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Monday, November 28, 2011

This is What a Police State Looks Like

This is what a police state looks like.

I am mad as hell. The images of police brutalizing peaceful demonstrators with batons, concussion grenades, teargas, and pepper spray has engendered an all-consuming rage within me. I detest bullies. I detest brutality. I detest the complacency that most Americans seem to feel when someone with whom they disagree with politically is deprived of their constitutional rights. For many, it goes beyond complacency – many actually approve of the brutalization and censorship of those of a different political persuasion. They seem to forget, or perhaps never knew, what America is supposed to stand for.

But more than anything, I detest hypocrisy. I see tent cities on street corners for the consumer High Mass that is Black Friday tacitly supported by local authorities while the tents, books, and medical supplies of those who believe that the guilty who crashed the world economy should pay for their crimes, are torn up and thrown into dumpsters. I hear no soaring outrage from our president’s bully pulpit when an Iraq veteran is grievously wounded by highly-militarized police run amok. Or when a grandmother in her 80’s is basically tortured with pepper spray. Or when vindictive, abusive police wantonly assault peaceful women who are penned like cattle while trying to express their rights.

Mr. Obama was quick to arrange a photo-op beer drinking session for a professor and a cop who had an altercation, but has done nothing about rogue cop Anthony Bologna, who indiscriminately pepper-sprayed peaceful protestors, nor about the Egyptian police style assault of protesters in Oakland, nor the similar assault in New York, which took place under cover of darkness with a total air and ground blockade of the media, a shockingly grievous violation of the Constitution.

While the press, our legislators, and our president laud those who occupy places like Tahrir Square, they mostly turn a blind eye, or level an accusatory one, at those who use similar tactics to promote justice and challenge a corrupt system here at home. The president is MIA and the Republicans call the unarmed Occupy Wall Street crowd thugs and rapists while praising the armed to the teeth Tea Partiers, who have been known to spit on congressmen and carry not-so-subtle signs calling for bloodletting and revolution.

Well, I support the Tea party’s right to demonstrate. I support the right of those odious ‘God hates Fags’ miscreants to demonstrate. I support your right to express yourself, and your right to free assembly, even if I hate your message.

You may point out that the occupiers are doing one thing different from all of these other domestic groups: they are occupying public and semi-public spaces. It’s true. So are homeless people, and those Black Friday zealots. And I think it’s also true that this wouldn’t be happening all over the US had the Arab Spring not happened, and had the media not praised occupiers and demonstrators in Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Syria and elsewhere. Occupy is a global flowering of the same consciousness, the same rebellion against a system of neo-serfdom that is built to insure the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many.

In some countries, the iron hand is more overt – you have no right to speak, you are jailed and beaten for the most minor dissent, far from the freedom of speech we enjoy here in America. But, the difference is increasingly one of style, not substance, for here in America, we have an even wider income disparity than in China. Our elites (and I’m not talking Susan Sarandon here, but folks like the Koch brothers) already own us – they have sold us a hollow American Dream that has pacified and splintered us, and so do not have to resort to the iron hand that is ubiquitous in places like Egypt, Syria and China.

But when a movement that challenges the relationship of serfs to lords in any meaningful way arises here, believe me, it will be crushed just as heavily, if need be, as anything you’ve seen in Tienamin or Tahrir Squares. If we, the people, ever truly challenge the status quo, we will be assaulted, beaten, tortured, killed. It’s already happening! You see the groundwork laid for it now: the virtual silence of our ostensibly liberal president and his Justice Department, the gradual numbing to brutality amongst the general populace as police violence is slowly ratcheted up in concert with a campaign of disparagement and dehumanization of the occupiers, who’ve even been called traitors, why I cannot fathom, except that those in power will tell any lie, make any threat, and break any person who threatens them. And they will also divide and conquer, artfully setting the tea partiers and the occupiers, who have much more in common than either camp appears to realize, against one another.

The future is here, America, and freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…

9-11, ten Years On

The tenth anniversary of 9-11 passed, and again I mourned. I mourned the thousands killed in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington that day, but I mourned for much, much more.

I mourned the thousands of American and allied troops who’ve paid with their lives, fighting not to make America more safe, certainly not more free, but to secure Western hegemony.

I mourned the hundreds of thousands innocent men, women and children who’ve been left homeless and destitute, been tortured, terrified, traumatized, bombed, shot and killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq since 9-11.

Rational people recoil in horror when shopkeepers on the West Bank hand out sweets after terrorist bombings. And the joy in the camps of Al Queda after every successful bloodletting is equally abhorrent. Yet there were all night kegger parties when Osama Bin Laden was killed. A loud, vile, xenophobic, and implicitly racist joy was voiced by many Americans, and the final irony came to pass: We were acting just like our enemies; an apparently unarmed man was shot dead in his home without benefit of trial or council, and Americans reacted with unmitigated joy, pumping fists and bellowing ‘USA, #1!’ in that fascistic chant that always gives me the creeps.

As a country, we are less tolerant than ever before in my lifetime. Hate crimes against Muslims now comprise 10% of the total every year, yet Muslims account for only a little over 1% of the population.

We are more paranoid, more frightened, more willing to give up the freedom and tolerance that made this country special than we are willing to face down our fears, and our culpability and find a way out of endless war.

All of the things I hated about America, its provincial xenophobia, it’s propensity to shoot first and ask questions later, its role as world policeman (AKA world bully) have been exacerbated by 9-11. Bin Laden and company have remade us in their image. We have lost something irretrievable, something graceful, if we ever had it – a level of tolerance, a love of liberty, a reverence for privacy and individual rights and expression, and courage. Driven towards each other by terror, an American mob-rule group think has arisen. It considers Christians, especially perhaps white Christians, the ‘true’ Americans, and all others as second-rate citizens. It promotes the idea that the projection of unbridled American military might is a natural right of this country, no matter what immoral mayhem it causes to innocents.

Most simplistically and dangerously, this mindset presupposes that we are the victims. There is simply no room for the idea that maybe 9-11 was even partially fomented by our country’s meddling foreign policy, that it was blowback, and that, although it was unjustified, it was inspired directly by the bombings and destruction wrought by us and by our proxies, using our weapons. ‘They hate us for our values’ George Bush and many others proclaimed. No. They hate us because we give the Israelis and various dictators white phosphorus and cluster bombs, F-16 fighters and A-10 warplanes, Abrams tanks and cruise missiles. They hate us because we maintain military bases in their most holy places. They hate us because we have supported one corrupt brutal regime after another in the Middle East, Asia, South America, and Africa.

The people who died in the air and on the ground on 9-11 were victims, but we as a country are not. We were attacked due to decades of provocation on our part. Bin Laden himself said he was inspired to make the towers fall by watching Israelis bomb apartment buildings with jets and bombs made in America and essentially given to Israel carte blanche. We were attacked because our policies enslave people, because our proxies bomb and torture people, because we are the largest weapons dealer on earth, because we refuse to sign an international land mine treaty, because we pollute more, take more, demand more, than any other country on earth; Because we are an Empire. And like every other empire before us, we are starting to rot within while we are whittled away from without. Bin Laden’s masterstroke was to vastly accelerate this process; He read the braggadocio insecurity of George Bush perfectly and our Mad Cowboy president followed his script to the letter, transmuting the sympathy of the world into disgust and distrust in record time, and that too, was foreseen and even written about by Bin Laden. All he had to do was wave the red flag, and we proceeded headlong to our own goring.

America self-immolated, her freedoms and values burnt for a sense of false security and for vengeance. I mourn this loss most of all.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Noble Savage

Recently I attended a very touching world-prayer service at a church in Woodstock. Representatives of all of the major faiths spoke and prayed. Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Native Americans prayed together for peace, and for the healing of the earth, especially the Gulf of Mexico.

I was very touched by the earnest and forthright prayers from all of those present, but one presentation, though equally well intentioned, stuck in my craw nonetheless.

A women who is actually from England but part of a local Native American community got up to speak. The first thing she said was that indigenous peoples the world over have always had reverence for the environment and for human dignity.

This is a patently absurd statement. Entire indigenous cultures have imploded due to overuse and misuse of resources. And, of course, there is the egregious example of the Northwest American tribes Potlatch ceremonies. These ceremonies sometimes devolved from simple giving away of goods and food (and, I might add, slaves) to the actual destruction of food – a sort of keep up with the joneses frenzy wherein two tribes tried to outdo each other in the wanton destruction of foodstuffs to prove that they were the most prosperous and powerful.

Oprah Winfrey seems very proud of her Zulu roots, though the Zulus were famous for raping and pillaging their enemies, and zealously practicing impalement and other forms of torture. Other tribes viewed them as human locusts.

The obvious truth, if one looks past a sort of paternalistic ‘Noble Savage’ reductionism that reveres anyone non-white as implicitly wiser, kinder and gentler, is that white people have no lock on evil deeds in this world, and people of color have no lock on grace, decency or environmental sensitivity. To me, such idealizations of any ethnic group are at their most benign the product of simplistic thinking, and at their most malignant, the bases for prejudice, war, and terror.

There seems to be a self-hating aspect to many white people. They see how their race’s dominance on the planet, economically and technologically, has decimated the world’s species, and caused untold human suffering and death. Yet to implicitly blame this on the color of the perpetrators skin by putting all non-whites on a sort of pedestal not only flies in the face of the historic record, but indulges in the same style of racist thinking that these same people would find reprehensible in an unreconstructed Klansman or Nazi.

Blacks seeking reparations only seem intent on getting them from the white countries involved in slaving, never from the African countries that of course made the entire slave trade possible through their collusion with whites.

A white researcher in the southwest is virtually pilloried for proving that the ancestors of the Navajo practiced cannibalism against the Anasazi. Yet all he did was find the evidence, not fabricate it; And one has only to visit places like Mesa Verde and Canyon de Chelly to see the evidence of a people under siege, living not on the open plain, but clinging instead to high cliff faces, walled into houses with tiny windows.

And all was not peace and love among the bloodthirsty Incans and Mayans either.

The truth is that all humanity shares linked proclivities for evil as well as for good. None are immune from the violence and hierarchical nature we’ve inherited from our primate forbears, just as we all share a divine spark capable of the most exquisite love, creativity, and caring for all living creatures.

The reductionist Politically Correct thinking that denies this universal human duality has been the cause of much suffering, whether used in the service of supporting slavery in the nascent United States, or in drumming out white farmers in Zimbabwe, which turned that country into a famine-wracked ruin.

As a Taoist I find it odd that people seem to focus on only one side of things. Some see humankind – or some subset thereof - as inherently evil, some as inherently good. I see a duality well reflected in nature itself. Look to the lioness, tenderly playing with her cubs , and ruthlessly ripping out the throat of the zebra, to see the duality of all creation manifest all around us.

Chimps and Bonobos Redux

Recently a video of scantily clad seven-year-old girls gyrating and pelvic-thrusting to a Beyonce track went viral. I saw it on the Huffington Post, clicked on the link, and was almost instantly mortified. I never got through more than about 20 seconds of it, because I became instantly nauseated at what I saw – a group of girls in hot red ‘stripper-kinis’ thrusting their ‘busts’, butts out and writhing suggestively. It didn’t matter that the little girls were obviously talented dancers. What mattered was the heavy, completely inappropriate sexual imagery.

I immediately went to the comments section to post my outrage. Although many other people on the site shared my revulsion, there were also many who saw nothing wrong with this at all. There was even one ‘sexuality denier’ who insisted that there was nothing sexual at all about little girls in bright red bikinis writhing suggestively. He insisted that any folks who saw anything even remotely sexual in this video were themselves pedophiles. Another said sure it’s sexual, but children are sexual beings. He implied that denying their sexuality was a form of repression.

This struck a chord with me because I’d written of sexual repression in the essay below for Northeast Public Radio. I countered that, yes, children are sexual beings – they experiment and play with sex after all – but they are immature sexual beings, and to sexualize them with adult symbolism most closely associated with strippers and prostitutes is a serious distortion and perversion of the natural sexual curiosity that children possess. It is a superimposition of degraded sexual images from a sexually distorted culture onto little girls.

To me, this video constituted child abuse, pure and simple. I could not believe the level of acceptance I saw. Whereas many saw this as a normal, even laudable endeavor, I felt that the dance teachers and parents all should have received a visit from Social Services, because they were ‘empowering’ these little girls with the worst possible symbolism. In fact, the entire experience of the fleeting fame of the viral video only underscored the latent message: women (and by extension, girls) should monetize their bodies and their sexuality if they want to succeed in the world.

I can think of no worse message to foist upon the impressionable mind of a child.

Here is the original essay:

Chimps and Bonobos

Humankind’s two closest genetic relatives are the Chimpanzee and the so-called ‘pygmy chimp’, the Bonobo. We share some 97% of our genetic makeup with both of them.

This is a vast oversimplification, but in general, Chimpanzee society tends to be male-dominated and violent. Chimps engage in brutal fights, gang rape, genocide, even cannibalism. Their society is highly stratified, with dominant males at the top and lesser males at the bottom. Although females also have dominant and lesser representatives, in general their health and safety, and that of their offspring, is still largely a matter of male whim.

The Bonobo are quite different. Although there are fights in Bonobo society, they tend to be brief and non-lethal. There appears to be no rape, no cannibalism, no wiping out of other troops of Bonobo. All in all, the Bonobo society is, for lack of a better word, more humane

In Chimp society, sex occurs only when females are in heat. In the matriarchal Bonobo society, sex occurs all the time, for procreation, for enjoyment, and sometimes merely as a form of social stress relief. It’s kind of like the Greek play Lysistrata, wherein the women refuse the men any sex until the men give up war. The Bonobo have largely given up conflict, replacing it with ready access to sex.

What do our two closest relatives have to tell us about human society?

In his landmark work, the Mass Psychology of Fascism, Willhelm Reich posited that the veneration of war and conflict coupled with sexual repression leads to a more violent and easily manipulated, fascistic society.

On its surface, American society is heavily sexualized, not repressed at all. But Reich didn’t mean the repression of all sexual symbols, but rather the displacement of healthy representations of sexuality with unhealthy symbols that debased and dehumanized, coupled with increasing representations of violence.

In light of that distinction, it’s easy to see how American society is sexually repressed when it comes to positive images of sexuality and the human body, while overflowing with negative ones and simply awash in violent imagery. To paraphrase Larry Flynt, in America it’s illegal to commit murder, but not to broadcast movies of it, and legal to make love, but illegal to broadcast movies of lovemaking.

Once, while watching the movie ‘Dead Calm’ on broadcast TV, I saw a naked rear end pixilated on my screen, I suppose to protect me from some terrible prurient urge. This was followed not 5 minutes later by the graphic, unpixelated footage of a man’s head being blown off. What kind of a society finds a naked ass more dangerous than an act of bloody violence?

Obviously, in the human mind, sex and violence seem to be linked in all sorts of complex ways. Look at how the torture at places like Abu Ghraib often devolved into sexual humiliation. The themes of procreation, survival, and death underlie all human activity, and imbue everything with their nascent power, which can be positive or corrosive. It can build a culture up, or debase it. And one man’s view of socio-sexual health can be another’s symptom of metasticized perversion.

For example: when Jonbenet Ramsey was slain, I became aware for the first time of childhood beauty pageants. I was profoundly shocked that these little girls were so sexualized and monetized. The pictures of six year old Jonbenet tarted up like a Vegas showgirl, complete with feathers and heavy makeup, seemed to bespeak some horrific underground subculture of kiddy porn purveyors.

Yet who were the perpetrators of this little girl’s debasement and objectification? Her very own quite conservative, mainstream, Republican, Christian parents, who doubtless saw nothing perverted at all in their actions. In fact, the same segment of society engages in so-called father-daughter purity balls, which ostensibly are about being chaste, but carry many disturbing psycho-sexual undertones, including ones that imply that women are chattel, their bodies and sexuality first owned by their fathers, and then their husbands.

Our culture is so out of whack that a nude adult body part is deemed threatening and perverse while the obvious sexualization of a child, albeit in symbolic terms only, is seen by many as wholesome.

Welcome to the topsy-turvy Chimp world that is America.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monsanto Is Satan (Part *2* of a 10,000 part series...)

Apsartame, better known as Nutrasweet, or AminoSweet, and its new cousin, Neotame, a much larger, much sweeter, and potentially even more toxic update of the Aspartame molecule, are all over the place. Virtually everything you put in your mouth labeled ‘sugarless’ or ‘diet’ contains these pernicious, toxic substances.

Nutrasweet’s original manufacturer was Searle corp. They tried to get Nutrasweet declared safe for consumption, but the body of evidence against it was too strong. In the lab, it caused the following forms of cancer tumors in cellular cultures: brain, pancreatic, breast and uterine. In more recent tests, leukemia, lymphoma and kidney cancers were discovered.

If one examines the structure of the Aspartame molecule itself, it’s easy to see why it could be so deadly. The molecule mates what is essentially a precursor to wood alcohol, the type of alcohol that causes blindness and seizures, to two amino acids, so that your body readily recognizes it as a nutrient. During digestion, this deadly methanol and also formaldehyde form from these precursor chemicals.

I happen to know a researcher who worked in Cornell’s neurochemistry program when Searle came calling with their new product. They asked the chairman of the department what percentage of people would be adversely affected by ingesting their new sweetener. When he replied that he thought that 15% could suffer ‘irreversible neurological damage’, the Searle people actually smiled. 15% was a reasonable number to these people, given that the Cyclamate artificial sweeteners had just been pulled from the market, and there was pressure to do the same with saccharine. There was just too much money to be made to let the health of a few million people get in the way.

Since those early studies were not encouraging, (and in fact the FDA was set to rule against them), Searle started paying for their own studies, and to increase their chances of getting to market even more, they hired consummate Washington insider Donald Rumsfeld as CEO. The day after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, the FDA (with the hasty addition of a 6th voting member) abruptly reversed course, and legalized Nutrasweet.

Nutrasweet, Neotame and the venerable Monosodium Glutamate are all classified as Excitotoxins, toxic compounds mated to amino acids in such a way that the body sees them as nutrients and absorbs them readily. It’s like some kind of diabolical Trojan Horse, ushering in the most potent poisons masquerading as nutrients.

Many people know of the MSG headache, or the fuzziness that can accompany a Nutrasweet binge, but are unaware what these warning signs really attest too. They portend potential cellular changes, neurological destruction, endocrine imbalances, and immune system chaos.

There is striking evidence that Nutrasweet can also cause or help cause Macular Degeneration, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease (it’s been shown to produce pinholes in the brains of rats), Graves Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and several other neurological and autoimmune conditions, as well as the numerous, aforementioned cancers.

Both Searle, and their later parent purchaser, Monsanto, vociferously fought any attempts to get this highly-toxic substance off the market. Their only concern is shareholder equity; Profits, growth and dividends trump any moral qualms.

If the FDA really cared about you and I, every cow would be tested for mad Cow disease, factory farms would be forced to deal with their huge waste lagoons, cruelty to animals, and antibiotic and steroid use. Nutrasweet, Neotame, and a host of other dangerous chemicals including trans fats, Olestra, and genetically-modified crops would be illegal. Instead, we have all become unwitting lab rats, with a stew of biochemical experiments and genetically modified substances combining and recombining in completely un-knowable ways in our guts, our bloodstreams, our nerves, and in our brains.

There was a hoax on the Internet that Neotame would be allowed, unlabeled, in Organic foods. I’m very relieved to know that this is not true. But beware: Monsanto, and all of the big agribusiness companies are constantly working to weaken the USDA Organic standard to the point that it’s as utterly meaningless as the word ‘natural’ has become on food labels.

Rid yourself of these toxins. Grow your own food and get involved with your local organic food growers and purveyors, and petition the federal government to maintain and enhance the integrity of the USDA organic standard, and to return the FDA to its mandate: serving and protecting the people, instead of furthering corporate interests at the people’s expense.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Monsanto Is Satan (Part 1 of a 10,000 part series...)

High on my special list of pathologically destructive corporations is Monsanto. Though their sins are legion, I’m going to focus on perhaps their most evil activity of all – their attempt to control virtually all farmers and all crop seeds, and to force those same farmers to use their genetically altered crops and toxic agri-chemicals.

Although this is hard to believe, farmers have been successfully sued by Monsanto when Monsanto’s genetically-modified soybean and canola plants have shown up in their fields, carried there by birds and the wind. One Canadian farmer, who had been selectively breeding his own canola plants with his wife for decades, was sued when some of these Monsanto plants were found growing in a ditch alongside his property.
This is where the entire affair, which is not unique to this one farmer, becomes positively Kafkaesque. Monsanto contended that this man had essentially stolen their seeds. They asked the court to levy a hefty fine, take all of the profits from his current canola crop, and most insidiously, they also asked the court to seize the man’s own proprietary canola breeds, the product of 50 years of careful selective breeding.

Because of a few plants found in a ditch, Monsanto not only wanted to bankrupt this farmer, they wanted to steal his intellectual property as well.

As utterly bizarre as it seems , the court upheld Monsanto’s claims in full. But this was no ordinary farmer. He appealed to Canada’s Saskatchewan appellate court, where the 3 justice panel again upheld Monsanto’s position.

He appealed once more, this time to Canada’s Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. Somewhere along the line, Monsanto must have felt the winds of change, because they suddenly agreed to an out-of-court settlement. Not only will this brave farmer keep his seeds, and not pay any fines, but Monsanto will be legally liable for eliminating any of their contaminating GMO canola that finds its way onto his land.
He has won, but thousands like him are daily being bullied, stolen from, and often bankrupted by this giant company that literally seeks control over the world’s seed supply.

Monsanto’s contracts, signed by any farmer who wants to use their seed, say it all:
The farmer cannot use his own seeds at all; he must only buy seeds from Monsanto
The farmer can only use Monsanto chemical fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides.
Monsanto’s private investigative force, mostly composed of highly-coercive ex-law-enforcement officers is permitted to search their land whenever they want, without notice, for 3 years after they stop using Monsanto seed.

Most incredibly: The farmer can never sue Monsanto. He must waive all rights to future lawsuits for any reason.

When Monsanto and the other big GMO companies first started pushing their ‘Frankenfood’ products, they claimed that they would never interbreed with other strains, and would never ‘escape into the wild’. Just the opposite is true: all over Canada and the USA, their GMO canola can be found, spreading like an invasive weed. It’s in ditches everywhere, and it’s crowding out other strains. Indeed, it looks as if it’s now virtually impossible to grow completely non-GMO soy or canola anywhere on this continent.

And just what are their seeds genetically modified to do? In the case of their canola, it’s called ‘Roundup Ready’, which means that the plants have been genetically modified to be highly resistant to Monsanto’s toxic Roundup herbicide. This allows canola farmers to blitz their fields with heretofore unheard of levels of toxic herbicides, a sort of slow-motion agent-oranging of the entire American and Canadian heartland.

The creation of plants that will allow even more poisoning of the land, even more toxic residues in our foodstuffs, even more depletion of bees, butterflies and other natural pollinators is doubly, triply evil.

The Europeans have been way ahead of us on this, banning GMO foods. A small band of Organic farmers is currently suing Monsanto for destroying their plant strains and infecting their fields. Not only do we need to support this David and Goliath struggle, but it’s time we revisit the entire GMO question. It’s time to ban all new GMO crops, and not just from commercial use, but from research plots too. GMO wheat is growing in small plots all over the US and Canada. Wheat is, of course, a relative of grass, and spreads just as readily. The fallacy that GMO plants can be segregated has been proven over and over. It’s time to take action and petition the Obama administration to follow Europe’s lead and ban GMO crops and crop research.