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For up-to-date coverage of these events, check out Narco News.
As the demonstrations in Iran continue despite mounting repression, another dramatic showdown between military and public has broken out in Honduras after a violent coup organized by the country’s wealthy elites kidnapped left-leaning president Manuel “Mel” Zelaya and removed him from the country. This action has not only been condemned by much of the international community, it was immediately resisted by Hondurans taking to the streets in large numbers.
Even before the coup had taken place, anxious pedestrians shouted and cursed the approaching soldiers. In this video, one woman hits every soldier passing her. The surging protesters than begin to block military vehicles and surround a tank!
I’ve also reposted an article giving some background on the situation, this one from the School of Americas Watch. The “School of Americas”, now called the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” is a combat and torture training institute in Fort Benning, Georgia that has trained thousands of Latin American paramilitary soldiers to return to their countries and terrorize peasant and student movements. Many of these “graduates” have gone on to become fascist generals or dictators in their home countries, as in the current coup in Honduras. The institute remains open to this day, but every year SOA Watch organizes large protests to shut it down.
Military Coup in Honduras
A military coup has taken place in Honduras this morning (Sunday, June 28),
led by SOA graduate Romeo Vasquez. Read the rest of this entry »
“American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America”
2006 Free Press
Are right-wing Christians in America developing a potentially fascist movement that would discard democracy for the sake of security and conservative values? This is answered affirmatively by Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, in his newest book.
We all know the worst of the evangelical movement, which Hedges calls the “dominionists”: they’re militantly anti-abortion and promote abstinence-only education, they hate queer and trans people, they don’t believe in evolution or environmentalism, they’re racist against immigrants and support US warfare and imperialism, and they can be violent, potentially terroristic. This book explores all of these themes, but it also exposes the frightening strength these people have in our society.
For example, “There are at least 70 million evangelicals in the United States attending more than 240,000 evangelical churches… Polls indicate that about 40 percent of respondents believe the Bible is ‘to be taken literally, word for word.’ .. Almost a third of all respondents say they believe in the Rapture.” Clearly this movement has developed a mass base by hiding behind Christianity.
But are these folks organized? Hedges says yes, quite so. He points to their dominance over the Republican Party, as well as billions of dollars received in the form of “faith-based” grants. This governmental power is matched by media influence, as the Christian Right also owns several national television and radio networks, as well as many local media outlets. Further, right-wing organizations such as Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition are controlled by wealthy white male elites who claim to be “close to God” and are followed with feverish obedience by millions of supporters.
The best parts of the book are the interview sections which delve into the lives of the people drawn to, and spit out by, this movement. By humanizing the participants, we come to understand that their immersion into this Christian reality is often a flight from an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness and despair, genuine emotions which develop from real-world sufferings like unemployment and abuse.
However, much of the book does not live up to this potential and consists of Chris Hedges sending forth litanies of blanket indictments against the ideology of the Christian Right, and attaching a somewhat monolithic character to what in reality is probably a more scattered and heterogeneous right-wing Christian population. In other words, by attacking them as potentially all-powerful, do we not in fact imbue them with powers they do not actually possess?
Worse, although the author rightly argues we must not tolerate a movement which does not tolerate us, he leaves us with little useful ammunition for that struggle. Condemnations of fundamentalist thinking and similarities to Nazism will only get us so far, we need to locate the weak points in the armor of these Crusaders, and this book unfortunately serves little in developing such a strategy.
In a present and future marked by severe crises of an economic, ecological and social nature, the seductiveness of movements urging apocalyptic violence unfortunately may become quite great, and only an alternative movement that appeals to the best in humanity can prevent the emergence of a dictatorship of fear. That great Christian principle of love must be the guiding force as we address the mounting grievances of those left behind by this society and point towards a better future.
[Good news from the best oil/environment writer, Heinberg. The current economic crisis is easing pressure on the planet and its resources, ecological danger is decreasing. This is hopeful. I particular enjoy this statistic: “in the first four months of 2009, more bicycles were sold in the US than cars and trucks put together (over 2.55 million bicycles were purchased, compared to fewer than 2.4 million cars and trucks).”
Lately i’ve become convinced that hope is our greatest ally in working for a better world. If this article doesn’t inspire you, look at what’s happening in Iran at this moment. – alex]
Originally published by Post Carbon Institute, June 5, 2009.
Recently I’ve begun compiling a list of things to be cheerful about. Here are some items that should bring a smile to any environmentalist’s lips:
- World energy consumption is declining. That’s right: oil consumption is down, coal consumption is down, and the IEA is projecting world electricity consumption to decline by 3.5 percent this year. I’m sure it’s possible to find a few countries where energy use is still growing, but for the US, China, and most of the European countries that is no longer the case. A small army of writers and activists, including me, has been arguing for years now that the world should voluntarily reduce its energy consumption, because current rates of use are unsustainable for various reasons including the fact that fossil fuels are depleting. Yes, we should build renewable energy capacity, but replacing the energy from fossil fuels will be an enormous job, and we can make that job less daunting by reducing our overall energy appetite. Done.
- CO2 emissions are falling. This follows from the previous point. I’m still waiting for confirmation from direct NOAA measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere, but it stands to reason that if world oil and coal consumption is declining, then carbon emissions must be doing so as well. The economic crisis has accomplished what the Kyoto Protocol couldn’t. Hooray!
- Consumption of goods is falling. Every environmentalist I know spends a good deal of her time railing both publicly and privately against consumerism. We in the industrialized countries use way too much stuff — because that stuff is made from depleting natural resources (both renewable and non-renewable) and the Earth is running out of fresh water, topsoil, lithium, indium, zinc, antimony…the list is long. Books have been written trying to convince people to simplify their lives and use less, films have been produced and shown on PBS, and support groups have formed to help families kick the habit, but still the consumer juggernaut has continued — until now. This particular dragon may not be slain, but it’s cowering in its den.
- Globalization is in reverse (global trade is shrinking). Back in the early 1990s, when globalization was a new word, an organization of brilliant activists formed the International Forum on Globalization (IFG) to educate the public about the costs and dangers of this accelerating trend. Corporations were off-shoring their production and pollution, ruining manufacturing communities in formerly industrial rich nations while ruthlessly exploiting cheap labor in less-industrialized poor countries. IFG was able to change the public discourse about globalization enough to stall the expansion of the World Trade Organization, but still world trade continued to mushroom. Not any more. China’s and Japan’s exports are way down, as is the US trade deficit.
- The number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is falling. For decades the number of total miles traveled by all cars and trucks on US roads has relentlessly increased. This was a powerful argument for building more roads. People bought more cars and drove them further; trucks restocked factories and stores at an ever-growing pace; and delivery vans brought more packages to consumers who shopped from home. All of this driving entailed more tires, pavement, and fuel — and more environmental damage. Over the past few months the VMT number has declined substantially and continually, to a greater extent than has been the case since records started being kept. That’s welcome news.
- There are fewer cars on the road. People are junking old cars faster than new ones are being purchased. In the US, where there are now more cars on the road than there are licensed drivers, this represents an extraordinary shift in a very long-standing trend. In her wonderful book Divorce Your Car, Katie Alvord detailed the extraordinary environmental costs of widespread automobile use. Evidently her book didn’t stem the tide: it was published in the year 2000, and millions of new cars hit the pavement in the following years. But now the world’s auto manufacturers are desperately trying to steer clear of looming bankruptcy, simply because people aren’t buying. In fact, in the first four months of 2009, more bicycles were sold in the US than cars and trucks put together (over 2.55 million bicycles were purchased, compared to fewer than 2.4 million cars and trucks). How utterly cool.
- The world’s over-leveraged, debt-based financial system is failing. Growth in consumption is killing the planet, but arguing against economic growth is made difficult by the fact that most of the world’s currencies are essentially loaned into existence, and those loans must be repaid with interest. Thus if the economy isn’t growing, and therefore if more loans aren’t being made, thus causing more money to be created, the result will be a cascading series of defaults and foreclosures that will ruin the entire system. It’s not a sustainable system given the fact that the world’s resources (the ultimate basis for all economic activity) are finite; and, as the proponents of Ecological and Biophysical Economics have been saying for years, it’s a system that needs to be replaced with one that can still function in a condition of steady or contracting consumption rates. While that sustainable alternative is not yet being discussed by government leaders, at least they are being forced to consider (if not yet publicly) the possibility that the existing system has serious problems and that it may need a thorough overhaul. That’s a good thing.
- Gardening is going gonzo. According to the New York Times (“College Interns Getting Back to Land,” May 25) thousands of college students are doing summer internships on farms this year. Meanwhile seed companies are having a hard time keeping up with demand, as home gardeners put in an unusually high number of veggie gardens. Urban farmer Will Allen predicts that there will be 8 million new gardeners this year, and the number of new gardens is expected to increase 20 to 40 percent this season. Since world oil production has peaked, there is going to be less oil available in the future to fuel industrial agriculture, so we are going to need more gardens, more small farms, and more farmers. Never mind the motives of all these students and home gardeners — few of them have ever heard of Peak Oil, and many of the gardeners are probably just worried whether they can afford to keep the pantry full next winter; nevertheless, they’re doing the right thing. And that’s something to applaud.
[T]he items outlined above suggest that we’ve turned a corner. Read the rest of this entry »
“Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture”
by Marvin Harris
1974 Random House
Why do Jews and Muslims refuse to eat pork? Why were thousands of witches burned at the stake during late medieval Europe? These and other riddles are explored by famous anthropologist Marvin Harris, and his conclusions are simple: people act within social and ecological contexts that make their actions meaningful. Put another way: cultural ideas and practices that seem strange to us may actually be vital and necessary to the people of those cultures.
Harris is especially good at explaining how societies create elaborate rituals to avoid harming the natural ecosystems they depend on, which clarifies the Middle Eastern ban on pig products. It turns out the chubby animals compete with humans for the same foods. Raising them in large numbers would place great strain on a land made fragile by thousands of years of deforestation and desertification. Better to ban them entirely and not risk further ecological damage.
This logic is then extended to elucidate why the institution of warfare probably first arose as a way to limit population pressure on the environment. In Harris’ words, “In most primitive societies, warfare is an effective means of population control because intense, recurring intergroup combat places a premium upon rearing male rather than female infants.” Since the rate of population growth depends on the number of healthy women, privileging males by making their larger bodies necessary for combat is a way of reducing the need to “eat the forest.” Not that male supremacy and violence is the BEST way to curb population growth, but it’s one ritual that societies have adopted to meet that goal.
This discussion of patriarchy leads to an exploration of class. The emergence of “big men”, chiefs, and finally the State is explained as a cascading distortion of the original principles of reciprocity into the rule of redistribution. “Big men” work harder than anyone in their tribe to provide a large feast for their community – with the only goal being prestige. Chiefs similarly pursue prestige, and plan great feasts to show off their managerial skills, but they themselves harvest little food. Finally “we end up with state-level societies ruled over by hereditary kings who perform no basic industrial or agricultural labor and who keep the most and best of everything for themselves.” At the root of this construction of inequality is the impetus to make people work harder to create larger surpluses so that greater social rewards can be given out to show off the leader’s generosity. But only at the State or Imperial level is this hierarchy enforced not by prestige but by force of arms, to stop the poor and working classes from revolting and sharing the fruits of their labor.
The most provocative sections of the book deal with revolutionary movements that fought for this liberation, within the context of the religious wars of Biblical Judea and Late Medieval Europe.
First, Harris tackles the Messiah complex Read the rest of this entry »
“Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization”
2004 North Point Press
Agriculture has domesticated humans. This is the argument at the center of Richard Manning’s stunning history of food. Written with journalistic flavor, Manning explores the ways that agriculture has diminished human life and threatens the planet itself.
The book begins by exploring the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, in many ways superior to our own even at the height of industrial capitalism. Hunter-gatherers, it turns out, ate a wider variety of tasty foods, worked far less, and lived much more sensually and connected than “civilized” humans. About 10,000 years ago, certain groups of humans traded all this in for security, namely the ability to stay in one spot and harvest grain to be stored for future food.
What this crop manipulation produced, however, was the first wealth inequality known to the species, as leaders left working the fields to their followers. In time, these stationary and hierarchical societies expanded and conquered/killed their hunter-gatherer neighbors. Soon enough crops like wheat, corn, and rice spread across the globe through violence and disease.
Manning focuses on these three crops because, as he explains, some 2/3 of all calories consumed today originate with them. In the US, corn is especially dominant, made into all kinds of commodities, for example corn syrup which can be found in just about everything we eat now. The dominance of these few grains is a consequence of capitalism, as they lend themselves easily to processing and storage – making them ideal commodities.
But an important plot twist in the story of grain’s dominance lies hidden in the open. Farm subsidies, especially in the US and Europe, distort the market to make these crops extremely cheap at the expense of all other nutrition. This has the added effect of enriching a few large agribusiness corporations (like Archer Daniels Midland) that grow or process them from enormous monocrop fields, although at the cost of ruining millions of small farmers all over the world. Our health, and the health of the planet are likewise jeopardized by the overabundance of these few crops produced with massive inputs of oil and chemicals.
Nevertheless, Richard Manning is able to summon the hope at the end of the book that our food system doesn’t have to be this way. Finding a distinction between agriculture and “simply growing food”, he argues that we can build an economy based on feeding people, and not just accumulating wealth. Organic agriculture, permaculture, intercropping, farmer’s markets and co-ops all point in this more just and sustainable direction, and awareness of the superiority of these more human methods has been growing at a phenomenal rate.
If we can nourish ourselves by reconnecting with the land and our sensual natures, perhaps we can also heal society and the planet. Against the Grain is a big step in educating us for that effort. Highly recommended.
I’ve recently discovered the brilliance emanating from the pages of Yes! Magazine.
Their latest issue is called The New Economy. Check it out, a lot of the articles are online! It begins with the bold (and correct) declaration:
“This downturn marks the end of an unsustainable economy. Rather than trying to reinflate the old bubble economy, these activists, visionaries, and upstarts are trying something new: an economy that puts people first and works within the carrying capacity of Mother Earth.”
Groundbreaking approaches towards integrating the economy into the fabric of local communities and the ecosystem are presented in extremely accessible language and easy-to-read formats, with lots of great graphs!
Although the magazine shies away from using language like “capitalism”, “socialism”, “anarchism”, etc., the articles overflow with radical prescriptions for social change that challenge the status quo in bold new ways. This is the stuff of revolutions, because it appeals to the masses of Americans without shying away from real solutions, like breaking apart the large banks, investing in local organic gardening, drastically reducing the military budget, and ensuring universal health care.
Most importantly, the magazine fills its pages with a strong current of hope and joy, which is so desperately needed in these times. We need to remember that the collapse of the old system presents myriad opportunities for new grassroots endeavors, and a sense of joy is our strongest ally in this effort at rebuilding a world based on justice and sustainability.
Take a look, you won’t regret it! Yes!
“The End of Capitalism” synopsis , a miniature version of the book-in-progress, has been finished!
The book will put forward the likelihood that the global capitalist system, structured around infinite growth, has reached an endpoint to expansion, both as a result of natural limits, such as peak oil, as well as social limits, manifested by people’s resistance to the system all over the world. The synopsis also explores two possible paths we might take from this momentous turning point: either towards a more militaristic and “fascist” future based on desperately clinging to the past, or a world built by the efforts of hopeful and forward-looking humanity, organizing from the bottom-up. Finally, a “holistic” approach to social change is put forward to inspire readers to imagine and take action for a better world, through the lenses of sustainability, democracy, justice, freedom and love.
I’m looking for responses to the synopsis so i can continue expanding the project for a mass audience, so if you’d like to submit feedback, ideas, comments, or questions, please send them to Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks. Here is the web version of the full synopsis, and below a link to a (shorter) summary version. If you’d like to receive a microsoft word copy, please email me and I will send it to you.
- Is This the End of Capitalism?
- What is Capitalism?
- Why is it Collapsing?
- What Comes After Capitalism?
- Conclusion: The World We Are Building
And here’s the Summary.
[Below are excerpts from Kevin Carson of the P2P Foundation responding to someone who claimed, “post-capitalism talk is largely Utopian fantasy”. I agree with the thrust of Kevin’s argument, capitalism faces collapse on a global scale – but the key social question of our age will not be “can capitalism survive?” but “what new social system(s) will outlive it?”
There are powerful forces seeking to deny us the possibility of relocalizing and democratizing our own economic networks, and which favor a re-nationalization of economic organization and a more brutal resource imperialism. In short, using the State to protect wealth and privilege from the economic chaos, commonly referred to as fascism. Social change is not deterministic, we are faced with widely diverging paths. How we win this struggle and create a post-capitalist world worth living in is the subject of my work. – alex]
P2P Foundation, June 7, 2009.
Quotes by Kevin Carson.
I believe that within a generation we’re going to see a radical shortening of supply and distribution chains from Peak Oil, a combined relocalization of most production and an explosion of LETS and barter networks as official money and wage employment dry up for a major part of the population, and a collapse of the old corporate proprietors in the culture and software industries.
The growth of the financial sector compared to physical assets is a major symptom of the problem. Given corporate capitalism’s chronic tendency toward overproduction and overinvestment, you can’t invest the surplus in plant and equipment that will generate even more goods when people can’t consume existing output. So you pile up the surplus investment capital in a FIRE sector that only works until the ponzi scheme collapses.
[O]ne reason for the growth of the FIRE economy from the ’90s on was that the export of industrial capital had reached its limits as a strategy for solving the crisis of overinvestment. China is saturated with more industrial capital than there is a market for. And second, there’s not much future in shipping goods overseas from Chinese factories when fuel costs two or three–or more–times what it did this time last year.
Had oil stayed at its summer 2008 prices indefinitely, some 20% of airline routes would have shut down and a comparable percentage of long-haul trucks left the market. And this was indeed a “hiccup” compared to what we can expect from Peak Oil in the future. Even a supply shortfall of a few percent can cause prices at the pump to double. What can we expect when supply falls by half or two-thirds over the next generation? I expect we’ll see a total collapse of intercontinental supply chains except in vital minerals, and an order of magnitude of reduction of continental supply chains for most manufactured goods.
The factories in China and Vietnam will become useless for anything but producing goods for people in–well, in China and Vietnam. Production of spare parts and modular accessories will grow massively at the expense of production of new goods, and the growth in such production of spare parts and modular accessories will occur mainly in flexible manufacturing nets in relocalized industrial economies. In-season produce will be almost entirely relocalized by backyard gardening and market gardening, and a much larger percentage of our diets will be either in-season or canned local stuff.
We’re barely two years into the real crisis: two years from when real estate prices began to slide, a year from when Peak Oil first became a household word, and nine months since inventories and employment began a free-fall.
To say “everything’s OK so far” this early in the process is IMO about like saying, immediately after Alaric’s first repulse from the gates of Rome, “Well, the system’s still got a lot of life in it.” Or the old joke about the optimist who fell off a 100-story skyscraper and shouted to the people on the 99th floor, “OK so far!”
To say that things look good for capitalism except for Peak Oil is a bit like saying your uncle is just like your aunt except for his testicles.