Friday, August 05, 2005

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: A Conversation

A man came up to me with questions:

Are you on the side of America?

No.

Then you are on the terrorists' side.

No.

You must take a stand! Either you are for America or against it.
Either you are for Terrorism or against it.

No.

Whose side are you on?

I am on the side of three orphans: Peace, Justice, and Healthy Environment.
They have no homeland now, anywhere. I want to create one for them.
They are tiny, hungry, with distended bellies, and they have no clean water.
Their ribs stick out, their legs have no flesh. The sun beats down.
They have no shade. Flies are everywhere.

You are a fool.

Very possibly. But look at them. You want to help me make a home for them?
They just need some space to rest for a bit, find a bit of sustenance, a drink.
Perhaps here, in the shade, they will flourish.
You seem a good sort. Lend them a hand.

Perhaps later. For nowI have empires to build, nations to subdue, power and wealth to protect, and still more to gather to myself. When I have accomplished my mission, maybe then...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Oil is the Whiteman's Buffalo

We are as dependent upon the land, and especially on its oil, as Plains Indians were once dependent on the land, especially its buffalo. If we fail to recognize or remember our dependence on the land for energy and subsistence, we will suffer as surely as the Plains tribes did when they were deprived of buffalo.

We have all read accounts of the buffalo’s important role in Plains Indian life, how wonderfully adept they were at using every part of the animal. Food, clothing, shelter, equipment, boats, household goods, needles and thread, bedding, all were derived from the buffalo. For Plains tribes fuel, transport, warfare, economics, all revolved around the buffalo. This is the testimony of Plains Indians, historians, anthropologists, and other interested observers.

General William Tecumseh Sherman was one such interested observer, and he knew that the quicker the buffalo disappeared the more quickly he could contain and control the plains tribes. No wonder the reports, as early as the 1850’s, from Indian agents, scouts, and the Indians themselves that the buffalo were under grave threat went unheeded. We knew we were exterminating the great herds, and proceeded to our task with determination, skill and thoughtful deliberation. We did not simply drift into slaughter; we knew what we were doing. This was not a thoughtless effort to exterminate the buffalo, but to exterminate Indians. If we can make a dime in the process, so much the better, that’s just “good ole American enterprise,” to be lauded. And if it costs a species or two, more or less, it’s worth the price.

So it is not hard to imagine an archaeologist, anthropologist, or historian, 500 years from now, describing our late 20th--early 21st Century American culture. He will remark on the skill with which we used all parts of oil:

From some of it they manufactured clothing, from some shelter, elaborate transportation systems, warmth for their homes, tools, incredibly intricate industries, an entire agricultural system, healing chemicals and despicable chemicals for war, even whole economic systems. But, alas, they were a one-resource culture, just like the Plains Indians whom they despised for their simplicity.



When it became clear how dependent they were upon that one crude commodity, they were at the mercy of the world, their lives and future controlled by those who could cut off their supply, or at the mercy of their own desires, incapable of restraint, refusing to husband the resource so it would last. As the number of their friends in the world declined, and others turned their backs on them, a clear limit to the life of their culture became apparent. They waited, in denial and unable to respond to necessity, mesmerized and demoralized for their end to come with the end of oil. They were just like the Indians who were at the mercy of General Sherman



So here we are in the early 21st Century, our oil in decline, our demands for its uses ever increasing, and we are making enemies of those who will soon hold the last recoverable resources for it, torturing their family members, “disappearing” others. When our world collapses for lack of oil what is our future? Without weapons, without transport, without electricity, without a bustling commerce, will we be relegated to a bare subsistence life on poverty-stricken reservations, while the final oil producers create new Guantanamos and Abu Ghraibs to express their contempt for us?

“Those people,” the anthropologist will say about us, “knew their history, but they thought it belonged to the past, not to them and their future, and they did not learn from it.”

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: A Light Gone Out

Alas, a light has truly gone out in the world. America, a beacon of hope for those who cherish freedom and hope for a good life, has turned itself inside out. There was a time the world loved us, admired and respected us. Now it despises us, and many would do us harm. That is not the doing of others; we have done it to ourselves. How did it happen?

There was a time when America was a nation that tried but failed to live up to its highest ideals. Sometimes we didn’t even try very hard. One thinks of the racism that has plagued us from the beginning. Woodrow Wilson, bent on world peace, turned aside from frequent lynchings in the U.S., and let the insulting torture continue. The signs were up in storefronts, even in my time: “White Only” over the restroom doors, my first trip to Oklahoma. “No dogs, no Whores, no Indians,” when I first went to Alaska. One could pick other issues. For the most part the poor were left behind. Until the social programs of the Thirties came along, there were few safety nets, and they were local: “We take care of our own in this valley.” For years child labor and child abuse were rampant and American law held that children were chattel. War was not something we sought – unless our commercial interests were involved; which they were entirely too often.

Our perception of ourselves, and the view others held of America then, was that of a nation that was struggling, sometimes weakly, but struggling nevertheless, to realize our ideals, inching toward them on occasion, falling away from them often, but holding them ideal nevertheless. That was one reason we held some respect, even affection, in the world’s view. There was still a hope that we might become the vision we had of ourselves. Who would not like to participate in that? Part of the excitement of the Sixties and Seventies was thinking that we really might get a handle on our poverty, our hunger, our homelessness, our racism; and get ourselves out of unjust and murderous wars. That thinking was a bit giddy and unrealistic it turns out – though not entirely. We made some gains. There was still light, beacons, blinking occasionally, but penetrating and transforming our shadows.

In the last thirty years we have changed. We have moved from a nation trying, humanly, fumblingly, to reach its ideals, into a nation that will betray any ideal for economic gain for its ruling elite. The erosion of our concern for the poor, the re-emergence of our latent racism as revealed in the current spate of lynchings, and our foreign policy that refuses to halt genocide in black Africa and sanctions or ignores terror against Palestinians, Jews, Gypsies and others, reveals a nation that no longer cares what happens to any except its own elite. Now we have added public and religiously sanctioned violence against those whose gender is not purely heterosexual, as if there were not an oxymoron in the phrase. We have dismantled in the most callous possible ways the safety nets for the poor, and launched a massive attack on dissent and civil liberties. Big Brother is here Big Time. War has become our primary purpose and initiative, not for our defense but as our chosen means to impose our will.

According to “Vision 2020,” a working paper of the US Space Command, as described by theologian David Ray Griffin in The New Pearl Harbor (Olive Branch Press, 2004), our purpose in dominating the world is for economic gain. The document begins, “US Space Command – dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investments.” (Italics mine)

It began with Ronald Reagan and we joked about impossible “Star Wars.” The real name was the Strategic Defense Shield, now known as the Missile Defense Shield. Surveillance technology that can detect enemies or dissent with pinpoint personal accuracy, and satellite laser cannons to halt incursions in space by other nations, are part of the package. Our purpose is to deny any other nation access to space or access to weapons to defend itself against us. And the story behind the issues just outlined is deliberate worldwide poverty engendered by a blistering U. S.-engineered global economy, military might, and subjugation of others.

We know what we are about, and there is not a single ideal in sight. “The Globalization of the world economy…will continue with a widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’” Griffin quotes “Vision 2020.” We know what the outcome of our actions will be, and we will pursue our desire even if it costs America its highest social goals for its people and its soul. We insist on what is now called, “Full Spectrum Dominance” – land, sea, air, space -- in order to control those who might get restless with their poverty and our endless monitoring and oppression. It will all be sold to us on the basis of our need to defend ourselves from terrorists and “fundamentalist radicals.”

Deceit, in the effort to advance America’s world economic and military dominance is now seen not as a failing, but as a useful tool. It has become a value in itself. And if we can just get the lower end of the taxpaying American public, the “have-nots” to pay for such protection for our most elite “haves,” so much the better.

Suppression of civil liberties, a step at a time, is worth it if it protects the right of the wealthy to increase their wealth, and protects federal officials from criticism or public opposition to their plans.

Our racism is no longer something we need to work on but something we implement as a principle for determining whether we give token “assistance” to the poor or the victims of genocide – assistance we offer not to relieve suffering, but to make ourselves look good.

There will be no ideal left behind, no scruple unsacrificed to the golden calf of wealth and domination. Understand, please. I do not think this is America. This is a sickness that has seized a non-representative government willing to subvert every ideal to its economic and military ends. The ideals are still there, dormant in its ordinary citizens who buried under a pile of deception and ignorance fostered by successive administrations both Democrat and Republican.

There was a time when we went to war over “Taxation without Representation.” I live in a country of “Taxation without Representation.” So do you if your income is less than millions. There is no representative of a non-millionaire American in the U. S. House where our taxes originate, not one, nor in the Senate that also has to approve the national budget, nor in the main offices of the Executive Branch. George Bush has no intention to fix that. Neither does John Kerry or Ralph Nader. Instead, our government and its Patriot Acts and military power will take care to organize things so that you can do nothing to protest that fate, and other nations cannot stop our efforts to plunder the planet.