powerful states with appropriate CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE.

Powerful people in powerful states are jealous of their prerogatives. Most of the angst over the leaks is about maintaining control. For the people, who must cope with abuses of power, any weapon that aims to frustrate the abuse and minimize harm to private citizens is justified and necessary, the sensitivities of powerful people not withstanding.

Wiki-leaks is a product of too many secrets, secrets without merit as such. Were the documents being disclosed riddled with information endangering sources and relationships, because the rest were already in the public domain, very few people would support Wikileaks. But that is a Wikileaks in a different universe. In this, it provides an important public service of challenging power.

If we the people could not get information that is deemed secret, we could never be sure that in-power sources of information have told the truth. Leaks per se are needed to help us calibrate the truthfulness of our government, and Wikileaks in particular has shown us just how much unnecessary secrecy there has been.

In the United States, this is not a right-left issue. People with roots in the left and the right worry about over-bearing government. This is a concern around which Libertarians and Progressives might easily find consensus.


Will the accused leaker Manning be martyred for this cause?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Great Void: Democratic Political Theater.

Mr. President:

I wish to give testimony on the changes in our political culture, and what I, as an avid supporter of you, and your vision and agenda, need from you.

The Bush years were painful for me, as they were for many Americans, because of the arrogant violations of the Constitution, United States law, international law, and human rights, and the crass gaming of emotions and media for political, not shared, gain.

Your vision, of reason, debate, compromise and transparency, shone like a beacon in this darkness, beckoning to all thoughtful, compassionate, reasonable people, to rally behind someone who would try to restore our national dignity and our hope for a peaceful, prosperous, shared future.

I believe that your efforts have largely followed that promise, although I am uncertain or disagree with you about some things you have allowed to happen (indefinite detention stands out). I don’t know that you were able to discipline your majority into serious willingness to compromise with your opposition, and I can’t tell whether the failure to compromise started with your team or the other team. I do suspect that the other team would not ever “compromise” unless they simply got their way. So I cannot tell whether you have made a complete effort, but unmistakably, the opposition has stonewalled, obfuscated, subterfuged, demonized, misrepresented and lied, about the intents and the effects of your policies. They have even condemned what they have previously agreed with, to soot your eye.

I have taken the developments in rhetoric and posturing very seriously, because even taken as political gaming, they result in real policy and cultural attitudes. I have been very pained by the explanations given for the economy, and the spin given your initiatives, by the opposition. But I have been most pained by the failure of the Democratic Party to produce effective counter spin and alternative explanations. I think you have tried to focus on the work of being President, which is what I would want for you. But your absence from the public theater of  rhetorical sword-play has left me, us, your base, without the tools of combat, without the words and images to confront, to cancel, to invert, the words and images given us by the opposition, on behalf of you, and our shared vision.

I know that political theater is not in your heart. You are a serious man who wants to get good things done for the American people. But it is in the theater of the media, where perception and deception control, in the arena of the media, where vicious, irrational, emotional, combat, is normal, in not merely a leisurely market place of ideas, that the terms of contest are defined and the outcome is decided. You are controlled by this thing that you loathe. But that seriousness of purpose and principle, which animates you, as quick injures that seriousness of purpose, if because of it you fail to perform that most essential task in modern American politics – creating the words, images, and mythology with which your advocates can do rhetorical battle.

Mr. President, Mr. Obama, Please, we need you.

The vision of America as defined by the right is unsustainable. It drives global climate change, ecological collapse, and the kind of economic insecurity which puts people to rioting and to waging war. We need you, not just to do rhetorical battle, but to take the offense and with brilliant use of media to make visceral to the American people why the increasing disparity in wealth is dangerous, how climate change will change the world whether we are ready or not, why population and  consumption must be limited if our civilizations are to survive. I need you, as my surrogate, because I do not have the leadership skills or the brilliance of purpose with which you are endowed, to ask this question: Is it better for individuals to get rich, while the world around them is tortured by insecurity, or for the leaders of the world to promote security for all, even if the right to get rich is curtailed? 

Americans have forgotten how much they are dependent on each other. Surely the ambitions of individuals produces benefits for all. It must not be punished. But with equal certainty, not all of the wealth produced under the efforts of individuals belongs to them. Do they stand self-made like silos on the ancient soils of human beginnings, as though unaffected by history, by the labors of parents and previous generations,  by the willingness of those alive today to participate in their endeavors? What principle decides how much wealth belongs to the individual, and how much belongs to the community?  How does the community acquire its share of that wealth? Governments, the institutional expression of the community, to be democratic and responsive to their citizens, must be pay-as-you-go. Our governments cannot engage in profit making enterprise -- that is a privilege of the individual!  How are governments, to benefit the community, supposed to divert some of the wealth produced privately into services needed by all? How can the institutional expression of the community realize the resources needed by that community, that share that rightfully does belong to the community, but by taxing  for them? Ultimately, the great need of the people is to be secure, not to get rich, and their right to be secure must be protected, even over the supposed right to get rich. That some people want to get rich is not automatically bad for the rest, if the energy of their ambition benefits the community. But if people want to take and keep and share none, they are using the infrastructure of community and what the community has paid for without giving back. The “right” to get rich is not unlimited. It must be balanced by the imperative to channel some wealth into the commonweal. 

The primal motive of life – to survive, optimally to reproduce – is at the center of this question. Here, in our time, the question bears down on us with awesome weight because we face both personal and shared survival, even while the interests and right action of each are frequently not coincident. The drive for personal wealth accumulation, even while communities decay, manifests this fact. But while life may go on without a given individual, no individual can go on with out the services of the Earth’s ecologies. And these, verily, fundamentally, are not guaranteed, and are at risk. So this is our choice: To hope for survival through the agency of insecure personal wealth, or to invest in shared, common survival. I do not doubt which is the better gamble, but Americans are daily more persuaded otherwise.

This blindness renders me to despair. Please, Mr. Obama, because you can, mobilize your party, push for the think tanks and media mobilization, get in the fight, counter the counter factual, go head to head with the myth makers, put the brilliant and creative people that overflow your doorstep to work, making the political and media theater that we need, now, to save our futures from the wretchedness to which we are now subscribed.

Surely to use media theater is dangerous for integrity. But even fire-fighters set fires. We need you to join the fray.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Answer to PrinterFillingStation, A "Christian" Website

Principles of the PrinterFillingStation :

I'm listening to "Speaking of Faith", now called "Being", on public radio. They are talking about civility. This letter is my civil response to your web site.

I have found that refilling my ink cartridges is the only way I can keep my printers in ink. My previous provider went out of business. So I encounter your website and at first it looks to be exactly the kind of service I need.

Except wait, these people are using their Christianity as part of their marketing. Not? As a non-Christian, I never ask what the religion of a web site owner is, and I accept people for who they are, if they don't push their views into my face. But that is what you are doing when you announce your religious views. So I won't be buying from you. So your announcement of religiosity doesn't serve to evangelize me, or many others who feel as I do. It appeals to those who already believe, and achieves nothing more than to solidify the boundaries between "Christian" and "Non-Christian", and perhaps attract customer's who favor "Christian" businesses.

My admiration for Christian beliefs goes to those Christians who quietly go about doing what they see as God's work. To push God's words while ignoring God's injunction to treat all with respect and gentleness looks most like blatant, and hypocritical,  self-promotion. Your conspicuous display of religiosity, corresponds to the apparent desire of the evangelical and fundamentalist communities to "take over America", which I greatly fear. You, as evangelicals, by conspicuously displaying your religious views, invoke that ambition, and arouse in me existential fear. (Because the tyranny that devolves from evangelism when evangelicals get power (to judge from the bigotry directly at Muslims) is an existential threat to American democracy and freedom, and to my own atheism.)

Go on doing what you do. I will disappear over the horizon, and appreciate all the more that I live in and prosper in a diverse community where many religions, and non-religions, coexist with respect and humility.

Of course if it is your intent to alienate non-Christians, you have succeeded, for which you deserve applause. In translation from my sentiments to your language, may God gentle your hearts enough to see and accept the differences between us. I am otherwise afraid of you.

I write this as a gesture of humanity, to inform you of how your website reads to some people outside of your circle of awareness. I hope it has helped.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Carrying Capacity Is the Metric of Sustainability

A word with as many meanings as there are problems to solve. To ask, “can this be done more sustainably?” barely stirs the imagination. But to ask “Can this be done completely sustainably?” begs the questions “How sustainable do you mean?”, and “What does ‘sustainable’ mean?”, “What does ‘sustainable’ look like?”, “How do we know when we are there?”, and “Is there a ‘there’ to get to?”. The argument is cogently made that with technology, culture, opportunities, and the relationships between nations and peoples, changing so quickly and so dramatically in our times, sustainability does not have a steady state. Sustainability must examined on-the-fly, almost opportunistically, because resources available today can’t be counted on for tomorrow. But without a steady state, can anything be marked as ‘sustainable’?

Whatever sustainability is or looks like, Carrying Capacity is its metric. How many people, with present cultural attitudes, resources, and economic constructs, can this human and natural habitat support? For how long can it support the number of people already living there? What changes in cultural, economic and resource use practices, will stretch out the time this community has, reduce resource consumption to replacement rate, and provide a living for the people who are already there?

It may be that carrying capacity cannot be calculated. It may be that the factors are too many and the interactions too complex to specify a number. If this is true, the endeavor delivers its value in asking the question. If we cannot speak of a number, we can speak of the variables, and describe the system in terms like the hydrologic cycle, or the flows of energy from the sun through the living community. We can identify specific economic practices in a community which promote stable long term development and its long term health, and those which make the community prone to instability, endanger the formation of an economic ecosystem, and make people insecure. We can identify cultural attitudes which are problematic, and those which support community survival in the long term. We can identify the resources which are in danger of exhaustion and how to reduce consumption rates to replacement rates. By introducing the concept of “carrying capacity” as a legitimate factor in decision making about economic development, we can introduce the ecologists language of resilience and redundancy, and bring to bear the eco-economists concerns about natural capital and the values of conservation. By introducing the concept of “carrying capacity” into decision making about economic development, we place economy and humanity’s survival unequivocally WITHIN the realm of nature and ecology. Carrying Capacity, as the metric of a vision, discards the paradigm of perpetual growth, and concretizes a vision of the human-landscape relationship which truly speaks to the seventh generation.

Perhaps most fundamentally and significantly, when we ask “How many people can this economic-cultural-resource landscape support?” We recast economy from the traditional man-over-nature paradigm, into a humanity-within-nature paradigm. Instead of proposing to watch a distant horizon where faith in an unknown future is based on perpetual growth and led by the consumption of goods by ever more people, and instead of suffering the cycles and destructions of unanticipated and unintended effects, the study of carrying capacity proposes to examine a given community for its potential as an ecologically robust, persistent, and sustainable place for people to live, in a just balance with each other and nature. The study of carrying capacity shifts our focus from the opportunist economics of today to an equilibrist economics of a long history for humanity on Earth.

Carrying Capacity is a neglected problem. Not a single course at UVM this semester has it in its title. Economists from the extreme right to the extreme left get away with talking about perpetual growth by ignoring the question of carrying capacity. People are misled to believe that the future can be “better” (ever more prosperous materially) because no one reminds them that as there are more and more of us, available resources must be spread more and more thinly and cost more and more while wages are forced down. People are not told that the global economy – and therefore the interconnected local economy – will become ever more vulnerable to natural disasters and disruption as population strains harder against the limits of carrying capacity, and that the loss of privilege by uninformed people will arouse enough anger in them to start a revolution. Americans do not realize that the loss of privilege is an inevitable consequence of sharing the planet with ever more people, and that the anger that drives them to violence is one of nature’s safety valves. Fragile systems are brought down by war and economic destruction, robust systems made fragile, and war lords and dictators take over in times of chaos, and the economies under these regimes are notoriously unproductive. Many people, when they have revolted against the loss of privilege, will lose the privilege of life, and the most of the rest will lose the privilege of regular meals. This is the inevitable consequence of ignoring the issue of carrying capacity and doing nothing to adjust to it.

By ignoring the limits of carrying capacity, fewer and fewer people have access to the natural world and the cleansing power of wilderness. And for more and more people the only ecology of significance will be the human ecology of the city block, where in the guise of homo sapiens, there are browsers, predators, degraders, and carrion-consumers, there is an upper canopy, a mid-canopy and a forest floor, each with it’s own cohort of healthy and strong survivors, and weak and decrepit, running the gauntlet of natural selection.

Here, on the city block, the human community has already been forced off of the land. It is stacked six, ten or forty layers deep, penetrating the sky, and penetrating the ground with people in tubes, densely packed people, moving “efficiently” from place to place, as if having so many people shoulder to shoulder, leg to pole, eye to ceiling, would increase the richness of the human experience on this Earth. Already, the people are packed in and satiated with the surrogate love of celebrity, the danger of criminal violence, with vicarious human love through the things they buy, by the hyperized reality of TV, with the sexualized street, by the drugs they consume to feel good or feel not at all, and the perpetual drama of anonymous human-to-human contact. Or not, for the homeless, the untouchables, who wander about in the detritus of loneliness, and trying live from the dregs of the excesses of the rest. Here, already, in the city, the carrying capacity of the land has been multiplied and manifolded by extending the regions of its dependence across vast expanses of country.

The city packs in its multitudes by concentrating food production in the hinterlands, efficiently distributed inwardly by networks of trucks and trains and planes These networks distribute our food, and the things we use, the waste we create, and the power we advantage for our comfort and survival. Oh yes, the city definitely uses less power, and probably fewer resources, per person, than for the people who live in the rural parts, but are these people who are connected and resolute in their humanity? Are these people who could cook their food if a black-out wrapped the city in darkness? Are these people who could grow their own food if the cost of fuel for the trucks and trains grew too high? Are these people who feel safe to walk barefoot? Are these people wrapped in the abundance and generosity of green pastures, running brooks and black night skies? Here, in the city, people do not grow into calm adulthood in the steady and predictable habitats of the country side. They grow into the kinetic adulthood of someone whose whole existence is defined by the human built environment and human built social ecologies. Here in the city carrying capacity hinges on the frail certainties that food produced hundreds and thousands of miles away will be healthy, that it can and will get to every different person, that jobs can be held for long enough to pay off a mortgage, paid every month for a period of 30 years. Yes, we need to speak of the carrying capacity of the city, because it draws on resources and produces waste, and depends for its stability on human culture and reliable economic institutions. But the human community that lives there has no awareness of its dependence on the 100 and 1000 mile distant forest biota to clean its piped-in water, knows nothing of its dependence on illegal farm labor, accounts not all for the destiny of its waste.

Here, on the city block, there is no nature to fall back on in dire times. The block that is paved from curb to curb, joined to the buildings facing the street by concrete, that may face a park with a few tufts of gnarly grass, plenty of packed dirt, and a cracked-blacktop basket ball court, the city block walled in by brick faced buildings laced with fire escapes, the city block served food from the occasional vegetable market and quick food store, the block, inundated with liquor stores and porno shops, where the revered jobs are dealing drugs or pimping, where taking money for sex is one of few career choices, barely meets the needs of its inhabitants. Every thing here is human built, squeezing out every last efficiency from the human-nature interface, making it highly efficient, of particularly high carrying capacity, and of particular danger to the mental and physical health of its residents. Like rats in a cage, the city has very little of the nature that gives life its context and people access to opportunities. The city is that ecosystem that we use to pack in more and more people, exchanging freedom and resiliency for efficiency. To live here, for those who lack education and employment, is to live in the trash heap of the economy, where the poor and disenfranchised, the unvalued, can be packed in and ignored, can suffer their humiliations without recourse to justice. For the underclass, the city is where the vaunted “efficiencies” take on the darkness of oppression.

Oddly, for the survivors, there is more freedom here than for the wealthy who are equally bound by the efficiencies of urban life. Those who live without privilege can critique and ironize the social and economic arrangements of the city without fear of disrupting any critical self-deceptions. By contrast, the wealthy must maintain a level of decorous self-deception that they are in control of their lives and that it is a good life. Even they must face the ugliness of grey and brown and black city landscapes, the smells of urine in doorways and the subways, the perpetual appeal of beggars, and lonely, anonymous nights. For those with money in the city, it can be a fun place to live, because consequent to its efficiencies, great concert halls and sports stadia, exciting arts scenes, unsurpassed educational opportunities, and wonderful places to eat, to share with friends, can be supported. But all of this depends on systems built by humans, subject to the quality of their own security and willingness to do an honest days work. Unlike nature, which persists as long as the sun shines and rain occasionally falls, the ecology of the city only persists as long as people cooperate to make it work. When human energy flags, then also the ecology and the actual carrying capacity declines.

Of those who have, few can stomach the knowledge that their life style, and the economic and social bonds which they have been built up over lifetimes of work, are endangered, by global warming, the end of the oil bubble, and pressing resource competition. Few can acknowledge that the pressures from increasing populations, declining wages, and increasing costs of power and goods, will inevitably erode, perhaps destroy, that assumed quality of life. There are many Americans today, so accustomed to the perquisites of the age of cheap carbon, who will not adopt low energy light bulbs, who will insist on driving large, high fuel consuming vehicles, who say “We are a high carbon society, and we ain’t gonna change.” If that’s how they want to enter the next phase of human history, who’s to challenge them? But it is a dangerous posture to take, since oil and even coal are finite in quantity, and with mushrooming human populations, there is no chance that plants will significantly replace them.

Change is already happening. Some communities, and many citizens, notably here in Vermont, know they and we need to kick the carbon addiction. But in the vast swaths of America where the idea of global warming and the importance of an ecologically healthy planet is denied, where the declines in incomes and the standard of living are being met with denial, where the idea that their lifestyle is the problem, is denied, that denial is the problem. They keep a faith in a prosperous future that could never materialize, because it is a future from the past, from a past when oil was cheap and America was still a resource frontier. Either in degrees or in some cataclysmic moment of revelation, the impossibility of this dream will be scorched into the minds of Americans as they realize that their hunger is not transitory, their poverty not caused by indolence, that crime wells up from within their own thoughts. Already Americans form “militias”, with real and deadly weaponry, to counter the “oppression” of government, and actually make violence an option!

The changes in America are not purely a function of carrying capacity violation. The economic collapse of 2008 was partly driven by the unsustainable pursuit of profit. But though greed is not strictly a response to the challenge of fitting more and more people into a finite physical and economic space, the keyword is “unsustainable”. In the study of carrying capacity, we examine sustainability. The question “What is our carrying capacity?” cannot be answered without a critique of such monumentally unsustainable practices as caused this crash. Carrying capacity cannot explain everything, any more than the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere explains all weather, but operating in the background, the thinning distribution of resources is felt in myriad ways, including the downward mobility of people who never before doubted their place in the middle economic bracket. In prior times, militias have served to counter the prevalence of political or economic oppression, even though far less populous, but we cannot say that they were not responding to their felt constraints, the limits set by the carrying capacities of their economic, social, cultural and resource regimes. And today we can certainly say that people whose forebears went to the frontier for freedom and opportunity are talking about literal gunfire and rebellion to hold onto their privilege.

Carrying capacity is neglected in popular economics and the culture broadly, precisely because it is not an academic question, to be played with in the ivory tower. It isn’t Drosophila genomics, art at the MET, or a video game. The problem of carrying capacity, taken personally, places the individual human being directly in the inquisitor’s chair: “Can the planet afford you?”. Nothing could be more scary, and no one, of any great authority, has had the courage to pose the question to the body politic or body cultural. But taken as a metric, objective, non-judgmental, candid, the question of carrying capacity holds up a gentle light to human behavior which allows thoughtful people to make changes and to push for new practices, to revision the purpose of a human life and of human community, and thereby to change history.

Ecological Economics, as posed by significant thinkers of the last and present century, provides the theoretical foundation of the carrying capacity of human communities. What makes carrying capacity stand as an important subject is its potential to consolidate this important body of work around a single and tangible, if hypothetical, number. It contains within it precisely those concepts of ecological economics which makes this an essential discipline, but additionally carrying capacity research demands a quantification that is scientifically neutral, and yet profound in its implications. Carrying capacity cannot be studied without a careful examination of landscape, biota, minerals, water, climate, the human-built environment, the politics at site, and the cultural attitudes toward the resource base, the major dimensions of a long and desirable human future. Hence, the study of carrying capacity, as a distinct and purposeful endeavor, brings to bear the most important questions facing the survival of life on Earth.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

War in Afghanistan and Islamophobia


Went to a meeting at the University of Vermont sponsored by the Socialists of America UVM Chapter, last night, 9/29/2010. It was to have a speaker on "Islamophobia", who had to reschedule. Instead we saw her (name: ? ) by YouTube.

She made the expected arguments, such as the non-uniqueness of Islam in terms of violence. Then she went on to show that None of the stated reasons for the U.S. to wage war in Afghanistan hold up to academic scrutiny. This includes the imperative to "destroy" Al Quida, which has since 9/11 been eviscerated, according to her. This seems like a plausible argument to me since I have always believed we accorded them too much significance in the first place, and that they should simply have been treated as international criminals anyway.

So why are we in Afghanistan? For the obvious imperialistic/economic reasons: Control of a territory in the heart of Asia, and resources within its boundaries.

Given the difference between the perceived interests of the ordinary constituent and the understood interests of the people who can influence or alter the wealth and prosperity of an entire country - ours - I can see why there might be publicly stated reasons and then different real reasons for waging a war. But this doesn't excuse the lack of transparency, and the failure to esteem the opinions of the American people. Would the American people have supported a war if they had been told it was needed because the territory and resources were ripe for expropriation? If George Bush and now Barrack Obama had simply stated the truth in simple terms, would we have allowed so many Americans to be killed, handicapped, and mentally broken? Whether the answer is "yes" or "no", Could a president make a huge mistake by letting the people have opinions on the real reasons, and make policy based on the expressed interests of the American people?

Splitting expressed reasons away from actual reasons implies a split constituency, the part you need for votes, and the part you need to be an effective leader. Given these categories can overlap and have gradations, essentially these are the inner circle and the outer circle, which themselves can be sliced into a range of particular interests, such as business, military, diplomacy, social services, finances, and so forth. So true transparency might be complicated. And leave very few excuses for the intellectually honest person, for the consequences of any given policy.

Honesty about our reasons for going into Afghanistan might, in this sense, have exposed the truth about the state of well being of our economy, and the existential concerns (the worries about the lack of jobs and job loss, loss of homes, unfairness in the credit markets, the collapse of "the American Dream") of ordinary Americans. It might also have prevented the buildup of steam that is now being released by the Tea-Party movement.

But that kind of honesty cannot be afforded by any politician. People with access and responsibilities, like business people, the State Department, the military, will not allow their interests to be ignored, even if the people would not support those interests. It is a dangerous struggle for life and prosperity.

The presenter of the YouTube content, Ali Jafair, has a facebook page, and described himself as an American born Iranian-descent student at CCV. Look him up to find more information about Islamophobia, Iran, and other issues.

Besides the issues we discussed, I was told that some students were planning to form a "J-Street" group, which is a group opposed to Isreali policy toward the Palestinians. I am waiting to hear more.

Monday, August 30, 2010


As the controversy over the Muslim community center rose to pelt the Democrats with turds of demagoguery, Democrats have again failed to answer the Republicans with effective rhetoric. The error of the demagogues is to conflate Islam with terror, and the error of the Democrats is to concede the point.

Opponents to the community center have described its location as "insensitive" to those whose loved ones were killed there on September 11, 2003. I see the apologists on the left as cowards who are afraid to name bigotry for what it is.

It is only by bigotry that all followers of Islam are thrown together with the extremists who carry a tattered flag of Islam. Was Timothy McVeigh an American terrorist? Do all Americans thus deserve to be cast in the mold of terrorist? We have White-Supremacists who claim inspiration from Christianity, but do Americans or mainstream Christians identify with them just because they claim to assert Christian values? If you do, are you not a terrorist? If you are, how are you better than an Islamic terrorist? Terrorism for any cause is venal. If you separate yourself from Christian terrorists, why clump together the peaceful community minded Muslims with the terrorists?

Even if a few terrorists might slip under the radar, is perfect security worth the cost of freedom, the object of our jealousy? To take the word of those building the community center and welcome them, while minding and listening to the lessons they teach, must be far better than assuming the worst, inspiring hatred and distrust, and excluding them from the privileges of being American. Only bigots would so prejudge these followers of Islam that their effort to build a meeting place for inter-religious studies would become an affront to those who died on 9/11.

I believe in the Democratic vision of a nation in which all persons can pursue prosperity, happiness and community without fear of denigration for being in a minority, and I believe in the ability of the right wing to churn up emotions for their cause. This leaves me angry with the Democrats for being impotent slaves to conformity and making nice-nice, and angry with the right wing for hypocritically espousing the freedom to pursue wealth, and protection of the Constitution, while attacking others who would exercise their American rights.

The error of the Democrats, allowing demagogues to conflate Islam with terror, is particularly true for our President, whose soaring rhetoric and leadership seems short in the moment of political need, but also of our Vermont politicians, who, taken together, have failed to challenge the idea that Muslim = Terrorist. Yes, there is a freedom of religion issue, and a question of the freedom to pursue happiness, but the emotional charge driving this hatred is that Islam promotes violence, and that those who practice it must provide a haven for those who would incite terror. If I had the ears of Mr. Leahy, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Welch, and the remainder of the Vermont Democratic Party, I would plea and demand that they condemn this assertion, the bigotry behind it, and the hatred it spawns, as the force that is most destructive to the American dream and the prosperity of our nation.

Hatred and the desire to terrorize others, it must be remembered, is made when hope is taken away and fear prevails over dreams. Then everyone not self is enemy, and the nation becomes a battle field, as those who fear terror extend terror over others.

In my view, the phenomena of Rush Limbaugh, now taken up by Glenn Beck, is a disease of the American mind in which demagogues exploit fear to destroy hope, and use that raw fear to maintain centrality in the public discourse, and finally to steer cultural changes to their inchoate purposes. The American left, and the Democratic party, if they are to recapture the hope and faith of the American dream and the Obama campaign, must counter that fear with an all-out assault on fear, reminding Americans that their prosperity is not guaranteed to them, that in times of change and adversity, the advantage goes to those who can adapt.

This is my definition of the progressive vision: Change will happen and we must be prepared to respond creatively and adaptively to it, as a community and as individuals. My definition of the conservative vision is: Do everything possible and necessary to prevent change. When it comes, resist it. And when wealth and power do slip away, do anything you must to keep what you have, even commit terror.

My key lesson in life and survival has been: own what you are. Cut through the noise and state the truth. Since the truth is usually not offensive, this engenders trust and respect. But when you speak truth that is offensive, those hearing you must trust your voice, because you have always been honest.

Now to resist the demagogues of fear, we must climb to the heights of our integrity, say what is true and condemn hatred as it happens.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

who's reading anyhow?

Haven't been to write, working and reading and applying to graduate school. Perhaps depressed, disconsolate, perhaps mending fences. Certainly the political campaign and subsequent legislative campaigns sucked up energy I didn't have replacements of. Wish I much that intelligence and compassion had swayed America, but not, and I was never part of the polylog, so why write and write and write?
Here today to contribute not argument or polemic, but only a simple rant, The Reason Why.

    Please, can you tell me the reason why I hear in this phrase "the reason why",
    two words redundantly duplicative?
    Oh, forgive, I should ask again:
    Please, can you tell me the reason, but now I know you might tell me why,
    these two words co-occur so fragrantly?
    When of such so many synonyms abound,
    Why not ask "For what purpose why?" or "What reason because?"?
    And more, I would ask, whenever is either of "reason" or "why",
    Not sufficient alone to state,
    "I have a reason” or perhaps, “Most certainly I do know why"?
    But profit not if I fail to proclaim,
    "I have a reason why", and most certainly "know the reason why"?
    This perhaps is a minor flaw in modern English, when if at all, but if “reason” and “why” each means something more than the other, what gleaning have we got, to know the reason why?
    What cause, what purpose, what benefit gleaned, when "reason" with "why" is multiplied?
    But let us not dwell too long or too hard on reasons why we multiply reason and why, when together they produce only just one idea, of which reason, why, because, cause, purpose, design, and intent all intend?
    So how, please humor me to tell, do they conflate and synergate, just to make them idiommates?

Stephen Marshall 2010

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wall Street Editors Cavalier with Western Legal Legacy

In “Tinkering With Miranda”, the Editors of the Wall Street Journal invoke an argument that had been resolved over centuries of civil and intellectual struggle in law, philosophy and theology, and only reopened when the Bush Administration found existing legal limits, attached to enemy soldiers and criminals, inconvenient in the fight against terrorists. To avoid using a category of combatant not recognized as necessary by the remainder of the international community, Attorney General Holder would seek exceptions to the Miranda rule. To avoid this less dramatic “Tinkering With Miranda”, the Editors (as did Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney) would have us revise fundamental precepts of western law and jurisprudence. But the goal of enhanced security powers is within reach without doing this, and offers the better part of wisdom to remain within a legal structure which has been evolving for many centuries, especially considering the scant gains afforded by the new category.

In reaction to the terrorist bombings of the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001, The Bush administration saw a need for intelligence gathering that it felt could not be accomplished under existing domestic or international law. In response, the Bush administration argued a radical revision of international law, an explicitly non-military, non-criminal category, known as the international terrorist. This evil-doer, it was said, with the weapons of mass destruction in hand, did not deserve the protections provided to either military combatants or criminals. Furthermore, in the words of the Editors, their “threat to public safety is much more diffuse and dire than in a typical criminal case,” and “Getting useful intelligence to prevent future attacks may require days, even weeks or months, of interrogation” thus making existing procedures and protections too cumbersome to effect public safety, in their view. Terrorists deserve torture, simply put, existing international law doesn’t allow it, and the need for America’s domestic security is too great to forgo any necessary treatment of prisoners. They would need their own extra-legal category.

But this constitutes a momentous assault on centuries of legal tradition. In the centuries-long struggle to separate the just from the unjust use of violence, states have been constrained, and individuals, alleged criminals, and actual criminals have been assigned human and civil rights. Some of these protect basic human dignity – not to be punished cruelly, not to be starved, nor to be denied access to medical care. Others of these are civil rights – meant to protect those who might actually be innocent – the right of Habeas Corpus, the right to counsel and self-defense, and the presumption of innocence, forcing the state to show cause for incarceration, to name just a few.

Attorney General Holder’s approach is to seek means within the pre-Bush era status of international law, in this case a security exception to the Miranda rights, which would allow law enforcement personnel to interrogate for security information with fewer Miranda limitations.

The Editors decry this approach, so far favored by the Supreme Court, as a plausible way to acquire intelligence from terrorists-as-criminals, as inadequate to protect the public safety. They fear “that the Supreme Court would [not] allow Miranda to be stretched in this fashion.”

In effect, the Editors are arguing that because we cannot be sure that the Supreme Court would support an exception to the Miranda requirements, we should alter the framework of international law, as it has evolved over the last many centuries, by creating a new category, the non-state-terrorist-soldier, requiring civil society, political scientists, politicians and philosophers to begin all over again to define the rights of the accused and the limits of the state for this new category. By then, a future “Bush” would certainly find existing categories limiting, and find cause to invent yet another.

Conservative Vermont commentator Jim Goff, addressing a different issue, charged that liberals “presume that their wisdom exceeds the collective wisdom of all preceding generations.” If this objection suggests a principle of conservative thought, this new category of non-state-criminal-non-state-combatant is radical, not conservative, and a violent breach of the principles on which our country was founded.

The Editors, and those who advocate for this third category and the military tribunal system set up to adjudicate it, seem to care not at all that the purpose of this category is to strip away the evolved rights and responsibilities that have protected individuals from state-excess, that flow to traditional categories of “criminal” or “soldier”, and necessarily , therefore, sweeps up many innocent people, holding them, often for years, torturing them, for information they do not have, and convicting them, of crimes they did not commit. The Editors seem to forget that it was to stop these abuses of the state that civil wars and revolutions, including our own, have been fought over the many centuries of European and New World history. The Editors and advocates of this third category seem to forget that when innocent persons are swept up systematically, and abused, as they have been since 9-11, the system that produces those arrests and abuses is itself unjust, in the same way that corrupt and authoritarian states are unjust, and that the “public safety” we are protecting becomes a cynical parody of itself. Much simpler, and more direct, would be to honor the recognized categories of state and criminal use of force, with an evolved approach to Miranda.

To make of terrorists that they are criminals does not dignify them, as the Editors claim. To me, the label “non-state-combatant” shifts them slightly up the scale to state actor, someone who might be defending bona fide interests of sovereignty. To call them criminals is to duly denigrate their choices and actions, and for those who are justly convicted, appropriately commits them to the long term impotence of penal inmate.

The irony of the Bush policy, that has done so much violence to our legal culture, is that everything it wanted to accomplish could have been accomplished without its extra-legal activities. We don’t need warrantless wiretaps, domestic security letters, or an intermediate “terrorist” category. We need a vigilant, competent, professional police and military, backing up a compassionate and just society whose institutions honor and promote human and civil liberties, and try to help impoverished people escape hopelessness. Now there’s a strategy to defeat terrorism.

Stephen Marshall

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mothers Aggrieved At Loss Of Fetuses

Addressed to Legislators, the Free Press Editor, others:

The February 4, 2010 issue of the Burlington Vermont Free Press documented renewed concern about whether the death of a fetus, due to negligence or worse, ought to have a legal consequence. This is obviously a highly charged and divisive debate and deserves a Solomonic solution.

To have a crime requires that someone has been hurt. The Pro-Life/Anti-Abortion camp would make the fetuses the hurt party, while the Pro-Choice camp worries that calling a fetus a party to a crime would make it a person and protected under other laws, such as those against murder. But as demonstrated by the reported automobile accidents, clearly there is a grievance to be addressed, in the deaths of these fetuses.

We might instead regard the mother as the aggrieved party. This seems logical, since she is the conscious actor most affected by the loss. Further, since the right to abortion gives her determinative power over the fetus(es), they are hers to have or lose. Making the mother the hurt party would expose the perpetrator to consequences, and provide the mother with a means of redress.

I have written with a feeling of urgency because I can see the harm that can come from this debate, especially to choice advocates who, absent any crime to prosecute, are cast as callous to the emotional consequences to the mother. I believe that the death of a fetus ought to be a crime against the mother, who holds sole and immutable responsibility for the life of the unborn up to the moment of birth.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Leave your fields for the poor to glean"

Discussions of economics I hear on On Point, Market Place, and public radio generally, circle round and round and never hit on the fundamental issue: Carrying Capacity, and the question: Which is more important, The right of some to get richer, or the right of the many to do more than survive?

Although creativity and human energy may be infinite, and wealth can be accumulated ad-perpetuum, the Earth is not, and possesses only so much capacity to generate the material goods (water, housing, food) that people need. As the number of us goes up, the share available declines. So the inherent limitations of a finite planet sets long-term limits that no amount of economic jerry-mandering can alter.

Meanwhile, as we give priority to the right to get rich, the automatic drive of employers to limit labor costs and the vaunted productivity increases which have been seen during the computer revolution funnels more wealth to the already wealthy, while the number of jobs declines (“jobless recovery”), the incomes of available jobs decline in their value, and making a decent living becomes ever more difficult or impossible. Even survival is often impossible, when the right to accumulate wealth is more important than the right to a decent living.

Then, as the wealth and privilege of the few accumulates, they look for further investments to hold the value, so they buy rights to those things the rest of us need - land, water, energy, commodities. As more is held, and more is demanded to carry accumulated wealth, the share available for consumption declines, and the corporations which control the resources, in the name of those investors, demand ever more exhorbitant profits, squeezing those who just want to make a living. So wealth, and the problem of how to store it, causes short-term false-scarcities.

These false scarcities and the priority placed on the right to get rich* combine in a toxic brew, causing hatred, alienation and violence, as witnessed in the ever deepening crises over terrorism, and the anger of many Americans toward the banking system since the collapse of 2008. People who are poor, starving and feeling under assault are necessarily attracted to ideologies which vow to destroy that political and economic order, or are inclined to raid neighboring tribes. Americans who feel their lifestyle at risk, today, are turning to “tea parties” or violent anarchist groups such as white supremisists.

People who hold wealth are equally terrified by the disorder brewing in the world economy, as their survival, in a manner familiar to them, is at risk.

We are all victims of the priority given to "the right to get rich" because it breeds chaos. When wealth is distributed more evenly, such that the people who have the least, have enough, and such that people with wealth are seen as sharing it out of concern for the well being of others, not only are the disenfranchised then invested in the current order, but the current order itself becomes more stable, survival is more predictable, and people are satisfied with less, thus easing the burden on Earth's resources.

This is the population-resource paradox discussed by demographers: as people get what they need and feel more secure in their living, they do not increase the number of children they have. Tragically, it is only poor people in insecure, unpredictable economies who really want many children. (Ecologists are familiar with this as the “r” strategy.) Hence, it is economic development, spurred by wealth shared by those who possess it, which holds the most promise to limit war and terror as carrying capacity bears down on us. It is when we give priority to the right to a decent living that we are all – even rich people – most safe, secure, and have the best chances for happiness.

*The “right to get rich” as we practice it is often attributed to Adam Smith's imperative to create wealth, but this imperative according to Adam Smith is located in a moral system which levels the distribution of wealth. The “right to get rich” as practiced today is the form of capitalist enterprise that Adam Smith despised and saught to limit. Wealth is created when the goods and services that people need are produced and distributed, so when profits are accumulated and hoarded, some people are richer, but the society is no more wealthy.