An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Manufactured Scarcity





History is constructed from the building blocks of material fact, not "hope" or "change". But those blocks can be moved by the human mind and the human spirit and their triumph will be eternal.

One of the fantasies that currently dominates the debate on climate change is that of "green capitalism". The idea is essentially that we can keep the current economic system and maintain its growth rate while shifting to green technologies. Behind the smoke screen of this fantasy, the elite are effectively maneuvering to inaugurate the next great bubble. The devastation of the earth's ecology represents one of the most lucrative profit opportunities the world has ever seen. We will call this the "Enron Strategy" based on the pioneering work of Enron in California where artificial shortages were created to hike up the charges to utility companies. In one famous memo stated that "...the Kyoto treaty 'would do more to promote Enron’s business than will almost any other regulatory initiative." Enron made many innovations in the art of scarcity. They regularly invented reasons to take power plants offline while California was blacked out, allowing utility rates to be hiked 9 times between 2000 and 2001. This successful strategy acts as paradigm for the coming profits from global warming which will be based on the same principle. If you wonder why in the face of catastrophe, the leaders of the world dither and bargain over trivia, the answer may well be that the opportunities for enrichment from global destruction are just too tempting to pass up.

But first, we must set the stage: Despite the propaganda that proclaims that capitalism brings wealth to everyone, the truth is that capitalism thrives on scarcity. Nothing dismays investment bankers more than the prospect of abundance for all. Waste and destruction are natural for our system of wealth concentration. The profits accrue to a tiny elite while the destruction and waste are absorbed by the many. The way in which this elite passes the costs to the public and to the natural environment while retaining the profit for itself is referred to as externalizing. The costs of environmental destruction are externalized under capitalism on nature and society as a whole.

Turning the "free gifts" of nature into private profits through the selective commodification of parts of nature is not a recent development as many liberals pretend. Since the current system's beginnings in the 15th century, it has been the foundation for capital accumulation.

The new situation brought on by climate change is in many respects seen as a golden opportunity in which to further privatize the remaining natural wealth. This will accelerate the destruction of the natural environment, while enlarging the system that weighs upon it. But the greater the destruction, the greater the profit potential. This is best illustrated by the rapid privatization of fresh water, which is now seen as a new mega-market for global accumulation. The drying up and contamination of freshwater diminishes public wealth, creating investment opportunities for capital, while profits made from selling increasingly scarce water are recorded as contributions to income and riches. It is not surprising, therefore, that the UN Commission on Sustainable Development proposed, at a 1998 conference in Paris, that governments should turn to “large multinational corporations” in addressing issues of water scarcity, establishing “open markets” in water rights. Gérard Mestrallet, CEO of the global water giant Suez, has openly pronounced: “Water is an efficient product. It is a product which normally would be free, and our job is to sell it. But it is a product which is absolutely necessary for life.” He further remarked: “Where else [other than in the monopolization of increasingly scarce water resources for private gain] can you find a business that’s totally international, where the prices and volumes, unlike steel, rarely go down?"

Huge profits are waiting for those who seize the moment. Why will Copenhagen be gutted by Obama and all the other heads of state? Because a moment like this will not come again. Let the destruction begin and let the wealth begin to flow.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Enemy of Nature

Why would the very countries who originated ecological science, who make their plans according to best scientific advice be so slow to deal with the latest findings of the world's leading researchers? Surely the irrationality of a Beck or Palin doesn't reach into the highest levels of the Western powers?

According to the most widespread faith today, global capitalism, market mechanisms should respond with solutions to a crisis of this magnitude. In fact, there is no real feedback mechanism that can be can check capitalism’s destruction of the biospheric conditions of civilization and most forms of life on this planet. On the contrary, whole new industries and markets aimed at profiting from planetary destruction are being opened up. Al Gore's status as the first carbon trading billionaire is a leading indicator for those who spy the next bubble.

The fundamental fact is that capitalism thrives on scarcity. Nothing dismays investment bankers more than the thought that we might create a planet where there would be abundant food, water and health for all. The loss of profit opportunities this would entail would be a genuine tragedy. What makes sense in a system like this are the waste and destruction of our natural resources. The costs of this destruction are externalized - assumed by the public, like the bank bailouts, and by nature as a whole, while yielding fat profits for the middle men.

The growth of natural scarcity is a golden opportunity to further privatize the world’s remaining accessible resources. Carefully study how the corporate media frames the water crisis. The solution invariably involves rapid privatization of fresh water, which has now become the new mega-market for entrepreneurs. It is precisely through the drying up and contamination of freshwater that these investment opportunities are created. In the words of Gérard Mestrallet, CEO of the global water giant Suez: "Water is an efficient product. It is a product which normally would be free, and our job is to sell it. But it is a product which is absolutely necessary for life...Where else [other than in the monopolization of increasingly scarce water resources for private gain] can you find a business that’s totally international, where the prices and volumes, unlike steel, rarely go down?" Where indeed? Wake up to the real enemy.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Capitalism - An Evolutionary Dead End




The capitalist system that has evolved over the past five hundred years represents a test of our capacity for self-awareness and imagination. The system that brought us unparalleled material abundance has also directly caused massive degradation of our natural and human ecology. Our challenge at this moment is to recognize the threat posed by our own behavior and counter it decisively. The alternative is mass starvation and widespread upheaval that will leave our race decimated and our natural environment beyond repair for thousands of years. That we are failing this test is undeniable.

Science means nothing to the ruling powers when it comes into conflict with capital's demand for endless expansion. What the left fails to understand is that we love our illusions more than life itself. Only a religious revolution that restores (or perhaps initiates) the worship of truth can restore us to sanity. This "religion" applies to materialists and spiritualists equally.

From the viewpoint of human welfare, it is more important to destroy capitalism than it is to stave off the ecological crisis that is now upon us. As long as the spirit of capitalism endures, we will dodge or suffer one major crisis after another until we realize that capitalism thrives on catastrophe and finds its greatest profit opportunities precisely in the midst of it. Those struggling in the battle against climate change should take John Bellamy Foster's words very seriously, "Indeed, from the standpoint of capital accumulation, global warming and desertification are blessings in disguise, increasing the prospects of expanding private riches." - John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, "The Paradox of Wealth: Capitalism and Ecological Destruction", Monthly Review, November 2009.

Until this sickness in the human spirit is healed, there can be no solution to the ecological crisis. For that is precisely what capitalism is - a spiritual sickness that has latched onto the human soul devouring its life and producing material trivia that can never satisfy real human need and isn't really intended to. Capitalism is far from a neutral economic system. In the words of Joel Kovel, "From this standpoint there appears a greater 'ecological crisis,' of which the particular insults to ecosystems are elements. This has further implications. For human beings are part of nature, however ill-at-ease we may be with the role. There is therefore a human ecology as well as an ecology of forests and lakes. It follows that the larger ecological crisis would be generated by, and extend deeply into, an ecologically pathological society. Regarding the matter from this angle provided a more generous view. No longer trapped in a narrow economic determinism, one could see capital as much more than a simple material arrangement, but as something cancerous lodged in the human spirit, produced by, and producer of, the capitalist economy. It takes shape as a queer beast altogether, more a whole way of being than anything else." - Joel Kovel, "The Enemy of Nature", p. xii

It is as an entire way of being that capitalism must be opposed. Those who wonder why the ruling elite seem so little concerned with impending ecological catastrophe should pause to consider how little concerned they were (and still are) with preventing nuclear holocaust, the decimation of entire races during WWII, the enslavement and starvation of the continent of Africa, and many other tragedies for ordinary human beings. While we tend to see the floods and desertification caused by global warming as evils to be avoided by any means necessary, they see them quite differently. For them, these are outstanding opportunities to increase profit margins and accelerate the growth of capital. Who cares if the planet is destroyed, as long as the zeros continue to repeat?

Bravo, Barack!



My admiration for Barack Obama continues to grow as he emerges as the master of the post-modern power grab. America has orchestrated a Latin American coup with the smooth efficiency of an executive's image makeover. The term Eva Gollinger uses for the new imperial strategy is "smart power" and she describes it as follows: "The Obama administration has opted for a mutation of these two concepts, fusioning military power with diplomacy, political and economic influence with cultural penetration and legal manuvering. They call this 'Smart Power'. Its first application is the coup d’etat in Honduras, and as of today, it’s worked to perfection." - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

This is the essence of the Obama strategy - to modulate, guide and enhance the behavior that they wish to enforce, in this case in order to counter the democratic movements that threaten U.S. hegemony in Latin America. The "smart power" strategy in Honduras worked this way: the rhetoric was constantly on the side of the legitimate President, Zelaya, but the concrete action was always supportive of the coup regime. Golinger sums up the success of this strategy as follows, "Washington lobbyists also wrote the San José 'agreement', and in the end, it was the high level State Department and White House delegation that 'persuaded' the Hondurans to accept the agreement. Despite the constant US interference in the coup d’etat in Honduras – funding, design, and political and military support – Washington’s 'smart power'approach was able to distort public opinion and make the Obama administration come out as the grand victor of 'multilateralism'" - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

The genius of this strategy is it emerges with a clear victory for U.S. imperial control while retaining Obama's progressive credentials. "Everything is normal," says the Pentagon about the current situation in Honduras. Indeed it is - "The people were left out, excluded. Months of repression, violence, persecution, human rights violations, curfews, media closures, tortures and political assasinations have been forgotten. What a relief, as Subsecretary of State Thomas Shannon remarked upon achieving the signature of Micheletti and Zelaya on the final 'agreement', that the situation in Honduras was resolved 'without violence'." Precisely, violence is only real when it's against those in power. Repression of those below is elided with the smooth turn of a jazz solo.

The success of this first post-modern coup will doubtless inspire many more ruling elites in Central and South America to hatch their own plots. And the Obama administration will smile benevolently, modulating, guiding and enhancing the process until victory is achieved. Bravo, Barack!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Post-Modern Coup




My admiration for Barack Obama continues to grow as he emerges as the master of the post-modern power grab. For the first time in U.S. history, America has orchestrated a Latin American coup with the smooth efficiency of an executive's well-managed image makeover. The term Eva Gollinger uses for the new imperial strategy is "smart power" and she describes it as follows: "The Obama administration has opted for a mutation of these two concepts, fusioning military power with diplomacy, political and economic influence with cultural penetration and legal manuvering. They call this “Smart Power”. Its first application is the coup d’etat in Honduras, and as of today, it’s worked to perfection." - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

Before getting into the details of her cogent analysis, we should first step back and examine the type of power we are speaking about. This was well-described by Peter Hallward in an article last year, "As several generations of emancipatory thinkers have now argued, modern forms of power do not primarily exclude or prohibit but rather modulate, guide or enhance the behavior norms conducive to the status quo..." New Left Review, Sept. - Oct., 2008.

This is the essence of the Obama strategy - to modulate, guide and enhance the behavior that they wish to enforce, in this case in order to counter the popular movements that threaten U.S. hegemony in Latin America. Golinger describes the calculated ambiguity which informed U.S. policy over the past four months, "On one hand, President Obama condemned the coup against President Zelaya while his ambassador in Tegucigalpa held regular meetings with the coup leaders. Secretary of State Clinton repeated over and over again during the past four months that Washington didn’t want to 'influence' the situation in Honduras – that Hondurans needed to resolve their crisis, without outside interference. But it was Washington that imposed the mediation process 'led' by President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, and Washington that kept funding the coup regime and its supporters via USAID, and Washington that controlled and commanded the Honduran armed forces, involved in repressing the people and imposing a brutal regime, through its massive military presence in the Soto Cano military base." - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

Notice the distinction made by this "smart power" strategy: the rhetoric was constantly on the side of the legitimate President, Zelaya, but the concrete action was always supportive of the coup regime. She sums up the success of this strategy as follows, "Washington lobbyists also wrote the San José 'agreement', and in the end, it was the high level State Department and White House delegation that 'persuaded' the Hondurans to accept the agreement. Despite the constant US interference in the coup d’etat in Honduras – funding, design, and political and military support – Washington’s 'smart power'approach was able to distort public opinion and make the Obama administration come out as the grand victor of 'multilateralism'" - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

The genius of this strategy is it emerges with a clear victory for U.S. imperial control while retaining its progressive credentials. In the end, what is the result of the agreement? "Upon signature of the 'agreement' this past October 30th, Washington immediately lifted the few restrictions it had imposed on the coup regime as a pressure tactic. Now they can get visas again and travel north, they don’t have to worry about the millions of dollars from USAID, which hadn’t even been suspended in the first place. The US military in presence in Soto Cano can reinitiate all their activities – oh wait, they never stopped in the first place. The Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) of the Pentagon affirmed just days after the coup that 'everything is normal with our armed forces in Honduras, they are engaging in their usual activities with their Honduran counterparts.' And Washington is already preparing its delegation of elections observors for the November 29th presidential elections – they are already on their way." - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

"Everything is normal," says the Pentagon. Indeed it is - "The people were left out, excluded. Months of repression, violence, persecution, human rights violations, curfews, media closures, tortures and political assasinations have been forgotten. What a relief, as Subsecretary of State Thomas Shannon remarked upon achieving the signature of Micheletti and Zelaya on the final “agreement”, that the situation in Honduras was resolved 'without violence'." Precisely, violence only exists against those in power. Repression of those below is elided with the smooth turn of a jazz solo.

The success of this first post-modern coup will doubtless inspire many other ruling elites in Central and South America to hatch their own plots. And the Obama administration will smile benevolently, modulating, guiding and enhancing the process until victory is achieved. Bravo, Barack!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Obama's Steady Stream of Accomplishments

So far the accomplishments of Obama have been impressive:

1) The defeat of the public option for health care and the guarantee of 46 million new customers to enhance health insurance industry profits.
2) The rapid escalation of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the delight of military contractors.
3) The continuation of the war in Iraq when it faced almost certain termination.
4) The expansion of incarceration facilities in Bagram for sequestering state enemies.
5) Helping to mute the international outrage over the Gaza slaughter.
6) Legally justifying and intensifying the warrantless spying program on Americans.
7) Guiding the coup in Honduras to a successful outcome in the face of massive opposition from the world community and fierce resistance from the Honduran people.
8) The transfer of trillions of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street investment banks, which accomplished the dual purpose of restoring the profits of the ruling class and bonuses while ensure debt slavery for generations of ordinary Americans.

Why shouldn't he crown this set of achievements by gutting the only hope for effective response to climate change?

We should celebrate these accomplishments as they deserve.

On Failing to Break Out




Rage can be refreshing. For instance, contemplate the latest outrage by the Obama administration, "The Obama administration has, yet again, asserted the broadest and most radical version of the 'state secrets' privilege -- which previously caused so much controversy and turmoil among loyal Democrats (when used by Bush/Cheney) -- to attempt to block courts from ruling on the legality of the government's domestic surveillance activities." - Glenn Greenwald, "Obama's Latest Use of 'Secrecy' to Shield Presidential Lawbreaking", Nov. 1, 2009.

When reading this passage, one reaction might be to center oneself in anger over the crime which has been committed against the rule of law and the right to privacy. But will the rage lead to the identification of the actual enemy who provoked this crime? For many on the left, anger has become an emotional whirlpool, sucking us down to an irrational chaos and eating up the energy needed for true radical change.

We must begin with icy determination to identify the real foe and move wisely and swiftly against it. Wisely means through the use of human means to obtain human ends, rather than the use of material means to obtain material ends. For human beings must never be reduced to material objects, which is the way of war. In the brilliant words of James Douglass, "War in our time discloses the inherent powerlessness of matter at its most powerful to resolve the injustices of man's spirit." - James Douglas, The Non-violent Cross, p. 130. Material means can never resolve spiritual crises. Killing a human body can never bring justice, but only perpetrates the injustice that led to the initial murder. The same applies to deceit in any form. Satyagraha means clinging to Truth above all, accepting Truth as God.