Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why Can't the US Follow in Germany's Footsteps?

Solarpark Lieberose, a Solar Power Plant in Germany.

In Race against Carbon Catastrophe, Solar Power is Making Strides
By Juan Cole / May 28, 2012

The world probably needs to get back to 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if truly radical climate change is to be avoided. But we are going in the wrong direction fast. In April, the Mauna Loa observatory measured CO2 in the atmosphere at about 396 parts per million, the highest recorded since records began being kept. The level was up nearly 3 ppm in a single year, itself an unusual statistic. Before the Industrial Revolution, at the time of the American Revolution, the level was 280 ppm. The Founding Fathers would already not recognize America’s balmy climate if they traveled in time to the present.

There are responsible and irresponsible players in this crisis. The Chinese are the most irresponsible in having the highest level of CO2 emissions, though they are actively trying to bring those down. Arguably the most irresponsible of all is the United States, with the second largest amount of CO2 emissions but doing very little about it (and our big corporations, including Big Media, are trying to exercise on us a Goebbels-like Big Lie that we needn’t do anything).

Then there are responsible countries, like Germany and Portugal, who are investing in renewables in a big way.

On last Friday afternoon, because of clear skies and good weather, Germany was at one point producing 22 gigawatts of solar power, a new record. Today (Monday) is a holiday in Germany, and electricity needs will be only a third of normal. So, for a couple hours this afternoon, all Germany’s electrical power needs will be supplied by renewable energy. That must be a first for an industrialized, G8 country.

Germany has defied the predictions of those who said that mothballing its nuclear plants would cause it to produce more CO2. Its carbon dioxide production was down 2% in the past year. It replaced 60% of its formerly nuclear-generated electricity production with renewables, and became 5% more efficient in using energy.

Germany’s achievement is owing in part to the influence in the 1990s of the Green Party on energy policy in that country. But soon investing in solar energy will no longer be high-minded, it will just be economic common sense. By 2017, even if you don’t count all the damage hydrocarbons do to the atmosphere, solar power will reach grid parity with them. That is, it will be economically competitive to put in a solar plant instead of a coal one. (In some areas of the US, solar grid parity will be reached in 2014). Of course if you factor in the health and climate damage caused by CO2 and other dirty emissions, solar is already much cheaper than hydrocarbons.

Japanese firms, with the Fukushima nuclear disaster/tsunami in mind, are going into solar energy in a big way. Kyocera is planning the world’s largest solar power farm in the south of the country, which will generate 70 megawatts. If Japanese technical innovation and scientific ingenuity is turned, as it seems like to be, to renewable energy, they may well rejuvenate their lagging economy and become a big player in the burgeoning solar and wind turbine markets. The Japanese public has turned against nuclear pretty decisively, as have most companies there. They have lost a lot of trust in their government and in the Tepco firm that managed Fukushima.

The Indian government is likewise planning to put in a fresh 10 gigawatts of solar energy production by 2017.

There are daily new technological breakthroughs both in wind turbines and solar cells that will make them more efficient and more competitive over time. The world is on the right track. It is just a day late and a dollar short. The US and China aren’t accomplishing what Germany is. Not to mention the rest of the world. We can’t get back to 350 ppm at this rate. We are going toward 450 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, which climate scientists such as James Hansen now warn is probably catastrophic for the earth and for human beings.

Source / Informed Comment

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

'Faster Than We Thought': A Tipping Point in Which Our Actions May Not Matter

Photo by Ian McAllister (source).

'Faster Than We Thought': An Epitaph for Planet Earth By John Atcheson / May 23, 2012

Sometime later this Century, a writer will sit down and attempt to document how his or her grandparents’ generation could have all but ignored the greatest disaster humanity has ever faced.

It won’t be a pleasant world she lives in. Cities and countries will be locked in an expensive battle with rapidly rising seas; but after spending trillions of dollars, most of the world’s ports will have been abandoned anyway.

Up to seventy percent of the planet’s species will be wiped out. Gone. Vanished. Kaput. Songbirds will no longer serenade us. Butterflies will no longer dazzle us. The boreal forests – the largest belt of green in the world – will be gone.

Brutal heat waves will be the norm. Off-the-chart hurricanes and storms will be the rule. Deserts will have expanded. Haboobs, giant black blizzards of dust will sweep across vast portions of the US’s high plains and the southwest. The Amazon rainforest will be a shrunken, wizened remnant of a once vast source of life.

The once bountiful seas will be acidic crypts in which jellyfish and other primitive forms spread in vast sheets across the surface, covering the rotting hulks of the fish we used to eat.

Agricultural productivity will collapse, famine will be widespread.

Money for anything other than preventing catastrophe will be scarce.

By 2050, as many as a billion climate refugees will roam the Earth, spreading unrest, poverty, disease and misery. By the century’s end? Who knows?

As she pieces together this saga, she’ll encounter the usual suspects.

The army of paid politicians who
carried the water of the fossil fuel plutocrats.

A press that, for the most part, failed to cover the most important story in history, and put “balance” above accuracy, context, facts, and reality when they did.

Economists, who used bizarre abstractions like discounting the future to make it seem like saving the world wasn’t cost-effective.

Environmentalists, who were loath to speak the truth because they didn’t want to be accused of spreading “doom and gloom.”

Scientists who mumbled warnings under their breath until it was too late because they thought warnings were somehow unseemly.

The IPCC and their infrequent and out-of-date on date-of-issue reports, an organization that, by design, was intended to slow-walk the science and muddle it with misguided neoclassical economic incantations.

But the one thing that will stand out as she attempts to figure out how our generation allowed the entire world to sleep walk into Armageddon will be the annual cavalcade of research and headlines saying “XXX is happening far faster than predicted.”

XXX could be anything related to global warming: the melting of ice sheets or the speed of sea level rise or the rate of warming or the extinction of species or the shift of seasons or the expansion of deserts and the advent of climate refugees and the increase in famine, or the frequency and intensity of draughts and storms – you name it, and there is nearly an annual updating of the rate and pace at which climate-related catastrophe stalks us.

For example, consider sea level rise. In the 2007 IPCC report, projections called for oceans to increase by about 18 millimeters by the end of the century, mostly from thermal expansion. Papers coming out in 2007 showed this projection to be obsolete before the ink dried on the report. This year, there is growing consensus that the West Antarctic ice sheet is melting much faster than expected, and projections for future sea level increases of 3 meters or more seem to be a plausible forecast – 166 times as great as the IPCC projections made just 5 years ago.

Back to our future historian. She may well ask how it was we didn’t just step back, spot this trend, and recalibrate how we forecasted future effects of climate change.

Good question.

One answer may be found in our DNA. Growing evidence suggesting our brains aren't wired to handle future threats. We may be hardwired to deal with the present proximate, not the future probable.

If she’s diligent, she’ll also stumble on the effect of positive feedback mechanisms – what scientists refer to as amplifying feedbacks.

I wrote about the granddaddy of all these – methane releases from the Arctic -- in 2004, in the Baltimore Sun, in an article entitled Ticking Time Bomb.

A little more than a year later, the feedback had begun, as I outlined in another article, Hotter, Faster, Worser.

Fast forward to today. Scientists now believe that a sudden 50Gt methane release from the Arctic is possible – even probable. This would be equivalent to 40 times the amount of all GHGs released in 2009.

Again, the phrase faster than we thought rings out.

There are at least 12 other major feedbacks which could accelerate global warming beyond even our faster than we thought forecasts.

Our intrepid future historian may discover one other disturbing fact explaining our inaction. All our models assumed we’d reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Even our worst case scenarios estimated peak atmospheric concentrations of about 750 parts per million based on the conviction that we’d act. But we are now on course for over 900 ppm by century’s end, and we are approaching a tipping point in which our actions may not matter.

[John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.]

Source / Common Dreams

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Let's Make Money and Credit a Public Utility

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Quiet Drama in Philadelphia
By Ellen Brown May 20, 2012

“You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised. . . .
The revolution will be live.”

--From the 1970 hit song by Gil Scott-Heron
Last week, the city of Philadelphia's school system announced that it expects to close 40 public schools next year, and 64 schools by 2017. The school district expects to lose 40% of its current enrollment, and thousands of experienced, qualified teachers.

But corporate media in other cities made no mention of these massive school closings -- nor of those in Chicago, Atlanta, or New York City. Even in the Philadelphia media, the voices of the parents, students and teachers who will suffer were omitted from most accounts.

It’s all about balancing the budgets of cities that have lost revenues from the economic downturn. Supposedly, there is simply no money for the luxury of providing an education for the people.

Where will those children find an education? Where will the teachers find work? Almost certainly in an explosion of private sector “charter schools,” where the quality of education -- from the curriculum to books to the food served at lunch -- will be sacrificed to the lowest bidder, and teachers’ salaries and benefits will be sacrificed to the profits of the new private owners, who will also eat up many millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies.

Why does there always seem to be enough money for military expansion, prisons, bank bailouts and tax cuts for the wealthy, but not enough for education—or for jobs, housing, healthcare, or old age pensions? These are not “welfare” but are part of the social contract for which we pay taxes and make social security payments.

In an article reprinted on Truthout on May 10th titled “Why Isn't Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News?,” Bruce Dixon posed this answer:
The city has a lot of poor and black children. Our ruling classes don't want to invest in educating these young people, preferring instead to track into lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor and/or prison. Our elites don't need a populace educated in critical thinking. So low-cost holding tanks that deliver standardized lessons and tests, via computer if possible, operated by profit-making "educational entrepreneurs" are the way to go.
“Lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor or prison”—this is very close to the “indentured servitude” that was abolished along with slavery by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865. The freed slaves are being recaptured by debt, beginning with the debt of school loans, followed by credit card debt, mortgage debt, and healthcare costs.

As was cynically observed in a document called the Hazard Circular, allegedly circulated by British banking interests among their American banking counterparts in July 1862:
[S]lavery is but the owning of labor and carries with it the care of the laborers, while the European plan, led by England, is that capital shall control labor by controlling wages. This can be done by controlling the money. The great debt that capitalists will see to it is made out of the war, must be used as a means to control the volume of money. . . . It will not do to allow the greenback, as it is called, to circulate as money any length of time, as we cannot control that. [Quoted in Charles Lindburgh, Banking and Currency and the Money Trust (Washington D.C.: National Capital Press, 1913), page 102.]
The quotation may be apocryphal, but it graphically conveys the fate of our burgeoning indentured class. It also suggests the way out: we must recapture the control of our money and banking systems, including the issuance of debt-free money (“greenbacks”) by the government.

Meanwhile, in Other Unreported News . . .

That alternative vision was put before a conference in Philadelphia in late April that drew delegates from all over the United States. The theme of the first Public Banking in America conference, held at the Quaker Friends Center on April 28-29th, was that to fix the economy, we first need to take back the “money power”—the power to create currency and credit.

Led by keynote speakers Gar Alperovitz and Hazel Henderson and highlighted in an electric speech by twelve-year-old Victoria Grant, the conference was all about solutions. As summarized by OpEdNews editor Josh Mitteldorf:
There were two visions expressed . . . . The first is the very practical idea that states and cities around America could be rescued from insolvency if they had their own banks, instead of relying on commercial banks to borrow money through bonds. Tax-exempt bond issues supply money to states and municipal governments typically at 5 or 6% interest, while banks these days are able to borrow from the Fed at 1/4% per year.

The second vision is . . . the radically-subversive idea that the system we have for introducing money into the economy is a boon for the banks, but perhaps a major drag on our economy. Perhaps a simple, direct system of money creation by the Treasury Dept instead of the Fed would put an end to cycles of recession, and create a foundation for long-term prosperity.

Banking is a huge leech on our economy. 40% of every dollar we spend on goods and services -- 40% of all that we create and all we consume -- is siphoned off the top as bank interest in one form or another. (Calculations of Margrit Kennedy) The US Government is in the absurd position of paying interest to a private bank for every dollar that is put into circulation. The Federal Reserve system has privatized the power to create money, which, according to the Constitution, ought to belong to Congress alone. Presently, interest on the national debt costs the Federal government $500 billion in 2011, and (because of structural deficit spending) it is the fastest-growing portion of the Federal budget.
Five hundred billion dollars could be saved annually just by refinancing the federal debt through our own central bank, interest-free. This is not an off-the-wall idea but has actually been done, very successfully. Among other instances, it was done in Canada from 1939 to 1974, as was detailed by the youngest and oldest speakers at the conference, 12-year-old Victoria Grant and former defense minister Paul Hellyer, founder of the Canadian Action Party. Another Canadian at the conference, Toronto Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, has proposed that the Toronto city council could improve its finances by forming its own bank.

The direct solution to the economic crisis, urged by veteran money reformer Bill Still, would be for the federal government to simply create the money it needs, as the American colonists did by printing paper scrip and Abraham Lincoln did by printing greenbacks.

But cities and states don’t need to wait for a deadlocked federal Congress to act. As Wong-Tam has proposed for Toronto, they can divest their public revenues from the too-big-to-fail banks and put them in their own publicly-owned banks. These banks could then do what all banks do: leverage capital, backed by deposits, into money in the form of bank credit.

This newly-created bank money would then be available for the use of the local government interest-free (since the government would own the bank and would get the interest back as dividends). Among other possibilities, the money could be used to restore the schools. This would not be an expenditure but an investment, as illustrated by the G.I. Bill, which provided education and low-interest loans for returning servicemen after World War II. Economists have determined that for every 1944 dollar invested in the G.I. Bill, the country received approximately $7 in return, through increased economic productivity, consumer spending, and tax revenues.

Legislation for public banks has now been introduced in 18 U.S. states, on the model of the highly successful Bank of North Dakota (BND). Elaborated on at the Public Banking conference by Ed Sather and Rozanne Junker, the BND is currently the country’s only state-owned bank and has been a major factor in allowing the state to escape the recent credit crisis. North Dakota is the only state to boast a significant budget surplus every year since the economic downturn of 2008.

Ellen Brown noted that 40% of banks globally are also publicly-owned. These are largely in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), which also escaped the credit crisis, largely because their public banks did not rely on derivatives and, unlike private banks, lent counter-cyclically to cushion their economies from the downturn.

Conference speaker Samuel Giles proposed that even public universities could set up their own banks, which could then leverage university monies for the university’s own use, rather than giving those assets away to Wall Street to be speculated with and lent back at much higher interest rates.

Innovative Solutions for Pennsylvania

Speakers Michael Sauvante and Mike Krauss noted that efforts are underway in several Pennsylvania and Ohio municipalities to create public banks. One possibility is for public banks to take an aggressive role in ending the foreclosure crisis by acquiring abandoned and foreclosed homes by eminent domain. These homes could be added to the asset base of the bank, which could extend credit to restore them and then sell or rent them at reasonable rates.

Krauss noted that Philadelphia already has a strong effort underway to create a “land bank”—a bank to acquire, rehabilitate and create productive uses for the city's more than 40,000 vacant properties—and legislation (HB 1682) has been introduced in the state legislature to enable this effort. But the land bank proposed is not designed to function as a depository bank that leverages funds into credit. Rather, it would simply work with appropriated funds or bond revenue. This is a positive step toward addressing a real need, but it could be enhanced by turning the land bank into a public bank—a chartered bank having the power to create money as credit on its books.

The efforts for developing public banks in Pennsylvania are being led by the Pennsylvania Project, which was a co-sponsor of the Philadelphia conference and is supported in its work by the Public Banking Institute and the Center for State Innovation. The Pennsylvania Project is creating partnerships with other Pennsylvania public policy organizations to introduce legislation for a state Bank of Pennsylvania in 2013, after elections are held and a strong foundation of support has been laid.

Revolution Without Bloodshed or War

We live under a tyranny today that is just as intolerable and unjust as that in 1776, but violent revolution is no longer an option. Our oppressors own the military and the media, and their FEMA camps are waiting for us.

If change is to come, it must be peaceful and legal, beginning with a revolution in the minds and hearts of the people. The message of the Public Banking in America Conference was that we can throw off the yoke of the financial elite by making money and credit a public utility; and the most feasible place to start is at the local level, with publicly-owned banks.

For videos of some of the speakers, click here. More to come. The Victoria Grant video has gone viral, approaching half a million hits, including copies.

[Ellen Brown developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she turns those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and “the money trust.” She shows how this private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. She is president of the Public Banking Institute, and has websites at WebofDebt.com and EllenBrown.com.]

Source / Common Dreams

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

How Do You Feel Being a Part of the Impoverished, Delusional Society?

The United States: An Impoverished, Delusional Society
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford / May 16, 2012

When Europeans resist corporate austerity measures, they are struggling to avoid “being forced to live like most Americans, at the total mercy of the rich.” The U.S. safety net hardly exists. The “American way of life” is a state of profound insecurity and social disconnectedness.
“Europe is headed for deep turmoil because Europeans have something to defend.”
Thanks to the U.S. corporate media’s great skills of obfuscation, omission and just plain lying, Americans are quite confused about the political and financial crisis in Europe, and what it means on this side of the Atlantic. People in the United States harbor vague fears that the social turmoil they see playing out in European elections and on the streets may come here. This scares them, which is almost funny, in a very sad way, since what European working people are struggling to avoid is being forced to live like most Americans, at the total mercy of the rich.

Europeans are righteously upset because they have something quite precious to lose: a social safety net that provides levels of security that Americans have never experienced, and that many cannot even imagine. Since most overworked or underemployed Americans don’t know how Europeans actually live, they find it difficult to understand what all the fuss is about. U.S. corporate media fill in the vast blanks in American consciousness with slanders against Europe – the relatively comfortable French and the devastated Greeks, alike – branding them all lazy slackers who don’t want to work hard or pay their bills. America’s damn near nonexistent social welfare structure is packaged as a virtue, while the sights and sounds of European protest are made to seem ominous, dangerous, selfish.

Most Americans of modest means don’t travel to countries where the people live better than they do, or are so oblivious that they don’t notice the deep social service networks that underlie these societies. Americans cannot understand, for example, that higher educational achievement is so often tied to strong national compacts among citizens and fundamental notions of social equality – these qualities being absent in American life. CNN is quick to cite figures on European unemployment, but tells its U.S. audience virtually nothing about the social safety net that makes unemployment in Europe a very different experience than being without a job in the United States.
“America’s damn near nonexistent social welfare structure is packaged as a virtue.”
A young relative of mine happened to graduate with a professional degree just in time for the 2008 meltdown, which wiped out all the new jobs in his profession. He sought work in France, being fluent in the language, and found it a far more welcoming society than his own. More than half of his rent was subsidized, because the French believe that people younger than 26 should have a chance to begin independent lives without undue burdens. My young Black American relative rode public transportation for half fare, as did his young French peers. While working, he considered getting another professional degree, which would have cost him less than $2,000 a year at a fairly prestigious French school. And he was a foreigner! A French student who had already paid into the health care system, could study for a year for less than $1,000.

My young relative eventually came home – because…well, this is home. It is a materially rich country, but one that is socially impoverished and, frankly, too ignorant to know it. Europe is headed for deep turmoil because Europeans have something to defend. They’ll fight to keep a decent social welfare net. The Americans don’t even know what a minimally just society looks like or feels like. We’ll have to create that society through struggle, and almost from scratch.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Source / The Greanville Post

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Thousand Words Department

Source / Topeka Capitol Journal

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Although We May Not Be Capable of Changing History, How Can We Equip Ourselves to Survive It?

Epistle to the Ecotopians
By Ernest Callenbach / May 6, 2012

[This document was found on the computer of Ecotopia author Ernest Callenbach (1929-2012) after his death.]

To all brothers and sisters who hold the dream in their hearts of a future world in which humans and all other beings live in harmony and mutual support -- a world of sustainability, stability, and confidence. A world something like the one I described, so long ago, in Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging.

As I survey my life, which is coming near its end, I want to set down a few thoughts that might be useful to those coming after. It will soon be time for me to give back to Gaia the nutrients that I have used during a long, busy, and happy life. I am not bitter or resentful at the approaching end; I have been one of the extraordinarily lucky ones. So it behooves me here to gather together some thoughts and attitudes that may prove useful in the dark times we are facing: a century or more of exceedingly difficult times.

How will those who survive manage it? What can we teach our friends, our children, our communities? Although we may not be capable of changing history, how can we equip ourselves to survive it?

I contemplate these questions in the full consciousness of my own mortality. Being offered an actual number of likely months to live, even though the estimate is uncertain, mightily focuses the mind. On personal things, of course, on loved ones and even loved things, but also on the Big Picture.

But let us begin with last things first, for a change. The analysis will come later, for those who wish it.

Hope. Children exude hope, even under the most terrible conditions, and that must inspire us as our conditions get worse. Hopeful patients recover better. Hopeful test candidates score better. Hopeful builders construct better buildings. Hopeful parents produce secure and resilient children. In groups, an atmosphere of hope is essential to shared successful effort: “Yes, we can!” is not an empty slogan, but a mantra for people who intend to do something together -- whether it is rescuing victims of hurricanes, rebuilding flood-damaged buildings on higher ground, helping wounded people through first aid, or inventing new social structures (perhaps one in which only people are “persons,” not corporations). We cannot know what threats we will face. But ingenuity against adversity is one of our species’ built-in resources. We cope, and faith in our coping capacity is perhaps our biggest resource of all.

Mutual support. The people who do best at basic survival tasks (we know this experimentally, as well as intuitively) are cooperative, good at teamwork, often altruistic, mindful of the common good. In drastic emergencies like hurricanes or earthquakes, people surprise us by their sacrifices -- of food, of shelter, even sometimes of life itself. Those who survive social or economic collapse, or wars, or pandemics, or starvation, will be those who manage scarce resources fairly; hoarders and dominators win only in the short run, and end up dead, exiled, or friendless. So, in every way we can we need to help each other, and our children, learn to be cooperative rather than competitive; to be helpful rather than hurtful; to look out for the communities of which we are a part, and on which we ultimately depend.

Practical skills. With the movement into cities of the U.S. population, and much of the rest of the world’s people, we have had a massive de-skilling in how to do practical tasks. When I was a boy in the country, all of us knew how to build a tree house, or construct a small hut, or raise chickens, or grow beans, or screw pipes together to deliver water. It was a sexist world, of course, so when some of my chums in eighth grade said we wanted to learn girls’ “home ec” skills like making bread or boiling eggs, the teachers were shocked, but we got to do it. There was widespread competence in fixing things -- impossible with most modern contrivances, of course, but still reasonable for the basic tools of survival: pots and pans, bicycles, quilts, tents, storage boxes.

We all need to learn, or relearn, how we would keep the rudiments of life going if there were no paid specialists around, or means to pay them. Every child should learn elementary carpentry, from layout and sawing to driving nails. Everybody should know how to chop wood safely, and build a fire. Everybody should know what to do if dangers appear from fire, flood, electric wires down, and the like. Taking care of each other is one practical step at a time, most of them requiring help from at least one other person; survival is a team sport.

Organize. Much of the American ideology, our shared and usually unspoken assumptions, is hyper-individualistic. We like to imagine that heroes are solitary, have super powers, and glory in violence, and that if our work lives and business lives seem tamer, underneath they are still struggles red in blood and claw. We have sought solitude on the prairies, as cowboys on the range, in our dependence on media (rather than real people), and even in our cars, armored cabins of solitude. We have an uneasy and doubting attitude about government, as if we all reserve the right to be outlaws. But of course human society, like ecological webs, is a complex dance of mutual support and restraint, and if we are lucky it operates by laws openly arrived at and approved by the populace.

If the teetering structure of corporate domination, with its monetary control of Congress and our other institutions, should collapse of its own greed, and the government be unable to rescue it, we will have to reorganize a government that suits the people. We will have to know how to organize groups, how to compromise with other groups, how to argue in public for our positions. It turns out that “brainstorming,” a totally noncritical process in which people just throw out ideas wildly, doesn’t produce workable ideas. In particular, it doesn’t work as well as groups in which ideas are proposed, critiqued, improved, debated. But like any group process, this must be protected from domination by powerful people and also over-talkative people. When the group recognizes its group power, it can limit these distortions. Thinking together is enormously creative; it has huge survival value.

Learn to live with contradictions. These are dark times, these are bright times. We are implacably making the planet less habitable. Every time a new oil field is discovered, the press cheers: “Hooray, there is more fuel for the self-destroying machines!” We are turning more land into deserts and parking lots. We are wiping out innumerable species that are not only wondrous and beautiful, but might be useful to us. We are multiplying to the point where our needs and our wastes outweigh the capacities of the biosphere to produce and absorb them. And yet, despite the bloody headlines and the rocketing military budgets, we are also, unbelievably, killing fewer of each other proportionately than in earlier centuries. We have mobilized enormous global intelligence and mutual curiosity, through the Internet and outside it. We have even evolved, spottily, a global understanding that democracy is better than tyranny, that love and tolerance are better than hate, that hope is better than rage and despair, that we are prone, especially in catastrophes, to be astonishingly helpful and cooperative.

We may even have begun to share an understanding that while the dark times may continue for generations, in time new growth and regeneration will begin. In the biological process called “succession,” a desolate, disturbed area is gradually, by a predictable sequence of returning plants, restored to ecological continuity and durability. When old institutions and habits break down or consume themselves, new experimental shoots begin to appear, and people explore and test and share new and better ways to survive together.

It is never easy or simple. But already we see, under the crumbling surface of the conventional world, promising developments: new ways of organizing economic activity (cooperatives, worker-owned companies, nonprofits, trusts), new ways of using low-impact technology to capture solar energy, to sequester carbon dioxide, new ways of building compact, congenial cities that are low (or even self-sufficient) in energy use, low in waste production, high in recycling of almost everything. A vision of sustainability that sometimes shockingly resembles Ecotopia is tremulously coming into existence at the hands of people who never heard of the book.

Now in principle, the Big Picture seems simple enough, though devilishly complex in the details. We live in the declining years of what is still the biggest economy in the world, where a looter elite has fastened itself upon the decaying carcass of the empire. It is intent on speedily and relentlessly extracting the maximum wealth from that carcass, impoverishing our former working middle class. But this maggot class does not invest its profits here. By law and by stock-market pressures, corporations must seek their highest possible profits, no matter the social or national consequences -- which means moving capital and resources abroad, wherever profit potential is larger. As Karl Marx darkly remarked, “Capital has no country,” and in the conditions of globalization his meaning has come clear.

The looter elite systematically exports jobs, skills, knowledge, technology, retaining at home chiefly financial manipulation expertise: highly profitable, but not of actual productive value. Through “productivity gains” and speedups, it extracts maximum profit from domestic employees; then, firing the surplus, it claims surprise that the great mass of people lack purchasing power to buy up what the economy can still produce (or import).

Here again Marx had a telling phrase: “Crisis of under-consumption.” When you maximize unemployment and depress wages, people have to cut back. When they cut back, businesses they formerly supported have to shrink or fail, adding their own employees to the ranks of the jobless, and depressing wages still further. End result: something like Mexico, where a small, filthy rich plutocracy rules over an impoverished mass of desperate, uneducated, and hopeless people.

Barring unprecedented revolutionary pressures, this is the actual future we face in the United States, too. As we know from history, such societies can stand a long time, supported by police and military control, manipulation of media, surveillance and dirty tricks of all kinds. It seems likely that a few parts of the world (Germany, with its worker-council variant of capitalism, New Zealand with its relative equality, Japan with its social solidarity, and some others) will remain fairly democratic.

The U.S., which has a long history of violent plutocratic rule unknown to the textbook-fed, will stand out as the best-armed Third World country, its population ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-educated, ill-cared for in health, and increasingly poverty-stricken: even Social Security may be whittled down, impoverishing tens of millions of the elderly.

As empires decline, their leaders become increasingly incompetent -- petulant, ignorant, gifted only with PR skills of posturing and spinning, and prone to the appointment of loyal idiots to important government positions. Comedy thrives; indeed writers are hardly needed to invent outrageous events.

We live, then, in a dark time here on our tiny precious planet. Ecological devastation, political and economic collapse, irreconcilable ideological and religious conflict, poverty, famine: the end of the overshoot of cheap-oil-based consumer capitalist expansionism.

If you don’t know where you’ve been, you have small chance of understanding where you might be headed. So let me offer a capsule history for those who, like most of us, got little help from textbook history.

At 82, my life has included a surprisingly substantial slice of American history. In the century or so up until my boyhood in Appalachian central Pennsylvania, the vast majority of Americans subsisted as farmers on the land. Most, like people elsewhere in the world, were poor, barely literate, ill-informed, short-lived. Millions had been slaves. Meanwhile in the cities, vast immigrant armies were mobilized by ruthless and often violent “robber baron” capitalists to build vast industries that made things: steel, railroads, ships, cars, skyscrapers.

Then, when I was in grade school, came World War II. America built the greatest armaments industry the world had ever seen, and when the war ended with most other industrial countries in ruins, we had a run of unprecedented productivity and prosperity. Thanks to strong unions and a sympathetic government, this prosperity was widely shared: a huge working middle class evolved -- tens of millions of people could afford (on one wage) a modest house, a car, perhaps sending a child to college. This era peaked around 1973, when wages stagnated, the Vietnam War took a terrible toll in blood and money, and the country began sliding rightward.

In the next epoch, which we are still in and which may be our last as a great nation, capitalists who grew rich and powerful by making things gave way to a new breed: financiers who grasped that you could make even more money by manipulating money. (And by persuading Congress to subsidize them -- the system should have been called Subsidism, not Capitalism.) They had no concern for the productivity of the nation or the welfare of its people; with religious fervor, they believed in maximizing profit as the absolute economic goal. They recognized that, by capturing the government through the election finance system and removing government regulation, they could turn the financial system into a giant casino.

Little by little, they hollowed the country out, until it was helplessly dependent on other nations for almost all its necessities. We had to import significant steel components from China or Japan. We came to pay for our oil imports by exporting food (i.e., our soil). Our media and our educational system withered. Our wars became chronic and endless and stupefyingly expensive. Our diets became suicidal, and our medical system faltered; life expectancies began to fall.

And so we have returned, in a sort of terrible circle, to something like my boyhood years, when President Roosevelt spoke in anger of “one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-fed, ill-clothed.” A large and militant contingent of white, mostly elderly, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant right wingers, mortally threatened by their impending minority status and pretending to be liberty-lovers, desperately seek to return us still further back.

Americans like to think of ours as an exceptional country, immune through geographical isolation and some kind of special virtue to the tides of history. Through the distorted lens of our corporate media, we possess only a distorted view of what the country is really like now. In the next decades, we shall see whether we indeed possess the intelligence, the strength, and the mutual courage to break through to another positive era.

No futurist can foresee the possibilities. As empires decay, their civilian leaderships become increasingly crazed, corrupt, and incompetent, and often the military (which is after all a parasite of the whole nation, and has no independent financial base like the looter class) takes over. Another possible scenario is that if the theocratic red center of the country prevails in Washington, the relatively progressive and prosperous coastal areas will secede in self-defense.

Ecotopia is a novel, and secession was its dominant metaphor: how would a relatively rational part of the country save itself ecologically if it was on its own? As Ecotopia Emerging puts it, Ecotopia aspired to be a beacon for the rest of the world. And so it may prove, in the very, very long run, because the general outlines of Ecotopia are those of any possible future sustainable society.

The "ecology in one country" argument was an echo of an actual early Soviet argument, as to whether "socialism in one country" was possible. In both cases, it now seems to me, the answer must be no. We are now fatally interconnected, in climate change, ocean impoverishment, agricultural soil loss, etc., etc., etc. International consumer capitalism is a self-destroying machine, and as long as it remains the dominant social form, we are headed for catastrophe; indeed, like rafters first entering the "tongue" of a great rapid, we are already embarked on it.

When disasters strike and institutions falter, as at the end of empires, it does not mean that the buildings all fall down and everybody dies. Life goes on, and in particular, the remaining people fashion new institutions that they hope will better ensure their survival.

So I look to a long-term process of "succession," as the biological concept has it, where "disturbances" kill off an ecosystem, but little by little new plants colonize the devastated area, prepare the soil for larger and more complex plants (and the other beings who depend on them), and finally the process achieves a flourishing, resilient, complex state -- not necessarily what was there before, but durable and richly productive. In a similar way, experiments under way now, all over the world, are exploring how sustainability can in fact be achieved locally. Technically, socially, economically -- since it is quite true, as ecologists know, that everything is connected to everything else, and you can never just do one thing by itself.

Since I wrote Ecotopia, I have become less confident of humans' political ability to act on commonsense, shared values. Our era has become one of spectacular polarization, with folly multiplying on every hand. That is the way empires crumble: they are taken over by looter elites, who sooner or later cause collapse. But then new games become possible, and with luck Ecotopia might be among them.

Humans tend to try to manage things: land, structures, even rivers. We spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and treasure in imposing our will on nature, on preexisting or inherited structures, dreaming of permanent solutions, monuments to our ambitions and dreams. But in periods of slack, decline, or collapse, our abilities no longer suffice for all this management. We have to let things go.

All things “go” somewhere: they evolve, with or without us, into new forms. So as the decades pass, we should try not always to futilely fight these transformations. As the Japanese know, there is much unnoticed beauty in wabi-sabi -- the old, the worn, the tumble-down, those things beginning their transformation into something else. We can embrace this process of devolution: embellish it when strength avails, learn to love it.

There is beauty in weathered and unpainted wood, in orchards overgrown, even in abandoned cars being incorporated into the earth. Let us learn, like the Forest Service sometimes does, to put unwise or unneeded roads “to bed,” help a little in the healing of the natural contours, the re-vegetation by native plants. Let us embrace decay, for it is the source of all new life and growth.

[Ernest Callenbach, author of the classic environmental novel Ecotopia among other works, founded and edited the internationally known journal Film Quarterly. He died at 83 on April 16th, leaving behind this document on his computer.]

Source / TomDispatch

Thank you to Deva Wood / Fluxed Up World

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Remember the Origin of Mothers' Day

Mother's Day Proclamation - 1870
By Julia Ward Howe

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Julia Ward Howe
Source / Wikipedia

Fluxed Up World

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

This Is Just a Fracking Shame

Source / Oil Change International

Thanks to Mariann Wizard / Fluxed Up World

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Al-Qaida: The Endless American Bogeyman

Mythical al-Qaida fortress portrayed by CIA analysts.

Osama’s Almost Letter To Me
By Eric Margolis / May 6, 2012

Why was I named in alleged al-Qaida letters last week as a recipient for documents about 9/11?

Al-Qaida was not founded by Osama bin Laden, as many wrongly believe, but in the mid-1980’s in Peshawar, Pakistan, by a revolutionary scholar, Sheik Abdullah Azzam.

I know this because I interviewed Azzam numerous times at al-Qaida HQ in Peshawar while covering the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. Azzam set up al-Qaida, which means “the base” in Arabic, to help CIA and Saudi-financed Arab volunteers going to fight in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. In those days, the west hailed them as “freedom fighters.”

In letters allegedly captured by US special forces from bin Laden’s compound, Al-Qaida’s public relations people cited me and 19 other western journalists as potential recipients of new documents about the 9/11 attacks on the US.

No surprise there. I’ve followed al-Qaida for the past 26 years as a writer, broadcaster and military consultant. My columns are read widely across South Asia and the Gulf. I have a reputation for being fiercely independent-minded and determined to get at the truth, no matter how unpopular.

The big US news networks heavily censored al-Qaida’s statements on government orders, or misreported them, complete with fake videos of bin Laden.

The report cites redoubtable British writer Robert Fisk, the New Yorker’s ace investigator Seymour Hersh, ABC News investigator Brian Ross, and me as journalists who reported fairly and accurately on the region.

All of us veterans have tried to report facts honestly and cut through propaganda from all sides. We have all been strong critics of al-Qaida and terror attacks, but also critics of heavy-handed, often counter-productive US and western policies in the Muslim world.

As these letters shows, Al-Qaida was never the vast, worldwide terror organization that President George W. Bush claimed. As I witnessed, it was always tiny, no more than 200 men. Al-Qaida’s original goal was to fight the mostly Tajik and Uzbek Afghan Communists and their Soviet masters.

Al-Qaida became an ally of Taliban in this anti-Communist struggle. But Taliban had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. As the renowned journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave reported from Afghanistan, Taliban’s tribal chiefs tried to oust firebrand Bin Laden from their nation.

Today, what’s left of al-Qaida numbers no more than 25 men in Afghanistan, according to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Yet President Barack Obama cites the alleged al-Qaida “threat” as the reason for keeping US forces in Afghanistan and keeping Pakistan under semi-occupation. That was the real purpose for releasing these letters. Al-Qaida has become an integral part of US politics.

Al-Qaida is being used as a bogeyman by America’s Republicans to defend bloated US military spending and defend torture as having led to finding bin Laden. My sources tell me a huge bribe led the US to bin Laden, not torture.

The Pentagon has been leaking so-called information claiming bin Laden was planning a wave of terror attacks just before he died. In fact, bin Laden had become an isolated, powerless jihadi living in retirement when he was killed.

Why was he not brought back to the US for trial?

An open trial would have finally allowed Americans to discover the truth about the crime of 9/11, al-Qaida, and anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. Tragically, this did not happen. Dead men tell no tales.

We still don’t know how much bin Laden was involved in 9/11, or if it was hatched in Pakistan. My own understanding is that 9/11 was planned in Hamburg and Madrid, and executed by mostly Saudi citizens.

Al-Qaida lives on after bin Laden, but as a tiny bunch of western-hating militants with no power and little ability to stage major attacks. Violent anti-American groups from West Africa to Indonesia have adopted the title al-Qaida. For example, al-Qaida in Iraq never existed before the US invasion.

It’s like the slaves in the film “Spartacus” crying out, “we are all Spartacus.”

These stepsons of al-Qaida are not centrally linked and have nothing in common except for opposing western domination of the Muslim world and espousing religious law. As US intervention in Africa and Central Asia intensifies, so will they spread. It’s a perpetual terrorist motion machine.

[Columnist and author Eric Margolis is a veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East, Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britain’s Sky News TV as “the man who got it right” in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq. His latest book is American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World.]

Source / EricMargolis.com

Fluxed Up World

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Forty-Two Years After Kent State: Do You Think It's Changed?

May 4th wounded from Kent State shootings want independent review of new evidence
By John Mangels / May 4, 2012

KENT, Ohio — Seven people wounded by Ohio National Guard gunfire 42 years ago today during an anti-war protest at Kent State University are appealing to government officials, human-rights organizations and the soldiers who shot them to resolve the tragedy's unanswered questions.

In a news conference Thursday, the survivors said they are launching a campaign to persuade state and federal lawmakers and other officials to convene hearings to examine new evidence from the May 4, 1970, shootings, which were a defining event of 20th-century America.

Ohio National Guardsmen open fire on Kent State University
anti-Vietnam War protesters, May 4, 1970.

Four of the wounded former students were present at Thursday's briefing. Three others joined them in signing a consensus statement.

Four students were killed and a total of nine were wounded when Guardsmen, retreating as the raucous protest wound down, suddenly wheeled and unleashed a 13-second barrage of 67 indiscriminant shots. Why the Guardsmen fired remains a mystery.

"We appeal to our supporters across America and worldwide to raise your voices and attention now, as we enter our final campaign for truth and justice," said Alan Canfora, who was shot in the wrist and who now directs the Kent May 4 Center, a nonprofit educational organization.

"It's important to get the truth out before it's too late," added Dean Kahler, who was shot in the spine and paralyzed from the waist down by a bullet as he lay on the ground. Thomas Grace, who was hit in the ankle, and Joseph Lewis, who was shot in the stomach and leg, also were present Thursday.

The survivors' group, their attorneys and the May 4 Task Group, an organization of current KSU students, are backing a broad-based effort to root out more information about the shootings. It includes appeals to Congress, the Ohio legislature, Gov. John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine and human-rights groups to initiate inquiries.

The appeal follows the U.S. Justice Department's decision last month not to reopen an investigation of the shootings. The agency had weighed requests to revive its inquiry based on a recent re-analysis of an audio recording that captured the events of May 4.

The re-analysis, conducted by two forensic audio experts at The Plain Dealer's request, revealed what the experts said was an order for the Guard to fire, preceded by what one of the analysts said were four .38-caliber pistol shots.

An FBI review of the recording this year was inconclusive, determining the voices were unintelligible and that the sounds identified as pistol shots may have been slamming doors. The Justice Department said there were "insurmountable legal and evidentiary barriers" to reopening the case.

Canfora stressed the Kent State survivors want a political resolution of the unanswered questions. He urged other independent audio experts to review the recording.

"We're not going to courts first, filing lawsuits," said Paul Meyer, a Cleveland attorney who is advising the group. "We'd rather build up a groundswell of public opinion to support the effort to seek the truth and achieve some reconciliation. We think if elected officials are aware of the [new] evidence, they will be persuaded to take effective action. There are people who know things who have yet to tell their stories . . . and we are looking for them, too."

One of those is Terry Norman, a Kent State student and sometime police and FBI informer who was on campus May 4, 1970, photographing protesters. After the shootings and a violent confrontation with demonstrators, he sought the Guard's protection and surrendered a .38-caliber pistol. He denied firing it, but some suspect the four supposed pistol shots on the recording were from Norman's gun.

The survivors stressed they have no desire to prosecute or to sue individual Guardsmen who fired. Canfora, who on May 4, 1970, waved a black flag at Guardsmen as some of them knelt and pointed their rifles at him, acknowledged that he had been "an angry young man" but that "the time for antagonisms against the National Guard are over."

"Many of us here now believe that those Guardsmen who were ordered to fire had the burden on their shoulders all these years forced upon them by their commanding officers, who gave the order," Canfora said. "In a way, they've been victimized just as we have. That's why we're asking them to join with us for the sake of truth and for the sake of healing."

In a related development this week, the Justice Department's refusal to re-open the Kent State investigation prompted an impassioned appeal for reconsideration from Laurel Krause, whose sister Allison was fatally wounded by the Guard's gunfire as her boyfriend Barry Levine pulled her behind a car for shelter. She died in his arms.

Krause, writing to President Barack Obama on behalf of her elderly mother, Doris, a Lorain native, described her sister as a "compassionate, gorgeous, full-of-life young woman who seemed to have it all." She recounted the wrenching impact Allison Krause's death had on the family, and the efforts by her parents and herself to seek justice so that her sister would not have died in vain.

"Last week, Allison would have celebrated her 61st birthday," Krause wrote to the president. "Please do not allow another Kent State anniversary to pass without truth and justice for Allison Krause and her fellow murdered classmates, Jeffrey Miller, Sandy Scheuer and William Schroeder."

Source / Cleveland Plain Dealer

Fluxed Up World

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

But What Will Be the Final Outcome?

Source / Informed Comment

Fluxed Up World

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Outside My Window

Outside My Window
By Jeff Hay / April 29, 2012

They Appear to be intelligent
even full of a type of life energy
and yet
there they are
with a table
full of buttons and stickers
voting for
a monster

On the surface
they seem to be
do they not know
have they ignored
or are they
just in denial

I'm sure
when Bush was President
they were adamantly opposed to war
to torture
to slaughtering
blowing the guts out of
women and children
of treating "illegal" immigrants
like cockroaches
of fucking the poor
while enriching his rich buddies
of shredding the Constitution
of total disregard
for the safety of our
food supply
of total disregard
for the climate catastrophe
that is unfolding
of being an

And yet they have a table
outside my window
campaigning for a man
who has invaded more countries than Bush
given more money to the Banksters than Bush
deported and imprisoned more immigrants
than Bush
wiped his ass on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights
more than Bush
had more contempt for the poor
than Bush

And yet
there they are
smiling and handing out
their buttons
and stickers
never reflecting
upon their hypocrisy
upon their
the policies
they hated
when it was Bush

Then there are my
right-wing friends
who call him a "socialist"
And if
you're talking about
corporate welfare
and tax breaks for the rich
in other words
redistributing the wealth
to the already wealthy
than he is sort of a
Robin Hood in reverse
Stealing from the poor
to give to the rich
a Socialist
in reverse

My right-wing friends
wonder about his birth certificate
wondering about his
"muslim" name
never noticing
his glee
as he
"changes the mindset that leads to war"
by blowing the brains
out of
those "other" people
those "unpeople"
which he holds
in as much contempt
as Bush ever dreamed of

He said his campaign would be different
wouldn't take huge corporate donations
he lied
He said he would filibuster
retroactive immunity for the telecoms
who helped the government
spy on us
He lied
He said in his victory speech
that global warming
would start cooling
that rising oceans
would start receding
now that he was in charge
he lied
He said he would not fill his
as Bush had
with lobbyists
he lied

He said he would close Guantanamo
instead he opened more Guantanamo's than even Bush
He said he would make it easier
for workers to join a union
he lied
When it came to
who to help
he decided
that ten million people
losing their homes
while he gave trillions
of dollars
to the very people
who gave him more money
than any presidential candidate has ever received
from Wall Street
His choice was easy
Guess that's

He "saved General Motors"
by giving billions to Management
while forcing pay cuts
loss of health care
and pensions
on the workers
Guess that's "Socialism"

He said
his administration
would be transparent and open
and democratic
he said
"whistleblowers should be protected"
he fucking lied
he has prosecuted more whistleblowers
than all other presidents in
the history of the United States combined
No President has hated democracy more than him

Oddly my right-wing friends
who loved all of this
when Bush did it
he's a "Socialist"
and my "progressive" friends
who hated it when Bush did what he does
are the same
in one way
they are tragically
ill informed
Barack Obama

Also published at Frontlines of Revolutionary Struggle.

Thanks to Karen Lee Wald / Fluxed Up World

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