Why Is Obama Keeping His Distance From The Wisconsin Recall Election?

Answer: Unions.

If he appears to support the strong union movement in Wisconsin, that support may scare away big donors.

President Obama has, in fact, endorsed Tom Barrett, but that endorsement was so low key that even Jay Carney thought he had not.

End of the Euro: $185 Trillion Derivative Market “Will Be in Turmoil”

Peter Boone and Simon Johnson have the most alarming article I’ve seen yet on the collapse of the euro. It reads more like a confident prediction than a hypothetical worst-case scenario:

The End Of The Euro: A Survivor’s Guide

Excerpt:

A disorderly break-up of the euro area will be far more damaging to global financial markets than the crisis of 2008. In fall 2008 the decision was whether or how governments should provide a back-stop to big banks and the creditors to those banks. Now some European governments face insolvency themselves. The European economy accounts for almost 1/3 of world GDP. Total euro sovereign debt outstanding comprises about $11 trillion, of which at least $4 trillion must be regarded as a near term risk for restructuring.

Europe’s rich capital markets and banking system, including the market for 185 trillion dollars in outstanding euro-denominated derivative contracts, will be in turmoil and there will be large scale capital flight out of Europe into the United States and Asia. Who can be confident that our global megabanks are truly ready to withstand the likely losses? It is almost certain that large numbers of pensioners and households will find their savings are wiped out directly or inflation erodes what they saved all their lives. The potential for political turmoil and human hardship is staggering.

Read full article here.

Our Astonishing Nevada County Court System

Op-Ed by Jim Hurley

For the past few weeks, I’ve been tabling outside local grocery stores for Judge Anderson. He’s running for reelection to the office of Superior Court judge. My objective was to educate voters. But, as it turns out, I’m learning a great deal myself. First, I learned that outside a grocery store is not the ideal environment in which to engage in public discourse; people’s arms and minds are filled with groceries. Making weighty decisions about offices that appear to have little bearing on their lives is a distant second. After all, how often do you deal with judges ? Hopefully, not often. The “undervote” (number of voters who fail to make a choice for a particular electoral office) is greater for judicial offices than any other electoral category. That lack of interest was the first thing I learned. The second was there is a subset of voters who are boiling over with emotion about this race and are more than willing to speak their minds and hearts, both pro and con.

I was prepared to do battle on two fronts:

– What effect does a judge have on issues of personal and public safety?

– What effect, if any, does a judge have on pocketbook issues; these are tough economic times.

That was the plan. As so often happens, plans get hijacked by events. What I discovered was the elephant in the room. Crime and judicial decisions are not just hot-button issues — they are the white-hot iron that cauterizes reason.

Trouble is, reason feeds on facts, and people have a way of finding their own facts — facts that support their deep- seated emotional commitment. So, in the end, we all fall back on emotion. “The heart has reasons that reason does not know,” said Blaise Pascal. So let me appeal to your emotions. Emotions are not invulnerable to the facts. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “Take one more step and I’ll blow your head off.” When presented with these facts, I watch my step, for I have a strong emotional attachment to my head. You see, the heart has reasons. (This brings to mind graffiti I saw written on a New York city subway wall, “Support mental health, or I’ll kill you.”)

I have some facts that may influence you emotions, your feelings about crime and justice — facts that dominate both the physical and financial costs of crime, facts about our Nevada County Courts. Bear with me.

The recidivism rate for drug crime, for example, in California is 70%. The cost of maintaining these habituated prisoners is $50,000 per year. The system is broken. Supporting that system supports crime and the ever-mounting physical and financial costs. We are all paying a price to support this welfare system for the vengeance addicted.

Stop it!

Alongside these depressing facts, there are some facts about the courts in Nevada County that may surprise you, facts that may strike an emotional cord. They did for me.

Not all courts are alike. Beside the regular courts — the ones with great benches mounted on high, judges in robes, lawyers in a lather and juries in a catatonic stupor — there is, in Nevada County, an Alternative Court System, so- called “problem-solving” courts. These courts practice justice the way hospitals practice medicine. While a plaster cast works well on a broken leg, it works not so well on appendicitis. Maybe we should handle different crimes differently—dah. There are currently seven such problem-solving courts ranging from the DUI and Adult Drug Courts to the Mental Illness Court and Dependency Drug Court (for defendants with dependent children.)

You may say that they are coddling criminals with these touchy-feely courts. But you’d be wrong. Stop thinking with your emotions. I attended a couple of these courts last week (Dependency and Mental Health courts)—strictly as an observer you understand. I have seen them at work. I have seen Judge Anderson at work. He comes down off the bench and sits at a table across from the parolee. They have a conversation. Other parolees in the audience, waiting their turn, kibitz and cheer, when the occasion merits. Even before the hearing, they gather as a group outside the courtroom. I saw them laughing and talking together. They are not just a list of individuals awaiting processing, but have become, over time, a support group. I found it inspiring.

Coddling you say? I also saw one parolee taken away by two burly sheriff officers to resume a prison sentence for violating the conditions of parole. There are times when treatment demands punishment. But there are times when treatment and reward for accomplishment are called for.

Judge Anderson is a strong advocate for these Alternative Courts, as evidenced by his current effort to initiate yet another such court, an eighth problem-solving court, a Domestic Violence Court. (That takes real courage. Give me a crackhead to cope with any day of the week. Crackheads are monophonic; domestic violators are stereophrantic.) He has also been largely responsible for the implementation of Laura’s Law in the Nevada County, the law that goes beyond treating the after effects of crime committed by the mentally ill, but, instead, plays an active role in heading off such problems before they occur. That’s a form of judicial activism we can all support!

“But,” you say, “where’s the facts? You promised facts to stir my emotions,” you say. Here are the facts and they are numbers, two numbers. As I said, statewide the recidivism rate for drug offences in California is 70%. But for those who go through the Adult Drug Court in Nevada County, that rate is 20%! That is an astonishing accomplishment. Who would have thought? Thoughtful people at work in our judicial system to achieve a better outcome! Your past votes for judges at work in Nevada County’s courts. Take a bow.

I am comforted by the fact that Judge Anderson supports problem-solving courts and Laura’s Law. I believe that is evidence of his good judgment, his “judicial temperament.” I am not comforted by the fact that his opponent advocates retribution leading to recidivism and passes judgment without all the facts. I believe that demonstrates poor judgment, and unacceptable judicial temperament.

The decision we make on June 5th will have long-lasting impacts on individuals who come before Nevada County’s Superior Court and to this community as a whole, we who are impacted by criminal conduct and must bear the financial and emotional burden of our failing prison system. There are two choices: Elect a Judge who has shown that he can balance punishment with outcome, both for the community and the defendant, or one who — with mindlessly harsher sentencing — would dig more deeply in the hole we already occupy.


Jim Hurley lives in Nevada City.

In Praise of Warriors, Not War

By Don Pelton

On this Memorial Day, I must speak a few words in support of warriors, and in opposition to war.

Despite reaching my formative young adulthood during the anti-war 1960s, and despite my minor experience with something remotely similar to combat – in the National Guard at the Watts riots in August of 1965, and at Berkeley’s People’s Park in May of 1969 – it occurred to me sometime in the early 1990s that I knew almost nothing about the “Good War” that our father’s fought, which left us with a world mostly free.

I studied American history in college, and read good histories such as William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but aside from reading Shirer’s reporting from Berlin in the early years of the war, I had never listened to the voices of those who experienced the frontlines of World War II (and Korea soon after) first-hand.

So I began to read many personal accounts of those wars, and the harrowing reports that haunt me still are – particularly – E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/With_the_Old_Breed)), Farley Mowat’s And No Birds Sang ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farley_Mowat#War_service)), and a report I’ll never forget, by U.S. Army historian S.L.A. Marshall in a collection I can no longer locate, about the hand-to-hand combat of an American squad against some Chinese infantry during the Korean War.

This effort to study war by reading first-hand accounts and by viewing documentaries and films on the subject serves as my poor but only possible substitute for the actual experience of combat. Every citizen who understands that some wars are unavoidable and necessary owes this same effort – to understand what combat really is – to those whom he may ask to risk their lives.

E.B. Sledge described the horror on the island of Peleliu in the Pacific, digging in to fight the Japanese, who were holed-up in caves. By the time he arrived on that island there had already been so much close fighting that he could find no place to sink his spade to dig a foxhole where there weren’t chunks of human flesh mixed up like rotting compost in the loose soil. If that isn’t a description of Hell, I don’t know what is.

Farley Mowat spoke of his upbringing in a patriotic Canadian family, and how the old stories of war filled him with a keen desire to find glory in combat, but not necessarily in the infantry (where he ended up). He finally found combat in the campaign to force the Nazis out of Italy. His vivid description of the savagery of war includes the awful poetic detail of his title, “… and no birds sang.”

S.L.A. Marshall told the story of an American squad that attacked a hill held by the Chinese in Korea, and despite heavy losses – with only three surviving the fight – they prevailed, killing all of the enemy. But the hand-to-hand combat with bayonets had so unleashed the blood-lust of the Americans that – with no more enemies to kill – they went on and slaughtered a small herd of horses that the Chinese had corralled there.

The power of this account – and the sadness of it – is in the awful realization that each of us is capable of such blood lust, given the same circumstance.

I take it as axiomatic that in war, all sides lose some portion of their humanity.

It also seems to be axiomatic that those who are least experienced in war are often the most gung-ho to start it, and those who are most experienced are most reluctant to undertake it lightly.

Then there’s the lethal shallowness of a man who experienced combat, but whose motives for taking us to war – when he became president – may have included personal insecurity. There have been plausible suggestions that George Herbert Walker Bush undertook the invasion of Panama in part to solve the problem of his “wimp image.”

As citizens, we must weigh the inevitable horror of war against the justness — or unjustness — of waging it. Anything less is a betrayal of those whom we claim to hold dear.

We honor the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers and remember them on days like this not because war is always glorious and just, but precisely because – whether just or unjust, whether noble or ignoble — it is always Hell, and we have asked them to go into Hell for our sake.

Statue of soldier (at Vietnam Memorial, Capitol Mall, Sacramento)

The Rise of the New Economy Movement

Reprinted from Alternet (May 20, 2012)

By Gar Alperovitz

As our political system sputters, a wave of innovative thinking and bold experimentation is quietly sweeping away outmoded economic models. In ‘New Economic Visions’, a special five-part AlterNet series edited by Economics Editor Lynn Parramore in partnership with political economist Gar Alperovitz of the Democracy Collaborative, creative thinkers come together to explore the exciting ideas and projects that are shaping the philosophical and political vision of the movement that could take our economy back.

Just beneath the surface of traditional media attention, something vital has been gathering force and is about to explode into public consciousness. The “New Economy Movement” is a far-ranging coming together of organizations, projects, activists, theorists and ordinary citizens committed to rebuilding the American political-economic system from the ground up.

The broad goal is democratized ownership of the economy for the “99 percent” in an ecologically sustainable and participatory community-building fashion. The name of the game is practical work in the here and now—and a hands-on process that is also informed by big picture theory and in-depth knowledge.

Thousands of real world projects — from solar-powered businesses to worker-owned cooperatives and state-owned banks — are underway across the country. Many are self-consciously understood as attempts to develop working prototypes in state and local “laboratories of democracy” that may be applied at regional and national scale when the right political moment occurs.

The movement includes young and old, “Occupy” people, student activists, and what one older participant describes as thousands of “people in their 60s from the ’60s” rolling up their sleeves to apply some of the lessons of an earlier movement.

Explosion of Energy

A powerful trend of hands-on activity includes a range of economic models that change both ownership and ecological outcomes. Co-ops, for instance, are very much on target—especially those which emphasize participation and green concerns. The Evergreen Cooperatives in a desperately poor, predominantly black neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio are a leading example. They include a worker-owned solar installation and weatherization co-op; a state-of-the-art, industrial-scale commercial laundry in a LEED-Gold certified building that uses—and therefore has to heat—only around a third of the water of other laundries; and a soon-to-open large scale hydroponic greenhouse capable of producing three million head of lettuce and 300,000 pounds of herbs a year. Hospitals and universities in the area have agreed to use the co-ops’ services, and several cities—including Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Washington, DC and Amarillo, Texas are now exploring similar efforts.

Other models fit into what author Marjorie Kelly calls the “generative economy”–efforts that inherently nurture the community and respect the natural environment. Organic Valley is a cooperative dairy producer in based in Wisconsin with more than $700 million in revenue and nearly 1,700 farmer-owners. Upstream 21 Corporation is a “socially responsible” holding company that purchases and expands sustainable small businesses. Greyston Bakery is a Yonkers, New York “B-Corporation” (a new type of corporation designed to benefit the public) that was initially founded to provide jobs for neighborhood residents. Today, Greystone generates around $6.5 million in annual sales.

Recently, the United Steelworkers union broke modern labor movement tradition and entered into a historic agreement with the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center to help build worker-owned cooperatives in the United States along the lines of a new “union-co-op” model.

The movement is also serious about building on earlier models. More than 130 million Americans, in fact, already belong to one or another form of cooperative—and especially the most widely known form: the credit union. Similarly, there are some 2,000 municipally owned utilities, a number of which are ecological leaders. (Twenty-five percent of American electricity is provided by co-ops and public utilities.) Upwards of 10 million Americans now also work at some 11,000 employee-owned firms (ESOP companies).

More than 200 communities also operate or are establishing community land trusts that take land and housing out of the market and preserve it for the community. And hundreds of “social enterprises” use profits for social or community serving goals. Beyond these efforts, roughly 4,500 Community Development Corporations and 1.5 million non-profit organizations currently operate in every state in the nation.

The movement is also represented by the “Move Your Money” and “bank transfer day” campaigns, widespread efforts to shift millions of dollars from corporate giants like Bank of America to one or another form of democratic or community-benefiting institution. Related to this are other “new banking” strategies. Since 2010, 17 states, for instance, have considered legislation to set up public banks along the lines of the long-standing Bank of North Dakota.

Several cities—including Los Angeles and Kansas City— have passed “responsible banking” ordinances that require banks to reveal their impact on the community and/or require city officials to only do business with banks that are responsive to community needs. Other cities, like San Jose and Portland, are developing efforts to move their money out of Wall Street banks and into other commercial banks, community banks or credit unions. Politicians and activists in San Francisco have taken this a step further and proposed the creation of a publicly owned municipal bank.

There are also a number of innovative non-public, non-co-op banks—including the New Resource Bank in San Francisco, founded in 2006 “with a vision of bringing new resources to sustainable businesses and ultimately creating more sustainable communities.” Similarly, One PacificCoast Bank, an Oakland-based certified community development financial institution, grew out of the desire to “create a sustainable, meaningful community development bank and a supporting nonprofit organization.” And One United Bank—the largest black-owned bank in the country with offices in Los Angeles, Boston and Miami—has financed more than $1 billion in loans, most in low-income neighborhoods.

Ex-JP Morgan managing director John Fullerton has added legitimacy and force to the debate about new directions in finance at the ecologically oriented Capital Institute. And in several parts of the country, alternative currencies have long been used to help local community building—notably “BerkShares” in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and “Ithaca Hours” in Ithaca, New York.

Active protest efforts are also underway. The Occupy movement, along with many others, has increasingly used direct action in support of new banking directions—and in clear opposition to old. On April 24, 2012 over 1,000 people protested bank practices at the Wells Fargo shareholder meeting in San Francisco. Similar actions, some involving physical “occupations” of bank branches, have been occurring in many parts of the country since the Occupy movement started in 2011. Large-scale demonstrations occurred at the Bank of America’s annual shareholder meeting in May 2012.

What to do about large-scale enterprise in a “new economy” is also on the agenda. A number of advocates, like Boston College professor Charles Derber, contemplate putting worker, consumer, environmental, or community representatives of “stakeholder” groups on corporate boards. Others point to the Alaska Permanent Fund which invests a significant portion of the state’s mineral revenues and returns dividends to citizens as a matter of right. Still others, like David Schweickart and Richard Wolff, propose system-wide change that emphasizes one or another form of worker ownership and management. (In the Schweickart version, smaller firms would be essentially directly managed by workers; large-scale national firms would be nationalized but also managed by workers.) A broad and fast-growing group seeks to end “corporate personhood,” and still others urge a reinvigoration of anti-trust efforts to reduce corporate power. (Breaking up banks deemed too big to fail is one element of this.)

In March 2012, the Left Forum held in New York also heard many calls for a return to nationalization. And even among “Small is Beautiful” followers of the late E. F. Schumacher, a number recall this historic build-from-the-bottom-up advocate’s argument that “[w]hen we come to large-scale enterprises, the idea of private ownership becomes an absurdity.” (Schumacher continuously searched for national models that were as supportive of community values as local forms.)

Theory and Action

A range of new theorists have also increasingly given intellectual muscle to the movement. Some, like Richard Heinberg, stress the radical implications of ending economic growth. Former presidential adviser James Gustav Speth calls for restructuring the entire system as the only way to deal with ecological problems in general and growth in particular. David Korten has offered an agenda for a new economy which stresses small Main Street business and building from the bottom up. (Korten also co-chairs a “New Economy Working Group” with John Cavanagh at the Institute of Policy Studies.) Juliet Schor has proposed a vision of “Plentitude” oriented in significant part around medium-scale high tech industry. My own work on a Pluralist Commonwealth emphasizes a community-building system characterized by a mix of democratized forms of ownership ranging from small co-ops all the way up to public/worker-owned firms where large scale cannot be avoided.

Writers like Herman Daly and David Bollier have also helped establish theoretical foundations for fundamental challenges to endless economic growth, on the one hand, and the need to transcend privatized economics in favor of a “commons” understanding, on the other. The awarding in 2009 of the Nobel Prize to Elinor Ostrom for work on commons-based development underlined recognition at still another level of some of the critical themes of the movement.

Around the country, thinkers are clamoring to meet and discuss new ideas. The New Economics Institute, led primarily by ecologists and ecological economists, hoped to attract a few hundred participants to a gathering to be held at Bard College in June 2012. The event sold out almost two months in advance! An apologetic email went out turning away hundreds who could not be accommodated with the promise of much bigger venue the next year.

And that’s just one example. From April to May 2012, the Social Venture Network held its annual gathering in Stevenson, Washington. The Public Banking Institute gathered in Philadelphia. The National Center for Employee Ownership met in Minneapolis—also to record-breaking attendance. And the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) held a major conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Other events planned for 2012 include the Consumer Cooperative Management Association’s meeting in Philadelphia; the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives’ gathering in Boston; a Farmer Cooperatives conference organized by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives; and meetings of the National Community Land Trust Network and the Bioneers. The American Sustainable Business Council, a network of 100,000 businesses and 300,000 individuals, has been holding ongoing events and activities throughout 2012.

Daunting Challenges

The New Economy Movement is already energetically involved in an extraordinary range of activities, but it faces large-scale, daunting challenges. The first of these derives from the task it has set for itself—nothing less than changing and democratizing the very essence of the American economic system’s institutional structure.

Even viewed as a long-range goal, the movement obviously confronts the enormous entrenched power of an American political economic system dominated by very large banking and corporate interests—and bolstered by a politics heavily dependent on the financial muscle of elites at the top. (One recent calculation is that
400 individuals at the top now own more wealth than the bottom 160 million.)

A second fundamental challenge derives from the increasingly widespread new economy judgment that economic growth must ultimately be reduced, indeed, even possibly ended if the dangers presented by climate change are to be avoided—and if resource and other environmental limits are to be responsibly dealt with.

Complicating all this is the fact that most labor unions—the core institution of the traditional progressive alliance—are committed to growth as absolutely essential (as the economy is now organized) to maintaining jobs.

History dramatizes the implacable power of the existing institutions—until, somehow, that power gives way to the force of social movements. Most of those in the New Economy movement understand the challenge as both immediate and long-term: how to put an end to the most egregious social and economically destructive practices in the near term; how to lay foundations for a possible transformation in the longer term.

And driving the movement’s steady build up, day by day, year by year, is the growing economic and social pain millions of Americans now experience in their own lives—and a sense that something fundamental is wrong. The New Economy Movement speaks to this reality, and just possibly, despite all the obstacles—as with the civil rights, feminist, environmental and so many other earlier historic movements—it, too, will overcome. If so, the integrity of its goals and the practicality of its developmental work may allow it to help establish foundations for the next great progressive era of American history. It is already adding positive vision and practical change to everyday life.


Gar Alperovitz, Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, is a Founding Principal of The Democracy Collaborative, as well as historian, political economist, and writer.

How to Forget on Memorial Day

Reprinted from TomDispatch.com (May 24, 2012)

Whistling Past the Graveyard of Empires

By Tom Engelhardt

It’s the saddest reading around: the little announcements that dribble out of the Pentagon every day or two — those terse, relatively uninformative death notices: rank; name; age; small town, suburb, or second-level city of origin; means of death (“small arms fire,” “improvised explosive device,” “the result of gunshot wounds inflicted by an individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform,” or sometimes something vaguer like “while conducting combat operations,” “supporting Operation Enduring Freedom,” or simply no explanation at all); and the unit the dead soldier belonged to.  They are seldom 100 words, even with the usual opening line: “The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.” Sometimes they include more than one death.

They are essentially bureaucratic notices designed to draw little attention to themselves.  Yet cumulatively, in their hundreds over the last decade, they represent a grim archive of America’s still ongoing, already largely forgotten second Afghan War, and I’ve read them obsessively for years.

Into the Memory Hole

May is the official month of remembrance when it comes to our war dead, ending as it does on the long Memorial Day weekend when Americans typically take to the road and kill themselves and each other in far greater numbers than will die in Afghanistan.  It’s a weekend for which the police tend to predict rising fatalities and news reports tend to celebrate any declines in deaths on our roads and highways.

Quiz Americans and a surprising number undoubtedly won’t have thought about the “memorial” in Memorial Day at all — especially now that it’s largely a marker of the start of summer and an excuse for cookouts.

How many today are aware that, as Decoration Day, it began in 1865 in a nation still torn by grief over the loss of — we now know — up to 750,000 dead in the first modern war, a wrenching civil catastrophe in a then-smaller and still under-populated country?  How many know that the first Decoration Day was held in 1865 with 10,000 freed slaves and some Union soldiers parading on a Charleston, South Carolina, race track previously frequented by planters and transformed in wartime into a grim outdoor prison?  The former slaves were honoring Union prisoners who had died there and been hastily buried in unmarked graves, but as historian Kenneth Jackson has written, they were also offering “a declaration of the meaning of the war and of their own freedom.”

Those ceremonies migrated north in 1866, became official at national cemeteries in 1868, and grew into ever more elaborate civic remembrances over the years.  Even the South, which had previously marked its grief separately, began to take part after World War I as the ceremonies were extended to the remembrance of all American war dead.  Only in 1968, in the midst of another deeply unpopular war, did Congress make it official as Memorial Day, creating the now traditional long holiday weekend.

And yet, when it comes to the major war the United States is still fighting, now in its 11th year, the word remembrance is surely inappropriate, as is the “Memorial” in Memorial Day.  It’s not just that the dead of the Afghan War have largely been tossed down the memory hole of history (even if they do get official attention on Memorial Day itself).  Even the fact that Americans are still dying in Afghanistan seems largely to have been forgotten, along with the war itself.

As the endlessly plummeting opinion polls indicate, the Afghan War is one Americans would clearly prefer to forget — yesterday, not tomorrow.  It was, in fact, regularly classified as “the forgotten war” almost from the moment that the Bush administration turned its attention to the invasion of Iraq in 2002 and so declared its urge to create a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East.  Despite the massive “surge” of troops, special operations forces, CIA agents, and civilian personnel sent to Afghanistan by President Obama in 2009-2010, and the ending of the military part of the Iraq debacle in 2011, the Afghan War has never made it out of the grave of forgetfulness to which it was so early consigned.

Count on one thing: there will be no Afghan version of Maya Lin, no Afghan Wall on the National Mall.  Unlike the Vietnam conflict, tens of thousands of books won’t be pouring out for decades to come arguing passionately about the conflict.  There may not even be a “who lost Afghanistan” debate in its aftermath.

Few Afghan veterans are likely to return from the war to infuse with new energy an antiwar movement that remains small indeed, nor will they worry about being “spit upon.”  There will be little controversy.  They — their traumas and their wounds — will, like so many bureaucratic notices, disappear into the American ether, leaving behind only an emptiness and misery, here and in Afghanistan, as perhaps befits a bankrupting, never-ending imperial war on the global frontiers.

Whistling Past the Graveyard of Empires

If nothing else, the path to American amnesia is worth recalling on this Memorial Day.

Though few here remember it that way, the invasion of Afghanistan was launched on a cult of the dead.  These were the dead civilians from the Twin Towers in New York City.  It was to their memory that the only “Wall” of this era — the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan — has been built.  Theirs are the biographies that are still remembered in annual rites nationwide.  They are, and remain, the dead of the Afghan War, even though they died before it began.

On the other hand, from the moment the invasion of Afghanistan was launched, how to deal with the actual American war dead was always considered a problematic matter.  The Bush administration and the military high command, with the Vietnam War still etched in their collective memories, feared those uniformed bodies coming home (as they feared and banished the “body count” of enemy dead in the field).  They remembered the return of the “body bags” of the Vietnam era as a kind of nightmare, stoking a fierce antiwar movement, which they were determined not to see repeated.

As a result, in the early years of the Afghan and then Iraq wars, the Bush administration took relatively draconian steps to cut the media off from any images of the returning war dead.  Theystrictly enforced a Pentagon ban, in existence since the first Gulf War, on media coverage and images of the coffins arriving from the war fronts at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.  At the same time, much publicity was given to the way President Bush met privately and emotionally — theoretically beyond the view of the media — with the families of the dead.

And yet, banned or not, for a period the war dead proliferated.  In those early years of Washington’s two increasingly catastrophic wars on the Eurasian mainland, newspapers regularly produced full-page or double-page “walls of heroes” with tiny images of the faces of the American dead, while their names were repeatedly read in somber tones on television.  In a similar fashion, the antiwar movement toured the country with little “cemeteries” or displays of combat bootsrepresenting the war dead.

The Pentagon ban ended with the arrival of the Obama administration.  In October 2009, six months after the Pentagon rescinded it, in an obvious rebuke to his predecessor, President Obama traveled to Dover Air Base.  There, inside a plane bringing the bodies of the dead home, he reportedly prayed over the coffins and was later photographed offering a salute as one of them was carried off the plane. But by the time the arrival of the dead could be covered, few seemed to care.

The Bush administration, it turns out, needn’t have worried.  In an America largely detached from war, the Iraq War would end without fanfare or anyone here visibly giving much of a damn.  Similarly, the Afghan War would continue to limp from one disaster to the next, from an American “kill team” murdering Afghan civilians “for sport” to troops urinating on Afghan corpses (and videotaping the event), or mugging for the camera with enemy body parts, or an American sergeant running amok, or the burning of Korans, or the raising of an SS banner.  And, of course, ever more regularly, ever more unnervingly, Afghan “allies” would turn their guns on American and NATO troops and blow them away.  It’s a phenomenon almost unheard of in such wars, but so common in Afghanistan these days that it’s gotten its own label: “green-on-blue violence.”

This has been the road to oblivion and it’s paved with forgotten bodies.  Forgetfulness, of course, comes at a price, which includes the escalating long-term costs of paying for the American war-wounded and war-traumatized.  On this Memorial Day, there will undoubtedly be much cant in the form of tributes to “our heroes” and then, Tuesday morning, when the mangled cars have been towed away, the barbeque grills cleaned, and the “heroes” set aside, the forgetting will continue.  If the Obama administration has its way and American special operations forces, trainers, and advisors in reduced but still significant numbers remain in Afghanistan until perhaps 2024, we have more than another decade of forgetting ahead of us in a tragedy that will, by then, be beyond all comprehension.

Afghanistan has often enough been called “the graveyard of empires.”  Americans have made it a habit to whistle past that graveyard, looking the other way — a form of obliviousness much aided by the fact that the American war dead conveniently come from the less well known or forgotten places in our country.  They are so much easier to ignore thanks to that.

Except in their hometowns, how easy the war dead are to forget in an era when corporations go to war but Americans largely don’t.  So far, 1,980 American military personnel (and significant butlargely unacknowledged numbers of private contractors) have died in Afghanistan, as have 1,028 NATO and allied troops, and (despite U.N. efforts to count them) unknown but staggering numbers of Afghans.

So far in the month of May, 22 American dead have been listed in those Pentagon announcements.  If you want a little memorial to a war that shouldn’t be, check out their hometowns and you’ll experience a kind of modern graveyard poetry.  Consider it an elegy to the dead of second- or third-tier cities, suburbs, and small towns whose names are resonant exactly because they are part of your country, but seldom or never heard by you.

Here, then, on this Memorial Day, are not the names of the May dead, but of their hometowns, announcement by announcement, placed at the graveside of a war that we can’t bear to remember and that simply won’t go away.  If it’s the undead of wars, the deaths from it remain a quiet crime against American humanity:

Spencerport, New York

Wichita, Kansas

Warren, Arkansas

West Chester, Ohio

Alameda, California

Charlotte, North Carolina

Stow, Ohio

Clarksville, Tennessee

Chico, California

Jeffersonville, Kentucky

Yuma, Arizona

Normangee, Texas

Round Rock, Texas

Rolla, Missouri

Lucerne Valley, California

Las Cruses, New Mexico

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Overland Park, Kansas

Wheaton, Illinois

Lawton, Oklahoma

Prince George, Virginia

Terre Haute, Indiana.

As long as the hometowns pile up, no one should rest in peace.


Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book is The United States of Fear(Haymarket Books). To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which he discusses what Americans should consider remembering on Memorial Day, click here or download it to your iPod here.

[Note on Further Reading: For those interested in exploring the history of Memorial Day, there’s no better place to visit than the always fascinating website History News Network.  For carefully put together records on American and NATO deaths in Afghanistan, visit icasualties.org.  Simply to keep up on American war news, not always the easiest thing in the mainstream media these days, make sure to visit Antiwar.com (as I do daily).]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt

“Mission Accomplished” (cartoon}

Caught Attacking Our Apricot Tree

We noticed a few days ago that the small wire cage around one of our young fruit trees (the apricot) was caved in, as if some critter had bent it getting to the tree. In the wee hours this morning a wildlife camera I set out for the purpose caught this beauty working on the same tree (probably eating leaves). The fruit is a long way from ripe.

Journalist, Plaintiff Chris Hedges Hails “Monumental” Ruling Blocking NDAA Indefinite Detention

From Democracy Now, an interview with journalist Chris Hedges, about the importance of federal Judge Katherine Forrest’s ruling that the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act likely violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of U.S. citizens.

 
In the following excerpt from the transcript of the interview above, Hedges wonders who — in the face of high opposition to the NDAA both from the public and from Democrats as well as Republicans within the government — continues to push this legislation, and why:

None of the Pentagon, the FBI, as you—Mueller and everyone else, as you pointed out—none of them supported the bill, even to the extent where Mueller and others were testifying before Congress that it would make their work more difficult. And yet it passes anyway. And it is a kind of—I think it’s a kind of mystery to the rest of us as to what are the forces that—when you have the security establishment publicly opposing it, what are the forces that are putting it in place? And I can only suppose that what they’re doing is setting up a kind of legal mechanism to criminalize any kind of dissent. And Bruce can speak to this a little more. But in the course of the trial, with Alexa O’Brien, US Day of Rage, that WikiLeaks dump of five million emails of the public security firm Stratfor, we saw in those email correspondence an attempt to link US Day of Rage with al-Qaeda. Once they link you with a terrorist group, then these draconian forms of control can be used against legitimate forms of protest, and particularly the Occupy movement.

Bee kills in the corn belt: What’s GE got to do with it?

Reprinted from the Huffington Post with the permission of the author.

By Heather Pilatic

In the last few weeks beekeepers have reported staggering losses in Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio after their hives foraged on pesticide-treated corn fields. Indiana too, two years ago. What’s going on in the Corn Belt?

No farmer in their right mind wants to poison pollinators. When I spoke with one Iowa corn farmer in January and told him about the upcoming release of a Purdue study confirming corn as a major pesticide exposure route for bees, his face dropped with worn exasperation. He looked down for a moment, sighed and said, “You know, I held out for years on buying them GE seeds, but now I can’t get conventional seeds anymore. They just don’t carry ’em.”

This leaves us with two questions: 1) What do GE seeds have to do with neonicotinoids and bees? and 2) How can an Iowa corn farmer find himself feeling unable to farm without poisoning pollinators? In other words, where did U.S. corn cultivation go wrong?

The short answer to both questions starts with a slow motion train wreck that began in the mid-1990s: Corn integrated pest management (IPM) fell apart at the seams. Rather, it was intentionally unraveled by Bayer and Monsanto.

Honey bees caught in the cross-fire

Corn is far from the only crop treated by neonicotinoids, but it is the largest use of arable land in North America, and honey bees rely on corn as a major protein source. At least 94 percent of the 92 million acres of corn planted across the U.S. this year will have been treated with either clothianidin or thiamethoxam (another neonicotinoid).

As we head into peak corn planting season throughout the U.S. Midwest, bees will once again “get it from all sides” as they:

  • fly through clothianidin-contaminated planter dust;
  • gather clothianidin-laced corn pollen, which will then be fed to emerging larva;
  • gather water from acutely toxic, pesticide-laced guttation droplets; and/or
  • gather pollen and nectar from nearby fields where forage sources such as dandelions have taken up these persistent chemicals from soil that’s been contaminated year on year since clothianidin’s widespread introduction into corn cultivation in 2003.

GE corn & neonicotinoid seed treatments go hand-in-hand

Over the last 15 years, U.S. corn cultivation has gone from a crop requiring little-to-no insecticides and negligible amounts of fungicides, to a crop where the average acre is grown from seeds treated or genetically engineered to express three different insecticides (as well as a fungicide or two) before being sprayed prophylactically with RoundUp (an herbicide) and a new class of fungicides that farmers didn’t know they “needed” before the mid-2000s.
A series of marketing ploys by the pesticide industry undergird this story. It’s about time to start telling it, if for no other reason than to give lie to the oft-repeated notion that there is no alternative to farming corn in a way that poisons pollinators. We were once — not so long ago — on a very different path.

How corn farming went off the rails

In the early 1990s, we were really good at growing corn using bio-intensive integrated pest management (bio-IPM). In practice, that meant crop rotations, supporting natural predators, using biocontrol agents like ladybugs and as a last resort, using chemical controls only after pests had been scouted for and found. During this time of peak bio-IPM adoption, today’s common practice of blanketing corn acreage with “insurance” applications of various pesticides without having established the need to do so would have been unthinkable. It’s expensive to use inputs you don’t need, and was once the mark of bad farming.

Then, in the mid-to-late 1990s, GE corn and neonicotinoid (imidacloprid) seed treatments both entered the market — the two go hand-in-hand, partly by design and partly by accident. Conditions for the marketing of both products were ripe due to a combination of factors:

  • regulatory pressures and insect resistance had pushed previous insecticide classes off the market, creating an opening for neonicotinoids to rapidly take over global marketshare;
  • patented seeds became legally defensible, and the pesticide industry gobbled up the global seed market; and
  • a variant of the corn rootworm outsmarted soy-corn rotations, driving an uptick in insecticide use around 1995-96.

Then, as if on cue, Monsanto introduced three different strains of patented, GE corn between 1997 and 2003 (RoundUp Ready, and two Bt-expressing variants aimed at controlling the European Corn Borer and corn root worm). Clothianidin entered the U.S. market under conditional registration in 2003, and in 2004 corn seed companies began marketing seeds treated with a 5X level of neonicotinoids (1.25 mg/seed vs. .25).

… and in the space of a decade, U.S. corn acreage undergoes a ten-fold increase in average insecticide use. By 2007, the average acre of corn has more than three systemic insecticides — both Bt traits and a neonicotinoid. Compare this to the early 1990s, when only an estimated 30-35 percent of all corn acreage were treated with insecticides at all.

Adding fuel to the fire, in 2008 USDA’s Federal Crop Insurance Board of Directors approved reductions in crop insurance premiums for producers who plant certain Bt corn hybrids. By 2009, 40 percent of corn farmers interviewed said they did not have access to elite (high-yielding) non-Bt corn seed. It is by now common knowledge that conventional corn farmers have a very hard time finding seed that is not genetically engineered and treated with neonicotinoids.

Enter fungicides

In 2007, what’s left of corn IPM was further unraveled with the mass marketing of a new class of fungicides (strobilurins) for use on corn as yield “boosters.” Before this, fungicide use on corn was so uncommon that it didn’t appear in Crop Life’s 2002 National Pesticide Use Database. But in the last five years, the pesticide industry has aggressively and successfully marketed prophylactic applications of fungicides on corn as yield and growth enhancers, and use has grown dramatically as a result. This despite the fact that these fungicides work as marketed less than half the time. According to this meta-analysis of efficacy studies, only “48% of treatments resulted in a yield response greater than the economic break-even value of 6 bu/acre.”

Back to the bees. Neonicotinoids are known to synergize with certain fungicides to increase the toxicity of the former to honey bees up to 1,000-fold, and fungicides may be key culprits in undermining beneficial bee microbiota that do things like make beebread nutritious and support immune response against gut pathogens like Nosema. Fungicide use in corn is likewise destroying beneficial fungi in many cropping systems, and driving the emergence of resistant strains.

As with insecticides and herbicides, so too with fungicide use on corn: Corn farmers are stuck on a pesticide treadmill on high gear, with a pre-emptively pressed turbo charge button (as “insurance”). Among the many casualties are our honey bees who rely on corn’s abundant pollen supply.

Keeping us all tethered to the pesticide treadmill is expected behavior from the likes of Monsanto. But what boggles the mind is that all of this is being aided and abetted by a USDA that ties cheap crop insurance to planting patented Bt corn, and a Congress that refuses to tie subsidized crop insurance in the Farm Bill to common-sense conservation practices like bio-intensive IPM. Try explaining that with a waggle dance.


Heather Pilatic is the Co-director of Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA).

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