All posts by PB Floyd

Asleep during the protest – But there’s nothing boring about resistance

It has been more than three years since the US invasion of Iraq and, despite the humiliating failure of the war for the US empire, the slaughter continues. Neither Bush nor the Democrats can figure out a way to pull out US troops even though at this point, it is hard to imagine a favorable outcome. Bush just noted that it would be for “future presidents” to decide when to pull out troops — thus, he expects the occupation will continue until at least 2009. Bush can’t declare victory and leave in the face of civil war and insurgency fueled by the presence of US troops. Nor can he afford to admit defeat — admitting the hollow nature of US military power would be too costly for the US empire. The insurgents don’t need to defeat the occupying army — they only need to prevent the US from winning — which they have done. The pathetic Democrats — no matter what they may think — are too scared of being called wimps to say much of anything. Ultimately, most of them support the US imperial project and don’t want to see a defeat for US power any more than Bush.

So even as the US public increasingly concludes that the war is a total failure — begun for reasons that turned out to be lies and maintained at great cost for no comprehensible purpose — the mainstream political system is incapable of ending US involvement in the war. It would appear that this “alternatives-vacuum” would present an ideal opportunity for a third force –independent from the Democrats and Republicans — to organize opposition to the war.

Yet the recent March 18 national day of protest sponsored by ANSWER was a small and ritualistic affair — easily ignored perhaps because it was incapable of disrupting business as usual. Or maybe it was smaller than one might expect given the un-popularity of the war because people have protest-fatigue and are feeling discouraged. Marching down deserted streets on a Saturday in the hope that the media will notice doesn’t seem like a strategy equal to the task of stopping this disastrous war. Some anarchist types commented that they didn’t go because it was organized by the creepy sectarian ANSWER coalition, but isn’t the war worse than ANSWER? The current anti-war efforts aren’t breaking through, but it isn’t totally clear why — just that they aren’t.

This historical moment has all the ingredients for a political shift that could discredit the Republicans, the Democrats, and ineffective, bureaucratic protest machines. Figuring out how to seize this moment is the key task for radicals in 2006 because once the dam of opposition to the war really breaks free, its flood will be capable of carrying away considerable deadwood. The fertile ground for war opposition is demonstrated by the quick rise in prominence of Cindy Sheehan, who came out of nowhere and is now a key anti-war spokesperson. She stumbled on a dramatic tactic at the right moment.

Radicals need to be out in public trying lots of different angles — only by trying lots of experiments can we have any hope of stumbling on the right opportunity at the right moment. With luck, the social pressure that has built up around the war can be harnessed and used generally against the US imperial project abroad, the security state at home, and the US way of life that is destroying the earth every day. It would be a shame if the contradictions created by the war were met with a single-issue anti-war movement rather than a broad uprising against the whole social structure which created the Iraq war and which constantly justifies violence — against human beings and nature — as business as usual.

War and Empire

Maintaining a constant state of war is highly useful for a superpower because it provides the perfect excuse to centralize wealth and power, attack civil liberties, and it keeps regular people from taking aim at their real collective enemy — those in power. For those in power, the bloodshed in Iraq, human rights violations in the US and by US allies, systematic destruction of the environment, and structural poverty and misery are acceptable costs of doing business.

The war on terrorism is the ideal type of war for the US empire because it can never end, since it defines the “enemy” as any social group or individual who opposes the system — how does one forever “defeat” opposition? Even non-violent environmental activists can be labeled “terrorists” and included within the war on terror. Ultimately, anyone who opposes the rulers can be categorized as a terrorist.

Those in power emphasize that terrorism is not a “legitimate” form of social action because it uses violence — a highly Orwellian and illogical argument since the elite’s response to terrorism is violence, death and destruction on a massive scale. Bush denounces those who take hostages in Iraq while the US holds thousands of Iraqis prisoner in their own land. Those in power label any resistance from the oppressed “violence” while any systematic violence carried on by governments or corporations is just “business as usual.” Terrorists are defined as such because they hold the “wrong” ideas, not based on their activities and tactics.

But the war on terrorism alone wasn’t enough of a “hot” war to serve the system’s and Bush’s goals. Bush hoped the invasion of Iraq would “remake” the politics of the Middle East — not, as he claims, by promoting democracy, but by demonstrating that any opposition to US dominance would be crushed.

Thus, the disaster in Iraq — while it is a tragic waste of human life — is in a twisted way a positive development because it has crippled or at least delayed US hopes of empire. Because Bush cannot “win” in Iraq and thus cannot withdraw troops, he is unable to begin a new war with Iran or Venezuela. The US death machine has been taught a lesson it won’t soon forget — with all its sophisticated weapons, it could not ultimately establish control.

Radicals across the globe and here in the belly of the beast have an excellent opportunity to emphasize the paradoxical weakness of the US as a superpower. The disaster in Iraq will be impossible to forget for at least the next generation. Just as the US was inhibited from launching a major war for a generation after being defeated in Vietnam, Iraq has the potential to prevent future US leaders from launching a similar adventure for the next 20 years. It is up to radicals here in the US to repeatedly emphasize the failure of the pre-emptive war policy: Iraq was a war of choice motivated by a lust for power and sold to the public with lies. There is a pattern to US history — the same could be said of Vietnam.

The ultimate success of radical opposition to the war would be to extend the de-legitimization of the US empire from its foreign wars to it domestic abuses and from dramatic examples of violence to the routine, everyday way in which the US empire is destroying the earth and subjugating its population. The disaster in Iraq has much in common with numerous domestic economic, social and environmental policies that benefit a few and devastate everyone else. The key is uncovering the connections between all of these seemingly unrelated structures — shining a light on the power elite and on the system which serves it.

Direct Action

Direct action, creativity and vision is what can separate radicals from the institutional protest machine that has so far been unable to effectively exploit the historical opportunities for social change presented by the crisis in Iraq. Protest marches that come from the heart can create a sense of solidarity and power, but when they become ritualized and obligatory — devoid of passion — they become political wallpaper. The same can be said of “disruptive” tactics that become ritualized and sterile — like a black bloc that feels like a dress-up party with the militancy of a funeral. The key to effective action is not necessarily the tactic itself, but the spirit with which particular tactics are practiced. Perhaps because disruptive tactics entail more risk, they are more likely to carry genuine feeling. The protest against the WTO in Seattle was disruptive, but even more it was heartfelt.

Tactics and events that are unique, joyful, humorous and exciting are all more likely to get through society’s stabilizing armor and churn up social motion. Now might be the time to think of lots of really funny or outrageous or even fabulous actions. What about having Halloween on the 4th of July with corporate and military zombies dripping with blood?

US activists have a dramatic advantages in destabilizing the US empire since we are, after all, right here in the belly of the beast. We need to figure out how to exploit this advantage by figuring out the social, industrial and economic choke points. Where can a small number of people have a huge effect with a very small investment of energy? What does the system require that can be disrupted? What physical and social locations does the system believe to be “safe” — the system’s guard will be at its lowest at these points.

It is crucial to have lots of different folks in different areas trying different things. Diversity and experimentation can uncover weak spots, plus unexpected actions are highly disruptive to a system that always seeks control and predictability. For example, plenty of folks have been going after military recruiters with mixed results — if this effort begins to become ritualized and stale, maybe its time to switch to targeting military contractors or other aspects of the war machine.

US involvement in Iraq will come to a close — by blocking the war, we can participate in laying the foundation for a new future.

Top US military contractors, 2005

The following military contract are making billions of dollars from the Iraq war arming the US imperial death machine. These corporations have offices, factories and operations all over the US. Thus activists almost anywhere can find good targets for disruptive actions aimed at the US war effort in Iraq. The arms makers here at home are crucial to the function of the US military abroad — they shouldn’t get a free ride here in the US while the slaughter continues in Iraq. Get together with your friends, use you’re creativity and be effective!

Rank Company Leader 2004 Defense Revenue (millions of dollars) % Revenue from Defense

1 Lockheed Martin Robert J. Stevens $34,050.00 95.8%

2 Boeing W. James McNerney, 30,464.00 58.1%

3 Northrop Grumman Ronald D. Sugar 22,126.00 74.0%

4 Raytheon William H. Swanson 18,771.00 92.7%

5 General Dynamics Nicholas D. Chabraja 15,000.00 78.2%

6 Honeywell David M. Cote 10,240.4 40.0%

7 Halliburton David J. Lesnar 8,000.0 39.1%

8 United Technologies George David 6,740.0 18.0%

9 L-3 Communications Frank Lanza 6,133.8 88.9%

10 Science Applications International Corp. Ken Dahlberg 4,686.0 65.2%

11 Computer Sciences Corp. Van B. Honeycutt 3,779.0 25.6%

12 General Electric Jeffrey R. Immelt 3,400.0 21.9%

13 Rolls-Royce Sir John Rose 3,069.0 27.0%

14 Misubishi Heavy Industries Kazuo Tsukuda 2,516.7 9.9%

15 Alliant Techsystems Daniel J. Murphy Jr. 2,516.0 89.9%

16 ITT Industries Steve R. Loranger 2,414.0 35.8%

17 United Defense Industries Thomas W. Rabaut 2,292.0 100.0%

18 Titan Gene W. Ray, Chairman 2,004.0 97.9%

19 Saab Åke Svensson 1,900.0 64.3%

20 Bechtel Group Riley Bechtel 1,742.5 10.0%

Source: www.defensenews.com

War is Over (If You Want It)

As Slingshot goes to press, president Bush has announced that he will order a “surge” of 21,500 additional US troops to Iraq on top of the 140,000 troops already there — despite the fact that everyone from his own generals and troops to any casual observer on the street can see that Iraq has descended into civil war as a result of Bush’s unprovoked invasion and bungled occupation. Bush’s surge won’t help the situation in Iraq — it will only prolong the nightmare and sacrifice more Iraqis and US troops for nothing. Meanwhile, the recently elected democratic Congress is unlikely to block the continuation of the war by cutting off funding — they’re talking about holding some hearings but are too afraid of being blamed for “losing” the war to take the one real action available to force a pullout of US troops. Earth to Democrats: the US lost the war a long time ago — people voted for you because they wanted US troops out now.

The world needs a surge, but not of more US troops to Iraq. Its time for a surge of protest and outrage against the hopeless US occupation of Iraq — from ordinary people everywhere, from the rest of the world, from anti-war activists, and from YOU. The war has dragged on for almost four years — longer than US involvement in World War II — with up to 650,000 Iraqis and over 3,000 Americans dead as a result of the war, and $400 billion spent and counting.

Many of us hit the streets in protest before the war and right after it started — but we’ve grown tired and discouraged as the occupation has dragged on . . . and on . . . and on. Depression, resignation, exhaustion and inaction won’t stop the war — Bush won’t stop the war — the Democratic party won’t stop the war — really the only alternative is for millions of folks in the USA to somehow throw off our slumber and stop the damn war. At this point, inaction is complicity.

Sadly, the institutional US anti-war movement has been ineffective in stopping the war. There are protests scheduled for the end of January and March 17-18 — hopefully a lot of people will go. But polite protests isolated to one day are no longer enough. Stopping the war is going to require much broader action on a day to day basis, ranging from banners lining the streets across the country; to a million discussions; to action aimed at raising the domestic cost of the war to the US ruling class.

Bush talks about accomplishing the mission in Iraq, but just because he broke it doesn’t mean he — or anyone with any plan — can fix it. When US troops pull out, the ferocity and bloodiness of the civil war is likely to increase — but that doesn’t mean US troops should stay indefinitely baby-sitting a civil war to try to keep it within “acceptable” levels of slaughter. The only positive thing the United States can do at this point is get the hell out of Iraq and let folks there resolve their own destiny.

US troops lost any possibility of bringing peace and reconciliation to Iraq through a million small and large Bush fuckups — the torture at Abu Ghraib; the failure to restore electricity, jobs and other services; the $20 billion “reconstruction” that only enriched corporate interests; the right-wing use of Iraq as a guinea pig plaything to test their theories about privatization while Baghdad went up in flames around them. That’s to say nothing of collapse of all of Bush’s reasons to fight the war in the first place. The war was started and has been fought, very literally, for nothing.

The failed Iraq war and occupation are a metaphor for the dying American empire — a huge bloated beast thrashing about spreading death and misery pointlessly, and in the process, destroying itself. It may take decades for America’s rulers to repair the economic, military and political disaster they have created in Iraq. Global scorn and distrust of the US are at an all time high, with good reason.

Even the US military has lost heart for the war. An Army Times poll conducted Nov. 13 through Dec. 22 found that only 35 percent of the military members polled said they approve of the way President Bush is handling the war, and only 50 percent said they thought success was likely in Iraq. These numbers may have dipped lower since Bush’s speech. It is astonishing to see how isolated Bush has become with more than 70 percent of the public now against the war.

The US media focuses on the pain of the families of 3,000 dead American solders — missing the point that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lie dead, and the world’s oldest civilization has been reduced to ruins.

But despite all of this, the mainstream political system is incapable of pulling out US troops. It is much easier for Bush and the Democrats to stay the course than to have to admit the scale of their defeat in Iraq. The thousands more Iraqis and Americans likely to die are pawns to them. You can bet that none of Bush’s or Pelosi’s friends or family are living in Baghdad or serving in the US military.

As Mario Savio pointed out in a different context “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

If the rulers won’t pull out troops, regular folks need to do everything we can to make the United States ungovernable — shutting down whatever economic or social functions are within our grasp that permit the US to continue the occupation. Bush’s troop surge is just more of the same — stay the course only worse. If the regular people don’t stand up and prevent the occupation from continuing, we’re going to be right back at this point in a year, with the bodies piled higher.

March 17 – 18 Global Days of Action

Creepy sectarian ANSWER coalition has called for coordinated protests against the war in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, and other cities. (In the Bay Area, the Sunday protest naturally conflicts with the annual Anarchist conference.) As gross as ANSWER is, big marches can provide useful gathering points for break-away actions. But we don’t have to wait for groups like ANSWER to call protests — anyone and everyone can organize actions to oppose the war. Hopefully they’ll be lots of other anti-war actions as the spring goes on.

Pouring Gasoline on a Fire – Obama’s Afghanistan escalation & the war on terrorism scam

This spring and summer should (or could) bring a rising tide of protests against Obama’s escalation of the US war in Afghanistan. Sending more US troops won’t make anyone safer, won’t help the Afghan people, and will needlessly risk the lives of US troops and Afghan civilians. The handful of Al-Qaeda militants, who were the original justification for the war, haven’t been in Afghanistan for years. The escalation is a continued waste of money, just welfare for defense contractors and corrupt Afghan officials and gangsters. Bombing villages to prop up a corrupt US-supported regime (which rigged the last election) is just pouring gasoline on a fire — its fueling more fighting and a society-wide resort to violence. Looked at from an Afghan perspective, what would you do if a foreign power invaded your country, tried to impose a particular segment of local thugs on your village, and flew drones over your fields night and day? The Afghan war is the greatest recruiting tool for suicide bombers and religious fanatics who offer an alternative to US hegemony, no matter how repressive and terrifying it may be.

Why is Obama continuing, and now expanding, the failed Bush war policy? There are many reasons, but a key is that Obama’s US government serves the same basic interests as Bush’s — maintaining US dominance. His understanding of “terrorism” and use of this concept to centralize power are essentially the same as under Bush.

The US invaded Afghanistan — one of the poorest and most remote countries in the world — in 2001 after the September 11 attacks as part of Bush’s “war on terrorism”. The war on terrorism was a rhetorical and political trick. Terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology or cohesive movement, so the “war” was by definition endless and against anyone who might oppose US interests. Its real intent had more to do with justifying increases in US power at home and abroad than with “protecting” anyone.

Because the war on Afghanistan was a component of the war on terrorism power grab, the main point of the war had nothing much to do with Afghanistan, and very much to do with placing the US into a war mentality, and keeping it there. There was never much interest in how one might “win” the war. Certainly no serious person thought that Afghanistan would eventually become a modern liberal democracy with Starbucks and Wholefoods markets in stripmalls outside Kabul.

Given the US role in funding guerrilla war against the Soviets in the 1980s by arming Afghan insurgents (including Osama bin Laden back in the day) it was pretty predictable that an Afghan insurgency would develop to resist a US puppet state. Afghans fought three Anglo-Afghan wars against the British (1839-42, 1878-80, 1919) which demonstrated their hostility to outside rule.

There are a number of parallels between past Afghan insurgencies and the current resistance to the US attempt to impose

liberal reforms (that have some popularity in urban areas) on very conservative rural areas. One of the key policies of the Soviet-backed Afghan government in the 1970s and 80s was an attempt to improve conditions for women and secularize the country. Rural conservatives took up arms to defend their conservative religious beliefs and maintain traditional repressive gender relations.

So what is Obama’s plan? Despite his claim that he intends to start a troop pullback in 18 months after a “surge” stabilizes the situation, he didn’t commit to withdraw all US troops at any point in the future. There’s no reason to think US action can stabilize the situation, especially since the presence of foreign troops itself stirs up resistance. Fighting there has tribal roots as well as cultural ones. Without significant pressure from within the US to abandon the failed Afghan war, the US is likely to maintain troops there indefinitely.

Protesting the Afghan war goes hand-in-hand with exposing the war on terrorism. The media and mainstream society are obsessed with terrorism because it offends their sense of control and order. Look at the extreme panic in the wake of the underwear bomber. After the cold war ended, it appeared that the US global industrial order had achieved total political, military, economic and ideological hegemony. It wasn’t just that the US was the only military superpower left standing. US assumptions and values about what constitutes a good life were the sole controlling ideology. Under this ideology, the only human goal is earning money and buying consumer products — TVs, cars, high-speed internet service, etc.

While terrorist attacks shatter the mainstream ideas of stability and total control thereby giving the system a wonderful excuse to increase state power, it’s important to keep some perspective on the situation and realize that terrorist attacks are not the greatest threat to world safety.

Consider that the number of people actually killed by terrorists on September 11 and since then around the world — while tragic for the innocent people murdered — is actually quite tiny when you compare it to how many people have died just in the USA from non-political shootings or acts of violence. Or what about compared to the number of people killed in all the military actions supposedly designed to control the terrorist threat?

And what about the dangers to human health and happiness from the regular functioning of the industrial/economic system? No one is in a frenzy because of the tens of thousands of people killed annually by automobiles. Or the hundreds of thousands of people who die from smoking — does anyone fight a war on tobacco companies because their executives are terrorists? What about industrial pollution, which kills and sickens millions of people? No, the chemical industry isn’t “terrorist” because those deaths and injuries are just a necessary cost of doing business. The society lives in fear of terrorists getting access to chemical weapons, but wait a minute — big corporations have access to chemical weapons and they are actually using them and people are dying all the time!

The “regular” functions of the industrial machine are considered acceptable and reasonable costs of doing business even though they cause much greater harm than terrorism. These activities are controlled by those in power and trying to decrease these harms hurts their power and wealth. Terrorism, meanwhile, is not under their control, and it drives the people in power crazy, while giving them a huge and continuing excuse to have more police, bigger armies, better surveillance, and more checkpoints and searches.

The war on terror and the war in Afghanistan are not being fought for regular people either in the developed countries or in Afghanistan — they’re both being waged by elites and for elites to increase their power, but we’re the ones getting killed. Its time we cut through the hype about terrorism — the idea that peasants in rural Afghanistan are the biggest threat to someone in suburban Illinois — and take on our real enemies: the corporations, the military warlords and the media talking heads who fool us into mis-understanding what’s really going on. Let’s demand US troops out of Afghanistan and struggle for a world where people control our own destiny.

End of an Era?

“Horrible news – its like someone dying – i can’t help but feel every minute i spend on this fucking computer is helping to destroy wonderful things such as HAND LAYOUT”

– 1:51 a.m. email from Eggplant

This issue marks the end of an era — it is the first issue that Slingshot has had to be “processed” through a computer before it reached your hands. In early January, Slingshot’s newspaper printer since 1988 told us that they had gotten rid of their camera and that they were only accepting newspaper copy in digital form. Until this issue, we would make a “camera ready” layout by hand, the printer would take a photograph of it on a huge camera, create a huge negative, and use that to burn printing plates that would then print the paper. Without a camera, the printer now burns the plates directly from a computer print out. [Note: the printer for the Organizer still has their camera so that publication is still old school.]

This is basically a symbolic loss; our friend Sandi offered to help us continue doing hand layout by scanning our camera-ready originals and emailing them to the printing press. But like Eggplant says, this is another step in the march of progress which always brings us more technology and allegedly more efficiency, but which never considers whether we want to actually live in the homogenized, soulless world that is emerging. It’s easy to get caught up in the march of progress and excited by each new shiny gadget and forget that you’re an animal — a living thing — with needs and desires far more complex, interesting and meaningful than making everything fast, efficient, easy and cheap.

The process of making Slingshot is different from how most printed publications are made these days — we still do it mostly by hand, using computers as little as we can. We physically cut, manipulate and glue back together pieces of paper to make a collage — text, artwork and headlines — that become each page of the paper. This is how publications were designed before computer layout, and after the demise of setting type on pieces of lead. Our production method means we have a collection of scissors, razor blades, pens, a waxer to glue stuff together, rolls of line tape, and huge piles of art we can cut up.

Some of these hand-layout tools are now endangered — they are no longer being manufactured and you have to become something of an antique collector if you want to continue to use all the tools that used to exist to do layout this way.

So, we’ve decided to officially become antique collectors by asking everyone to send us their un-used hand-layout tools: particularly border tape, clip art books, waxers, zipatone film, rub-on letters or other cool hand-layout stuff we may not even know about yet. We want to build a living archive of these materials — to preserve tools as well as skills as we continue using them for their intended purpose.

How you do something and the tools you use help shape your experience and your thinking while you’re using those particular tools. We think that our use of these old-fashioned publication methods is both a product of our political and counter-cultural thinking, which is skeptical of the de-humanizing effects of the high-techization of our lives, as well as helping us develop these ideas in the first place.

Computers isolate people in front of their personal screen and divide them by rewarding ever-more division of labor and specialization in particular micro-specializations. Some people have special skills while everyone else is disempowered because they lack those skills. This process of stratification promotes individualism and competition and frustrates people building community, cooperation and equality.

When we use ancient tools to make Slingshot, these tools permit a more inclusive, cooperative and equal relationship between members of the collective since everyone has a more equal knowledge regarding the means of production. Everyone can cut stuff up and glue it back together — you learn this in grade school.

As a bonus, we achieve a diversity of style within the paper, rather than the drab standardization you see in a lot of publications these days. Even a lot of radical publications look like they are trying to imitate the slick computerized style of the corporate machine they are presumably opposing — how sad. These days more than ever, we are starved for forms of expression that haven’t been sterilized and computerized — that look like they were made by living human beings rather than machines.

When we make Slingshot, each person in the collective usually does 1-3 pages, so the look of the paper changes from page to page. We do it all together in a chaotic room — sort of like a party with razor blades and scraps of paper. This environment is engaging and cooperative — breaking down the loneliness it is so easy to feel in the standardized world of sitting in front of a computer screen. Unlike computers, other human beings tell jokes, give you a hard time, challenge your ideas, teach you things and help you when you need help.

They’ll give you a hug if you need one. Creating the paper becomes much more than a means to an end — it expresses a model for how we would like to reorganize the whole world.

You always hear how the internet is turning everyone into the media and opening up new opportunities for community, creativity and access — and maybe that is true in some ways — but this isn’t the only side of the story. People are in “community” sitting alone looking at a screen. Their creativity is expressed in narrowly constrained technological forms of media expression.

The mainstream society always seeks the newest technology and the most efficient tools. But you don’t have to use these gadgets just because they exist — newer and more efficient is not always better. It is crucial to ask how each technology, tool or method makes you feel and how it impacts your relationships with others and the earth. When you start asking these questions about every technology, you start realizing how often new technology exists not to benefit the user, society or the earth, but just to enable a corporation to sell stuff.

The whole idea of efficiency is suspect — why do we always want to do everything faster? Maybe the joy of doing something slow and really engaging with it and experiencing the process is the essence of being alive — is the key to leading a meaningful life. Processes that are tough and complex can make you feel way more alive, competent and satisfied than stuff that seems easy because it has been pre-digested, computerized and managed for you by a corporation. And having everything easy can come with invisible environmental and social costs — using lots of oil, chemicals, transnational transportation and cheap labor from the third world.

If you fly an airplane across the USA, you will not know the USA. If you walk, bike and hitch, you will have really traveled. Who wants to make love as fast as possible when you could spend a lazy morning at it?

So in the spirit of slow lovin’, send us your clip art books and bordertape. Or better yet, figure out how to use them yourself and step back from computerizing every last bit of your life.

Action: the antidote for despair – stepping out, healing the climate . . . and our lives

The climate change protest in San Francisco on November 30, 2009 — a coordinated global protest prior to the Copenhagen UN Climate conference — was more heartwarming than I had anticipated. It was a little hard dragging myself out of my routine and to the protest, and at first the chanting and signs felt forced and ritualized, but in the end the action succeeded and I left feeling energized. The climate crisis — rising greenhouse gas emissions, etc. — feel so overwhelming and disempowering. When you’re considering going to a protest like this, it seems utterly hopeless to believe that a few hundred people with signs in San Francisco could make any difference at all. Why waste time with the effort?

But there is something mysterious about actually participating in activism vs. just thinking about it. On paper, trying to change really complex, massive structures seems hopeless, but in practice, it feels one hell of a lot better to at least try something than to just give up. We marched down Market Street and to the Bank of America high-rise tower. My friend Kristi asked “why the B of A?” and it was a really good question. They are one corporation amongst thousands, all trying to maximize profits and willing to sacrifice the climate and the earth in the process. Like many others, they have lobbied against strong action on climate and for false solutions (clean coal, biofuels), and they invest in all kinds of disastrous activities. This are hardly unique.

But when we got there, the real reason became obvious. It really helps to personalize the struggle, if only to a huge concrete office tower. We rushed and blockaded the doors and even though it was just another symbolic protest — requiring a paragraph to link to the actual issues, which themselves require several paragraphs to explain — the action made the underlying conflict easy to understand. Confused business men tried to get through the door, and the looks on their faces were priceless. You could see the clash of worldviews. Are money and status, routine and order our real goal in this life? Or do our lives connect to something much deeper, which ultimately relates to the health of the planet that made our lives possible in the first place?

I’ve been to so many of these types of protests before — there is a certain routine and you can easily get jaded. But this time I didn’t feel like that at all. To the contrary, my regular life of going to work etc. has been making me feel bored and stuck. This feeling of the streets — the riot cops, the community struggling together, the closeness of being with other people willing to stand up whether it makes any damn difference or not — it felt strangely real, intense and sharp, as opposed to so much of normal life which feels like an illusion in slow motion.

We very thoroughly although briefly shut down that building and brought joyful chaos to the corporate canyons. Dancing and color and silliness and live music made the grim seriousness and “adultness” of the businessmen and the police look absurd. And it was impressive how few people it took to create such a big disruption — business as usual in a dense, modern, industrialized system is fragile and already right on the edge of collapse into chaos, requiring just a tiny push.

But I have no illusions. A tiny action like this alone can’t change the course of events. To do so will require a much broader popular uprising and a fundamental re-organization of the values and priorities that structure how things work.

What I think we accomplished was perhaps a tiny step in that direction. While maybe the people in power didn’t hear our protest, actually getting out in the streets changed those of us who participated. Maybe that change in mood, outlook and spirit can be infectious, spreading to those we’re connected to, and gradually moving the spirit of the whole community from one of resignation and depression to the kind of courage, inspiration and hopefulness we need to turn things around.

When I think back to my own life, I realize that what “normal” people consider success — getting ahead in terms of status and acquiring a bunch of possessions — is really on a fundamental level failure. It’s a failure to realize what is important and put that realization into action by living for the things that actually matter, which aren’t material things. Meaning is about experiences, relationships and having mental and emotional space to be aware of life going on around you. So many “successful” people forget to stop and notice their lives, and in the process they miss the whole thing.

Since what “normal” people consider success is really failure, then for us to achieve success on a human level may mean that we’re considered failures on a social and economic level. All the stuff you’re supposed to do — achieve status, secure material comfort — you risk giving up if you take pursuing a meaningful life seriously. If you really go for it and put your heart into alternatives to this dying system, it means giving up the types of comfort it has to offer in favor of pleasures that are off the grid.

One thing I noticed about the November 30 protest was how small it was. The organizers picked November 30 because it was the 10th anniversary of the huge protests that shut down the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999. I was in Seattle for the WTO protest and it was one of the hugest, most inspirational uprisings imaginable. “Normal” life was completely displaced by a massive demand for a future beyond more economic growth. But N30 in 2009 didn’t carry on the spirit of Seattle.

Looking around at the few dozen protesters dwarfed by the thousands of workers and shoppers in downtown San Francisco, my friend Sandi and I wondered why the climate crisis didn’t draw a bigger outpouring of concern. In fact, if the global climate significantly changes, disrupting all ecosystems on earth as well as all human societies which ultimately fundamentally depend on natural agricultural production, the climate crisis will make injustice related to globalization and the WTO look like small potatoes.

Something about the enormity of climate change is throwing people into a sense of defeat or denial — the problem is so overwhelming that we’re becoming paralyzed. Perhaps it’s because we’re all tied to climate change — we’re all responsible because there’s no way to exist in our society without constantly consuming fossil fuels. Do people feel that since they’re “unpure,” they can’t demand alternatives to fossil fuels? Are we unsure we’re ready for a fundamental transition which may up-end the privilege to which we’ve grown accustomed as members of rich, developed countries?

Or perhaps we’re numb because climate change is a long-term problem and a gradual process. Psychologically, we’re better able to react to sudden and dramatic disasters like the earthquake in Haiti than to creeping catastrophes. Perhaps the very vastness of the danger itself makes effective action difficult — the human brain can understand a specific problem like a sick cat or a traffic accident, but tends to zone out when it tries to think about millions of species going extinct because of the millions tons of CO2 people add to the atmosphere each day. Our minds haven’t evolved to really understand millions or billions or trillions.

A better understanding of the psychology of climate change is desperately needed. Hopefully some smart radical psychology folks are working on this right now . . .

Just two weeks after the November 30 protest, the UN Climate change talks in Copenhagen ended in failure. But even the most optimistic goals of the UN conference would probably have been a failure. The governments at Copenhagen — all tied to and representing economic and political elites — were pushing gradual, market-based, essentially business friendly solutions.

Given the limited choice between denialism/inaction on one hand and gradual, modest, sensible, “adult” reform on the other, we’re still generally at a stage of denial and paralysis.

It is still up to the people on the streets — the people who aren’t sensible, who aren’t tied into the realistic institutions of power, who aren’t burdened by success — to try to figure out a third way. This isn’t necessarily a new technology or a new political coalition or a new tactic or even a new set of values or ways of thinking — it may be so big as to be hard to recognize now when we’re in the middle of it. When people sort it out (or fail to do so) future historians will give it a name.

We have to create these new ideas — this transition — from scratch and put it on the table ourselves from outside the established channels. The structures of power and the status quo maintain their control by marginalizing any sense that people can define our own priorities and our own future. They like to pick the options — multiple choice, not essay.

Direct action in the streets — getting off your computer and out of your living room and outside your comfortable peer group of friends — isn’t just a tactic or a tool to pressure the outside world. Direct action is most important because of what it teaches us and how it changes us. It nourishes us, gives us courage, gives us hope and helps us see that there are options beyond the “objective” and “realistic” ones we can see before we step over the line. Something about actually participating and doing — not just thinking or discussing — is key. It feels almost hopeless to write this because you really have to experience it yourself in your own life to know what I mean.

And of course direct action isn’t the only way to acquire these insights. The direct action scene has its own pitfalls and limitations, and can devolve into its own isolated peer group.

Everyone in this society — from us to the people who work for banks and industries — have a range of choices. We can all be held accountable for looking at the climate and the future and changing, or figuring out how to try to maintain the status quo.

After Copenhagen, it is unclear what the next step will be — not just to regular people, but to the people “in charge” who organized Copenhagen. The sense of inaction, paralysis, and denial are in themselves powerful — they hide building social, ecological and psychological pressure, like a huge spring winding up and getting tighter. The tighter you wind a spring, the more energy it stores up waiting for release.

Trying to turn away or go about our business as if we can’t see what is happening isn’t a long-term solution. We all know that our planet is endangered and sagging under the weight of too much industry, too many emissions, and too many human beings always wanting more more more stuff.

I’m looking forward to the next climate change protest. On a good day, I’m feeling less afraid and less discouraged. I’m hopeful that staying engaged with what’s really important and connected to other people with similar awareness will give us all the inspiration to create something different and sustainable.

Liquefied natural gas – PG&E Misdirect: The wrong Bet – Jordan Cover and Our Future In Energy

As non-renewable resources that are already becoming more difficult to exploit, fossil fuels are a doomed technology, and will gradually become more expensive as supplies dwindle until they finally run out. Aside from the supply question, burning fossil fuels adds carbon to the atmosphere, causing potentially devastating climate change. With these fatal defects in mind, it is particularly outrageous that Slingshot’s local utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), is moving forward with participation in a $2.2 billion dollar investment for a liquefied natural gas terminal and pipeline in Oregon. The proposed Jordan Cove terminal and the Pacific Connector pipeline will divert money that could be used to build renewable energy sources (like wind and solar) and will instead lock us into fossil fuel dependence for decades to come. There’s still time to stop this shortsighted fossil fuel investment and in so doing, attack the thinking that is behind similar projects world-wide. At this moment in history, energy investments should be for alternative technology, not more of the same fossil foolishness.

Think Globally, Struggle Locally

On December 17, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — which has sole jurisdiction over the project and can trump local or state opposition — approved Jordan Cove and the Pacific connector pipeline by a 3 to 1 vote. PG&E are investing in the $1.2 billion pipeline, which will take years to complete. As proposed, the project would be capable of moving a billion cubic feet of natural gas daily from transnational tankers docking in Coos Bay, Oregon, through a 230 mile pipeline through Southern Oregon, and to customers in California, Nevada and the Pacific Northwest. Building the pipeline will require disruption of sensitive forest and water ecosystems along the route, leveling a total of 2,000 acres. The governor of Oregon, the SF Board of Supervisors, as well as folks near Coos Bay, all oppose the project. The project would be PG&E’s first use of imported Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), a technology for moving and trading natural gas worldwide, the way oil is currently traded.

As described in more detail in Slingshot #95, natural gas is widely distributed around the planet. Currently, most natural gas is drilled relatively close to where it is used and then moved by pipeline. Current pipelines can’t easily move gas across oceans. Because the US has used huge amounts of natural gas over the last several decades, and because US gas use continues to increase, the big gas users (like electric utilities, which use about a third of US gas supplies to generate electricity) are worried that local supplies may eventually become scarce and more expensive. In the US, new gas drilling often uses more complex and expensive technology like “fracing”–pumping water under high pressure to the bottom of a well in order to fracture rock formations and release trapped gas supplies.

Meanwhile, there are huge, cheap gas supplies offshore in places like Peru, Russia, Algeria, Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Trinidad and Tobago. By super cooling gas to minus 259 degrees Fahrenheit, it can be liquefied so it can be loaded onto specially designed LNG ships and moved around like oil. When the gas is liquefied, it only takes up 1/600th the space it takes in a gaseous form.

Liquefying natural gas is expensive and uses massive amounts of energy, adding about 20 percent to the carbon footprint of LNG vs. traditional natural gas. While natural gas is considered a “green fuel” when compared to coal, burning gas still releases carbon. Burning coal releases 770-830 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity, vs. 480-560 grams of CO2 per kwh for LNG and 400 grams of CO2 per kwh for regular natural gas.

Each LNG liquefication plants costs $1-3 billion, and each import terminal costs $500 million to $1 billion. This is of course money that could be spent on alternatives to burning gas in the first place, such as windmills or solar powerplants. LNG enables utilities to continue burning gas, rather than developing alternatives, even when local supplies are depleted to the extent that prices begin to rise. In fact, it is just such fossil fuel price increases (associated with depleted supplies) that make more expensive alternative energy sources look economically viable over the long-term. LNG short-circuits this gradual and automatic economic process.

PG&E currently has enough gas to meet demand. Their investment in the $1.2 billion Pacific Connector pipeline is a long-term bet on the future. And it’s the wrong bet — a bet on several more decades of generating most electricity using climate-changing fossil fuels, not zero emissions sources such as solar and wind. Because PG&E is a privately owned utility, its 15 million customers have no direct way to stop this decision — widespread and continuing public protest and pressure from Berkeley to Coos Bay, Oregon is our only hope.

Alternatives

PG&E wants to portray itself as a leader in alternative energy and their advertising is constantly emphasizing their investments in wind and solar technology. And in fact, PG&E is investing in a very promising solar thermal electrical generation project in the Mojave Desert — the Ivanpah project that is to be built by Oakland-based Brightsource Energy.

Unlike rooftop photovoltaic solar panels, which use high-tech materials to turn sun light directly into electricity, solar thermal harnesses heat from the sun to make steam, which turns turbines to generate electricity much like in a fossil-fueled powerplant. Solar thermal is potentially much cheaper and more efficient than photovoltaic panels, which are very expensive per kilowatt hour and which have a very low efficiency rate (i.e. the percent of the sun’s energy falling on the panel that is actually converted into electricity is low.)

In a solar thermal plant, mirrors focus sun on pipes containing liquid (sometimes water, but the liquid can also be a heat transfer chemical that can be heated hotter than water’s boiling point). Heat transfer liquid can potentially be heated to several hundred degrees Fahrenheit. While the Brightsource plant will only produce power when there is light to heat water, solar thermal plants that use a liquid other than water can super heat liquids that can be stored in tanks for use whenever electricity is needed — day or night.

It’s worth explaining how solar thermal works because not all alternative energy technologies are equal — each has its own problems and advantages. It may make sense to argue against some alternative technologies if they are particularly expensive or ecologically toxic. Just like LNG can eat up billions that could otherwise be invested in alternative energy, money put into less efficient alternative energy technologies isn’t available for the better ones. If we’re going to argue against using particular energy technologies like LNG, nuclear power, biofuels, etc, it is helpful if we can argue for alternative ways to generate electricity.

I’m particularly excited about solar thermal technology because it is relatively simple (and potentially cheap) and because there is a lot of sun available in a lot of places. But even solar thermal can be problematic since the mirrors take up space in desert areas that are usually extremely environmentally fragile. If utilities eventually build a lot of solar thermal plants, it’s important they be built on land that’s already been disturbed and in ways that allow for environmental recuperation. Sadly, humans have disturbed and destroyed a lot of land.

At the moment, fossil fuel production and combustion are the biggest threats to the environment. PG&E and other utilities are spending billions on protecting their access to fossil fuels for the long-term. Meanwhile, solar, wind and other alternatives get pennies.

For more information, check out www.PacificEnvironment.org.

Real action on climate, not false solutions – protest the COP in Copenhagen

This fall should see massive global protests to pressure government bureaucrats and their corporate opportunist masters to get serious about taking steps to decrease human emissions of global warming gasses. There are protests planned to precede and coincide with the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Copenhagen, Denmark December 7-18 — a crucial world meeting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that is struggling to negotiate a successor treaty to the expiring (and failed) Kyoto Protocol. There will also be a few scattered protests aimed at the hugely flawed greenhouse emissions / climate laws currently working their way through Congress.

But as I write this article, it seems fairly unlikely that there will be protests and resistance at a level anywhere close to the scale of the danger, although it doesn’t have to be like that. Right now, human society is on a path that goes over a cliff — consuming and developing thoughtlessly, competing instead of cooperating, and using up the earth’s finite resources and ability to absorb pollution at an alarming rate. Continuing greenhouse gas emissions at the present rate will cause a climate catastrophe. These emissions are already causing the largest species extinction in world history. And yet instead of building alternative energy infrastructure or learning to use less, the world is building new coal fired power plants every week.

There is a different path available. Many people are working on figuring out the social, cultural and technological details for a new direction in which humans don’t live our lives at the expense of our future and the rest of the environment’s health. Humans are part of the world’s ecosystem — we are not above it or separate from it. When our day-to-day lives depend on killing the earth, we’re really killing ourselves.

It is easy to figure “well, we’re fucked — there is no way to turn this ocean-liner around in time”, and use that as a comfortable excuse to stay disengaged. But this cop-out won’t work in the long-term. Psychologically, it means you have to use more and more emotional energy on denial and justification — avoiding the signs that are increasingly all around us that something is seriously wrong. Wouldn’t it be easier to face the unpleasant facts and rather than turning away, overcome our fears and paralysis by getting engaged in addressing the root of the problem?

It is up to all of us — as individuals, as members of the activist community, and as conscious beings who are part of the natural world around us — to cut through the fog, the sense of resignation, disempowerment and frustration — and figure out how we can go down a different path. If human societies don’t change course soon and figure out a way to maintain the ecological balance on the planet from which we evolved, all the stuff we spend our days working on and worrying about isn’t going to matter.

It is amazing how easily the brewing climate catastrophe can get lost in a blizzard of concerns and problems: the economic crisis, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, health care reform, gay marriage — the list goes on. And for most people, it can be hard enough just to get through the day on a personal level — juggling work, family and a million other things while trying to carve out some time for freedom and pleasure.

Somehow, we have to figure out a way to put decreasing greenhouse gas emissions on the front burner and keep it there to demand real action, not the false solutions, greenwashing, and gradualism leading to non-action that is the current reality. Protests in the streets and grassroots organizing are the key — the mainstream economic and political systems are incapable of changing paths because they created the emissions-dependent world and their power is utterly dependent on maintaining it.

It is becoming more obvious how the outdated structures of power that are killing the planet are the same structures that require inequality, oppression, violence and misery. There’s room to make connections and move the struggle forward across a broad front while not losing sight of the reality that if we lose the environment, our species is going to go down with it.

A Call to Climate Action

Numerous groups are calling for coordinated, global protests during the international climate change meeting in Copenhagen Dec. 7 – 18 . The COP meets once a year and includes government officials from 189 countries plus 10,000 official observers — corporate lobbyists and representatives from mainstream non-governmental organizations.

While theoretically United Nations conferences like Copenhagen could coordinate a global plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in reality they are like a World Trade Organization applied to greenhouse gas emissions. Elites — whether from the developed world, major corporations, or the third world — prioritize figuring out new, perverse ways to profit from greenhouse gas emissions reducton. Actually reducing emissions is in the backseat, almost an afterthought. The Copenhagen process favors top-down, corporate solutions that permit business as usual — with resulting inequality and profit — to continue with as little disruption as possible.

The most popular corporate solution to global warming is creating a global emissions trading system in which industries in rich countries could continue emissions as usual in exchange for paying someone else who claims to have reduced emissions for “credits” to pollute. The key assumption behind such initiatives is that the most important goal is maintaining constant economic growth, and that emissions reductions are a laudable goal as long as they can be achieved without hurting growth. But this thinking gets it backwards — the endless pursuit of economic growth on a finite planet is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place.

A key aspect of Copenhagen-related protests will be to outline the difference between real actions to address greenhouse gas emissions and false solutions. A real emissions reduction means fossil fuels are left in the ground and not burned — either because alternative energy sources are found or because the energy isn’t required in the first place. A false solution is a solution that allows a particular industry, technology or nation to continue to burn precisely the same fossil fuels as before, or even increase emissions, and yet pat themselves on the back because they’ve used accounting methods to show an emissions reduction. You would think such absurd numerical trickery would be laughed out of the room and recognized as an Emperor With No Clothes, until you realized that this is the primary mainstream response to the climate crisis.

While some people are going to Copenhagen to protest there, the best advice seems to be to avoid international travel and do something in your own community. In Copenhagen, there is likely to be a diversity of tactics ranging from polite lobbying and street protests, all the way to militant direct action to shut down the meeting and symbols of outmoded CO2 emissions, such as local coal-fired electricity plants. Protests in the USA are likely to be along similar lines with tiny actions in smaller places and grander actions in population centers. You can get involved in planning and participating in these actions.

As Slingshot goes to press in mid-September, it is not a good sign that there are currently very few specific times, dates and places being proposed for decentralized actions. That means there’s a lot of room for folks to get involved and make something happen. It might also mean that not much is going to happen unless someone gets up and organizes something soon. You don’t have to wait for someone else to call for an action — you and your friends can do it yourselves. Check the end of this article for links to some of the radical climate action groups.

350 parts per million

To build up momentum for the Copenhagen meeting, the 350.org group founded by early climate visionary Bill McKibben is calling for decentralized, global actions on October 24. 350.org likes visible, symbolic protests — many spelling out the number 350 — that can be photographed and emailed into a central website. 350 refers to the maximum number of parts per million of carbon dioxide that scientists believe can be in the atmosphere without leading to disastrous climate change. The 350.org folks like it because it is a simple message for people to rally around — not proposing precisely how to cut emissions, but just trying to set a target for CO2.

Currently, there are 390 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere — up from around 280 ppm before the industrial revolution. The number increases every year as more and more fossil fuels are burned to sustain the current of form of human social organization. While the Kyoto Protocol was designed to cut emissions to 1990 levels (which were already too high), emissions have instead gone up and up and up since Kyoto went into effect. Despite all the Al Gore movies and speeches and billboards, emissions have not been reduced. To the contrary, the growing demand for more stuff by a growing world population is being met in the first world as well as in the third world by relying almost exclusively on fossil fuels.

To reduce the CO2 concentration to less than 350 ppm would require much less fossil fuel combustion going forward, rather than the current expansion of fossil fuel use. Over time, natural processes such as plant growth can remove some of the CO2 already in the atmosphere if humans would stop adding more. In the US, 40 percent of CO2 emissions are from burning coal, oil and natural gas to generate electricity — 83 percent of that is from coal. This could be the easiest area to dramatically cut emissions, since alternative technologies to generate electricity already exist and the fossil fuel combustion for electricity are concentrated in a relatively small number of huge facilities.

The 350.org website already lists over 1,000 protest plans in over 100 countries spanning the globe, so many people can plug into these actions. According to their website, there will be “school children planting 350 trees in Bangledesh, scientists hanging banners saying 350 on the statues on Easter Island, 350 scuba divers diving underwater at the Great Barrier Reef.”

350.org is not a radical group in that they don’t have an anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian analysis — they don’t connect the climate crisis with the many forms of oppression associated with the current order. But to their credit, they are highly critical of the pathetic lack of action by governments and corporations regarding greenhouse emissions and climate change. They seem to understand the distractions and greenwashing that is going on and realize that fundamental change is necessary which can only come from grassroots action. According to their call to action, “This is even more important than changing your lightbulb–this is your chance to help change the way the whole world operates.” They organize public events on a global scale so it makes sense to check their website, find the closest action, and join in.

False solutions — business as usual

To set the stage for the Copenhagen meeting, the US Congress is trying to pass an emissions trading bill known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES, H.R.2454 or the Waxman-Markey Bill). While other developed countries have had global warming laws for the past few years, this would be the first US law aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The bill would seek to require a 17 percent emissions reduction from 2005 levels for a variety of greenhouse gases (chiefly CO2) by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. It also requires electrical utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and a few other odds and ends like electrical grid modernization, more electric cars and energy efficient buildings and appliance mandates.

The key to the emissions reductions is to create a “cap-and-trade” system. The government would create emissions credits which would give their owner a right to emit a particular amount of CO2. Over time, the number of credits would decrease. The idea is that the invisible hand of the market would determine how these emissions reductions would happen. A business holding a bunch of credits could reduce their own emissions and then they could sell the extra credits they didn’t need to use for their own emissions, taking the proceeds to help pay for costs associated with cutting their emissions. Or, if it was cheaper for a particular company to buy credits for emissions rather than reducing their own emissions, they could do that. Theoretically, such a system would mean that the cheapest emissions reductions would be made first, and the most expensive would be made last. A similar system was successful in reducing acid rain pollution that is created when high sulfer coal is burned.

The ACES is a timid business give-away. A 17 percent reductions target by 2020 is an extremely modest goal given the scale of the problem and is hard to take a distant 2050 goal very seriously. Under the bill, the government would give out 85% of the credits to various corporations and utilities for free and have an auction for the remaining 15 percent. To the extent the credits can be sold, this means the government gives away billions to heavy greenhosue gas emissions. Moreover, it means companies can make money selling credits for adopting emissions reducing technologies they would have done anyway. Such programs are prone to speculation, difficult to enforce, and legitimize the fossil fueled status quo.

Look for more timid, corporate welfare plans like this in Copenhagen, except applied on a global scale. A key flaw in transnational emissions trading schemes is that rich, developed countries buy credits so they can continue to emit pollution from sellers who are “reducing” emissions in dubious ways. For instance, there are already documented cases in which Europeans (who currently have cap-and-trade) have bought credits from third world projects that would have been built anyway.

A different path

Corporations and the governments that serve them aren’t going to bring us a lower emissions, ecologically sustainable world. There’s no money to be made nor bureacratic systems to expand when people reject the basic goals and values of the industrial age and realize that life is about engagement with ourselves, our surroundings and others, not owning and using stuff. The systems threatening climate catastrophe are the same systems that treat human beings as objects to be controlled, manipulated and used. In fact, a corporation treats people and the environment with a similar disregard: a tree is a natural resource while a person is a human resource.

Going down a more ecologically sustainable path isn’t just about protests and rejecting particular government plans or learning ways to consume less and installing alternative technologies to replace fossil fuels, although some of these changes may be steps along the way. People are going to have to engage each other and find solutions outside of media channels controled by corporations and the state — on the streets and in local communities. The protests this fall can be (with your help) a modest first step.

For more info, contact: www.climate-justice-action.org, www.risingtidenorthamerica.org

Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act – Overbroad, Overreaching, overboard – we’re over it

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) is a dramatic example of how industry groups are using the rhetoric of the War on Terror to attack activists who protest business activities. For most people, the term “terrorism” refers to injuring or killing human beings in particular contexts — perhaps blowing up a car bomb or flying an airplane into an office tower. To be a “terrorist” under AETA — and guilty of a felony — you don’t need to hurt or kill anyone. You can be guilty under AETA just for planning activities “for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise” (as defined in the law) — even if those activities are otherwise entirely legal.

On its face, it is clear that AETA was drafted by industry groups to target activists who have protested the animal industry. It appears to focus on protest tactics that industry found particularly annoying — or effective. Should activists trespass, damage property, or injure an individual, they could be arrested under regular laws that prohibit those acts, with penalties related to the seriousness of the crime. For example, simple trespassing is not a felony. The only rationale for AETA is to turn protest tactics that would otherwise be legal, or minor offenses, into felonies — while seeking to demonize activists by erroneously labeling these protest tactics as “terrorism.”

AETA is peculiar because it only targets protest activities against “animal enterprises.” Thus, activities that would be criminalized by AETA would be entirely legal if the target was an oil company, weapons manufacturer, or abortion clinic — just so long as they don’t in any way connect to a very broadly defined “animal enterprise.” This begs the question of whether each social movement will eventually get its own “terrorism” bill — drafted by industry lobbyists — to protect each particular industry against the most effective protest tactics employed by its critics. How about the Lumber Enterprise Terrorism Act to criminalize tree-sitting, the Mountaintop Removal Terrorism Act or the Freeway Expansion Terrorism Act?

To understand just how absurd AETA is, it is helpful to look at the precise language of the law and how the “terrorism” label on the surface of the act isn’t matched by any “terrorism” in the actual law.

The law states:

Whoever . . . (1) for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise; and (2) in connection with such purpose:

(A) intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise, or any real or personal property of a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transaction with an animal enterprise;

(B) intentionally places a person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to that person, a member of the immediate family (as defined in section 115) of that person, or a spouse or intimate partner of that person by a course of conduct involving threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, criminal trespass, harassment, or intimidation; or

(C) conspires or attempts to do so;

shall be punished as provided for in subsection (b).

Sub-section (C) is the loosest part the law and the most subject to government abuse since it makes it a felony just to “attempt” to interfere with an animal enterprise, or to conspire to interfere where the plan involves a violation of (A) or (B). To understand how little is required to violate AETA, one has to understand conspiracy law. Under the law, it appears that anyone “conspiring” to “interfere with the operations” of any of the “animal enterprises” where the plan involved any of the acts in (A) or (B) could be labeled a terrorist and guilty of a felony. A conspiracy can involve as little as entering into an agreement with one other person with one “overt act” (which can be totally legal, i.e. making a flier) taken to further the “conspiracy”. You don’t have to actually do an action to be guilty of conspiracy.

Since conspiracy is such a flexible charge, it is hard to say what might result in charges under the law. Would agreeing to engage in petty vandalism like spray-painting at an industry conference be conspiracy to damage property to interfere with an animal industry? Would agreeing to trespass in front of a circus in a symbolic act of civil disobedience be conspiracy to interfere with the circus, and thus be defined as terrorism? What about if you’re involved with a group that organizes a protest and someone you don’t even know damages property? What about making signs for a home demonstration against a vivisector where the resident claims to be terrified?

While sub-section (C) is the worst part of the law, sub-sections (A) and (B) aren’t much better. Both criminalize legal acts, very minor infractions, or conduct so subjective and in the eye of the beholder that it is impossible to know what might be illegal under AETA.

Under sub-section (A), any action intended to interfere with an animal enterprise is a felony if “in connection with such purpose” the defendant “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property.” While intentionally damaging property sounds scary and bad, the language of the law is very vague. Presumably, pasting a sticker on a window during a demonstration would be an “intentional damage” to property. Or painting graffiti. Or petty vandalism. If these acts were prosecuted without AETA, they might be punishable by a fine or community service, if they were prosecuted at all. But under AETA, they become a terrorist act because of the intentions (the thoughts) of the activists doing them. Under the conspiracy portion of AETA, a whole group of people who planned a symbolic action that incidentally resulted in minor property damage could be prosecuted on federal charges as terrorists.

The penalty section of AETA links the severity of the criminal penalty with the level of “economic damage” or harm associated with a particular AETA violation, ranging from a year in jail to life in prison. The severity of the punishment hinges in part on whether a particular action “instills in another the reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or death” — a vague and potentially subjective standard as to what is “reasonable” fear. The definition of the term “economic damage” is geared right towards what industry cares about most: the bottom line. “[T]he term ‘economic damage’ (A) means the replacement costs of lost or damages property or records, the costs of repeating an interrupted or invalidated experiment, the loss of profits, or increased costs, including losses and increased costs resulting from threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, trespass, harassment, or intimidation taken against a person or entity on account of that person’s or entity’s connection to, relationship with, or transactions with the animal enterprise.”

Under sub-section (B), intentionally placing a person in “reasonable fear” “by a course of conduct involving threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, criminal trespass, harassment, or intimidation” for the purpose of “interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise” is illegal. The “course of conduct” language is vague because it mixes illegal acts with undefined and potentially free speech activities. One person’s “harassment” is another person’s persistent protest campaign. Most of the illegal “course of conduct” acts — vandalism, trespassing — would be minor infractions, not felonies, but for AETA. The government can already prosecute activists for vandalism or trespassing under existing laws, with penalties fitting the seriousness (or lack of seriousness) of the crime.

None of the acts prohibited under subsections (A), (B), or (C) rise to the level of terrorism because none of the prohibited acts involve physical violence against anyone — none of the sub-sections involve the injury or death of anyone. Which raises the question: why does AETA use the word terrorism? Perhaps to scare the public and to smear activists? Why does the government need AETA in the first place if acts like property destruction, vandalism, trespassing and violence against individuals are already illegal? Because it is designed to prosecute activists who can’t be prosecuted for an actual crime? And why does the law only go after activists who protest “animal enterprises”? Because animal industry lobbyists wanted to portray animal protesters as somehow scarier than other activists, and they had the political muscle to get the law passed?

The definition of “animal enterprise” in the law is particularly instructive. The law defines it as:

(A) a commercial or academic enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products for profit, food or fiber production, agriculture, education, research or testing;

(B) a zoo, aquarium, animal shelter, pet store, breeder, furrier, circus, or rodeo, or other lawful competitive animal event; or

(C) any fair or similar event intended to advance agriculture arts and sciences.

The list, undoubtedly written by industry lobbyists, is a neat summary of American animal rights protest actions over the last 30 years. Animal rights activists have protested fur farms, zoos, rodeos, factory farms, animal research labs, and national conferences like the annual Bio-industry conference. The intent presumably has always been to interfere with business operations that exploit non-human animals, and in fact to shut down businesses to the extent they exploit animals.

When AETA was enacted in 2007, it was widely criticized as overbroad. Now with the February 20, 2009 arrest of four California animal rights activists and the March 5th arrest of William “BJ” Viehl and Alex Hall in Utah, AETA is getting its first test in real world conditions. The government’s use of AETA against the AETA4 demonstrates the key problems with the entire law. The indictment filed March 12 charges that the four engaged in a conspiracy to interfere with animal enterprises by intentionally attempting to place protected individuals in fear. None of the four are charged with any crime other than the AETA charge — none are charged with trespassing, vandalism or hurting anyone. Under the government’s theory, the AETA4 are somehow “terrorists” even in the absence of any involvement in a violent act. The AETA4 case is a dangerous over-extension of government power and a reckless misuse of the term “terrorist.” It should be exposed.

For info on the Utah AETA case, visit supportbjandalex.com

Economic disaster is no match for people’s spirit and self-organizing

Economic dislocation and pain has always given rise to creative forms of protest, direct action and rebellion. Right now, the French are showing the way with a wave of “boss-nappings” — when the boss tries to close a factory or layoff workers, the workers lock managers inside and won’t let them leave until demands for better severance pay are met. But outrage has been overflowing all over from unrest in Bolivia to Greek farmers blocking roads to riots in Vladivostok, Russia, and clashes with police in Reykjavik, Iceland. At the recent G20 protest in London, hundreds of people smashed the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The US has a powerful history of action during hard economic times — from general strikes to bread riots to widespread squatting that occurred during the depression in the 1930s. And while protest in the US often lags behind the rest of the world these days, things haven’t been totally boring in the USA. There have been marches on Wall Street and in Chicago, 300 members of the United Electrical workers seized their factory in December to protest its closing.

Given that recessions are part of capitalism’s normal functioning, it isn’t always clear whether popular uprisings inspired by economic pain can go beyond purely reformist and limited goals. While it is encouraging to see more people in the streets and less respect for bosses, corporations, and authority, it makes no sense to demand “jobs,” “more economic activity” or “more money” out of precisely the same system that has let us down. The recession is causing pain for people precisely because the economy has so much power over people’s lives — demanding that the system start working “better” so it can even further dominate our lives makes no sense.

Protests related to an economic downturn risk being myopic — addressing symptoms, but not causes, and seeking crumbs, not the whole pie. But popular eruptions don’t have to be so short-sighted.

How can we seize on capitalism’s current self-inflicted wounds — widening tiny cracks into huge breaches in its rotten facade? In the last issue of Slingshot, I suggested that the recession creates opportunities for people to build alternative economic structures outside the capitalist system that can enable us to live more sustainably during the recession and after it is over. These alternative structures can replace competition, consumption, and privatization with cooperation, sharing, and a broad re-evaluation of what we really need to make us happy and free.

The other opportunities opened by the economic collapse are exciting chances to mount direct attacks on the structures of capitalism, industrialization, and hierarchy that create and sustain material inequality and misery, and that — in the process — are wreaking devastation on the environment. Right now millions of people see banks, the stock market, and the dog-eat-dog economy as the problem, not the solution.

A boss-napping in France that forces a company to pay an extra three months severance is ultimately not very threatening to capitalism. The workers are still accepting their status as workers and the bosses’ right to own the factory and close it if they like. The extra wages can be factored in as a cost of doing business. The manager taken hostage is usually just another paid employee of a big corporation — not all that close to the people who are really in charge. Such an action fails to question the flaws in the system that run deeper than a periodic downturn leading to some layoffs, business failures and foreclosures. How can such actions be put in a broader context and make wider demands?

Even when the capitalist economy is booming and consumption is growing, all the hours spent at work, new products to buy, and technological improvements leave us poorer in the things that really matter. When the economy is healthy, we are robbed of our time to invest in relationships and community. A world in which all our needs are increasingly met through the market — rather than voluntarily by other people around us — replaces meaning, depth and intimacy with distraction, superficial interactions, and loneliness.

The gross domestic product grows as more and more people eat highly processed food transported over great distances, and fewer and fewer people have the time to grow their own food in a garden and sit with friends cooking a slow supper. The mainstream assumption that more money, consumption and higher production improves the “standard of living” or human happiness is absurd — based on manufactured misunderstandings about what really matters.

This recession is perhaps the first major economic collapse since society has become fully aware of the environmental consequences of capitalism’s model of limitless economic growth. During the Great Depression, it was clear that capitalism led to economic inequality, arbitrary displacement and misery. Capitalism meant millions would live alienated, meaningless lives based on mechanistic consumption and production, rather than humanistic pursuits of freedom, joy and beauty. In the 1930s, the scale of world capitalism and the state of environmental awareness made it difficult to understand capitalism’s even more dramatic flaw: a model that requires limitless growth cannot coexist with a finite planet.

The subprime mortgage recession of 2008 — or whatever future generations may eventually call these times — is occurring within a far different context. Now, perhaps the chief indictment against the system is on environmental grounds. The idea of restoring the economy to “normal” becomes even more sinister when one considers the health of the world’s ecosystems.

Will the failures of the capitalist economy beyond temporary layoffs be on trial during this long, hot summer of discontent? Can a factory occupation demand not just severance pay, but that the factory be turned over to its workers rather than closed? And once we own the factory, will we redirect its function away from producing limitlessly for profit and consumerism, and towards manufacturing things we actually need in a way that doesn’t undermine our ability to live on a fragile planet? Or will we decide we don’t need factories and the stuff they make at all?

Militant tactics like wildcat strikes, bread riots and neighborhood eviction defense contain within them very important seeds for a different world. Each of these actions represents people alone or in groups stepping outside the dream world of the system — a world of consumers and spectators powerless to control their own lives. To the contrary, when you’re in the streets, you are a full participant in history, not a passive observer. You’re helping to determine what will happen next and how social institutions shall be organized or transformed.

Raise the pressure – cutting emissions in the kitchen

I keep having moments when I really appreciate the quiet wisdom of my mom. She grew up in modest economic circumstances in the 1940s and 50s as the daughter of a farm manager and so she learned all kinds of do-it-yourself skills and techniques that people now are trying to recapture. Nowadays, many of us are trying to figure out ways to live more simply and use fewer resources in response to a global ecosystem brought to its knees by the over-consumption of advanced industrial capitalism. My mom’s 4-H skills were just her being practical — but they are like a time capsule of hints at how people used to live just fine with a lot less ecological destruction.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been learning to cook with a pressure cooker — something you don’t see much anymore but something my mom always did.

If you want to cook beans, doing so without a pressure cooker uses much more energy. It can take 3-4 hours to adequately cook black beans in a pot — 3-4 hours that your gas or electric stove is spewing emissions into the atmosphere. With a pressure cooker, it takes 20 minutes, i.e. only 20 minutes of emissions. Garbanzo beans — which are notoriously difficult to cook on the stovetop — are an even more dramatic example. Just 25 minutes in the pressure cooker. This is because water boils at a hotter temperature when it is under pressure, so the food cooks significantly faster.

So here’s my rough how-to guide, because when I started using a pressure cooker, I was a bit lost. This is just for beans or vegetables because I’m vegetarian — let me know what you learn about other stuff.

1. First, you have to find one. Check second hand stores — there are a lot of them around not getting used. You need a weight for the top that fits with the one you buy. It has to have a rubber seal around the lid so be careful the rubber still looks good. There is also a pressure relief plug to avoid explosions — make sure it hasn’t blown out. I would suggest testing a new one carefully to make sure it won’t blow up on you — heat it carefully in an empty kitchen and keep hands clear and eyes protected during the test. If it survives the test, you can cook calmly. Or you could buy one new.

2. For beans, you cover them with at least twice the amount of water as beans, if not more. It still helps to pre-soak beans but you don’t have to. It can be fun to first soak, and then sprout the beans for a day for extra-woo woo health benefits. Be careful about putting too many beans in — they expand a lot. I add spices and salt after cooking except that I put in bay leaf, clove and garlic, if applicable, before hand. You can’t add them while you’re cooking because you can’t open the lid once it is under pressure. Salt changes the boiling temperature of water at sea level — it makes sense to me it would change things under pressure, too, which is why I avoid putting it in first.

3. For vegetables, you can put a steamer in and just put water on the bottom of the pressure cooker. It only takes 4-5 minutes to steam whole potatoes in a pressure cooker. For softer veggies, just a minute or two.

4. Put the top on and lock it. Bring it to a boil gradually with the weight not on the top of the pressure cooker. After steam not mixed with water or other matter starts shooting out the top, you know it is boiling and you can put the weight on the top. Some beans like garbanzos make suds so it can take a few moments of sputtering before you get a nice clean flow of steam — you don’t want to put the weight on while it is sputtering.

5. Once you put the weight on, set a timer. Bigger beans take a bit longer but not too much. Experiment.

6. Once the timer goes off, turn off the heat and let the steam out gradually by lifting (but not removing) the weight from the top. You can’t open the lid or you’ll be seriously injured. Once you’ve released the pressure, open the lid and enjoy a faster and lower emissions dinner.