Colors of the Sun: Getting Some Protection from Ionizing Radiation

May 1, 2011

For some days I have been looking for the time to write up my most recent findings and thoughts about the dangers we face from Fukushima now and ongoingly, and from the nukes at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre potentially, and what we can do to protect ourselves. The short answer is the dangers are very real and serious. Possibly the most moving short statement I’ve seen is from Dr. Helen Caldicott, in a video posted at http://www.infowars.com/helen-caldicott-talks-about-the-horror-of-fukushima/. Dr. Caldicott mentions the NY Academy of Sciences finding that about a million deaths may now be attributed to the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, and separately, that 80% of the newborn babies in Fallujah, Iraq, where the US used depleted uranium as a weapon, have terrible birth defects, and then goes on to discuss the developments at Fukushima.

My initial reaction to all the latest information was little short of panic, in that the manner in which radiation is disseminated makes it impossible to avoid. Even the limited protection available from potassium iodide supplements is effective only if you are alerted to the exposure in advance; and it appears the government, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency, is disclosing its limited findings only after the fact. But regardless, there is ultimately no complete or completely effective defense.

Nevertheless, there are some things we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and the best compilation of that information I have seen is at Washington’s Blog. As I was reviewing the material posted there, it finally dawned on me that everything we do now and have been doing for years to protect ourselves from the tsunami of cancer-causing chemicals in the environment is also protective from the cancer-causing effects of ionizing radiation.

Unfortunately, some things we can do, like eating organically grown foods rather than the products of chemical-intensive industrial agribusiness, have no analog with respect to radiation. We can’t avoid all carcinogens in the environment, but we can limit our exposure.  However, our ability to avoid radiation is at best even more limited, when, for example, the food chain is contaminated.   We can eat a strictly organically grown diet, but we can’t not eat.  See, e.g., “Fukushima radiation taints US milk supplies at levels 300% higher than EPA maximums,” posted at http://www.naturalnews.com/032048_radiation_milk.html. Even organically grown food can be contaminated by radioactive substances that fall in the rain.

But some defense is still available. While I have been looking in vain for the time to sum up what I’ve found along such lines, Washington’s Blog has gone ahead and pulled all the material together. So at this point I will just reproduce the latest entry from Washington’s Blog, and suggest to your attention the articles linked at the bottom, whose titles indicate the information they contain regarding potential protection from vitamin supplements, herbs, and foods that contain and reflect the colors of the sun. My thanks to the author of Washington’s Blog for this extraordinarily useful material.

I must make the same disclaimer, however: I am not a health care professional. And as this blog cannot reproduce the illustrations posted on Washington’s blog, I suggest you look there for the complete article:

How to Help Protect Yourself From Low-Level Radiation (http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/04/how-to-help-protect-yourself-from-low.html)

As everyone knows, exposure to high levels of radiation can quickly sicken or kill us. Here’s an illustration from Columbia University: [illustration omitted; see original posted at Washington’s Blog]

But as I’ve previously noted, even low level radiation can cause big problems. Columbia provides an illustration: [omitted; see original posting at Washington’s Blog]

Radiation can sicken or kill us by directly damaging cells: [illustration omitted]

Or indirectly … by producing free radicals: [illustration omitted]

Indeed, some radiation experts argue that the creation of a lot of free radical creation is the most dangerous mechanism of low level ionizing radiation:

During exposure to low-level doses (LLD) of ionizing radiation (IR), the most of harmful effects are produced indirectly, through radiolysis of water and formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The antioxidant enzymes – superoxide dismutase (SOD): manganese SOD (MnSOD) and copper-zinc SOD (CuZnSOD), as well as glutathione (GSH), are the most important intracellular antioxidants in the metabolism of ROS. Overproduction of ROS challenges antioxidant enzymes.

Scientists from the Institute of Nuclear Science claim in the Archive of oncology:

Chronic exposure to low-dose radiation doses could be much more harmful than high, short-term doses because of lipid peroxidation initiated by free radicals.

***

Peroxidation of cell membranes increases with decreasing dose rate (Petkau effect).
(See this [link omitted] for more on the Petkau effect.)

Countering free radicals is therefore one of the most important ways we can help protect ourselves from the effects of low-level radiation from Japan, from Chernobyl and elsewhere.

Now that you know, I invite you to read the following articles to learn how to help counter free radicals:
• Can Vitamins or Herbs Help Protect Us from Radiation? See http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/03/how-to-protect-yourself-from-radiation.html.
• What Foods Are Highest in Antioxidants? Some Inexpensive Foods Are Higher In Antioxidants than the Newest Pricey “Superfoods” [link omitted]
• The Compounds Plants Use to Protect Themselves from Damage Also Help to Protect People From Damage [link omitted]
• Electrons as Antioxidants: A Key to Health [link omitted]

Note: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reported that one of the best-known scientists of the 20th century – Dr. John Gofman – also believed that chronic low level radiation is more dangerous than acute exposure to high doses. Gofman was a doctor of nuclear and physical chemistry and a medical doctor who worked on the Manhattan Project, co-discovered uranium-232 and -233 and other radioactive isotopes and proved their fissionability, helped discover how to extract plutonium, led the team that discovered and characterized lipoproteins in the causation of heart disease, served as a Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California Berkeley, served as Associate Director of the Livermore National Laboratory, was asked by the Atomic Energy Commission to undertake a series of long range studies on potential dangers that might arise from the “peaceful uses of the atom”, and wrote four scholarly books on radiation health effects.  [I would add that I have long been an admirer of the late John Gofman, and have benefited enormously from his work, much of it produced jointly with Egan O’Connor, on the health effects of radiation, especially including medical X rays.  This material is available at the site of the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility.  – RR]

But whether or not chronic, low doses of radiation cause more or less damage than acute, higher doses is beyond the scope of this article. The point is that they both can cause damage.

Disclaimer: I am not a health care professional.

Who’ll Stop the Rain? Fukushima, Radiation, and What You Can and Can’t Do To Protect Yourself And Others

March 31, 2011

Unfortunately, when last I checked there was no one in a position to stop the rain, and although there may be some actions you can take that I missed, it isn’t possible to protect oneself entirely from radiation.  I have learned a lot recently, though, and summarize the high points I remember, and some of my questions, here, along with sources you can consult yourself.

First, there is no safe dose of radiation.  That is absolutely clear.  The National Academy of Sciences recently concluded that the preponderance of scientific evidence shows even very low doses of radiation pose a risk of cancer or other health problems and it is unlikely that a threshold exists below which exposure can be viewed as harmless.  (1)  According to Richard R. Monson, chairman of the review panel and a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, “The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionized radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial.”

Comforting statements about the safety of low radiation are not even accurate for adults.  (2)  “Small increases in risk per individual have immense consequences in the aggregate.  When low risk is accepted for billions of people, there will be millions of victims.  New research on risks of x-rays illustrate the point….[For example, c]ommon, low-dose dental x-rays more than double the rate of thyroid cancer.  Those exposed to repeated dental x-rays have an even higher risk of thyroid cancer.”  (3)

Second, it appears we are already being exposed to radiation from the Fukushima disaster, and that it’s likely to get worse.  This, despite the repeated assurances from various authorities that the levels detected so far are safe, or pose no health risk, generally because the doses to which we might be exposed are too low to threaten human health.  See my first point, above.

But, not to worry, “…the EPA is considering drastically raising the amount of allowable radiation in food, water, and the environment.”  (4)  Assuming that what is allowable must also be safe, I sure hope they do it soon!

Third, the fact that radiation is not being detected does not mean it is not in the vicinity.  “That the radiation is being released 5,000 miles away isn’t as comforting as it seems….Every day, the jet stream carries pollution from Asian smoke stacks and dust from the Gobi Desert to our West Coast….Half the mercury in the atmosphere over the entire US originates in China….A week after a nuclear weapons test in China, iodine 131 could be detected in the thyroid glands of deer in Colorado, although it could not be detected in the air or in nearby vegetation.” (5)

Fourth, the means of protection are not entirely clear, and in any case, there is no way to shield oneself entirely from radiation exposure.  Potassium iodide (KI) can protect the thyroid gland, but you have to know when to take it, that is, when the exposure occurs.  And you should consult a health professional to determine appropriate dosage, as too much can be harmful.  (6)  And KI does not prevent radioactive iodine from entering the body, exposing other glands, nor does it protect against other radioactive exposures.  Other isotopes are “dangerous to humans including strontium-90, cesium, iodine, plutonium, and tranuranium elements, since they can be absorbed by the human body.”  (7)

I have been interested to see workers in Japan wearing masks that look like ordinary surgical masks, but have not been able to determine what the masks are actually composed of or what if any protection they provide.

I have not been able to put enough time into this matter to get definitive information.  But I encourage you to conduct your own research, and list below some of the sources I have relied upon in deciding this is a serious problem for which there are at best some partial short-term solutions.

Longer-term, what is most frightening is the continued presence and operation of nuclear plants at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre in California.  The spent fuel rods from these are just a few feet above sea level, and I believe we are just about due for an earthquake here of a similar magnitude to the one that struck Japan.  (8)  On such issues, I suggest looking to Nuclear Information and Resource Service, two of whose facts sheets are cited below.

Footnotes:

(1) National Research Council, Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: Bier VII Phase 2 (National Academies Press, 2006), p. 10.

(2) Brian Moech, MD, “Radiation: Nothing To See Here?,” http://www.truth-out.org, citing Shuryak I, Sachs R, Brenner D, “Cancer Risks After Radiation Exposure in Middle Age,” JNCI J National Cancer Institute Volume 102, issue 21, pp. 1628-1636.

(3) Id., citing Memon A, Godward S, Williams D, et al., “Dental x-rays and the risk of thyroid cancer: A case-control study,” Acta Oncologica, May 2010, Vol. 49, No. 4: 447-453.  For further information and discussion see the Wasserman piece cited below.

(4) Washington’s Blog, http://www.washingtonsblog.com/, cited by Mike Whitney, “Fukushima Fallout Hits the US,” http://www.counterpunch.org/whitney03312011.html.

(5) Brian Moech, MD, footnote (2) above.

(6) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emergency preparedness and Response, “Potassium Iodide (KI),” http://emergency.cdc.gov/radiation/ki.asp.

(7) Torres, Marcos, “The Difference Between Radiation and Radioactivity And How To Protect Yourself,” http://preventdisease.com/news/11/031511_radiation_radioactivity.shtml.

(8) Cockburn, Alexander, “In the Midst of Fukushima: Ahoy There, Nuke-Loving Greens, Welcome to the Real World!,” http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn03182011.html.

Additional Sources:

Cockburn, Alex, “Fukushima, Cover-Up Amid Catastrophe,” posted March 25-27, 2011, at http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn03252011.html.

Nuclear Information and Resource Service, www.nirs.org, “Radiation Basics” and “NIRS Fact Sheet – KI.”

St. Clare, Jeffrey, “When Spent Fuel Rods IgnitePools of Nuclear Fire,” http://www.counterpunch.org/stclair03162011.html.

Torres, Marcos, “Admitted Japanese Nuclear Meltdown Now Means Detrimental Health Effects Worldwide,” http://preventdisease.com/news/11/031411_radiation_health_effects.shtml.

Wasserman, Harvey, “There’s No ‘Safe’ Dose of Radiation,” http://www.counterpunch.org/wasserman03292011.html.

Whitney, Mike, several articles in the last several weeks posted at www.counterpunch.org.

Robert Roth is a retired public interest lawyer who worked in consumer protection for the Attorneys General of Oregon and New York.

Restoring Food and Trade Sovereignty at Home and Abroad

March 5, 2011

Restoring Food and Trade Sovereignty at Home and Abroad (Organized by Samantha Chirillo) (LAW 142). Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, March 3-6, 2011. U.S. farm and trade policies have caused the loss of food security at home and abroad. Although the problem started during the Great Depression, U.S. farm policy since the 1950s and more recent ‘free trade’ agreements have subsidized petrochemical-intensive agribusiness, reduced the demand for and price of local food, and forced many family farmers out of business while disempowering communities. Grassroots efforts to rebuild community food systems and pass comprehensive trade reform (the TRADE Act) are making headway.

Panelists: Sarah Kleeger, Open Oak Farm, Adaptive Seeds, Southern Willamette Valley Bean & Grain Project; Mary Ann Jasper, Sales and Distribution Coordinator, Stalford Farms; Willamette Seed & Grain, LLC, Corvallis Sustainability Coalition’s Local 6 Food Action team; Robert Roth, Founding Member, Lane County Fair Trade Campaign.

A Statement of the Problem
By Robert Roth – March 6, 2011

  • What I have to say today is at the edge of my own understanding.  I’ve been paying attention to trade policy for years, but only recently made the connection with domestic US farm policy.  This talk is not a definitive analysis, but a starting point.  I will post my notes for this talk and a brief list of references and resource on my blog.
  • I enforced what has been called the law of deception, prosecuted fraud, for about 20 years.  Forest is this:  Both “farm policy” and “trade policy” are marketing terms, and forms of deception – real purpose & effect is to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible for people who already have too much.  As collateral damage, industrial agriculture and unfair trade policies are destroying the biosphere.
  • The food-related problems we have, both in agriculture & trade, are a direct result of government policy essentially dictated by agribusiness and multinational corporations.  So we need to pay attention to the US Farm Bill and to trade policy, if we’re to repair the world, continue to eat, and perhaps, avoid the civil unrest and violence that can occur when too many people find themselves unemployed and without access to food.
  • About a billion people are chronically hungry.  It’s been suggested the blow-ups in the Middle East, although they have many causes, were triggered by high unemployment and new food price hikes.  And people have spoken of those blow-ups as conceivably triggering WW III.  Resource wars at any rate appear increasingly likely.
  • How did we get here?  US farm policy since roughly end of WWII has not only ravaged the soil and water but driven millions of small & mid-sized farms out of business, concentrating control in the hands of agribusiness corporations.
  • Beginning late 20th century, trade agreements globalized this process, decimating the farming sectors of poorer countries & forcing newly impoverished farmers & farm workers to migrate for survival.  Globally, 17 corporations now control the bulk of food production.
  • We face resource depletion, climate change, & economic collapse, all pretty much at once.  Policy-makers are doing everything possible to avoid or slow down the economic collapse (“massive campaign to sustain the unsustainable” – Jim K.) & these measures are accelerating resource depletion and climate change.  But part of the problem they’re not addressing is that in the US, there are no longer enough living-wage jobs to sustain the economy.
  • It seems possible we face a comprehensive system breakdown.  But if so, I have no sense of how long that might take, and suspect that if it does occur, it will take longer than some of us expect.  In the meantime, we can help the economic situation and create sustainable jobs, while at the same time addressing some of the threats to the biosphere, by addressing the problems of industrial agriculture.
  • [When I was in grammar school – 1950s – current events newsletter said we could feed 25 billion people with the new chemical farming methods.  Hasn’t worked out that way.  (Where did that newsletter come from?  System for the indoctrination of the young. – Dewey)]
  • So, restoring food security & trade sovereignty requires that we address the farm Bill – next one is due in 2012 – & stand current trade policy on its head.
  • Real beginning of the problem, per Bob Jensen interview with Wes Jackson, “Future Farming”:

About 10,000 years ago humans moved from gathering/hunting to agriculture, tapping into the first major pool of energy-rich carbon — the soil. … Humans went on to exploit the carbon of the forests, coal, oil, and natural gas. But through all that, we’ve continued to practice agriculture that led to soil erosion beyond natural replacement levels. That’s the basic problem of agriculture.

[In addition to] soil loss, the industrialization of agriculture has given us pollution by toxic chemicals, now … present in our farmlands and streams. We have less soil, and it is more degraded. We’ve masked that for years through the use of petrochemicals … . But that “solution” is … in fact part of the problem. There are no technological substitutes for healthy soil and no miraculous technological fixes for the problem of agriculture. We need to move past the industrial model and adopt an ecological model.

  • We need a whole new system of food production, with less chemically dependent agribusiness and much more locally based, smaller-scale, more labor-intensive, and sustainable farming.  Jackson & Wendell Berry call for a “50-year farm bill” – op ed in NYT Jan. 2009.
  • BTW, agriculture also led to a further set of problems: it made possible cities, with centralized, hierarchical control by power elites and the concentration & maldistribution of wealth.  These problems have characterized much of human history and are still with us.  Useful to note the continuity.
  • Fast forward to European colonization of the Americas (as described by Mark Ritchie & Kevin Ristau, “Crisis By Design: A Brief Review of US Farm Policy” (1987):

From the earliest days of European colonization, America’s commercial agriculture … was dominated by large-scale [operations, including] the slave plantations of the South, huge Spanish haciendas in the Southwest, and the bonanza wheat and cattle farms of the West….[most] in the hands of wealthy individuals or foreign investors.  By the mid-1800s…the federal government [had established] policies putting family farmers on much of the land….But…farm families…[immediately] found themselves caught in a classic cost/price squeeze.  Skyrocketing prices for [items such as] seeds, credit, and transportation could not be covered by the prices the grain monopolies were willing to pay for their crops.  Freight rates were controlled by the railroads, while interest rates were set by the big city banks.  [There was a] series of rural depressions and panics in the late 1800s and early 1900s….[F]amily farmers organized political movements…[and federal legislation to fix their problems] was passed by Congress three times, but vetoed twice by Pres. Coolidge and once by Pres. Hoover.

  • Then came the New Deal.  Production controls, price supports, farm credit.  A national grain reserve.  “Public utility” model.
  • But stabilizing prices hurt grain speculators, who thrive on price volatility, and supply management reduced farm acreage, cutting sales of pesticides and fertilizers sold by farm chemical & oil companies.
  • Grain corporations thrive on high volume, low-prices, as they can store food, buy low & sell high, which smaller farmers don’t have the resources to do.  1940s-50s – powerful interests manipulated policy, set prices below cost of production.
  • Total # of farms in the US: 6.5 m./1935→2.05 m. 1997, with most of the decline among family farms.
  • Big corporations also manipulate subsidies: under “Freedom to Farm” Act, 1996-98, top 1% of subsidy recipients got avg. $249,000; top 10% got 61% of $$.
  • Oregon received over $1.5bn. in federal farm subsidies 1995-2009; but it all went to 13% of the state’s farms.  87% got nothing.
  • Policy also favors agricultural products geared for export.  Willamette Valley went from relative food sufficiency 50 years ago, when it was a major canning center, to specializing in grass seed production & importing 95% of our food.
  • So-called “free trade” agreements globalized this process, as big subsidized operations drove smaller local farms out of business throughout the world.
  • E.g., Mexico used to subsidize small farmers.  NAFTA required that Mexico stop those subsidies and credit programs.  But under US farm policy, the federal government here still gives billions in subsidies to big agribusinesses, which can thus sell corn in Mexico for less than it costs to grow.
  • This arrangement drove over one million small Mexican farmers out of business.  Nearly seven million farm workers became unemployed.  Many came here.
  • At the same time, trade agreements cause job losses among the people already living here.  At least ten thousand Oregon jobs were lost in 2009 due to trade agreements.  This causes tension between current residents and newly arriving immigrants.
  • Part of a solution:  reorient US farm policy toward support for smaller farms.
  • As James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, wrote in May 2009:  There’s no way we can continue the petro-agriculture system of farming. … President Obama and Ag Secretary Vilsack have not given a hint that they understand the gravity of the situation. … [But it] happens to be one of the few problems we face that public policy could affect sharply and broadly — if we underwrote the reactivation of smaller, local farm operations instead of shoveling money to giant “agribusiness” (or Citibank, or Goldman Sachs, or AIG…).
  • Wes Jackson interviewed by Bob Jensen:  [P]rotecting the soil is not only an ecological imperative but an opportunity for positive economic and cultural change as well. The proposals we’re discussing would increase employment opportunities in agriculture — sustainable farming will require more “eyes per acre,” and replacing fossil-fuel energy with human energy and ecological knowledge makes good economic sense.
  • [Right now, globally, 70 percent of food is grown on farms less than 2 hectares (4 acres) in size, tended in large part by women.]
  • 2008 Farm Bill perpetuated market deregulation and volatility.  But the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found small gains for local food system support (Farmers Market Promotion Program), support for beginning farms & ranchers, and for organic agriculture.  But the Institute concluded, the bill did nothing to address the larger problems.  For starters, we should re-establish a publicly-held grain reserve and stronger antitrust enforcement.

On trade policy, the TRADE Act would have existing trade deals renegotiated, and require consideration of consumer, environmental, labor and other protections in future pacts.  But Obama is instead pushing a NAFTA-style deal with Korea.  So the next step for us is to defeat the Korea Free Trade Agreement.  Ron Wyden chairs a Senate subcommittee that could help a lot to achieve that result.  Call and ask him to do so, and to sponsor comprehensive trade reform like the TRADE Act from the last Congress.   If you live outside of Oregon, please contact your own Senators and Congressional Representative with that message.

Selected Bibliography & Resources

Allen, Will, Kate Duesterberg and Ronnie Cummins, “The Real Gold Standard: Local and Organic Food and Farming,” www.counterpunch.org/allen02252011.html.

Anderson, Cassandra, “Monsanto Shifts ALL Liability to Farmers,” February 21, 2011, http://www.morphcity.com/home/94-monsanto-shifts-all-liability-to-farmers.

Astyk, Sharon, “Are We Seeing the Early Signs of a Seed Availability Crisis?”, Casaubon’s Book website, December 11, 2008.

CounterPunch website, www.counterpunch.org; on the economic and financial crises, articles by Mike Whitney, Pam Martens, Michael Hudson and others; and anything by James K. Galbraith, Simon Johnson, Robert Pollin, Robert Reich.

Cummings, Ronnie, “How Industry Giants Are Undermining the Organic Movement: The Organic Monopoly and the Myth of ‘Natural’ Foods,” www.counterpunch.org/cummings07092010.html.

Devinder Sharma’s ZSpace Page, “Caught In The Food Pirates’ Trap,” March 1, 2011.

Gray, Heather, and K. Rashid Nuri, “Witnessing a Shift in the Worldview of Agriculture: How Organic Agriculture Can Feed the World,” www.counterpunch.org/gray03102010.html.

Hansen-Kuhn, Karen, “Making US Trade Policy Serve Global Food Security Goals,” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, January 2011.

Harkness, Jim, “Is Famine the New Normal,” Policy Innovations, a publication of the Carnegie Council, February 17, 2011.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, www.iatp.org; Communications, Ben Lilliston, (612) 870-3416, BLilliston@iatp.org; see esp., “Farm Bill Perpetuates Market Deregulation and Volatility” (press release), May 13, 2008; see also, January 07, 2011 press release, “Health leaders call for healthy Farm Bill,” and www.HealthyFoodAction.org.

Jensen, Robert, “An Interview with Wes Jackson: Future Farming,” www.counterpunch.org/jenssen01302009.

Mazzei, Umberto, “International Speculation and Rising Food Prices,” www.counterpunch.org/mazzei02142011.html.

Murphy, Sophia, “Concentrated Market Power and Agricultural Trade,” Ecofair Trade Dialogue Discussion Papers, No. 1/August 2006/English Version.

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, http://www.citizen.org/trade/, Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, http://www.citizenstrade.org/orftc.php, and Alliance for Global Justice, http://afgj.org/?p=878#more-878, on trade policy and issues.

Ritchie, Mark, & Kevin Ristau, “Crisis By Design: A Brief Review of US Farm Policy,” League of Rural Voters Education Project (1987).

Roth, Robert, “The Financial and Economic Crisis: An Assessment and Action Plan,” May 18, 2009, accessible at www.healingjustice.wordpress.com (see Pages).

Seattle Farm Bill Principles, Supporting Healthy Farms, Food and People, Guidance for the 2012 Farm Bill, www.SeattleFarmBillPrinciples.org.

Willoughby, Robin, “Good for Farmers? The World Seed Conference,” www.counterpunch.org/willoughby09162009.html.

Up Against the Empire: Celebrating the Rebel Jesus

December 24, 2010

“Tell me, say – what kind of man this Jesus is, my lord?”

— Buffy Ste.-Marie, “Ananais”

The media distorted parts of Jesus’ message right from the start. The Gospels, and the first generation of Jesus’ followers, effectively altered or hid his more radical teachings, and what has been preached from a million pulpits and that we still get from many today is a gross distortion. Jesus was not preoccupied with individual “sin” but with systemic injustice, in opposition to the commercializing empire of his time. The historical Jesus disclosed by contemporary scholarship appears to be fundamentally the same as the Jesus who is preached and practiced in the Catholic Worker movement, for example. And the parallels between his conflict with Rome and our own with imperial America are striking indeed.

Then as now, the maldistribution of wealth was quite severe, with peasants comprising the bulk of the population. “The term peasant … denotes a relationship of exploitation in which the vast majority who produce the food on which everyone and everything depends are consistently relieved of their surplus, so that a small minority have a huge surplus while most remain at a subsistence level. Simply: a peasant is a systematically exploited farmer.” John Dominic Crossan, The Essential Jesus 4 (1995). Being a Jewish peasant had its saving moments, however, because of “a traditional ideology of land … enshrined in the ancient Pentateuchal laws.” Just as the people were to rest on the seventh or Sabbath Day, so God’s land was to rest on the seventh or Sabbath Year, when Jewish debts were to be remitted and Jewish slaves released. Exodus 23:10-11; Deuteronomy 15:1-3, 12-14,” Id. 5-6. And in the “Jubilee Year, the year after seven sets of Sabbath Years, all expropriated lands and even village houses, though not city ones, were to revert to their original or traditional owners. Leviticus 25:10, 18. “While the Jubilee Year was most likely no longer implemented at all by the first century, the Sabbath Year was probably still more or less enforced.” Id. 6. Those ancient laws “refuse to see debt, slavery, or land expropriation simply as business transactions. The land is a divine possession not a negotiable commodity[:] … ‘The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.'” Leviticus 25:23.

By Jesus’ day, however, the Roman Empire was no longer a traditional but a commercialized agrarian empire. To the Roman imperialist, land accumulation was a sensible business practice and debt foreclosure the best and quickest way to accomplish it. Crossan, The Essential Jesus 6. In first century Palestine, the Jewish peasantry was being pushed into debt and displaced from its holdings at unusually high rates, since land became, under the commercialized Roman economy, less an ancestral inheritance never to be abandoned and more an entrepreneurial commodity rapidly to be exploited. As higher rates of imperial and Herodian taxation forced increasing numbers of peasants from their land, there developed a growing class of destitute people with few options. One could become an artisan, a prostitute, a beggar, or a bandit. In this context Jesus of Nazareth appeared, the son of an artisan.

“Repent and believe in the gospel.” But “repentance” is not about a feeling of penitance for individual sins. It means a turning, at a more fundamental level, of the heart and soul to God. Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: A New Vision 122 n. 74, and 163-164 (1987). “The prophets called Israel to repent, which meant to turn or return, and which referred primarily to a change in Israel’s collective life, and not simply to a change in individual lives.” Id., 153 text and n. 13. Belief in the gospel does not mean merely to believe, as a condition of salvation, in certain doctrines or teachings, but to “give one’s heart to” the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. See Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time 137 (1995). And the Kingdom entails both religious and political meanings, in a situation of imperial domination and colonial exploitation. “The phrase evokes an ideal vision of political and religious power, of how this world here below would be run if God, not Caesar, sat on the imperial throne.” John Dominic Crossan, The Essential Jesus 7-8.

In the Kingdom of God, it is not the rich who are favored, but the destitute. As destitute people flocked to Jesus to hear his teaching and to see or be cured by his mighty works, he taught them by the example of his life, as well. Be compassionate as God is compassionate. (Luke 6:36; see Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again 46, text and fn. 1.) Judge not, lest you be judged. If you have two coats and your brother has none, give one to your brother. Never refuse alms to one who asks for them. What you do for the least of these, you do for me. Love your neighbor as yourself. And who is my neighbor? A broken stranger lying by the side of the road. Eating and drinking, Jesus practiced open commensality, shared table fellowship, that mirrored many of his stories in their radical egalitarianism. He practiced free healing, declining to set up a brokered healing business that would stay in one place and let his disciples mediate access to him for a fee. Instead, he was always on the move for the next town, personally and directly accessible, and always performed, as it were, free of charge. He didn’t make people dependent on his power: he empowered them.

The stories of Jesus’ interactions with women are remarkable. First century Judaism was deeply patriarchal. Women had few rights; they could not be witnesses in a court of law, or initiate a divorce. They were not to be taught the Torah and were to be separated from men in public life. Respectable women did not go out of the house unescorted by a family member; adult women were to be veiled in public. But Jesus defended the woman who entered an all-male banquet, unveiled and with her hair unbraided, and washed his feet with her hair. While being hosted by Mary and Martha, he affirmed Mary’s choice of the role of disciple. And of course, he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. Women were apparently part of the itinerant group traveling with Jesus; the movement itself was financially supported by some wealthy women. And the evidence is compelling that women played leadership roles in the early post-Easter community. Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time 57 (1995).

“When you go into any land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what they will set before you, and heal the sick among them.” Gospel of Thomas 14:2. See also Luke 10:4-11 = Matt 10:8-14 and Mark 6:8-13 = Matt 10:8-10a, 11 = Luke 9:2-6. John Dominic Crossan in a study based in part on the Didache argues persuasively that the itinerants who went out preaching the gospel in the century or so following Jesus’ ministry offered free healing in exchange for a meal, carrying on the practice mentioned, briefly, in the Gospels. Crossan, The Essential Jesus 9-10, and The Birth of Christianity, passim. Crossan speculates that the disciples were sent out two by two because one of them was likely female in many cases, and the two would travel as a couple for the woman’s protection.

The Kingdom movement was thus a form of community organizing, Jesus’ program of empowerment for a peasantry becoming steadily more hard-pressed through insistent taxation, indebtedness, and eventual loss of land, within the commercialized Roman Empire under Augustan peace and a Lower Galilee under Herodian urbanization. “Jesus lived, against the systemic injustice and structural evil of that situation, an alternative open to all who would accept it: a life of [free] healing and shared eating, of radical itinerancy, programmatic homelessness, and fundamental egalitarianism, of human contact without discrimination, and of divine contact without hierarchy. He also died for that alternative.” Crossan, The Essential Jesus 12.

The parallels with contemporary events could scarcely be more clear, or more striking. The form of globalization promoted by the elites of the rich countries and their instruments such as the IMF and the World Bank have driven peasants the world over off their land and into lives and early deaths of destitution. For example, “[p]rior to the 1910 revolution, wealthy landowners had confiscated most of indigenous Mexico’s communal farmland, reducing the campesinos to a state of serfdom. … [L]argely through the struggle of Zapata and his followers … the Mexican constitution of 1917, [in] Article 27, guaranteed the return and protection of communal land to farmers. … [A]lthough land reform [thus] became law in Mexico, it was only partially carried out. However, on January 1, 1994, as a condition of Mexico’s joining the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Article 27 of the Mexican constitution was abolished. An organization of Mayan Indians from the state of Chiapas, calling themselves the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), recognized this abolition as a death sentence for Mexico’s rural indigenous population. NAFTA would force farmers who could not compete with foreign investors’ technology and equipment off the land, thus opening up a wealth of cheap land and labor for exploitation by international corporations.” Donald Nollar, “Fighting For Our Lives,” Catholic Agitator (May, 2001), p. 1.

The rest has become part of our recent history, and is still going on. Similar scenarios have played out all across the globe. The rich countries continue to enforce protectionist policies and provide subsidies for their own basic industries, while demanding access to the markets of developing countries. “Free trade” is a euphemism for unfair trade. Protectionism is the only way any country has ever developed a domestic industrial base. The destruction of trade barriers and other mechanisms have, however, opened up many Third World countries to imports from the rich countries, resulting in the devastation of Third World industries, agriculture, and entire economies. Haiti is one of the more heart-rending examples.

And the commercializing empires of the industrialized world seek to reduce everything that was once regarded as personal or unique or holy to the status of interchangeable, salable commodities, demanding that all resources, including human beings, be accessible for exploitation, ostensibly to maximize production and thus promote the common good. But we all know what a rising tide does to those who have no boats, and it’s happening every minute of every day to people throughout the world.

At this point, the very idea of the common good is under relentless attack. That’s what is so evil about the current attacks on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the safety net generally, such as it still is. The real animus behind these attacks is hostility to the idea of the common good, the notion that we should care about and for one another, the very idea that we have interests in common that we can and should address collectively, through government as well as other forms of social organization. But caring for one another is our natural state, so a sustained program of propaganda is in place to persuade us to think only of wealth, forgetting all but self.

And what I think we need not only to counter these forces but to build community for its own sake is organizing: the development of common understandings and relationships of trust that will enable enough of us to act collectively, constructively, in coordination, to redeem the commons and serve the common good. Given that the airwaves are saturated with lies, the truth needs to be shared through other means: mind-to-mind, hand-to-hand, person-to-person, sometimes but not necessarily face-to-face and one-on-one. That’s what organizing ultimately is, and it can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including by the written as well as the spoken word.

We are called upon, in the present age, to oppose these forces of injustice and oppression, and to defend the commons, our common humanity, and the common good, and with them our neighbors, including and especially the most vulnerable among us. We are called upon by our very nature, our needs as human beings for fulfillment through relationship and community. But in answering that call, we also have the powerful and heroic example of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth – as Jackson Browne has aptly called him, the rebel Jesus.

Chris Hedges Hits One Out of the Park

November 30, 2010

I discovered Chris Hedges’ work maybe a year or two ago, and for a time, he was an inspiration. At times, like this morning, he still is. He’s obviously gifted in rhetoric, and committed to justice. But some of his more recent writings have been not only depressing, but annoying. My thought was that he’s carried away by his own rhetoric into a realm of hopelessness and despair. Resistance may be beautiful, but it’s futile. The ballot box is useless. There’s nothing we can do. That was the message I heard several times, and some of my understanding is clearly accurate. But in his latest post on truthdig, copied below, I feel he transcends all that to produce, once more, a piece that elevates and inspires, even as it touches on profoundly depressing aspects of our situation, and calls by name many of the more destructive players in our world. The value of this piece came to me forcefully when, about two-thirds of the way through, I began to cry.

I don’t know where it comes from, but not unlike Chris Hedges and many others whose work helps to inform and sustain me these days, I feel driven to respond to the cruelty and injustice that I see. I’ve always been this way, speaking out in writings and other ways. But lately, as I must see fifty things a day that cry out for a response, I’ve been trying to let myself off the hook sometimes. A life spent completely in dwelling on such things is a life completely spent; I pay for it in anxiety and physical tension that used to lead to migraines until I learned to manage my energy a little better. So I don’t always speak out. The cruelty and injustice are too ubiquitous, and I’m not one of the prophets, I just admire them. But I try to emulate them in a small way, to target some of the worst offenses, learn enough about them to say something useful, and then pass that along, on this blog, in an op ed or letter to the editor, in emails and conversations with friends.

Faced with the pervasive catastrophes of our time, I do try to respond constructively. What happened this morning, when I broke down and cried in the middle of Chris Hedges’ essay, was that it all just got to me too deeply. That happens at times. There is just so much. I won’t repeat the list, Hedges does an estimable job in the piece I’m about to copy here. And it does seem that our situation might be hopeless, in the sense that, as I think Wendell Berry said recently, everything of value is threatened, and it seems unlikely the lives we now lead can be sustained in any easily recognizable form. There appears to be, as Hedges says, just a thin line of defense between civil society and its disintegration.

But before repeating Chris Hedges’ prescription, I want to say that I think more is possible. As Noam Chomsky frequently points out, we do still have enormous freedom to agitate, organize, protest and struggle for change. The ballot box isn’t useless, it just isn’t being used nearly enough. But we still have it. And for its use to be more effective, we need a great many more people who recognize our real problems and demand that our political structures and players address them. It isn’t yet quite true, as Leonard Cohen said so long ago, that “the cities they are broke in half, and the middlemen are gone.” So “let me ask you one more time, O children of the dust: All these hunters who are shrieking now, do they speak for us?”

But I won’t ask just one more time. I’ll keep asking, nagging, agitating, informing, sharing information and analysis in the hope of helping to organize a sufficient and sustained opposition to the evils of our time, and a multitude of forces for the common good. That is, by the way, what is so evil about the current attacks on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the safety net generally, such as it still is: The real animus behind these attacks is hostility to the idea of the common good, the notion that we should care about and for one another, the very idea that we have interests in common that we can and should address collectively, through government as well as other forms of social organization.

What I think we need is organizing: the development of common understandings and relationships of trust that will enable enough of us to act collectively, constructively, in coordination, to redeem the commons and serve the common good. Given that the airwaves are saturated with lies, the truth needs to be shared through other means: mind-to-mind, hand-to-hand, person-to-person, sometimes but not necessarily face-to-face and one-on-one. That’s what organizing ultimately is, and it can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including by the written as well as the spoken word.

I may misunderstand Chris Hedges, but that’s what I think of as my disagreement with him, that I wanted to express before sharing his wonderful latest piece of work. I don’t think it’s hopeless – it may be, but that’s just a hypothesis, like its opposite, at this point in our time – and there are things we can do to affect the outcome. Some of them may consist of protests like the one planned by Dan Ellsberg, Chris Hedges and others (described below), and routinely engaged in over the years by the War Resisters League and the Catholic Workers, to mention just two of my favorites. But others include conversation, speech-making, publication, and even use of the ballot, once organizing has produced a critical mass sufficient to put good people into office. Iraq Veterans Against the War is organizing by a variety of means, and as I wrote to them just the other day, theirs is some of the best organizing and most important work I’m aware of. Progressive Democrats of America and others are organizing to make more effective use of the ballot box. Even in Congress, there are some very good people: most members of the Progressive Caucus were reelected earlier this month, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky somehow got onto the Deficit Commission and has offered a compassionate and practical alternative to the deficit hawks’ attack on the safety net and the common good.

I think I will copy here the piece by Chris Hedges, and follow that with a script I composed for a reading at a bar mitzvah several years ago.

And please remember this:  Like lovers in a stormy night/with a child to defend,/No defeat, baby. No surrender.

Real Hope Is About Doing Something
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/hope_in_the_21st_century_20101128/
Posted on Nov 29, 2010 – By Chris Hedges

On Dec. 16 I will join Daniel Ellsberg, Medea Benjamin, Ray McGovern and several military veteran activists outside the White House to protest the futile and endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of us will, after our rally in Lafayette Park, attempt to chain ourselves to the fence outside the White House. It is a pretty good bet we will all spend a night in jail. Hope, from now on, will look like this.

Hope is not trusting in the ultimate goodness of Barack Obama, who, like Herod of old, sold out his people. It is not having a positive attitude or pretending that happy thoughts and false optimism will make the world better. Hope is not about chanting packaged campaign slogans or trusting in the better nature of the Democratic Party. Hope does not mean that our protests will suddenly awaken the dead consciences, the atrophied souls, of the plutocrats running Halliburton, Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil or the government.

Hope does not mean we will halt the firing in Afghanistan of the next Hellfire missile, whose explosive blast sucks the oxygen out of the air and leaves the dead, including children, scattered like limp rag dolls on the ground. Hope does not mean we will reform Wall Street swindlers and speculators, or halt the pillaging of our economy as we print $600 billion in new money with the desperation of all collapsing states. Hope does not mean that the nation’s ministers and rabbis, who know the words of the great Hebrew prophets, will leave their houses of worship to practice the religious beliefs they preach. Most clerics like fine, abstract words about justice and full collection plates, but know little of real hope.

Hope knows that unless we physically defy government control we are complicit in the violence of the state. All who resist keep hope alive. All who succumb to fear, despair and apathy become enemies of hope. They become, in their passivity, agents of injustice. If the enemies of hope are finally victorious, the poison of violence will become not only the language of power but the language of opposition. And those who resist with nonviolence are in times like these the thin line of defense between a civil society and its disintegration.

Hope has a cost. Hope is not comfortable or easy. Hope requires personal risk. Hope does not come with the right attitude. Hope is not about peace of mind. Hope is an action. Hope is doing something. The more futile, the more useless, the more irrelevant and incomprehensible an act of rebellion is, the vaster and the more potent hope becomes. Hope never makes sense. Hope is weak, unorganized and absurd. Hope, which is always nonviolent, exposes in its powerlessness the lies, fraud and coercion employed by the state. Hope does not believe in force. Hope knows that an injustice visited on our neighbor is an injustice visited on us all. Hope posits that people are drawn to the good by the good. This is the secret of hope’s power and it is why it can never finally be defeated. Hope demands for others what we demand for ourselves. Hope does not separate us from them. Hope sees in our enemy our own face.

Hope is not for the practical and the sophisticated, the cynics and the complacent, the defeated and the fearful. Hope is what the corporate state, which saturates our airwaves with lies, seeks to obliterate. Hope is what our corporate overlords are determined to crush. Be afraid, they tell us. Surrender your liberties to us so we can make the world safe from terror. Don’t resist. Embrace the alienation of our cheerful conformity. Buy our products. Without them you are worthless. Become our brands. Do not look up from your electronic hallucinations to think. No. Above all do not think. Obey.

W.H. Auden wrote:
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The powerful do not understand hope. Hope is not part of their vocabulary. They speak in the cold, dead words of national security, global markets, electoral strategy, staying on message, image and money. The powerful protect their own. They divide the world into the damned and the blessed, the patriots and the enemy, the rich and the poor. They insist that extinguishing lives in foreign wars or in our prison complexes is a form of human progress. They cannot see that the suffering of a child in Gaza or a child in the blighted pockets of Washington, D.C., diminishes and impoverishes us all. They are deaf, dumb and blind to hope. Those addicted to power, blinded by self-exaltation, cannot decipher the words of hope any more than most of us can decipher hieroglyphics. Hope to Wall Street bankers and politicians, to the masters of war and commerce, is not practical. It is gibberish. It means nothing.

I cannot promise you fine weather or an easy time. I cannot assure you that thousands will converge on Lafayette Park in solidarity. I cannot pretend that being handcuffed is pleasant. I cannot say that anyone in Congress or the White House, anyone in the boardrooms of the corporations that cannibalize our nation, will be moved by pity to act for the common good. I cannot tell you these wars will end or the hungry will be fed. I cannot say that justice will roll down like a mighty wave and restore our nation to sanity. But I can say this: If we resist and carry out acts, no matter how small, of open defiance, hope will not be extinguished. If all we accomplish is to assure a grieving mother in Baghdad or Afghanistan, a young man or woman crippled physically and emotionally by the hammer blows of war, that he or she is not alone, our resistance will be successful. Hope cannot be sustained if it cannot be seen.

Any act of rebellion, any physical defiance of those who make war, of those who perpetuate corporate greed and are responsible for state crimes, anything that seeks to draw the good to the good, nourishes our souls and holds out the possibility that we can touch and transform the souls of others. Hope affirms that which we must affirm. And every act that imparts hope is a victory in itself.

Also from Auden:
Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Chris Hedges is Truthdig columnist and a senior fellow at The Nation Institute. His newest book is “Death of the Liberal Class.” More information on the Dec. 16 protest can be found at http://www.stopthesewars.org.

Reprinted from Sharon Astyk’s Blog CASAUBON 11/11/07 (excerpt):
Tikkun Olam, if you are a Jew, or even if you find the metaphor compelling – tikkun olam means “the repair of the world.” In my faith, that is why we are here – to fix what is broken, repair what is damaged, to improve what can be improved. As the saying goes, it is not required of us that we complete the work, but it is not permitted for us not to try. …
Sharon

Comments: Robert said…
Thank you, Sharon. … Recently I was asked to prepare a reading for a bar mitzvah. … I somewhat surprised myself by coming up with the following, which I’d like to share in response to your statement:

There has been substantial progress in the unending quest for justice and freedom in recent years…. The crises we face [today] are real and imminent, [but] in each case means are available to overcome them. The first step is understanding, then [at times, individual action can be effective; at others, we need] organization and [collective] action. That is the path that has been followed in the past, bringing about a much better world and leaving a legacy that can be carried forward from a higher plane than before.…[1]

Therefore, may we have not only strength, determination, and will power, but understanding, compassion, patience, persistence, and the courage to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, [to vindicate] the rights of all who are left desolate,”[2] and to work in cooperation with our neighbors and the world community, that our world may become just and therefore peaceful and safe, and that our lives may be blessed.[3]

And let us say: Amen.

[1] Adapted from Noam Chomsky, Failed States, and “Imminent Crises: Threats and Opportunities,” Monthly Review 17, June 2007.
[2] Proverbs 31:8.
[3] Adapted from Jack Riemer, Social Action

Let’s Vote and Get Out the Vote this Tuesday – While We still Can.

October 31, 2010

In the summer of 2009, Sara Robinson wrote several articles on the possibility of fascism developing in the United States. As I wrote in response at the time (https://healingjustice.wordpress.com/), I had had some concern along those lines on and off for some time. The discussion then focused on the unruliness of many who attended political gatherings in what appeared to be spontaneous outpourings of outrage over various policies, on the part of people who came to be called Tea Partiers. Bullying of scapegoats by roving mobs was one of the elements of the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s.

More recently, several factors have given greater concreteness to the concern that such a phenomenon may be gathering force and coherence in the US. For one thing, it has emerged that the development, persistence and direction of what is often referred to as the Tea Party has been supported by right-wing billionaires whose sponsorship of think-tanks and ownership and direction of media has helped to create an atmosphere of hostility to government (rather than to the corporate masters of the government), in which the general financial and logistical support of these parties has been able to produce the appearance and increasingly the reality of a coherent “movement.” See, e.g., Pam Martens, “More Tentacles Surface at Rightwing Front Group: The Koch Empire and Americans for Prosperity,” http://www.counterpunch.org/, October 19, 2010).

There have now been a number of manifestations of bullying violence, in connection with the mid-term elections of 2010. In this context, my initial concern about the possible impact the victory of right-wing candidates could have on public policy has been augmented by my concern that such a victory would be a further development in the emergence of an atmosphere of bullying, scapegoating, and other aspects of a loss of civility which, whether one calls it a step on the road to fascism or not, would be deeply troubling. I have therefore come to have a renewed interest in the elections, taking the view that the victory of even candidates with whom I differ substantially on important issues would be preferable to that of their opponents, who threaten to bring with them not only even worse policies but an atmosphere of tolerance for and even encouragement of violence.

I’m again indebted to Sara Robinson for articulating earlier this month an updated analysis of the problem. http://pdamerica.org/articles/news/2010-10-24-03-55-29-news.php. As Ms. Robinson sums up her earlier work and its reception:

“In August 2009, I wrote a piece titled Fascist America: Are We There Yet? that sparked much discussion on both the left and right ends of the blogosphere. In it, I argued that—according to the best scholarship on how fascist regimes emerge—America was on a path that was running much too close to the fail-safe point beyond which no previous democracy has ever been able to turn back from a full-on fascist state. I also noted that the then-emerging Tea Party had a lot of proto-fascist hallmarks, and that it had the potential to become a clear and present danger to the future of our democracy if it ever got enough traction to start winning elections in a big way.”

At the conclusion of her updated treatment of the subject, Ms. Robinson suggests three possible scenarios:

“1. The Tea Party is rejected outright by the voters on November 2. A handful of their candidates do win their races; and for the next few years, the Democrats have a grand time pointing out their sheer wingnuttitude, bolstering a compelling case against electing any more of them in the future. The party begins to lose momentum, and in a few years is defunct.

“2. The Tea Party elects a credible number of these 70-odd candidates—enough to make a solid showing and establish its political bona fides, but not enough to get anything serious done. If this happens, progressives need to work fast and hard. If this right-wing tide continues to build as we head into the 2012 election, we’ll still be cruising straight into a fascist future—just not quite yet. There’s time to stop it, but the momentum is not on our side—and stopping it only gets harder with every passing week.

“3. A solid majority of the Tea Party candidates win their races, cementing the movement’s lock on the GOP and turning it into a genuine political power in this country. They’ve already promised us that if they take either house of Congress, the next two years will be a lurid nightmare of hearings, trials, impeachments, and character assassinations against progressives. (Which could, in the end, backfire on the GOP as badly as the Clinton impeachment did. We can hope.) Similar scorched-earth harassment awaits officials at every other level of government, too. And casual violence against immigrants, gays, and progressives may escalate as the Tea Party brownshirts become bolder, confident that at least some authorities will either back them up or look the other way.

“In this scenario, the fail-safe point—the point beyond which no country has ever turned back from the full fascist nightmare—may well be behind us when we wake up on November 3. From there, the rest will play out in agonizing slow motion; and the character of the rest of this decade will hinge almost entirely on whether the corporatists, the militarists, or the theocrats ultimately get the upper hand in the emerging regime.”

Robinson acknowledges that people with the sorts of views now ascribed to Tea Partiers have always been with us, but notes:

“According to Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates, the Tea Parties are a broad movement that brings together several preexisting formations on the political right:
— Economic libertarians who worry about big government collectivist tyranny
— Christian Right Conservatives who oppose liberal government social policies
— Right-wing apocalyptic Christians who fear a Satanic New World Order
— Nebulous conspiracy theorists who fear a secular New World Order
— Nationalistic ultra-patriots concerned that US sovereignty is eroding
— Xenophobic anti-immigrant white nationalists who worry about preserving the “real” America.

“This unification of right-wing forces around radical far-right ideas has never happened on anything like this scale in modern American history. And it’s why we need to recognize the Tea Party as something unique under the political sun—and seriously evaluate the future that awaits us if it becomes any more powerful.”

Her article concludes with this important call to involvement:

“Be the one who sees where this is taking us. Be the one who stands while you still can. The future these people have in mind for us is one that dozens of countries have already lived through; and all of them will carry the scars for centuries. It’s not fascism yet; but if the Tea Party manages to get its hands on the levers of power, it will be.”

Writing along similar lines, Chris Hedges has raised similar concerns (“How Democracy Dies: Lessons From a Master,” Posted October 10, 2010 at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/how_democracy_dies_lessons_from_a_master_20101011/):

“The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes spent his life battling the assault on democracy by tyrants. It is disheartening to be reminded that he lost. But he understood that the hardest struggle for humankind is often stating and understanding the obvious. Aristophanes, who had the temerity to portray the ruling Greek tyrant, Cleon, as a dog, is the perfect playwright to turn to in trying to grasp the danger posed to us by movements from the tea party to militias to the Christian right, as well as the bankrupt and corrupt power elite that no longer concerns itself with the needs of its citizens. He saw the same corruption 2,400 years ago. He feared correctly that it would extinguish Athenian democracy. And he struggled in vain to rouse Athenians from their slumber.

“There is a yearning by tens of millions of Americans, lumped into a diffuse and fractious movement, to destroy the intellectual and scientific rigor of the Enlightenment. They seek out of ignorance and desperation to create a utopian society based on “biblical law.” They want to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy. These radicals, rather than the terrorists who oppose us, are the gravest threat to our open society. They have, with the backing of hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate money, gained tremendous power. They peddle pseudoscience such as “Intelligent Design” in our schools. They keep us locked into endless and futile wars of imperialism. They mount bigoted crusades against gays, immigrants, liberals and Muslims. They turn our judiciary, in the name of conservative values, over to corporations. They have transformed our liberal class into hand puppets for corporate power. And we remain meek and supine.”

At the conclusion of his own analysis, Hedges echoes the call of Sara Robinson:

“Let us not stand at the open gates of the city meekly waiting for the barbarians. They are coming. They are slouching towards Bethlehem. Let us, if nothing else, like Aristophanes, begin to call our tyranny by its name.”

Bill Fletcher, Jr., articulates and reinforces the point that our first line of defense is the coming elections, in “Enthusiasm: I Am Not Interested In Things Getting Worse!, http://pdamerica.org/articles/campaigns/2010-10-27-10-51-34-campaigns.php (October 27, 2010):

“I am focusing on those on the right attempting to move in, and frankly they are an unsettling bunch. You see, my enthusiasm for voting rests on the fact that I am not interested in people who worship ignorance, intolerance, war and the strengthening of a plutocracy increasing their grip on power and pulling this country any further to the right than it currently is. In other words, the challenge for progressives is two-fold: one, to beat back the irrationalist right; and, two, to move against the right-wing of the Democratic Party and to push for real change.”

As Fletcher’s piece concludes:

“Well, we are now facing a moment of truth. This is not the boy who cried wolf. In addition to the Democratic Congress as a whole being under assault from the Republicans, there are some liberal and progressive Democratic elected officials who are under siege, and about whom we should be concerned. There is an energized, right-wing army waiting to turn back the clock. So progressives should be enthused right now; enthused to defend our friends, but also to defeat our enemies. But we should also be motivated to put into practice a different set of politics. We have got to get off the defensive and promote a different sort of vision, an inspiring, progressive vision.”

Many of us are by now aware of the incidents to which I refer above. As Michael Moore describes one of the most sickening:

“There she was, thrown to the pavement by a Republican in a checkered shirt. Another Republican thrusts his foot in between her legs and presses down with all his weight to pin her to the curb. Then a Republican leader comes over and viciously stomps on her head with his foot. You hear her glasses crunch under the pressure.

Holding her head down with his foot, he applies more force so she can’t move. Her skull and brain are now suffering a concussion.

“The young woman’s name is Lauren Valle, but she is really all of us. For come this Tuesday, the right wing — and the wealthy who back them — plan to take their collective boot and bring it down hard on not just the head of Barack Obama but on the heads of everyone they simply don’t like.” “A Boot to the Head…from Michael Moore,” October 28, 2010, http://www.michaelmoore.com/.

Mike Lux sums up the situation this way (“Robbing You With A Fountain Pen – Rightwing Electoral Violence,” October 28, 2010, http://pdamerica.org/articles/campaigns/2010-10-28-01-20-20-campaigns.php):

“I think the lawlessness reflected in the physical violence on the campaign trail coming from so many on the right, and the blatant disregard for the rule of law by the big banks trying to railroad so many people out of their homes without the proper paper work, are more related than conventional wisdom would suggest. The fact that banks and their “servicers” have apparently committed massive document fraud and have in some cases actually hired thugs to break into people’s homes and change their locks during foreclosure proceedings, and the fact that they lied to and bet against their own clients in investment deals is all part of a pattern: people with too much power and an Ayn Randian view of the world. Ayn Rand, the Social Darwinists of the 1880s, the big Wall Street banks, libertarian candidates like Rand Paul and these thugs who work on their campaigns all make the same arguments: power is morality, greed is good, compassion is weakness, buyer beware. While they call for civility, and argue against class warfare and populism, they believe in turning the Golden Rule of the Bible on its head and replacing it with another one: he who has the gold, rules. And if the rule of law gets in their way, they just ignore it or use their political power to change the law. If politicians or public opinion create a problem for them, they use their money to dump millions into lobbying to change the law, or dump millions into secretive groups to buy elections.”

Lux concludes:

“The best argument for the Democrats in these elections is that the sharks are in the water, and the thugs are in the street. Democrats can and do drive us crazy sometimes, but when the Ayn Rand Social Darwinists on Wall Street and the streets of Kentucky argue that the strong should rule over the weak, it is better to strengthen the hand of our advocates like [Elizabeth] Warren and [Alan] Grayson and [US Senator] Sherrod (rather than Scott) Brown. There are some who rob you with a gun, and some with a fountain pen—some who kick you in the head and some who throw you out of your home—and it is better to have a sheriff who will be on your side at least some of the time.”

Right here in my home area of Lane County, Oregon, a recent public hearing of the Board of County Commissioners raised some of the same themes. A crowd of perhaps 450-500 people angrily packed what was to be a public hearing on proposed rules to protect public drinking water by regulating the use of property adjacent to the McKenzie River. At the outset, as the Commissioners were trying to get the meeting underway, many in the crowd rose as one and preemptively recited the Pledge of Allegiance. They subsequently shouted down any effort to speak. Since there were problems with the sound system and the venue couldn’t safely accommodate so many people, the hearing was reset to a later date. Some who attended have called for all who attend the rescheduled hearing to wear red shirts.

Obama has not disappointed me once. I voted for him because I thought he was unlikely to get us into a nuclear war, whereas there was a much higher probability McCain would do exactly that. Thus far at least, Obama has lived up to my expectations. But his administration has nevertheless been a dismal failure thus far from my perspective, for reasons alluded to in several of the articles cited in this piece, such as passing an inadequate stimulus and failing to articulate the need for more; compromising the guts out of health care reform, and doing the same with reregulation of the financial system.

And as I said, I have some serious policy differences with many Democrats, even including some whose candidacies I actively support in this election. Congressional Democrats as a group have disappointed me so deeply that I have declined to give any support whatsoever to the national Democratic Party or any of its organs, such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or its counterpart for Senatorial candidates. But as election eve approaches, I’m very glad I did seek out some of the most clearly and reliably progressive candidates nationally, especially those supported by Progressive Democrats of America. And as I wrote yesterday to Meredith Wood Smith, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, in sending a small contribution to the DPO:

“I’ve given in a small way before and am adding [a bit more] now. In doing so I’d like to say that I have big differences with [gubernatorial candidate] John Kitzhaber about biomass and with [US Senator] Ron Wyden about trade policy and forest issues. I’m contributing in part because Oregon Democrats have backed progressive taxation and finally put an end to field burning [by grass seed growers in the Willamette Valley, a controversial practice that routinely polluted the air where I live]. But on a more general level, I believe the opposition threatens us with not only destructive policies favoring even worse concentration of wealth, plundering of the Earth and loss of the social safety net, but a loss of civility. In that connection I’m afraid the incident in Kentucky may be emblematic of larger tendencies that we face even here in Oregon and specifically, Lane County. I look forward to working with Democratic officeholders and citizens in Oregon after Election Day, regardless of what happens nationally, and hope those with whom I disagree will have open minds and a willingness to consider science and facts, which is sadly lacking in so much of the opposition.”

Stop the Third Worldization of the United States and Advance Global Justice – Take Action Now For Comprehensive Trade Reform!

September 16, 2010

Over the last 15 years the United States has entered into a number of treaties that have been called “free trade agreements.” In fact, these deals are not really free, and they’re unfair. They manipulate the rules of trade to benefit large corporations and investors at the expense of small farmers and other working people. They allow consumer, food safety, environmental, labor, and other laws to be attacked as interference with profitable trade. They have also undermined the U.S. economy by facilitating and encouraging the outsourcing and off-shoring of millions of jobs. In Oregon alone, some 10,000 jobs were lost to trade in a recent 12-month period. That number is almost certainly low because it includes only workers who have applied for and received Trade Adjustment Assistance. On a broader scale, from 2001-2006, one in six US manufacturing jobs, 2.9 million in all, were lost. (Charles McMillion, “New analysis of US job market: Jan. ’01 to Jan. ’06 — jobs lost in almost every industry that faces outsourcing or import competition,” February 9, 2006) (http://www.citizenstrade.org/pdf/mcmillion_jobslostinalmosteveryindustry_02092006.pdf). For more details on the impact on the economy, see, Paul Craig Roberts, “Government Is The Largest Employer: The Fading American Economy” (April 8, 2008) at http://www.counterpunch.org/roberts04092008.html, and “American Economy: R.I.P” (September 12, 2007) at http://www.counterpunch.org/roberts09122007.html. Roberts points out that the US trade deficit is actually larger than the total output of US manufacturing, making it difficult for exports to grow the economy and unlikely that exports alone can solve the deficit.

The Third Worldization of the United States

Job training or retraining is beside the point when there are no jobs for those workers. The U.S. has become a services economy, with not enough capital and workers making things anymore. Our manufacturing base has been substantially dismantled, with family-wage jobs being replaced by lower-paying service jobs without comparable benefits. That and the inequality between increasingly super-rich and increasingly impoverished Americans threaten the Third Worldization of the United States, in process and already considerably far along. Inequality in the US has now reached levels not seen since 1928. Of every dollar of real income growth that was generated between 1976 and 2007, 58 cents went to the top 1 percent of households. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2010/07/58-of-real-income-growth-since-1976-went-to-top-1-and-why-that-matters.html A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute, “State of Working America,” details how, despite significant productivity gains, median household income has remained stagnant, and shows that wealth has increasingly gone to the top 5 percent (and especially the top 1%) of Americans; as of 2004, the top 20 percent controlled 85 percent of the nation’s wealth. EPI warns, “Today’s economic crisis finds America’s working families in an ever harder place. … [R]ecent developments are compounding a broader economic failure that has been not months or years, but decades in the making.” David Rosen finds most disturbing the graph in the EPI report showing that in 2006, the top 1 percent controlled 23 percent of all income. “[T]he super-rich have [thus] regained the position they held just prior to the 1929 stock market crash when they controlled 24 percent of all income.” David Rosen, “Suffering the New Normal: The End of the American Century?” http://www.counterpunch.org/rosen09102010.html.

The Role of Trade

The trade deficit – the amount by which the value of goods and services imported into the U.S. exceeds the value of goods and services we export – “is actually a central reason why American growth has lagged and President Obama’s stimulus hasn’t led to a robust recovery: since February 2009, the government has injected $512 billion into the American economy, but during roughly the same period, the trade deficit leaked about $602 billion out of it and into foreign markets.” Alan Tonelson and Kevin L. Kearns, “Trading Away the Stimulus,” New York Times, 9/9/10. However, while Tonelson and Kearns offer a useful perspective on the overall problem, I think at least some of their solutions would run afoul of trade agreements to which the U.S. is already a party.

These agreements include the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). While they have some problems in common, a few key differences are worth noting. Under the WTO, for example, signing governments can sue each other in trade courts, separate from and independent of the courts of the member countries, for policies and laws that interfere with trade. For example, the Government of Brazil has successfully sued the United States in trade court for U.S. subsidies of agricultural products that compete with those of Brazil. So far, the U.S. has been paying fines to Brazil rather than change the subsidies, with the result that some Brazilian agricultural producers are now in effect being subsidized by the U.S. Government. Under NAFTA, however, not only governments but investors, including companies, can sue to overturn the laws of member countries, and Canadian companies have filed a number of actions that allege U.S. laws interfere with their ability to profit from trade with us.

Until now, the “investor rights” provisions of the trade agreements have had their impact primarily in Third World countries, as U.S.-based companies used the agreements to undermine competitors in Latin America. The main trade agreements involved here are NAFTA, between the US, Canada, and Mexico, and DR-CAFTA, between the US, the Dominican Republic, and Central American countries. These agreements have contributed greatly to forced migration to the United States, by undermining the economies of their Third World signatories. For example, Mexico used to subsidize small farmers, and thus had a thriving agricultural sector that could meet the needs of its people. Under NAFTA, however, Mexico had to stop subsidies and loans to small farmers. But, under US farm policy, the federal government here still gives billions of dollars in subsidies to big farming operators, often called agribusinesses. These U.S. agribusinesses could thus sell corn in Mexico for less than it costs to grow. Naturally, Mexican farmers can’t compete successfully on that basis. This arrangement drove over one million small Mexican farmers out of business. Nearly seven million farm workers became unemployed. No longer able to make a living in Mexico, many of them came to the US.

At the same time, job losses among the people already living here causes tension between current residents and the newly arriving immigrants. This tension has at times and in places flared into racism and xenophobia – fear of “the other” – and these reactions have been encouraged and exacerbated by various reactionary people and organizations. Immanuel Wallerstein, “Xenophobia All Over the Place!” (September 8, 2010) (http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/immanuelwallerstein)

One Place I’d Rather Not Go From Here

Writing for the Institute for Policy Studies, Walden Bello discusses how the left has failed to solve these problems, while thus far the right looks to win big in the next election by exploiting them – without, however, offering any real solutions. He suggests that a reinvigorated right with fewer apprehensions about state intervention could combine technocratic Keynesian initiatives with a populist but reactionary social and cultural program, and points out, “There is a term for such a regime: fascist.” Bello quotes Roger Bootle, author of The Trouble with Markets, to remind us that millions of Germans were disillusioned with the free market and capitalism during the Great Depression. But with the failure of the left to provide a viable alternative, “they became vulnerable to the rhetoric of a party that, once it came to power, combined Keynesian pump-priming measures that brought unemployment down to 3 percent with a devastating counterrevolutionary social and cultural program.” (Is that the understatement of the year, the decade, or what?  But you get the idea.  http://www.fpif.org/articles/the_political_consequences_of_stagnation, September 5, 2010.)

Comprehensive Trade Reform: The TRADE Act

Of course we need more than trade reform, and I suggest in at least a rudimentary way many of the things that should be done to save us and our situation in a piece called “Avoiding the Even Greater Depression – We Could Still Build A Sustainable Recovery” (September 2, 2010), published at https://healingjustice.wordpress.com/2010/09/02/avoiding-the-even-greater-depression-we-can-still-build-a-sustainable-recovery/ with an update at http://pdamerica.org/articles/news/2010-09-08-09-14-11-news.php. But comprehensive trade reform could go a long way toward addressing the decimation and disintegration of the US economy. To that end, in 2009, Rep. Mike Michaud and Sen. Sherrod Brown introduced the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act. The TRADE Act would change the rules to set standards for labor, environmental, consumer and other protections. It would address the provisions of trade agreements that undermine our economy by rewriting the rules governing international trade. The TRADE Act has now been cosponsored by over half the Democrats in the House. In broad terms, the TRADE Act would establish mandatory standards for future trade agreements regarding labor, the environment, consumer safety, trade in services, public procurement, agriculture, intellectual property, and other concerns; require the review and renegotiation of existing trade pacts, such as NAFTA, CAFTA and the WTO, so that they meet the new standards; and reassert congressional authority and public oversight in the trade policymaking process.

As the TRADE Act was gathering momentum, President Obama announced last June that he would seek passage of the Korea Free Trade Agreement (Korea FTA) soon after the elections in November. This maneuver has caused many trade reform activists to divert their attention to changing or opposing the Korea FTA. The Korea FTA embodies many of the worst provisions of previous agreements. Some activists for fair and sustainable trade have therefore focused on changing the provisions of the Korea FTA, calling for it to be renegotiated along the lines of the TRADE Act. Led by Citizens Trade Campaign – one of my favorite organizations, by the way – over 500 faith, family farm, environmental, labor, consumer protection and civil society organizations have signed a letter to President Obama asking that he renegotiate “the most damaging aspects of the Korea FTA” and promising that if it is brought before Congress without the needed changes, they will work to defeat it. However, I think this is a strategic mistake. As others have pointed out, that approach leaves the proponents of just and fair trade open to “divide and conquer” tactics, whereby a change desired by one group could be used to “pick off” that group, for example, by offering a labor gain here or an environmental gain there while leaving other provisions intact, thus undermining overall opposition and achieving passage of a fundamentally flawed agreement.

I therefore believe the best position is to ask your U.S. Senators and Congressional Representatives to join in cosponsoring the TRADE Act now pending in Congress (or thank them if they’ve already done that, as Oregon U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Congressmen Peter DeFazio and David Wu have done); to oppose any trade agreement that is not modeled on the provisions and principles incorporated in the TRADE Act, including the Korea Free Trade Agreement (Korea FTA); and to support the review and renegotiation of existing trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA to reflect and incorporate the principles and protections of the TRADE Act.  An outline of this approach with many important details appears in a template letter posted by the Alliance for Global Justice at http://afgj.org/?p=675#more-675.

Trade agreements must be negotiated under democratic mechanisms with broad-based citizen participation. They must not be negotiated behind closed doors and then “fast-tracked” for Congressional approval without meaningful review. The Korea FTA was not negotiated by a democratic or transparent process. As drafted and agreed to by the Bush administration, it contains all the worst provisions of prior trade agreements, including provisions that would allow Korean corporations to sue in trade court to overturn federal, state and local laws. An outline of the flaws in the Korea FTA shows why it would be better to reject it and start over with the TRADE Act as a blueprint, rather than trying to amend the Korea FTA in detail. I use Oregon as an example because that’s where I live. As now drafted, the Korea FTA would:

Accelerate Job Loss: According to the Economic Policy Institute, the Korea FTA would displace about 888,000 more U.S. jobs within seven years, as the result of imports, with thousands of job losses in Oregon’s high-tech and green-tech sectors, among others. The Korea FTA would also ban “Buy Local” procurement preferences. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has said, the Korea FTA “is the last thing working people need. With a fragile and incomplete economic recovery…we should not be putting in place new trade agreements that will speed up the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing.”

Weaken Local Sovereignty: The Korea FTA would allow Korean corporations to sue in trade court to overturn federal, state and local laws. There are about 135 Korean corporations with around 270 establishments now in the United States, and the Korea FTA would let them all sue in foreign tribunals to overturn U.S. laws. Korean corporations currently operating in Oregon include Hynix Semiconductor Manufacturing America Inc., Hanjin Shipping Company, Ltd., Hyundai America Shipping Agency, Inc., and C.J. Corp. The Korea FTA would hasten the Third-Worldization of the U.S., doing to us what previous trade agreements have done to other countries.

Prevent Banking Reregulation: Written before the recent collapse, the Korea FTA would prevent the U.S. and South Korea from limiting the size of banks or insurance companies, from banning risky derivatives, and from instituting capital controls.

Allow Human Rights Abuses: The current trade model embodied in the Korea FTA has caused enormous harm to many and provided enormous benefits for a disproportionate few, and accepting the Korea FTA in its present form would open the door to similar agreements with Colombia and Panama, raising issues of grave human rights violations and suppression of trade unions. The Korea FTA even has an “annex” that could allow goods made by sweatshop workers under the North Korean dictatorship to enter the United States.

Undermine Environmental Protection: Oregon’s strong environmental and land use laws would be among the many public interest policies at risk of attack under the Korea FTA’s investor-to-state provisions. The Bush administration pressured the South Korean government to weaken its auto emission standards, and the Korea FTA would lock-in these weaker standards. The Korea FTA would also trump most new measures designed to combat global warming.

Trade agreements must respect the basic rights of workers and provide for dispute resolution and effective enforcement. No trade agreement should prevent countries from establishing their own domestic agricultural policies to promote food sovereignty. Trade agreements must not undermine environmental standards or their enforcement. Trade agreements must respect national and local sovereignty with respect to economic development, capital flows, procurement and other issues. The TRADE Act would address these and other problems caused by past agreements and serve as a blueprint for a new model of trade that Americans can unite behind.

Trade reform could not be more urgent. Working people in Oregon and throughout the United States face a continuing crisis. The economy is down, and may not yet have hit bottom. Federal stimulus has ameliorated some of the worst impacts, but does not solve the longer-term problem, that there are not enough family-wage jobs in the U.S. to produce adequate levels of aggregate demand for a sustained economic recovery. This is in considerable part due to the export of jobs that has been facilitated by existing trade agreements.
A bipartisan poll recently conducted by Mark Mellman and Whit Ayres shows U.S. voters are unified in their concern over the loss of manufacturing jobs. In a poll of 1,000 likely general election voters, “We have lost too many manufacturing jobs” is the top concern among independents and working class voters, even compared to government debt, loss of life in Iraq and Afghanistan, the high cost of health care, illegal immigration or terrorism. Eighty-seven percent favor having a “national manufacturing strategy,” 77 percent say that “jobs being shipped overseas” is among the issues they worry about most or worry about a great deal, and 92 percent have a somewhat or very favorable impression of goods made in America. Other highlights from the poll are that 86 percent of voters want Washington to focus on manufacturing, and 63 percent feel working people who make things are being forgotten while Wall Street and banks get bailouts. Two-thirds of voters believe manufacturing is central to our economic strength, and 57 percent believe manufacturing is even more central to our economic strength than high-tech, knowledge or financial service sectors. The poll shows overlap among Tea Party supporters, independents, non-union households and union households on these issues. And it found all that without even offering the more fundamental choices, such as withdrawal from NAFTA, for which voter support has been growing for some time.

All of our Congressional representatives, and a third of all U.S. Senators, are running for re-election right now. Ask your federal legislators and other candidates whether they will promote passage of the TRADE Act, reject the Korea FTA in its present form, and support U.S. withdrawal from the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) and the adoption in their place of new treaties negotiated under the principles and containing the protections provided in the TRADE Act. Doing so is in the national interest and the interests of working people. It is also what likely general election voters want, both in Oregon and throughout the country.
Stop the Korea FTA and pass the TRADE Act — do it now!

TAKE ACTION – Do It Now!

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on International Trade. If you’re an Oregon voter, thank Sen. Jeff Merkley and Congressmen David Wu and Peter DeFazio for cosponsoring the TRADE Act, and tell Sen. Wyden: “The Korea FTA is another NAFTA – Send the Korea FTA back to the drawing board. Pass comprehensive trade reform (the TRADE Act, HR 3012 and S. 2821) before moving forward with any more trade agreements.” Wherever you reside, and especially if your Senator is running for re-election this year, give him or her – and all Congressional candidates – the same message.

Contact your senators and members of Congress at:
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1034/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=3745.

Because lawmakers value letters and phone calls more than emails messages, it would also help to send a letter or make a phone call. You can call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224- 3121 and they’ll put you through to the office of any Senator or Representative. Or, write to:

Senator [Name]
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Or:

Representative [Name]
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Again, you may find helpful the  sample letter posted by the Alliance for Global Justice at http://afgj.org/?p=675#more-675.   Further resources are online at http://www.citizenstrade.org/orftc-korea.php, and http://www.citizen.org/trade/. You can also contact the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign at (503) 736-9777 or info@oregonfairtrade.org.

Obama’s $50 Billion Jobs Proposal – Too Little, Too Late?

September 7, 2010

President Obama has proposed a $50 billion program to create jobs. Since I just called for a new stimulus package a few days ago, I can’t say it’s too late. It may be too late to catch the popular imagination and with that, the support it will need to happen. But $50 billion is certainly too little. It might make sense if all the economy needed was a shot in the arm. But for a $14-trillion economy like ours that’s practically in tatters and needs substantial rebuilding, $50 billion just repeats Obama’s typical pattern of timidity. However, if that’s all he intends to propose, it would make more sense to disburse it directly to the States, where it might at least be timely spent, and do some immediate good. Details of what I think would be more useful appear in my September 2nd post.

Labor Day Buffet, or Waking Up In The 1930s and Why The Right Is Winning as The Great Jobs Depression Worsens – Is the Economy As Broke As Lehman Was? And of course, What You Can Do About It

September 6, 2010

What to do about it all is described in outline form in my September 2, 2010 entry on this blog, Avoiding the Even Greater Depression: We Can Still Build A Sustainable Recovery. I don’t know whether time is running out forever, or whether we’re just losing precious time. I guess when time runs out it’s always forever, isn’t it? But what I mean is, I don’t know whether we’ve already lost, or are losing, our last, best chance to begin to set things right, or whether, with the passage of time, it’s just become harder to do so, and perhaps likely that we will. Deep and excellent analyses of the problems we face are contained in the articles identified by their titles in the caption to this entry, and a few others whose inclusion would have made the title too long. They appear at http://www.counterpunch.org/green09062010.html (David Michael Green, Why the Right Is Winning); http://www.counterpunch.org/baker09022010.html (Dean Baker, Burning Down the House); http://pdamerica.org/articles/news/2010-09-06-10-19-05-news.php (Michael Hudson, Is the Economy As Broke As Lehman Was?); http://robertreich.org/post/1058622195/the-great-jobs-depression-worsens-and-the-choice-ahead (Robert Reich, The Great Jobs Depression Worsens); http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/waking_up_in_the_1930s_20100903/(Howie Stier, Waking Up In the 1930s); http://www.fpif.org/articles/the_political_consequences_of_stagnation (Walden Bello, The Political Consequences of Stagnation).
Bigger or smaller pieces of the solution are referred to, more or less, in some of them. I don’t think I have a monopoly on good ideas. But I don’t see much in the way of comprehensive prescriptions elsewhere, so again, if you’re looking for a program to address what’s happening, see my 9/2 entry, and the sources I cite. The likelihood of my program being enacted looks pretty slim, to put it mildly; but the likelihood of anything short of effectively addressing the problems outlined above is just about nil.

There is at least one thing further I want to mention about the rest of today’s buffet. There is in some of the articles, and in Jim Kunstler’s excellent piece of this morning, titled In The Headlights (http://kunstler.com/blog/2010/09/in-the-headlights.html), an assumption or conclusion that it’s because people are stupid that they’re taking all of us down for the count. While I understand not everyone has the same mental capacity, or intellectual ability, I think it misses the boat to ascribe so much of what’s happening to stupidity. Lack or paucity of intelligence is something for which a person is not responsible. And to call people stupid is to miss the workings of that vast propaganda system that does the job, with more funding than most of us can imagine, of keeping people confused, focusing their attention on trivialities, perhaps dividing them through skillful manipulation of xenophobia, even just burying them in irrelevant information. That system, its origins and general operations, is described in Noam Chomsky’s “Propaganda and Control of the Public Mind,” a brief talk available in transcript or on CD from David Barsamian’s Alternative Radio (http://www.alternativeradio.org/; 1-800-444-1977). An even briefer but excellent illustration is provided by John Pilger (Faking the News) at http://www.zcommunications.org/flying-the-flag-faking-the-news-by-john-pilger.

Polling data consistently show that the American public is generally to the left of policymakers in government and the media, perhaps more compassionate and even savvy than they, which I think says something for their intelligence. To the extent there is some explaining to do beyond the confusion, xenophobia and rest that I attribute to the propaganda system, I think denial is a more likely culprit than stupidity. I’m afraid I don’t understand denial – the apparent ability not to see or understand what is in front of your face, under your nose, assaulting your senses. But if you substitute “denial” for “stupidity” wherever the latter appears in the essays mentioned above, and perhaps elsewhere, I think you’ll be closer to an accurate statement of the problem.
I wish I could close with, Happy reading! But this is heavy fare. Let me wish you instead, Good understanding, and a chance to do something about where we’re otherwise going.

We’re Being Conned on Social Security–How We Could Easily Raise Benefits or Allow People to Retire Earlier

September 5, 2010

Apologies to anyone who has lately sought out the entry below, as the posting at the PDA site is out of date and no longer available.  The original article though can still be found at

http://www.alternet.org/economy/148082/we%27re_being_conned_on_social_security_–_how_we_could_easily_raise_benefits_or_allow_people_to_retire_earlier/ – RR/Healing Justice 1/31/12.

http://pdamerica.org/articles/news/2010-09-05-03-45-09-news.php

At the above URL, read an excellent short piece by Joshua Holland, and click to ask your Congressperson and Senators to commit to protecting Social Security.  Regarding the safety net and social and economic benefits more generally, see the more detailed piece entitled “America, There’s A Better Way:  It’s Called Germany,” cited in my prior entry on Avoiding the Even Greater Depression.