Archive for July, 2010

Of journeys and ecocide

By Steve Klinger

We logged over 6,000 miles this summer, most of it on the road, but also 2,000 nautical miles, sailing from Seattle to Glacier Bay and back again on an Inside Passage cruise. For me it was a trip both forward and backward in time, seeing people and places entirely new to me, but also reacquainting with friends and relatives, including two classmates I hadn’t seen in about 40 years.

One of the new acquaintances was my grandson, Henry, who was less than a month old when I looked into his wide and innocent eyes in Denver. Thinking back on it, I wondered whether, when he is old enough to follow the itinerary we took, there will still be glaciers calving in Alaska. Maybe so, but probably a lot deeper in the fjords.

As for the wildlife we saw – gray and humpback whales, sea otters and bald eagles in Alaska, elk and bison in Yellowstone – I’m betting the number and variety of such creatures will be greatly diminished in another generation, and that’s a best-case scenario.

The health of the oceans, vast and impervious to human negligence though they seem, has been dealt a new blow by BP’s disaster in the Gulf, a soiling of ecosystems whose true scope may not be known for years. Although the gushing oil has been stopped for now, unproven and untested chemical dispersants have scattered the evidence and left less predictable toxins in their place, and some scientists believe a buildup of methane gas in the area of the damaged well is more worrisome than the crude. To the fish and sea turtles and birds, it matters not the enemy who vanquished them.

In Sitka, Ketchikan, Juneau and then in Victoria, B.C. we saw remarkably beautiful creations of First Peoples, from the totem poles of the Tlingit to intricate, bright-hued rugs, wood carvings and articles of clothing (Tlingit, Inuit) that describe an utterly different relationship between these “primitive” civilizations and their sustaining planet than that of our own culture, whose main byproduct befouled Prince William Sound in 1989 and now the more southerly waters where the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank.

On our trip we used the marvelous gadgetry of 21st century America, including laptop computers and iPhones, to find lodgings, and restaurants and stay in touch with that part of the world we’d left behind, and we sailed in a modern floating city 11 stories high that contained a world unto itself, including a casino, numerous lounges and about four restaurants to feed our various addictions. We experienced the endangered wonders of just a corner of our planet as only modern travelers can, yet it was hard to forget that the same technology that put the world at our doorstep is also damaging the interconnected web of life systems on a vast scale, at a relentless pace.

We covered the great expanse of the Rockies and the Intermountain West in a few days’ time, thanks to the internal combustion engine and the fossil fuels that still power it, and we spent a month on the road, trying to find cuisine less poisonous than the standard restaurant fare of endless refined carbohydrates. We met a number of fellow travelers, mostly on the ship, who shared our frustration at the poorly concealed racism and mean-spirited rightwing backlash to the few diluted initiatives coming from the Party of Change. We met a lot of ordinary folks who obviously are having to make do with less than they used to have, but still have not connected the dots to see that belt-tightening won’t avoid the end-of-empire tsunami that will be washing their way in a year or ten or a hundred.

We gaped at the magnificence of Yosemite Falls as the bountiful snowmelt cascaded uproariously to the valley floor and Half Dome looked on impassively in shifting light and shadow. We smiled at the hordes with their digital cameras who had to position their loved ones in front of every natural wonder to prove for posterity and less fortunate relatives that they had established their own indelible bond of proximity with each landmark.

We stopped to read the signs that described the Native American settlements overrun by the white intruders who had the power to seize the beautiful territory they coveted, and how they attacked and banished these First Peoples (Paiute, Miwok, Chauchila, etc.) to inferior lands and bestowed their vices and diseases upon them, not to mention their places of worship, never seeing the irony of having unceremoniously evicted the native inhabitants from their own places of worship which were the lands they had settled.

When we finally made it home it was with wonder, weariness and some relief to discover our own home, still standing in the verdant shade of a hot July afternoon, a comforting oasis after leagues of open sea, after half a continent of forest and mountain, mesa and desert. Still standing but not removed from the contradictions of the world and the grand irony of human resourcefulness and genius, which has made nearly all things possible except the most important one: that harmonious, mindful oneness we lost in conquering those who lived it, lost in extracting minerals for economic gain, lost in disturbing the sacred rhythms of the greater order from which we arose – and now are losing ourselves in the process. For our collective journey of conquest and self-interest is rapidly taking us to that scenic overlook in the evolutionary road where the sign ahead can’t be missed: Dead End.

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The American Way of Death

By Thomas Wark

We are a nation of killers.  “Killer” is often a term of approval in our culture: “That’s a killer app!” “Ooooh, he’s a lady killer!” Etc.

We are the only nation to have used atomic power to annihilate fellow humans.

We have malamorphosed from euphemistically “patriotic” wars like the one we ended with the A-bomb, to endless wars of invasion at the whim of our elected leader.

We have interpreted our Constitution to guarantee every citizen the right to possess the means to kill.

We kill with greed.  One of the richest fossil fuel companies in the world, for months now, has been killing every form of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The perpetrators of the lethal oil gush have not been penalized in any significant way.  Tacit approval.

We kill with arrogant glee.  See the pictures of the former governor of Alaska giddily displaying the bodies of wolves killed by machine-gunners in helicopters.

We kill with hate.  “Pro-life” fanatics slay abortion providers on orders from whatever hideous god-voices they hear.

We kill without compunction or compassion.  Our missiles, bombs and drones routinely miss their targets, slaying batches of innocent civilian men, women and children.  We say “oops” and call the victims “collateral damage,” refusing to be bothered counting numbers.

We kill out of fear.  Here in the southwest, everything from javelinas and rattlesnakes to dark-skinned humans who might be “illegal aliens” are fair game.

Blessed by the Second Amendment, sanctified by Patriotism and inspired by the movies of the great John Wayne, we shoot first and ask questions later. If we ask questions at all.

With all of the humans on the face of the earth, and all other living things on the planet, we share an infinitesimal sliver of universe capable of sustaining life as we know it.  Within the cosmos, our tiny planet is a mere pebble; the portion of it that sustains life is like the veneer of varnish on a desktop globe of Earth.  The interdependency of the millions upon millions of life forms is complex beyond our complete understanding, at least for the present.  But we know it’s there.

Years ago, here in New Mexico, an avid hunter, roaming what is now the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, shot a wolf.  When he reached it, the animal had not yet expired.  He watched “a fierce green fire” die in the wolf’s eyes.  Aldo Leopold — for he was the hunter –  introduced the land ethic to American public discourse and pioneered the concept of setting aside natural areas, and all of their wildlife, as protected oases for the benefit of all.

Others, however, continued to hunt the Mexican gray wolf almost to extinction. Finally,  using wolves bred in captivity, land management officials began a program to re-introduce the wolves to the wild.  Today, poachers are busy killing them off — especially the alpha males, whose deaths virtually assure the ultimate destruction of entire packs. Even on the state regulatory boards, there are those who quietly approve the actions of the poachers.

Killers.

Last June a female sea otter was frolicking just offshore in Morro Bay, CA.  A Second Amendment Patriot killed her with a single bullet to the head. Like the Mexican gray wolf, the sea otter had been hunted nearly to extinction.  Even with protected status, it has returned to but a fraction of its former numbers.

Killers.

Law? Philosophy? Consilience of life? Endangered species?

Liberal elitist nonsense.

Fire when ready, boys! It’s the American Way.

Read more by Thomas Wark at www.bordellopianist.blogspot.com

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Let Us Now Praise “Good” CEOs

By Thomas Wark

In today’s economic climate, a corporate CEO can be a good CEO only by using his enormous personal power and the unlimited power of his corporation to work against the best interests of the nation and its people.
And now that the Supreme Court has removed the last vestiges of control on corporate spending to influence government, the end of participatory democracy in the United States is inevitable.

Endless war is not in the best interests of a nation and its people.  It kills our sons and daughters, drains our treasury and profits only the defense industry corporations and their allies in the military industrial complex. And yet Congress, soon to be entirely owned by corporations, mindlessly continues to vote funding for unwinnable wars that were illegal in the first place.  The few members of Congress who led opposition to the funding will almost certainly lose their offices in November.

An overpriced and under-achieving health care system is not in the best interests of the nation or its people.  And yet even a feeble attempt at reform met such vigorous and effective corporate resistance that even many of the people who needed it most wound up buying into the propaganda slogans like socialized medicine, killing grandma and forfeiting personal medical decisions to government bureaucrats.

American unemployment is at its worst depths since the Great Depression, but Wall Street is hiring and its salaries are rising.   The very same Wall Street that brought on the the economic collapse of 2008-2009 and received trillions in tax funds to save it from  itself.  The same Wall Street that rewarded its CEOs and top executives with bonus dollars to match the number of jobless Americans walking the streets in poverty. Corporate America succeeded in taking virtually all of the teeth out of the financial reform bill, just as it succeeded in emasculating the clean energy legislation.

Polluted air, waters befouled by mountaintop removal mining, unrestricted drilling for gas and oil are not in the best interests of the nation or its people.  And yet when a drunken captain ran the Exxon  Valdes aground in a pristine bay in Alaska, the corporation eventually escaped with less than a slap on the wrist.  A federal court ordered the company to pay $287 million in actual damages and $5 billion in punitive damages.  Successful appeals by Exxon-Mobil halved the punitive damages and a successful appeal to the Supreme Court knocked off another 80 per cent: judicial corporate welfare for a company that posted the highest profits in United States history and today earns more than $1,300 per second in profits. Last year Exxon Mobil paid not one thin dime to the IRS in United States income taxes.

Much has been made — by corporate-owned politicians –  of the $20 billion compensation fund President Obama persuaded BP to post for the oil drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that replaced Exxon Valdes as the most heinous man-inflicted environmental disaster in history.  “Extortion,” one called it.  The $20 billion itself is a pittance against the likely final cost of the disaster, just as the original $5 billion has proved to be in the case of Prince William Sound.  But the corporate-owned courts and politicians have already begun pecking away at government’s cautious response to the BP crimes.  A federal judge who owns huge shares of oil stocks overturned the government’s temporary ban on new drilling.  When BP’s legal team has had time to study and employ the Exxon-Mobil strategy, the $20 billion will go “poof.”

Cancer  is not in the best interests of a nation and its people.  When science provided overwhelming evidence that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, Phillip-Morris and other big tobacco corporations decided to attack the science.  They hired pseudo-science frauds and trained science whores to produce “studies” that challenged the real science.

When real science demonstrated that human activity, principally the discharge of carbons into the atmosphere, has been changing the climate of the planet in a way that threatens its living things, Exxon Mobil and other giants in  the extraction of fossil energy took a page from the tobacco playbook.  Thery hired whores and frauds — even, in fact, some of the same ones who were employed by Big Tobacco — to contest the real science.  Thus has it taken the teeth out of any legislative efforts to solve the climate problem.

As in the case of health care and tobacco, among the citizenry the same poor fools who bought the corporate propaganda have taken up the anti-climate science crusade.  They’ll be the first to blame the government when living things that are important to them begin to die.

As will all those “good” CEOs whose companies, like Exxon Mobil and the great banks, are too big to fail.

Read more by Thomas Wark at www.bordellopianist.blogspot.com

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