Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Irony of Earth Day, 2010

Today, Earth Day, 2010, the House of Representatives honored the 40th anniversary of it’s founder, Wisconsin representative Gaylord Nelson.

While a handful of dinosaurs - excuse me, representatives - rose in turn in Washington’s almost empty people’s chamber to pay homage to an early whistle blower, fifteen thousand people from over fifty countries gathered in the Andean city of Cochabama to determine actions in favor of Mother Earth.

The People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was called by Bolivian president Evo Morales following the stunning rejection of these rights by the world’s richest nations at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen last December.

President Obama, who led the charge at Copenhagen for modest goals and modest aide to those most at risk in the developing world, punished Bolivia’s audacity to hope for survival by cutting off the 3.5 billion aide it had been slated to receive to adapt to climate change.

While the Andean conferees discussed ways to maintain “right living” or “buen vivir” in the twenty-first century, calling on that ancient Indian tradition, air traffic to and from Europe resumed after five days of grounded planes and shuttered airports, as a result of the ash spewed over Europe from a volcano in Iceland.

As airlines scramble to find ways to beat Mother Earth the next time she pulls a stunt like this, a heretic thought forms in the mind of this committed internationalist: are the peoples of the world learning to do without the U.N. that many had hoped would evolve into an effective world government?

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Little Ash Here, a Little Water There

As ash from an Icelandic volcano continues to blanket the skies of Europe, canceling tens of thousands of flights for the 5th day in a row, I can’t help but wonder what will happen when several natural disasters of this mag-nitude happen simultaneously.

There is no place to run to. All we can do is hope that the movement started by Bolivia’s president Evo Morales, to defend the planet against climate change, will spread faster than the disasters in store, galvanizing massive resistance to the world as it is threatened today.

Ten years ago, while Americans nodded in front of TVs that extolled the benefits of commercially owned pure water, rural Bolivians rose up to protest the privatization of their lifeline. It was a bloody fight, but they won, setting the stage for the eventual coming to power of an indigenous small coco grower.

This week, President Morales is hosting a week-long World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth; government representatives from 54 countries will join thousands of grass roots organizations from all over the world near Cochabamba, where the Water Wars took place. They aim to make the next UN Conference on climate change, due to take place in Mexico later this year, more meaningful than December’s Copenhagen climate summit.

Bolivia’s ambassador to the U.N. (the U.S. and Bolivia no longer have reciprocal representation), Pablo Solon, explained on today’s Democracy Now, that the developed nations, though representing only 20% of the world’s population, “occupy” with their toxic emissions, 80% of the earth’s atmosphere. In that context, the idea of a Mother Earth is not a primitive image.

Listening to Amy Goodman interview the sister of the slain leader of the water wars, Oscar Romero, tell how the Andean peasants won the water war, it occurs to me that part of the reason for their success was that they were free from a ubiquitous media that claims all is well in the best of worlds. Unlike citizens of the developed world, they believed in their own understanding of right and wrong, and acted upon it.

Americans will never have free water, but what about a government that winds down military involvements in favor of better health care? In this week’s Nation, Michael Klare tells us that the Pentagon is planning for “Two, Three, Many Afghanistans”, increasing its ability to combat “sub-versive insurgencies”. Under the heading “subversives” are people fighting for equal access to the basic underpinnings of life: clean air, water, food, fuel.

As a first step in that war, President Obama announced it was cutting the $3.5 million dollars of aid Bolivia was slated to receive to help it combat climate change.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

We Have to Debate the Teapartiers!

Maybe I don’t read the right blogs, but I haven’t seen anyone rebutting the absurd positions of the teapartiers. It’s bad enough that, with the same money and know-how that built the neo-con movement they have quietly orga-nized demonstrations in some 600 cities across the country on tax day. The left has neither buses nor a message for those who may be swayed by the tea-party line.

The only positive outcome of fewer taxes and less govern-ment is that we wouldn’t be able to wage war. perhpas forgetting that, the teapartiers refer to the original intent of a constitution that was written when we got around in horses and buggies on dirt roads; when the average life expectancy was about sixty; and when most Americans were lucky to get a grade-school education. None of the things our taxes pay for today existed then.

The Constitution was written by enlightened gentlemen, most of whom did not have to earn a living; many considered it normal to own slaves and almost all were wary of “democracy” and “equality”. Women belonged to their husbands, and didn’t vote until 1920.

In a sparsely populated land rich with natural resources, the inhabitants of the thirteen original colonies could indeed do with a minimal federal government. Though resentful of central power, each colony kept its legislature pretty busy.

The rigors of colonization in a new land required neigh-borly solidarity - but also the ability to go it alone on the frontier. Most of the Framers wished to remain unentangled in battles between European powers, and hoped that free trade would mold a peaceful world.

After France helped us defeat the British, who were also their enemies, Americans greeted the French Revolution by singing the Marseillaise. But when the Terror struck, France became a symbol of license and violence that never really faded from the national conscience. Today, after fifty years of social democracy in Europe, American leaders, with the assistance of local school boards often peopled by conservatives, continue to keep Americans ignorant of its achievements. Europeans pay high taxes, but the money they “get to keep” as President Bush would say, is not required for health care or education.

While American senior often have to choose between their medications and food, those in Europe - where governments make sure you cannot lose your pension - have only to choose between vacation spots or subsidized medical spas.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Poland's Tragedy: Nationalism

Political junkies may remember the behavior of the Polish government that so many found difficult to comprehend after the country became a member of the European Union. Quoting from Wikipedia:

“In 2003 the European Union produced a draft of a proposed Constitution for Europe. .... It was to be a document that captured the central vision and identity of “Europe” as rights-based, democratic and humanist... Negotiations over the content ....from 2003 through 2006 revealed a number of areas on which EU members disagreed. However, Poland challenged the document most directly and most vehemently. Both its president and its main bishop had already argued for the incorporation of the word “God” in the preamble during enlargement negotiations in 2002. Poland also objected to proposed voting formulas which would have entailed a substantial decrease in its influence in the Council of Ministers. While the Treaty of Nice gave Poland (and Spain) almost as many votes as Germany has (27 to Germany’s 29), but taking into account population size, Germany’s weight vis-à-vis Poland would increase substantially . It seemed as if underlying Poland’s concern was its ability to wield power within the EU specifically in regard to Germany.
Having lived in Poland for a year during the sixties, I was not sur-prised at the vehemence of its protest so soon after becoming a member of the European Community, which the countries of Eastern Europe had been so anxious to join during Europe’s half century division into East and West. The outbursts of the Polish president were consistent with the extreme nationalism I had experienced so long ago.

Polish nationalism has deep roots in history. As any Pole will tell you within five minutes of arriving in the country, Poland was partitioned three times during the eighteenth century, and twice after that. Not until the 1919 Treaty of Versailles did Poland become a sovereign nation again.
While living in in that country, I wondered whether the reasons for its unique history inherent were related to the Polish character. The thing that struck me most was a penchant for intrigue and a frequent blurring of the line between truth and falsehood. Comments about that invariably resulted in heart-felt references to Poland’s tragic history. One can assume that the national ethos of any country that had been repeatedly carved up among its neighbors (Prussia, Russia and Austria), would be affected for generations to come.

The assassination in 1939 of 22,000 Polish officers by the Soviet Union after it shared out Poland with Hitler’s Germany as part of a Soviet-German pact, was the bloodiest in a long series of dismemberments. Until 1990, the Soviet government had insisted the Nazis were responsible. It was not until Gorbachev instituted glasnost that the truth was acknowledged. After the demise of the Soviet regime, the Katyn massacre, as it has been known, has stood as the single greatest reason for enmity between Russia and Poland.

Now, it would appear that the compassionate and competent way in which the Russian government, and in particular Prime Minister Putin, handled the Smolensk plane crash, could pave the way for improved relations between the two Slavic neighbors after three centuries of suspicion and resentment. But my guess is that Poland’s exalted nationalism will endure, unless the people realize that it was this sentiment that led one hundred of its leaders to get into an old airplane bound for a remote forest to commemorate an event that took place seventy years ago.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Unbearable Similarity of Worldwide Repression

Reading Arundati Roy’s recent book: “Field Nots on Democracy, Listening to Grasshoppers”, and her article “India’s Trail of Tears” in the February In These Times, one can only be struck by the similarities between what is happening in India, “the world’s biggest democracy”, and what we can observe elsewhere in the developing world.

These similarities are echoed in Curtis White’s recent book “The Barbaric Heart, Faith, Money and the Crisis of Nature”, in a slightly different tone. Both Roy and White favor irony but the former reveals an anguish that comes from seeing the suffering of the downtrodden up close.

Roy’s description of the brutal government campaign against the indigenous - or Adivasi - Indians, in order to make way for the exploitation of bauxite, requires a thought for Bolivia’s indigenous president, Evo Morales, who is determined that the mineral wealth of his country benefit all his people. (Someone with the time and access should do a comparative study of how India and Bolivia approach the extraction of mineral wealth and the distribution of its returns.)

Checking things out on Google, I confirm my suspicion that the Indian government compromised with the developed countries at Copenhagen, while Bolivia’s Morales is an ardent believer in global warming and its disastrous effects around the world. He’s putting his money where his mouth is: from April 19-22 Bolivia will host a conference on the rights of peoples with respect to climate change.

This morning I learn that President Obama is punishing Bolivia for not "going along to get along".

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Gruesome Similarity of Worldwide License

Why does the most powerful country in the world see a need to be fighting a myriad of wars?

And what determines the way they are fought?

Many of our soldiers appear to be the product of a culture that renders them indifferent to human life, turning them into mindless killing machines. The recent disclosure by “WikiLeak”, of army footage showing and telling the kill-ing of unarmed Iraqi civilians by a helicopter gunship crew, says as much about the way the soldiers were brought up as about the military ethos.

“Hurt Locker” or no, there is strong evidence that our military are being encouraged to behave with mindless brutality toward Iraqi and Afghani populations. Young men raised on beer and mind-altering substances are capable of laughing at the sight of an armored vehicle running over a wounded, unarmed civilian. This attitude has been docu-mented in movies such as “This is War: Memories of Iraq” that follows soldiers on and off duty, capturing their language, their attitudes and behaviors toward civilians.

The violence at our doorstep in Juarez, Mexico is about drugs coming into the U.S.(as weapons flow out). And the war in Afghanistan is partly about the cultivation of opium, a cash bonanza for a poor, backward country from which heroin consumed in the West is made. In a strange mirror-image, Mexican warlords now behead their opponents in the manner of Islamic fundamentalists (but also perhaps of Aztec sacrificial killings).

Meanwhile, President Obama has ordered an American-born Islamic cleric who preaches jihad abroad to be killed or captured. On Thursday, the UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions,Philip Alston, was inter-viewed by Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now”, spelling out the disturbing legal and moral questions this astonishing order raises.
The Mexican drug lords couldn’t care less about the sociological aspects of our society that enables their trade. But the reasons behind Muslim fundamentalist terrorism, aired again and again in messages from future suicide bombers, concern two aspects of our society: its imperialist nature (i.e., the exploitation of the wealth of other countries for our benefit), and the breakdown of traditional morality, largely as a result of the commer-cialization of pleasures.

Undoubtedly, some elements of the Taliban see Afghanis-tan’s cultivation of poppies, the source of heroin, as a way to further weaken our society. It has been suggested that decriminalizing drugs would remove the attractions - and violence - of an illicit trade. Without drug users, no income for growers or dealers. That would be a start. But drugs are part of a larger problem that contributes to the degeneration of society: a relentless drive to consume, which has led to the commercialization of sex. This especially upsets fundamentalists of all religions, including the American militias that have recently come to light.

As I read the fascinating work by Robert S. Wood “Empire of Liberty” (sic), which devotes more than 700 pages to the twenty-five years between 1789 and 1815, it becomes clear that America’s aberrations (sometimes known as American exceptionalism...) did not spring fully-formed like Venus rising from the sea, but can be traced to our very earliest history. And yet, if they could see us now, our Founders would turn over in their graves.