Archive for August, 2011


Get Up, Stand Up: A Review from Urban Times

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Author Bruce Levine provides a fresh perspective on the current levels of civic engagement (or lack thereof within the United States) in his book Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite.  As he puts it from his own experiences in the “afflicted class”, “I would have liked to hear some recognition that human beings often become passive not because they are ignorant, stupid, lazy, or immature but because they are overwhelmed by their pain, and their primary goal is to shut down or divert themselves in order to function at all.” Rather than simply falling back on blaming our modern political structure, social dissonance, the mainstream media, or corporate control of the public sector, Levine works to thread all these things together to illustrate exactly why we have become so disengaged as a culture. What’s unusual about Levine’s perspective is the fact that he readily uses his knowledge as a practicing clinical psychologist to bolster his viewpoints… often railing against his profession and a societal overreliance on empirical data and credentials in decision making, “…in modernity people are taught to trust scientific studies more than their own common sense and experience.” It’s not just the mental health system he goes after but the academic foundations of many professions which he finds to be exclusionary, antiquated, unnecessarily expense, and devoid of the promised good life that millions of Americans hopelessly indebt themselves to achieve.

Get Up, Stand Up offers a number of powerful quotes regarding civic disengagement as well as a critique of modern democratic practices. According to Levine, we have transitioned beyond democracy instead shifting toward a “corporatocracy which he explains as, “A corporate-government partnership that governs society is a corporatocracy.  In direct democracy, the people directly rule.” Levine picks apart how this corporatocracy governs our lives and even how it is impacting our assessment of those who refuse to play the game. For me the most attractive element of Get Up, Stand Up was the fact that Levine refused to get sucked in to a hopeless negative assessment of modern society. While Levine is certainly critical, he directs his energy toward pointing out positive alternatives and how society can be improved.  Levine steps out of the oft-quoted personal responsibility/boot straps paradigm instead building a foundation for a better society on the basis of respecting ourselves. As he puts it, “When one understands that the battle for democracy begins with the battle to restore individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, one then sees the entire society and culture replete with battlefields in which such self-respect and collective confidence can be won or lost.”

“If one is alone, it can sometimes be helpful to know that perhaps the reason for one’s loneliness is not social inadequacy, but that in fact a television-suburbanized-car-consumer culture is making many Americans more isolated”.

If you’re looking for inspiration and perhaps a little bit of clarity regarding how to navigate the murky waters of civic engagement in today’s complex society, I would definitely pick up Get Up, Stand UpLevine’s perspective is refreshing if not unique. He juggles a lot of topics and overturns a lot of stones, but manages to avoid a preachy tone is his work. His compassion and overarching goal of creating a more united society is evident. He genuinely seems interest in uniting people rather than pushing a social agenda, evident in statements such as, “If one is alone, it can sometimes be helpful to know that perhaps the reason for one’s loneliness is not social inadequacy, but that in fact a television-suburbanized-car-consumer culture is making many Americans more isolated”. From a technical perspective, Levine offers a solid text which is well-referenced and features a highly-functional subject index. It’s a must read for anyone concerned about the path of society today.

This is reposted from Urban Times, where you can read the original.

Josh O’Conner is a Planner/Zoning Administrator in Asheville, North Carolina. You can find him on the web at triggerhippie.com, localplan.org, or twitter.com/joshoconner. Contact Josh via e-mail (josh -at-localplan.org). He was provided a copy of the book by Amazon for review. 

‘Life is an Ecstasy’ the New York Review of Books on Sex and the River Styx

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

By Phillip Lopate

There is probably no essayist today who has earned more respect from his peers and fellow practitioners than Edward Hoagland. John Updike called him “the best essayist of my generation,” Philip Roth said he was “America’s most intelligent and wide-ranging essayist-naturalist,” and Joyce Carol Oates described him evocatively as “our Chopin of the genre.” It may have cost these famous novelists little to crown him king of what they may think a lesser genre; but he has also been a model for younger environmental writers, such as Gretel Ehrlich, Bill McKibben, and Scott Russell Sanders.

A novelist or poet of his accomplishments would be receiving lengthy career assessments and White House invitations at this point in his career, whereas Hoagland’s books are now consigned to small presses and a smattering of reviews. True, he is a most peculiar writer, an intricate stylist whose prose seems rooted in a tradition that resists speed-reading, and who has obstinately staked out two territories, the ruminative (as opposed to the narrative) personal essay and nature writing, which are among the least commercially catching. There is something very moving about a master personal essayist continuing to articulate the challenges of life right up to the end, no matter what size the readership.

Since Hoagland draws unreservedly on his own life, even his most casual readers will be familiar with it. He was born in 1932 in New York City; when he was eight his family moved to rural Connecticut and he was free to roam outdoors. His father—a straitlaced, bigoted Republican lawyer, who canceled his subscription to the Metropolitan Opera after the black contralto Marian Anderson sang there, and would later disinherit his two children when they got divorced—provided an ideal target for rebellion.

The entire review is available at the New York Review of Books’ website, to subscribers.

I Do Not Want Mercy, I Want You to Join Me

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Last week environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in federal prison and assessed a $10,000 fine for bidding on parcels of land in a BLM auction with the intention to not pay for them. He “disrupted” the auction to protest the sale of the land to oil and gas companies–and in fact the sale was later found to be illegal. Regardless, the judge sentenced DeChristopher to serve time (and think about what he’s done!). Before he was sentenced he made the statement below. Reposted from CommonDreams.org.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak before the court.  When I first met Mr. Manross, the sentencing officer who prepared the presentence report, he explained that it was essentially his job to “get to know me.”  He said he had to get to know who I really was and why I did what I did in order to decide what kind of sentence was appropriate.  I was struck by the fact that he was the first person in this courthouse to call me by my first name, or even really look me in the eye.  I appreciate this opportunity to speak openly to you for the first time.  I’m not here asking for your mercy, but I am here asking that you know me.

Mr. Huber has leveled a lot of character attacks at me, many of which are contrary to Mr. Manross’s report.  While reading Mr Huber’s critiques of my character and my integrity, as well as his assumptions about my motivations, I was reminded that Mr Huber and I have never had a conversation.    Over the two and half years of this prosecution, he has never asked my any of the questions that he makes assumptions about in the government’s report.  Apparently, Mr. Huber has never considered it his job to get to know me, and yet he is quite willing to disregard the opinions of the one person who does see that as his job.

There are alternating characterizations that Mr Huber would like you to believe about me.  In one paragraph, the government claims I “played out the parts of accuser, jury, and judge as he determined the fate of the oil and gas lease auction and its intended participants that day.”   In the very next paragraph, they claim “It was not the defendant’s crimes that effected such a change.” Mr Huber would lead you to believe that I’m either a dangerous criminal who holds the oil and gas industry in the palm of my hand, or I’m just an incompetent child who didn’t affect the outcome of anything.  As evidenced by the continued back and forth of contradictory arguments in the government’s memorandum, they’re not quite sure which of those extreme caricatures I am, but they are certain that I am nothing in between.  Rather than the job of getting to know me, it seems Mr Huber prefers the job of fitting me into whatever extreme characterization is most politically expedient at the moment.

In nearly every paragraph, the government’s memorandum uses the words lie, lied, lying, liar.  It makes me want to thank whatever clerk edited out the words “pants on fire.”  Their report doesn’t mention the fact that at the auction in question, the first person who asked me what I was doing there was Agent Dan Love.  And I told him very clearly that I was there to stand in the way of an illegitimate auction that threatened my future.  I proceeded to answer all of his questions openly and honestly, and have done so to this day when speaking about that auction in any forum, including this courtroom.  The entire basis for the false statements charge that I was convicted of was the fact that I wrote my real name and address on a form that included the words “bona fide bidder.”  When I sat there on the witness stand, Mr Romney asked me if I ever had any intention of being a bona fide bidder.  I responded by asking Mr Romney to clarify what “bona fide bidder” meant in this context.  Mr Romney then withdrew the question and moved on to the next subject.  On that right there is the entire basis for the government’s repeated attacks on my integrity.  Ambition should be made of sterner stuff, your honor.

Mr Huber also makes grand assumptions about my level of respect for the rule of law.  The government claims a long prison sentence is necessary to counteract the political statements I’ve made and promote a respect for the law.  The only evidence provided for my lack of respect for the law is political statements that I’ve made in public forums.  Again, the government doesn’t mention my actions in regard to the drastic restrictions that were put upon my defense in this courtroom.  My political disagreements with the court about the proper role of a jury in the legal system are probably well known.  I’ve given several public speeches and interviews about how the jury system was established and how it has evolved to it’s current state.  Outside of this courtroom, I’ve made my views clear that I agree with the founding fathers that juries should be the conscience of the community and a defense against legislative tyranny.  I even went so far as to organize a book study group that read about the history of jury nullification.  Some of the participants in that book group later began passing out leaflets to the public about jury rights, as is their right.  Mr Huber was apparently so outraged by this that he made the slanderous accusations that I tried to taint the jury.  He didn’t specify the extra number of months that I should spend in prison for the heinous activity of holding a book group at the Unitarian Church and quoting Thomas Jefferson in public, but he says you should have “little tolerance for this behavior.”

But here is the important point that Mr Huber would rather ignore.  Despite my strong disagreements with the court about the Constitutional basis for the limits on my defense, while I was in this courtroom I respected the authority of the court.  Whether I agreed with them or not, I abided by the restrictions that you put on me and my legal team.  I never attempted to “taint” the jury, as Mr Huber claimed, by sharing any of the relevant facts about the auction in question that the court had decided were off limits.  I didn’t burst out and tell the jury that I successfully raised the down payment and offered it to the BLM.  I didn’t let the jury know that the auction was later reversed because it was illegitimate in the first place.  To this day I still think I should have had the right to do so, but disagreement with the law should not be confused with disrespect for the law.

My public statements about jury nullification were not the only political statements that Mr Huber thinks I should be punished for.  As the government’s memorandum points out, I have also made public statements about the value of civil disobedience in bringing the rule of law closer to our shared sense of justice.  In fact, I have openly and explicitly called for nonviolent civil disobedience against mountaintop removal coal mining in my home state of West Virginia.  Mountaintop removal is itself an illegal activity, which has always been in violation of the Clean Water Act, and it is an illegal activity that kills people.  A West Virginia state investigation found that Massey Energy had been cited with 62,923 violations of the law in the ten years preceding the disaster that killed 29 people last year.  The investigation also revealed that Massey paid for almost none of those violations because the company provided millions of dollars worth of campaign contributions that elected most of the appeals court judges in the state.  When I was growing up in West Virginia, my mother was one of many who pursued every legal avenue for making the coal industry follow the law.  She commented at hearings, wrote petitions and filed lawsuits, and many have continued to do ever since, to no avail.  I actually have great respect for the rule of law, because I see what happens when it doesn’t exist, as is the case with the fossil fuel industry.  Those crimes committed by Massey Energy led not only to the deaths of their own workers, but to the deaths of countless local residents, such as Joshua McCormick, who died of kidney cancer at age 22 because he was unlucky enough to live downstream from a coal mine.  When a corrupted government is no longer willing to uphold the rule of law, I advocate that citizens step up to that responsibility.

This is really the heart of what this case is about.  The rule of law is dependent upon a government that is willing to abide by the law.  Disrespect for the rule of law begins when the government believes itself and its corporate sponsors to be above the law.

Mr Huber claims that the seriousness of my offense was that I “obstructed lawful government proceedings.”  But the auction in question was not a lawful proceeding.  I know you’ve heard another case about some of the irregularities for which the auction was overturned.  But that case did not involve the BLM’s blatant violation of Secretarial Order 3226, which was a law that went into effect in 2001 and required the BLM to weigh the impacts on climate change for all its major decisions, particularly resource development.  A federal judge in Montana ruled last year that the BLM was in constant violation of this law throughout the Bush administration.  In all the proceedings and debates about this auction, no apologist for the government or the BLM has ever even tried to claim that the BLM followed this law.  In both the December 2008 auction and the creation of the Resource Management Plan on which this auction was based, the BLM did not even attempt to follow this law.

And this law is not a trivial regulation about crossing t’s or dotting i’s to make some government accountant’s job easier.  This law was put into effect to mitigate the impacts of catastrophic climate change and defend a livable future on this planet.  This law was about protecting the survival of young generations.  That’s kind of a big deal.  It’s a very big deal to me.  If the government is going to refuse to step up to that responsibility to defend a livable future, I believe that creates a moral imperative for me and other citizens.  My future, and the future of everyone I care about, is being traded for short term profits.  I take that very personally.  Until our leaders take seriously their responsibility to pass on a healthy and just world to the next generation, I will continue this fight.

The government has made the claim that there were legal alternatives to standing in the way of this auction.  Particularly, I could have filed a written protest against certain parcels.  The government does not mention, however, that two months prior to this auction, in October 2008, a Congressional report was released that looked into those protests.  The report, by the House committee on public lands, stated that it had become common practice for the BLM to take volunteers from the oil and gas industry to process those permits.  The oil industry was paying people specifically to volunteer for the industry that was supposed to be regulating it, and it was to those industry staff that I would have been appealing.  Moreover, this auction was just three months after the New York Times reported on a major scandal involving Department of the Interior regulators who were taking bribes of sex and drugs from the oil companies that they were supposed to be regulating.  In 2008, this was the condition of the rule of law, for which Mr Huber says I lacked respect.  Just as the legal avenues which people in West Virginia have been pursuing for 30 years, the legal avenues in this case were constructed precisely to protect the corporations who control the government.

The reality is not that I lack respect for the law; it’s that I have greater respect for justice.  Where there is a conflict between the law and the higher moral code that we all share, my loyalty is to that higher moral code.  I know Mr Huber disagrees with me on this.  He wrote that “The rule of law is the bedrock of our civilized society, not acts of ‘civil disobedience’ committed in the name of the cause of the day.”  That’s an especially ironic statement when he is representing the United States of America, a place where the rule of law was created through acts of civil disobedience.  Since those bedrock acts of civil disobedience by our founding fathers, the rule of law in this country has continued to grow closer to our shared higher moral code through the civil disobedience that drew attention to legalized injustice.  The authority of the government exists to the degree that the rule of law reflects the higher moral code of the citizens, and throughout American history, it has been civil disobedience that has bound them together.

This philosophical difference is serious enough that Mr Huber thinks I should be imprisoned to discourage the spread of this idea.  Much of the government’s memorandum focuses on the political statements that I’ve made in public.  But it hasn’t always been this way.  When Mr Huber was arguing that my defense should be limited, he addressed my views this way: “The public square is the proper stage for the defendant’s message, not criminal proceedings in federal court.”  But now that the jury is gone, Mr. Huber wants to take my message from the public square and make it a central part of these federal court proceedings.  I have no problem with that.  I’m just as willing to have those views on display as I’ve ever been.

The government’s memorandum states, “As opposed to preventing this particular defendant from committing further crimes, the sentence should be crafted ‘to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct’ by others.”  Their concern is not the danger that I present, but the danger presented by my ideas and words that might lead others to action.  Perhaps Mr Huber is right to be concerned.  He represents the United States Government.  His job is to protect those currently in power, and by extension, their corporate sponsors.  After months of no action after the auction, the way I found out about my indictment was the day before it happened, Pat Shea got a call from an Associated Press reporter who said, “I just wanted to let you know that tomorrow Tim is going to be indicted, and this is what the charges are going to be.”  That reporter had gotten that information two weeks earlier from an oil industry lobbyist.  Our request for disclosure of what role that lobbyist played in the US Attorney’s office was denied, but we know that she apparently holds sway and that the government feels the need to protect the industry’s interests.

The things that I’ve been publicly saying may indeed be threatening to that power structure. There have been several references to the speech I gave after the conviction, but I’ve only ever seen half of one sentence of that speech quoted.  In the government’s report, they actually had to add their own words to that one sentence to make it sound more threatening.   But the speech was about empowerment.  It was about recognizing our interconnectedness rather than viewing ourselves as isolated individuals.  The message of the speech was that when people stand together, they no longer have to be exploited by powerful corporations.  Alienation is perhaps the most effective tool of control in America, and every reminder of our real connectedness weakens that tool.

But the sentencing guidelines don’t mention the need to protect corporations or politicians from ideas that threaten their control.  The guidelines say “protect the public.”  The question is whether the public is helped or harmed by my actions.  The easiest way to answer that question is with the direct impacts of my action.  As the oil executive stated in his testimony, the parcels I didn’t bid on averaged $12 per acre, but the ones I did bid on averaged $125.  Those are the prices paid for public property to the public trust.  The industry admits very openly that they were getting those parcels for an order of magnitude less than what they were worth.  Not only did those oil companies drive up the prices to $125 during the bidding, they were then given an opportunity to withdraw their bids once my actions were explained.  They kept the parcels, presumably because they knew they were still a good deal at $125.  The oil companies knew they were getting a steal from the American people, and now they’re crying because they had to pay a little closer to what those parcels were actually worth.  The government claims I should be held accountable for the steal the oil companies didn’t get.  The government’s report demands $600,000 worth of financial impacts for the amount which the oil industry wasn’t able to steal from the public.

That extra revenue for the public became almost irrelevant, though, once most of those parcels were revoked by Secretary Salazar.  Most of the parcels I won were later deemed inappropriate for drilling.  In other words, the highest and best value to the public for those particular lands was not for oil and gas drilling.  Had the auction gone off without a hitch, it would have been a loss for the public.  The fact that the auction was delayed, extra attention was brought to the process, and the parcels were ultimately revoked was a good thing for the public.

More generally, the question of whether civil disobedience is good for the public is a matter of perspective.  Civil disobedience is inherently an attempt at change.  Those in power, whom Mr Huber represents, are those for whom the status quo is working, so they always see civil disobedience as a bad thing.  The decision you are making today, your honor, is what segment of the public you are meant to protect.  Mr Huber clearly has cast his lot with that segment who wishes to preserve the status quo.  But the majority of the public is exploited by the status quo far more than they are benefited by it.  The young are the most obvious group who is exploited and condemned to an ugly future by letting the fossil fuel industry call the shots.  There is an overwhelming amount of scientific research, some of which you received as part of our proffer on the necessity defense, that reveals the catastrophic consequences which the young will have to deal with over the coming decades.

But just as real is the exploitation of the communities where fossil fuels are extracted.  As a native of West Virginia, I have seen from a young age that the exploitation of fossil fuels has always gone hand in hand with the exploitation of local people.  In West Virginia, we’ve been extracting coal longer than anyone else.  And after 150 years of making other people rich, West Virginia is almost dead last among the states in per capita income, education rates and life expectancy.  And it’s not an anomaly.  The areas with the richest fossil fuel resources, whether coal in West Virginia and Kentucky, or oil in Louisiana and Mississippi, are the areas with the lowest standards of living.  In part, this is a necessity of the industry.  The only way to convince someone to blow up their backyard or poison their water is to make sure they are so desperate that they have no other option.  But it is also the nature of the economic model.  Since fossil fuels are a limited resources, whoever controls access to that resource in the beginning gets to set all the terms.  They set the terms for their workers, for the local communities, and apparently even for the regulatory agencies.  A renewable energy economy is a threat to that model.  Since no one can control access to the sun or the wind, the wealth is more likely to flow to whoever does the work of harnessing that energy, and therefore to create a more distributed economic system, which leads to a more distributed political system.  It threatens the profits of the handful of corporations for whom the current system works, but our question is which segment of the public are you tasked with protecting.  I am here today because I have chosen to protect the people locked out of the system over the profits of the corporations running the system.  I say this not because I want your mercy, but because I want you to join me.

After this difference of political philosophies, the rest of the sentencing debate has been based on the financial loss from my actions.  The government has suggested a variety of numbers loosely associated with my actions, but as of yet has yet to establish any causality between my actions and any of those figures.  The most commonly discussed figure is perhaps the most easily debunked.  This is the figure of roughly $140,000, which is the amount the BLM originally spent to hold the December 2008 auction.  By definition, this number is the amount of money the BLM spent before I ever got involved.  The relevant question is what the BLM spent because of my actions, but apparently that question has yet to be asked.  The only logic that relates the $140,000 figure to my actions is if I caused the entire auction to be null and void and the BLM had to start from scratch to redo the entire auction.  But that of course is not the case.  First is the prosecution’s on-again-off-again argument that I didn’t have any impact on the auction being overturned.  More importantly, the BLM never did redo the auction because it was decided that many of those parcels should never have been auctioned in the first place.  Rather than this arbitrary figure of $140,000, it would have been easy to ask the BLM how much money they spent or will spend on redoing the auction.  But the government never asked this question, probably because they knew they wouldn’t like the answer.

The other number suggested in the government’s memorandum is the $166,000 that was the total price of the three parcels I won which were not invalidated.  Strangely, the government wants me to pay for these parcels, but has never offered to actually give them to me.  When I offered the BLM the money a couple weeks after the auction, they refused to take it.  Aside from that history, this figure is still not a valid financial loss from my actions.  When we wrote there was no loss from my actions, we actually meant that rather literally.  Those three parcels were not evaporated or blasted into space because of my actions, not was the oil underneath them sucked dry by my bid card.  They’re still there, and in fact the BLM has already issued public notice of their intent to re-auction those parcels in February of 2012.

The final figure suggested as a financial loss is the $600,000 that the oil company wasn’t able to steal from the public.  That completely unsubstantiated number is supposedly the extra amount the BLM received because of my actions.  This is when things get tricky.  The government’s report takes that $600,000 positive for the BLM and adds it to that roughly $300,000 negative for the BLM, and comes up with a $900,000 negative.  With math like that, it’s obvious that Mr Huber works for the federal government.

After most of those figures were disputed in the presentence  report, the government claimed in their most recent objection that I should be punished according to the intended financial impact that I intended to cause.  The government tries to assume my intentions and then claims, “This is consistent with the testimony that Mr. DeChristopher provided at trial, admitting that his intention was to cause financial harm to others with whom he disagreed.”  Now I didn’t get to say a whole lot at the trial, so it was pretty easy to look back through the transcripts.  The statement claimed by the government never happened.  There was nothing even close enough to make their statement a paraphrase or artistic license.  This statement in the government’s objection is a complete fiction.  Mr Huber’s inability to judge my intent is revealed in this case by the degree to which he underestimates my ambition.  The truth is that my intention, then as now, was to expose, embarrass and hold accountable the oil industry to the extent that it cuts into the $100 billion in annual profits that it makes through exploitation.  I actually intended for my actions to play a role in the wide variety of actions that steer the country toward a clean energy economy where those $100 billion in oil profits are completely eliminated.  When I read Mr Huber’s new logic, I was terrified to consider that my slightly unrealistic intention to have a $100 billion impact will fetch me several consecutive life sentences.  Luckily this reasoning is as unrealistic as it is silly.

A more serious look at my intentions is found in Mr Huber’s attempt to find contradictions in my statements.  Mr Huber points out that in public I acted proud of my actions and treated it like a success, while in our sentencing memorandum we claimed that my actions led to “no loss.”  On the one hand I think it was a success, and yet I claim it there was no loss.  Success, but no loss.  Mr Huber presents these ideas as mutually contradictory and obvious proof that I was either dishonest or backing down from my convictions.  But for success to be contradictory to no loss, there has to be another assumption.  One has to assume that my intent was to cause a loss.  But the only loss that I intended to cause was the loss of secrecy by which the government gave away public property for private profit.  As I actually stated in the trial, my intent was to shine a light on a corrupt process and get the government to take a second look at how this auction was conducted.  The success of that intent is not dependent on any loss.  I knew that if I was completely off base, and the government took that second look and decided that nothing was wrong with that auction, the cost of my action would be another day’s salary for the auctioneer and some minor costs of re-auctioning the parcels.  But if I was right about the irregularities of the auction, I knew that allowing the auction to proceed would mean the permanent loss of lands better suited for other purposes and the permanent loss of a safe climate.  The intent was to prevent loss, but again that is a matter of perspective.

Mr Huber wants you to weigh the loss for the corporations that expected to get public property for pennies on the dollar, but I believe the important factor is the loss to the public which I helped prevent.  Again, we come back to this philosophical difference.  From any perspective, this is a case about the right of citizens to challenge the government.  The US Attorney’s office makes clear that their interest is not only to punish me for doing so, but to discourage others from challenging the government, even when the government is acting inappropriately.  Their memorandum states, “To be sure, a federal prison term here will deter others from entering a path of criminal behavior.”  The certainty of this statement not only ignores the history of political prisoners, it ignores the severity of the present situation.  Those who are inspired to follow my actions are those who understand that we are on a path toward catastrophic consequences of climate change.  They know their future, and the future of their loved ones, is on the line.  And they know were are running out of time to turn things around.  The closer we get to that point where it’s too late, the less people have to lose by fighting back.  The power of the Justice Department is based on its ability to take things away from people.  The more that people feel that they have nothing to lose, the more that power begins to shrivel.  The people who are committed to fighting for a livable future will not be discouraged or intimidated by anything that happens here today.  And neither will I.  I will continue to confront the system that threatens our future.  Given the destruction of our democratic institutions that once gave citizens access to power, my future will likely involve civil disobedience.  Nothing that happens here today will change that.  I don’t mean that in any sort of disrespectful way at all, but you don’t have that authority.   You have authority over my life, but not my principles.  Those are mine alone.

I’m not saying any of this to ask you for mercy, but to ask you to join me.  If you side with Mr Huber and believe that your role is to discourage citizens from holding their government accountable, then you should follow his recommendations and lock me away.  I certainly don’t want that.  I have no desire to go to prison, and any assertion that I want to be even a temporary martyr is false.  I want you to join me in standing up for the right and responsibility of citizens to challenge their government.  I want you to join me in valuing this country’s rich history of nonviolent civil disobedience.  If you share those values but think my tactics are mistaken, you have the power to redirect them.  You can sentence me to a wide range of community service efforts that would point my commitment to a healthy and just world down a different path.  You can have me work with troubled teens, as I spent most of my career doing.  You can have me help disadvantaged communities or even just pull weeds for the BLM.  You can steer that commitment if you agree with it, but you can’t kill it.  This is not going away.   At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like.  In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like.  With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow.  The choice you are making today is what side are you on.

Inspired to piss off the authorities and civilly disobey for the sake of your own heartfelt beliefs? Check out the work of our own favorite jailbird and eco-activist, Diane Wilson! Her most recent book is Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth. Her first book, An Unreasonable Woman, is free for Kindle download for the month of August.

Bruce E. Levine: 8 Ways Young Americans Have Been Dominated

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

This article originally appeared over at CounterPunch, where you can read the original.

Traditionally, young people have energized democratic movements. So it is a major coup for the ruling elite to have created societal institutions that have subdued young Americans and broken their spirit of resistance to domination.

Young Americans—even more so than older Americans—appear to have acquiesced to the idea that the corporatocracy can completely screw them and that they are helpless to do anything about it. A 2010 Gallup poll asked Americans “Do you think the Social Security system will be able to pay you a benefit when you retire?” Among 18- to 34-years-olds, 76 percent of them said “No.” Yet despite their lack of confidence in the availability of Social Security for them, few have demanded it be shored up by more fairly payroll-taxing the wealthy; most appear resigned to having more money deducted from their paychecks for Social Security, even though they don’t believe it will be around to benefit them.

How exactly has American society subdued young Americans?

1. Student-Loan Debt: Large debt—and the fear it creates—is a pacifying force. There was no tuition at the City University of New York when I attended one of its colleges in the 1970s, a time when tuition at many U.S. public universities was so affordable that it was easy to get a B.A. and even a graduate degree without accruing any student-loan debt. While those days are gone in the United States, public universities continue to be free in the Arab world and are either free or with very low fees in many countries throughout the world. The millions of young Iranians who risked getting shot to protest their disputed 2009 presidential election, the millions of young Egyptians who risked their lives earlier this year to eliminate Mubarak, and the millions of young Americans who demonstrated against the Vietnam War all had in common the absence of pacifying huge student-loan debt. Today in the United States, two-thirds of graduating seniors at four-year colleges have student-loan debt, including over 62 percent of public university graduates. While average undergraduate debt is close to $25,000, I increasingly talk to college graduates with closer to $100,000 in student-loan debt. During the time in one’s life when it should be easiest to resist authority because one does not yet have family responsibilities, many young people worry about the cost of bucking authority, losing their job, and being unable to pay an ever-increasing debt. In a vicious cycle, student debt has a subduing effect on activism, and political passivity makes it more likely that students will accept such debt as a natural part of life.

2. Psychopathologizing and Medicating Noncompliance. In 1955, Erich Fromm, the then widely respected anti-authoritarian leftist psychoanalyst, wrote, “Today the function of psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis threatens to become the tool in the manipulation of man.” Fromm died in 1980, the same year that an increasingly authoritarian America elected Ronald Reagan president, and an increasingly authoritarian American Psychiatric Association added to their diagnostic bible (then the DSM-III) disruptive mental disorders for children and teenagers such as the increasingly popular “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD). The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules,” “often argues with adults,” and “often deliberately does things to annoy other people.” Many of America’s greatest activists including Saul Alinsky (1909–1972), the legendary organizer and author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, would today certainly be diagnosed with ODD and other disruptive disorders. Recalling his childhood, Alinsky said, “I never thought of walking on the grass until I saw a sign saying ‘Keep off the grass.’ Then I would stomp all over it.” Heavily tranquilizing antipsychotic drugs (e.g. Zyprexa and Risperdal) are now the highest grossing class of medication in the United States ($16 billion in 2010); a major reason for this, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010, is that many children receiving antipsychotic drugs have nonpsychotic diagnoses such as ODD or some other disruptive disorder (this especially true of Medicaid-covered pediatric patients).

3. Schools That Educate for Compliance and Not for Democracy: Upon accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990, John Taylor Gatto upset many in attendance by stating: “The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions.” A generation ago, the problem of compulsory schooling as a vehicle for an authoritarian society was widely discussed, but as this problem has gotten worse, it is seldom discussed. The nature of most classrooms, regardless of the subject matter, socializes students to be passive and directed by others, to follow orders, to take seriously the rewards and punishments of authorities, to pretend to care about things they don’t care about, and that they are impotent to affect their situation. A teacher can lecture about democracy, but schools are essentially undemocratic places, and so democracy is not what is instilled in students. Jonathan Kozol in The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home focused on how school breaks us from courageous actions. Kozol explains how our schools teach us a kind of “inert concern” in which “caring”—in and of itself and without risking the consequences of actual action—is considered “ethical.” School teaches us that we are “moral and mature” if we politely assert our concerns, but the essence of school—its demand for compliance—teaches us not to act in a friction-causing manner.

4.No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top”: The corporatocracy has figured out a way to make our already authoritarian schools even more authoritarian. Democrat-Republican bipartisanship has resulted in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, NAFTA, the PATRIOT Act, the War on Drugs, the Wall Street bailout, and educational policies such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” These policies are essentially standardized-testing tyranny that creates fear, which is antithetical to education for a democratic society. Fear forces students and teachers to constantly focus on the demands of test creators; it crushes curiosity, critical thinking, questioning authority, and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority. In a more democratic and less authoritarian society, one would evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher not by corporatocracy-sanctioned standardized tests but by asking students, parents, and a community if a teacher is inspiring students to be more curious, to read more, to learn independently, to enjoy thinking critically, to question authorities, and to challenge illegitimate authorities.

5. Shaming Young People Who Take EducationBut Not Their SchoolingSeriously. In a 2006 survey in the United States, it was found that 40 percent of children between first and third grade read every day, but by fourth grade, that rate declined to 29 percent. Despite the anti-educational impact of standard schools, children and their parents are increasingly propagandized to believe that disliking school means disliking learning. That was not always the case in the United States. Mark Twain famously said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” Toward the end of Twain’s life in 1900, only 6 percent of Americans graduated high school. Today, approximately 85 percent of Americans graduate high school, but this is good enough for Barack Obama who told us in 2009, “And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.” However, the more schooling Americans get, the more politically ignorant they are of America’s ongoing class war, and the more incapable they are of challenging the ruling class. In the 1880s and 1890s, American farmers with little or no schooling created a Populist movement that organized America’s largest-scale working people’s cooperative, formed a People’s Party that received 8 percent of the vote in 1892 presidential election, designed a “subtreasury” plan (that had it been implemented would have allowed easier credit for farmers and broke the power of large banks) and sent 40,000 lecturers across America to articulate it, and evidenced all kinds of sophisticated political ideas, strategies and tactics absent today from America’s well-schooled population. Today, Americans who lack college degrees are increasingly shamed as “losers”; however, Gore Vidal and George Carlin, two of America’s most astute and articulate critics of the corporatocracy, never went to college, and Carlin dropped out of school in the ninth grade.

6. The Normalization of Surveillance: The fear of being surveilled makes a population easier to control. While the National Security Agency (NSA) has received publicity for monitoring American citizen’s e-mail and phone conversations, and while employer surveillance has become increasingly common in the United States, young Americans have become increasingly acquiescent to corporatocracy surveillance because, beginning at a young age, surveillance is routine in their lives. Parents routinely check Web sites for their kid’s latest test grades and completed assignments, and just like employers, are monitoring their children’s computers and Facebook pages. Some parents use the GPS in their children’s cell phones to track their whereabouts, and other parents have video cameras in their homes. Increasingly, I talk with young people who lack the confidence that they can even pull off a party when their parents are out of town, and so how much confidence are they going to have about pulling off a democratic movement below the radar of authorities?

7. Television: In 2009, the Nielsen Company reported that TV viewing in the United States is at an all-time high if one includes the following “three screens”: a television set, a laptop/personal computer, and a cell phone. American children average eight hours a day on TV, video games, movies, the Internet, cell phones, iPods, and other technologies (not including school-related use). Many progressives are concerned about the concentrated control of content by the corporate media, but the mere act of watching TV—regardless of the programming—is the primary pacifying agent (private-enterprise prisons have recognized that providing inmates with cable television can be a more economical method to keep them quiet and subdued than it would be to hire more guards). Television is a “dream come true” for an authoritarian society: those with the most money own most of what people see; fear-based television programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for the ruling elite who depend on a “divide and conquer” strategy; TV isolates people so they are not joining together to create resistance to authorities; and regardless of the programming, TV viewers’ brainwaves slow down, transforming them closer to a hypnotic state that makes it difficult to think critically. While playing a video games is not as zombifying as passively viewing TV, such games have become for many boys and young men their only experience of potency, and this “virtual potency” is certainly no threat to the ruling elite.

8. Fundamentalist Religion and Fundamentalist Consumerism: American culture offers young Americans the “choices” of fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist consumerism. All varieties of fundamentalism narrow one’s focus and inhibit critical thinking. While some progressives are fond of calling fundamentalist religion the “opiate of the masses,” they too often neglect the pacifying nature of America’s other major fundamentalism. Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. Fundamentalist consumerism destroys self-reliance, creating people who feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities, the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see. A fundamentalist consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulations, including lies; and when a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulativeness, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and form democratic movements. Fundamentalist consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult for the solidarity necessary for democratic movements.

These are not the only aspects of our culture that are subduing young Americans and crushing their resistance to domination. The food-industrial complex has helped create an epidemic of childhood obesity, depression, and passivity. The prison-industrial complex keeps young anti-authoritarians “in line” (now by the fear that they may come before judges such as the two Pennsylvania ones who took $2.6 million from private-industry prisons to ensure that juveniles were incarcerated). As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed: “All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.”

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite  (Chelsea Green, 2011). His Web site is www.brucelevine.net

Sexy Food: Meet Joel Salatin

Monday, August 1st, 2011

This is reposted from The Seattleite’s Linda Miller Nicholson, a self-described “Stiletto Ninja turned Foodie Fashionista”. I guess that explains the blatant objectification of poor old Joel Salatin…visit the original post to comment.

Spend time with a hunk, learn about farming and get healthy — all in a day’s work.

With dust on his boots and suspenders hugging his abs just tightly enough to reveal their muscled tone, Joel Salatin is the embodiment of the Hot Farmer.

His hotness is magnified by all the work he’s done to promote sustainable farming practices in a culture that often fights him tooth and nail. More than that, he’s a winsome Virginia boy with a heart of gold and smiling eyes. You can get up close and personal with him on Saturday, July 23, at the Kirkland Health Fair.

When he’s not busy spreading the word about how to raise cows, pigs, chicken and carrots in more humane and eco-friendly ways, he’s at home on the third-generation, family-run Polyface Farms — an iconic establishment in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Polyface catapulted to international fame as the grass farm featured on the pages of The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, as well as the Oscar-nominated film Food, Inc. Salatin is much more than just the pretty face behind the farm, however.

Overall, he’s penned six books — and his latest, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, details his unconventional approach to agriculture. Though he is often perceived as crazy by big, bad cattle men, Salatin’s ideas might just save the future of the farming and ranching industries. “Long after the ecological adulterers and prostitutes have run their course,” he writes, “earthworms will still want organic matter to eat and will still create fertile soil out of poverty.”

His zeal for making the world a better place is as infectious in person as it is on paper. Even when you close your eyes, you can tell he is smiling through his words.

Read the original article here. And check out Linda’s blog, Salty Seattle for more of her hilarious softcore foodie-rotica.

Check out Salatin’s latest creation, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer here.


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