Monday, March 21, 2011

Wrong On Libya

I perhaps should have begun posting about this last week, when it became clear Qaddafi wasn't going to fall on his own and was, in fact, pressing down on the rebels all the way to Benghazi. I "misunderestimated" (to use a Bushism) the strength of the rebel forces. (To my credit, at least, it turned out to be more a matter of firepower than a matter of will.)

Yet the U.S. and coalition airstikes - codenamed "Operation Odyssey Dawn" - will prove a Faustian deal. Even if Western boots remain planted on Western aircraft carriers, none of us are so naive as to think this is out of the kindness of anyone's hearts. It is always a ploy for markets, oil as much as imports (Libya is 10% reliant on China for its imported goods, and if the Obama administration is serious about reviving manufacturing, we'll need increase our export markets).

But the model of the Western imperialists is actually not to have to occupy countries if they don't have to (Bush was an anomaly in this sense). They want an ally in Northern Africa to moderate in case Tunisia and Egypt don't go in their favor.

Obama also has spoken about Qaddafi's violation of the Libyan people's "universal rights." I remind our readers that it wasn't all that long ago that China and the United States butted heads over this rather philosophical argument. (Chinese leaders think of this phrase as being code for "Western values" and insist that different peoples have different values ... kind of the forerunners in global postmodernism?)

So basically all the old-school imperialists are banding together and having a good ole fashion show of force, brandishing the sabres and sending a message to Iran and China and any other regime they don't agree with that universal rights aren't negotiable, that you have to respect your people's right to protest and their right to free speech.

Because universal rights apply to our geopolitical enemies first, our friends last, and ourselves.... You get the picture.

(And I'm not even going to touch the cost of this intervention in dollar terms. You shouldn't put a price on human freedom, in my opinion. Political rhetoric, however, will latch on to any excuse to slash living conditions....)

"Fire the rockets! ... and the teachers, and municipal employees, and construction workers, and...."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do whatever you can, and don't stop there.

Sex trafficking is one of humanity's most atrocious practices and one that has expanded in new and awful ways with the rise of globalization, despite having absolutely no place in the 21st century or any other time or place.

If you are in the Twin Cities metro region, please consider coming to Demand Change Project 2011 in Saint Paul this May. You can buy tickets to their forums (at the downtown St. Paul Crowne Plaza Hotel) or attend a rally at the Capitol (for male-identifying allies) and/or block party (in support of women and sex trafficking survivors). This is a great opportunity to educate yourself and express solidarity with activists and survivors.

Please do not underestimate the value of this event, nor ignore the impact this monstrous practice has on your world and the value of life in general.

(Thanks to Eclectic Breakfast for bringing this to our attention!)

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" - MLK

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nuclear Power and/or Barbarism (with apologies to Evan Calder Williams)

Recently I was privy to an argument on Facebook, wherein my older hippy friend N.C. and my college-age Marxist friend A.S. found themselves at odds over the sustainability of nuclear energy. (Obviously I needn't explain to you the cause for the debate.) N.C. pointed out problems with nuclear power plant regardless of where you place them. (The funny thing about earthquakes, you can't really hold anyone at fault. lololol ... seriously, though.)

A.S. points out that there is a need right now to choose between coal and nuclear power, that coal power is one of the leading causes of global warming, and that radioactive damage is limited by comparison (leading, in his words, to the dichotomy of "barbarism or nuclear power"). Fair enough. But someday soon we ought to see nuclear energy as marginalized as possible. The effects of radiation are awful.

And A.S. made the good (or perhaps rather "popular") point that wind energy especially (but also solar?) has its own impact on the environment. Some of my critics especially like to talk about the dead birds that seem to crop up in the vicinity of wind plants. But I can tell you, as an employee at an office building with a lot of very large windows, birds run into shit all the time. It's much easier for animals and biomes to adapt and evolve around these kinds of edifices than it is for them to adapt to large doses of radiation, or even extra carbon dioxide in the air. The buddhist in me hates to sound heartless but if they can adapt to make chirps sound like car alarms, they can alter their migration patters over time....

Breaking Wind: Silent But Deadly

A third friend, A.R., a chemist, chimed in and spoke about the pace of advancement in green energy industries. With the way these developing technologies are funded, he informed me, it could be decades before they could have a notable effect on how we power our society.

Aha. It all comes back to the ca$$$h money (yeah, I went there).

Look at the federal tax subsidies for the dead-dinosaur energy industries: oil, gas, and coal. That is a lot of money thrown at a not-problem. And while I seem to be the last person in America who thinks the federal deficit is not really the most pressing issue in the country today (I've yet to see hard evidence that a. "we're broke" or b. it's going to cause economic catastrophe - the banks were at fault for the only thing like that recently), I think this is money poorly apportioned. We could do a helluva lot better than renewable wind power by 2030.

I think this is a disastrously shortsighted energy policy. Oil, for example, is not in fucking dire need of federal subsidies. Alternatives are.

Oil made a killing by the end of last year, and it was being traded at roughly 3/4ths what it's going for today. Gouging takes place not only at the pump but on the stock exchange floor, too. There's no law in place to translate those profits into green R&D. If the U.S. government had a pro-Earth agenda, it would nationalize the dinosaurs and force exactly that change. But, firmly in the grip of capitalist industries, neither the Democrats nor especially the Republicans would ever go that far, not without extreme pressure from workers and voters. Before the oilpocalypse, BP spent very little of its profits on renewable energy but made a mountain of that molehill through their sophisticated PR machine. A lot, perhaps, has been forgotten concerning the oily money siphoned to Congress and the White House via PACs, but there's no questioning the influence on policy.

If I'm against oil, and I'm against nuclear power, and if I acknowledge that the problem is both critical and that the financial policy is unlikely to change, then what? Several people, my above-mentioned friend and my own father included (hi dad!), insist that a fall in standard of living therefore follows. Without energy, or perhaps more accurately, due to a fall in energy productivity if wind and solar implementation is made, our "standard of living" will crash. Is that what I want?

In a word, perhaps - although it's curious to imagine how our standard of living would be affected. Perhaps we could stop prioritizing a wasteful and hollow consumerist lifestyle where what matters most to us is what we watch on TV and what kind of car we drive and what we can order from the fancy downtown restaurants and who said what on Facebook (irony points!). I don't know what other people envision when they think of a fall in "living standards" brought about by drastically decreased energy usage. Perhaps they imagine the apocalypse. I imagine something more like widespread inconvenience - for the wealthy, of course, poor people are pretty used to getting by with a "low" standard of living.

AKA, "barbarism." At least to the middle class.

That NYT article bothers me for similar reasons. Not least of which is the tone - equating a few moaning yuppies with imagined - cynically expected, demanded - environmentalist hypocrisy. Yuppies are environmentalists like they are human right's activists - in the abstract. They are yuppies first and environmentalists second. They want to do more than live comfortably - they want to live well, with the private schools and the minivans and the fancy dinner out on the town. No meal is too quaint for them, and sustainability be damned, but naturally sustainability and bike lanes and buses are "a good idea." Hybrids are a status symbol. Green chic has taken the place of radical chic, and the great wheel of capitalism turns again.

I can't help but think of consumers as the "hungry ghosts" of Eastern lore

So yes, I think we can and should take some kind of hit to our so-called "standard of living." I think we could do a lot better with a lot less and do less damage to the planet in the meantime. A great many policies could be solved if we took economic planning out of the hands of profit-hungry corporations and put it back in the hands of a scientifically educated population. I do not fear having to change my way of life; I fear only that we've gone the point of no return, that there is no realistic fix to our mangled education, transportation, and industrial systems, that any attempt to unseat Mammon will unleash violence and chaos and ultimately annihilate the good along with the bad in America.

But there's no way to tell without trying, and no reason to go on if we don't make the attempt. All we need is some focus and some direction and the willingness to sacrifice the "comforts" we know in our hearts are toxic for us anyway.


ADDENDUM: A note of optimism. I admit, my favorite part is when America springs to life. To think, I've waited years for that, and everyone told me I was stupid for believing!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Invention vs. Intervention

I'm not speaking on any particular concrete basis today - I don't have any specific articles to back me up. But I did read on the cover of the Wall Street Journal today that "US sees stalemate in Libya." Yet I cannot accept that there will be anything so cut and dry as an East Libya/West Libya separation.

There are no superpowers to draw and uphold such lines now. This isn't the Cold War. Qaddafi has no imperial backer.

And he won't accept anything less than a reassertion of his power, and the annihilation of the rebel movement. If anything like a stalemate develops, even over the course of years, it will simply mean protracted bloodshed and victory to the side that develops new tactics. Even with superior firepower on the side of the tyrant, my money is on the rebels. Qaddafi has 1970s' tactics and some planes and helicopters and a heart of ice. But the rebels are honing their wits day after day.

The US is still trying to decide its angle. It still frets over the "character" of the rebellion. We know it will support a re-establishment of the monarchy (if its assessment of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are indicators). But blocked on the UN and so far unable to parse through international law, it looks like the world's police force may be sitting this one out, for the time being.

No easy parallels, not even a 38th.