Super Bowl from Hell

SUBHEAD: January 31st 2015 the Patriots vs Seahawks matchup will be the Super Bowl from Hell.  .

By Jim Buzinski on 28 December 2014 for -

Image above: Tom Brady, the Patriot's quarterback celebrates. Photo by Stew Milne. From original article.

If the the seedings hold in the NFL playoffs, the Super Bowl will be my greatest nightmare -- New England vs. Seattle -- the two teams I hate the most. The worst part is that one of them would have to win. Update: Hell is upon us. It will be Seattle vs. New England. This is the matchup for the  February 1st 2015 Super Bowl.

I will be rooting for a giant meteor to strike Earth shortly before the 6:30 p.m. Eastern kickoff. I will be blown to bits, of course, along with every other human being, so that's the downside. The upside is that the Patriots and Seahawks will be deprived of a Super Bowl title. There are always tradeoffs in life.

The Patriots have been the NFL's Evil Empire since 2003 (I liked their 2001 team since it had a Cinderella vibe). They are led by Bill Belichick, the fashion disaster, signal-stealing swinger, which makes them easy to hate. He's also the best coach in the NFL by a mile, which only intensifies the hate.

Their quarterback is Tom Brady, who has become a whiny little twit. He's a sore winner and sore loser. When the Patriots win, he's high-fiving, head-butting and spiking the ball like a rookie scoring his first TD, not a veteran with three rings. And when he loses, he's dropping F-bombs at his defense and acting like a spoiled brat. He's not "fiery" or "competitive," just an annoying jerk.

Brady is not the same QB he once was, but he doesn't have to be. He has the best tight end in football in Rob Gronkowski (the one Patriot I actually like), a shutdown defense and wonderful special teams. Brady's job these days is to put together a couple of drives and not screw things up. For that, he has announcers slobbering over him like he's the 2007 Brady, not a guy near the end of his career and lucky to be with the right team.

Seattle is new to the "being totally annoying" game but they learn fast. Their coach is Pete Carroll, who fled USC one step ahead of the NCAA posse, earning the Trojans major sanctions while he landed a cushy gig in Seattle. This is the same guy who this summer lectured holdout running back Marshawn Lynch on honoring his contact. Gall is not Carroll's short suit.

Image above: Richard Sherman, the Seahawks's cornerback celebrates. From (

The Seahawks version of Tom Brady in the insufferable category is cornerback Richard Sherman, who for some reason has carved out a reputation as an articulate voice of a new generation of players. In fact, he's little more than a boorish loudmouth who loves denigrating opponents. Unfortunately, he's also the best cornerback in football, so no one has yet been able to shut him up.

Those are your two favorites to meet in the Super Bowl -- I might have to watch the Puppy Bowl instead (

Image above: Shot of the live action coverage of the 2014 Puppy Bowl produced by Animal Planet. From (

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Screaming id - No Brains - No Honor 2/6/12

El Nino & La NIna in Hawaii

SUBHEAD: Expect Climate Change to whipsaw between hot, dry En Nino and cold, wet La Nina.

By Jan TenBruggencate on 28 January 2015 for Raising Islands -

Image above: Detail of illustration on El Nino and El Nina oscillation. From U.C. Davis. (

El Nino and La Nina events could be more frequent and much stronger with climate change.

That’s according to a new analysis published this week by an international team that includes Hawai`i researcher Axel Timmermann, of the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawai`i.

It’s important to Hawai`i residents because those climate variances have significant impacts on rainfall patterns, storm, water temperature and other things. One issue: more drought during El Nino events and more heavy rain events during La Nina—essentially, Hawai`i during the coming decades can expect to be whipsawed between more extreme weather events.

"Our previous research showed a doubling in frequency of extreme El Niño events, and this new study shows a similar fate for the cold phase of the cycle. It shows again how we are just beginning to understand the consequences of global warming,” said Mat Collins, a University of Exeterprofessor and co-author of the new paper.

Increased frequency of extreme La Niña events under greenhouse warming was published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Its authors, besides Collins and Timmermann, are  Wenju Cai,    Guojian Wang, Agus Santoso, Michael J. McPhaden, Lixin Wu, Fei-Fei Jin, Axel Timmermann, Gabriel Vecchi, Matthieu Lengaigne, Matthew H. England, Dietmar Dommenget, Ken Takahashi & Eric Guilyardi

Timmermann echoed Collins’ comments.
“Our recent study in Nature Climate Change demonstrates that extreme La Nina events are likely to become more frequent over the next 100 years. Many of these events will follow stronger El Nino events."
 "This means for Hawaii that the transitions between El Nino and La Nina are likely to result in larger year-to-year rainfall extremes - extra drought during El Nino and extreme winter rain for La Nina,” Timmermann said.

He said the study is based on an analysis of 21 existing climate models.

The paper’s summary says:

“Here we present climate modelling evidence… for a near doubling in the frequency of future extreme La Niña events, from one in every 23 years to one in every 13 years.

“This occurs because projected faster mean warming of the Maritime continent than the central Pacific, enhanced upper ocean vertical temperature gradients, and increased frequency of extreme El Niño events are conducive to development of the extreme La Niña events.

“Approximately 75% of the increase occurs in years following extreme El Niño events, thus projecting more frequent swings between opposite extremes from one year to the next.”


Can Bolivia leave capitalism's vice?

SUBHEAD: Despite the constitution guaranteeing rights for indigenous people and Mother Earth, those policies are not implemented.

By Chris Williams & Marcela Olivera on 28 January 2015 for Truthout -

Image above: A llama on the shore of La Laguna Coloradain Potosi, Bolivia. From (

As through so much of its history, the small Andean nation of Bolivia sits at the center of a whirlwind of political, social and climatological questions. Arguably, no other country thus far in the 21st century raises the question of an "exit strategy" from neoliberal capitalism more concretely, and with greater possibility and hope, than Bolivia.

That hope is expressed specifically in the ruling party, MAS, or Movement Toward Socialism. The country's leader, former coca farmer and union organizer Evo Morales - South America's first indigenous leader since pre-colonial times - was overwhelmingly elected to his third term of office in 2014.

Morales has broadly popularized the Quechua term pachamama, which denotes a full commitment to ecological sustainability, and public hopes remain high that he'll guide the country toward realizing that principle.

Bolivia has seen impressive and consistent economic growth since Morales' first election victory in 2006, including the establishment of government programs to alleviate poverty and attain the social equity goals promised in his campaign. However, this growth has primarily rested on an expanded and intensified exploitation of the country's natural resources, principally from fossil fuel production, mining, and the growth of large-scale, mono-crop agriculture and manufacturing.

This economic growth has also created what the Bolivian non-governmental organization CEDLA (Centro de Estudios Para el Desarrollo Laboral y Agrario) calls the rise of a new bourgeoisie comprised of Santa Cruz agriculture producers, traders from the west of the country and small mining producers. The Bolivian government also believes that a new class is emerging, and will become Bolivia's new dominant group. Carlos Arce, researcher from CEDLA, says in an article in the Bolivian press:
A new type of entrepreneur has emerged from the popular classes. These emerging strata are mostly traders and are also present in the cooperative sectors, especially in mining. This new type of entrepreneur saves more and has a more austere mentality, in the classical Weberian sense. Within the state, representatives of this strata interface with middle-class intellectuals and other sectors of society, seeking to build alliances with small urban and rural producers that respond to the prerogatives of the market.
The so-called "plural economy" institutionalized by the government recognizes the state, communitarian, private and cooperative forms of economic organization. It also puts the state in direct control of the plans for economic development. In other words, the Bolivian people are the owners of the natural resources, but it is the state that administers and industrializes these natural resources.

In Arce's view, the government exalts this new "emerging bourgeoisie." The government's program of a plural economy "facilitates the alliance of these market-driven sectors with key sectors of international capital. This opens the door to transnational corporations and makes permanent their presence."

In December 2014, the Financial Times reported on the rise of a new indigenous bourgeoisie in El Alto, less constrained by older cultural ties of thrift, and striving for greater wealth, more ostentatious luxury buildings and opulent traditional clothing.

On the other hand, while many journalists and analysts have focused on the accomplishments of the Morales' government, few have looked at the state of the labor force, unions and labor conditions. Research by local organizations shows that finding secure employment has become very difficult.

According to the Bolivian Labor Ministry's own data just 30 percent of the labor force in Bolivia has a secure and formal job, with almost 70 percent working in the informal sector. These workers have no employment security, which makes people more dependent on welfare protections and programs that have become more elaborate and extensive in recent years.

Bolivia's geography is very diverse: The verdant and tropical Amazonian lowlands give way to the austere beauty of the highlands and snow-capped peaks of the Andes that ring the capital, La Paz. Bolivian elevations range from 130 to 6,000 meters above sea level dividing the country into three distinct geographical areas: the high plateau, the Andean valleys and the eastern lowlands.

Given all of these factors, Bolivia offers a case study on the impact of climate change, people's resistance to exploitation and racist oppression, and the potential for genuine change from below.

Much of that resistance was formed in response to centuries of relentless extraction of the country's minerals, semi-precious and precious metals, and guano. Following the privatization of Bolivia's public airline, train system and electric utility, in 1999, the government sold the water and sanitation system of Cochabamba to a transnational consortium.

Over the following five months, mass demonstrations and violent confrontations with the police and military forced the government to cancel the contract and keep the water supply in public hands. This popular struggle for public control of water became recognized worldwide as the Cochabamba Water War.

According to Oscar Olivera, a former union leader and one of the main organizers of the water wars, the successful reversal of privatization of the city's water through an organizational and political alliance of urban workers, campesinos and environmentalists follows a 500-year-old tradition.

"There is a history of permanent resistance of the whole people of Bolivia, especially the indigenous people," Olivera said. Today, "the fight is not against the Spanish conquerors, but against the international corporations that are taking our water, land and air."

More contemporarily, since 2006, the number of conflicts over natural resource extraction and refining, road building and pipeline construction, and forest and water use have all steadily grown under Morales. As a 2013 University of Gothenburg study points out:
There is an increasing gap between, on the one hand, the radical but often very vague provisions for communitarian and proactive environmental management in the new Constitution and the Law of Mother Earth, and, on the other hand, the heavy investments made by the Bolivian state in natural resource extraction and infrastructure development at very high environmental costs. It seems likely that the type of clashes between social movements and the government as the one around TIPNIS [Indigenous Territory Isiboro Secure National Park] will continue to grow unless this gap is narrowed.
Marco Gandarillas Gonzáles, the Cochabamba director of the information and documentation organization Centro de Documentación e Información Bolivia (CEDIB), concurs. "It's an historical intensity of extraction," Gonzáles told Truthout. "Never has mining been as intensive as it is now. Not even during Spanish rule. In the last 10 years, we have exported more silver than in 300 years as a Spanish colony."

Exports of gold are now 8,000 kilograms per year, which means a record use of mercury (15,000 tons per year), cyanide and other toxic substances to separate gold from its ore.

In an interview with Jeffrey Webber in 2014, chief of the cabinet of the Bolivian Ministry of Economics and Public Finance Maria Nela Prada Tejada was straightforward in acknowledging that the MAS project was to "take advantage of the possibility of growth through the exploitation of natural resources, with the state capturing the surplus and redistributing it to social programs and to other economic sectors that generate employment."

Bolivia has significant natural resource wealth, sustainable management of which is, perhaps, Morales' largest challenge. The country was once home to the Spanish crown's richest silver and gold mine, at Potosí, and one of the world's most lucrative tin mines.

Now, 500 years later, Bolivia still contains two of the largest active silver mines in the world, at San Cristóbal and San Bartolomé. In Potosí, one mountain alone annually releases into the surrounding waterways an estimated 161 tons of zinc, 157 tons of iron, more than two tons of arsenic and scores of other toxic minerals, such as cadmium and lead.

Bolivia became a landlocked country when it lost land to Chile in the 1800s, in a war fomented and orchestrated by Britain, in order to secure access to guano: an essential ingredient needed to replenish the fading fertility of British soils, prior to the invention of the Haber-Bosch process for the manufacture of nitrogenous fertilizer.

In the east, at Mutún, lies one of the largest future iron ore mines, which first India and now China are financing for development. Half the world's reserves of lithium (not currently exploited) sit high up in the otherworldly, surreal salt deposits of Salar de Uyuni. After Venezuela, Bolivia has the largest gas reserves in South America.

Coveted by foreign and domestic elites over the generations, ruthless extraction of Bolivia's bountiful natural resources has concentrated the natural and social wealth of the country in a small group at the top of society, and exposed Bolivians to an extreme degree of imperial intrigue and attempted subjugation.

First at the hands of Spain, then Britain, and more recently the United States and World Bank-inspired structural adjustment programs, Bolivians have been rewarded with a succession of dictatorships, extreme concentration of land ownership (despite redistribution after the 1952 revolution and some land reform under Morales, which is stuck today), poverty and extensive environmental contamination of their air, soil and water.

The historical and ongoing cost of environmental degradation is estimated to account for more than 6 percent of Bolivian GDP. All of this has laid the groundwork for the growth of massive social, labor and indigenous unrest and the rise of the social movements at the turn of the 21st century, on the back of which Morales was elected and re-elected to power.

Yet now, another threat has emerged of particular concern to a country that bears little responsibility for causing it: anthropogenic climate change. From a climate perspective, even if average global warming is kept to 2 degrees Celsius (and we are currently on track for 4), regions in the middle of continents, such as Bolivia, will warm appreciably more than coastal regions.

Furthermore, based on data from the Alps and Rocky Mountains, there will be more warming at higher altitudes: between 1.5 and two times greater warming than at lower elevations.

With 12 distinct ecological regions, Bolivia is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. The changes in elevation, along with vastly different rainfall patterns from alternate sides of the Andes, create micro-climates that have aided the evolution of a large number of species indigenous to Bolivia.

In addition, the agricultural practices of Bolivian farmers have supported a diverse array of plant varieties. For example, in stark contrast to monoculture farming, several hundred different varieties of potato are grown in the Bolivian Andes, as a resilient subsistence food by 200,000 small-scale farmers.

This is all threatened by a warming climate. Because more humidity accompanies warmer air, more extreme water-related events, such as the 2014 flooding of the low-lying savanna in the department of Beni, are likely to occur with increasing frequency. Meanwhile, as some areas become wetter, the altiplano (the high plains between the Andes mountains) will become even drier.

People in high elevation areas such as the cities of El Alto and La Paz will become more dependent on melting snowpack from glaciers and mountain lakes, even as these water sources gradually diminish: Bolivia is losing all its glaciers below 5,400 meters. Flooding will be followed by drought.

Image above: The highly visible haze of air pollution from cars and industry over the capital La Paz, Bolivia, has been compared unfavorably to air pollution in China. Photo: Chris Williams from original article.

The contradictions of the Morales years are encapsulated by community leader Rigoberto Rios Miranda, a farmer and local council leader from Chacaquinta, a community near the village of Laja, in the high plains above El Alto. Rios Miranda - who remembers a childhood in the 1950s when indigenous people were not allowed in the main square in La Paz, a time before the city of El Alto (now home to 1 million people) existed - is unequivocal in his praise for "the only president in my lifetime who has changed my life."

While he tells the story of how El Alto fought the military of deposed former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada "with slingshots, stones and sticks," he also notes that he no longer knows how his community can grow food - potatoes, wheat and quinoa - because "it now rains at all different times, and it's drier for longer. This place did not used to be as hot as it is now. It's becoming like Cochabamba."

Rios Miranda is categorical in his conviction that "under Evo, everything is different," including his ability as an indigenous person to have a say in politics and be accepted in the new plurinational state because Morales has focused so much on changing the constitution to provide more government funds, projects and jobs for ordinary Bolivians.

One thing that has not changed during the almost 10 years of Morales' rule, however, is the state of the Pallina River, which runs through Rios Miranda's farmland. Where Rios Miranda used to catch frogs and fish as a young man is visibly polluted, and he must keep his animals from drinking from it. The single water treatment plant in El Alto, which was never designed for the kind of industrial effluent that flows unchecked from the tanneries, factories and clandestine slaughterhouses, is completely inadequate.

And so the poisoned, alternately bright green, orange and red foaming water that flows through Rios Miranda's land eventually reaches Lake Titicaca, where, according to Iván Marcelo Castillo, a worker for the Bolivian Environmental Defense Fund, who hails from a village between La Paz and Lake Titicaca, it's responsible for contaminating 35 communities.

Of the river, Rios Miranda said, "We believe even our grandchildren will drink contaminated water." A round trip by donkey to Laja for water takes two hours, but he now has a government-provided standpipe, which the community shares, and has hopes for electricity and gas soon.

Where he once had a bull and plough, there is now a tractor to rent by the hour for the community, and milk to sell in El Alto. Meanwhile, large numbers of people in Cochabamba continue to lack potable water, basic sewage treatment is almost entirely absent, and the Rio Rocha that flows through the city is as contaminated and polluted as the Pallina River.

In an example of how interconnected ecosystems are with climate, higher average temperatures will lead to an increase in evaporation, causing soils to dry out. In turn, drier soils will increase erosion and loss of topsoil, an effect that will be compounded by two other effects of a warmer climate.

More rain, falling more intensely, in shorter time periods, will exacerbate soil erosion, as will higher wind speeds caused by extra energy held in the atmosphere.

These effects in turn will increase the likelihood of wildfires on forest land, though rapid deforestation for the expansion of agribusiness, primarily soya, is occurring in many lowland areas of Bolivia.

One might think that the ability to grow crops higher up the sides of mountains that don't freeze as often could be a positive change. However, Bolivian farmers have long known how to minimize risk due to rainfall variability and temperature gradients, by farming in different ways at different altitudes.

The altiplano has traditionally been suited to the grazing of llama and alpaca only; somewhat lower, there's terraced agriculture based on cold and drought-resistant crops such as quinoa (which also has a high tolerance to higher frequency solar radiation); while lower down still, some crops such as maize are able to grow.

But this stable, interconnected and resilient form of integrated farming practices is threatened by warmer temperatures, as agriculture has been moving up mountainsides: 200 meters over the last 30 years. Hence, as grazing becomes more restricted and difficult, conflicts are emerging between herders and farmers.

Furthermore, the pre-Incan altiplano staple food, chuño, made from freeze-dried potatoes that remain edible for several years, is threatened because nighttime temperatures are not falling below freezing for long enough or with the same regularity.

Without land redistribution, smaller and smaller plots of land, which dominate the highlands, force peasant farmers to over exploit their lands, intensifying soil degradation and erosion. Systematic and significant land reform would almost certainly reignite the fight between MAS and the right-wing, racist landholders in and around Santa Cruz, where the largest landholdings are concentrated.

For a relatively small country of 10 million people to harbor the hopes and dreams of tens of millions of people who want to see a different world is no small feat. Nor is it one to be casually dismissed because it might not currently resemble what we imagine a process of deep social change would look like. The indigenous concept of buen vivir, or vivir bien, enshrined in the new constitutions of both Bolivia and Ecuador, is usually translated as "good living" or "living well," but that's a very inaccurate translation, according to Uruguayan scholar Eduardo Gudynas. Gudynas says: "These are not equivalents at all.

With buen vivir, the subject of wellbeing is not [about the] individual, but the individual in the social context of their community and in a unique environmental situation."

In other words, the term derives from a collective identity that considers nature a subject of history intertwined with human history. To paraphrase Marx, human history is natural history, and vice versa. As Gudynas argues, vivir bien "is equally influenced by Western critiques [of capitalism] over the last 30 years, especially from the field of feminist thought and environmentalism . . . It certainly doesn't require a return to some sort of indigenous, pre-Colombian past."

The social movements, political parties and activists who brought Morales to power continually question the environmental sustainability for which Morales is seen as a standard bearer of optimism and rhetorical opposition to capitalism's anti-ecological heart by those outside the country.

Outside of Bolivia, many on the left uncritically absorb Morales' oratorical opposition to capitalism's ecologically destructive and socially divisive modus operandi.

However, the social movements, political parties and activists who created the conditions for him to come to power, continue to question his actual commitment to environmental sustainability and social justice.

For example, in contrast with this international image, Morales announced in early 2014 that Bolivia had ambitions to build a nuclear power plant, stating, "Bolivia cannot remain excluded from this technology, which belongs to all humankind."

He seems to disregard that a giant, centralized nuclear power plant, with all the dangers and expense that would entail, is hardly the answer to the energy needs of Bolivia, let alone respectful of the rights of Mother Earth. One only need ask the still suffering people of Fukushima for the most recent evidence of that.

In another example, Bolivian feminists and activists are asking, with so much concern expressed for the rights of Mother Earth, where is the concern for the rights of actual women and mothers?
Women are routinely degraded in both the language of government officials and their policies. Morales and other elected officials continuously make sexist statements that have inspired the women's sectors to organize protests and mobilizations against these statements and actions.

During the 2011 conflict with indigenous communities created by the government building a highway through the autonomous Indigenous Territory Isiboro Secure National Park (TIPNIS), Morales appealed to the cocaleros who live near that territory to make the indigenous woman there fall in love with them and discourage their opposition to the highway.

 Morales said, "If I had time, I would make them fall in love with me and convince them. So, young men, you have instructions from the president to conquer the Trinitarian Yuracarés colleagues so they will not oppose the construction of the road."

These comments reflect the dominant attitude toward women from the current administration. The Morales government, appearing to honor public opinion on this matter, recently enacted a law criminalizing the serious problem in Bolivia of political violence against women and has put more government funding toward child care.

However, it remains illegal to have an abortion in Bolivia, depriving women of their right to reproductive choice, and several clear cases of violence against women perpetrated by MAS party members or government officials have been ignored. In addition, little has been done to develop legislation favorable to the LGBT community.

As women's oppression is a bedrock foundational requirement for the successful operation of capitalism, a basic expectation of any government or leader claiming to represent a move away from capitalism, and toward socialism and respect for pachamama, must address these issues.

For all of Morales' rhetorical championing of buen vivir, Gudynas believes that the MAS government instead operates more along the lines of a new form of Keynesian neoliberalism, or what he calls "neo-extractivismo," whereby a percentage of increased revenue from extraction is used by the state to help alleviate poverty - while increasing the power of the state:
The state seeks to capture a bigger share of the rents derived, and to use it to fund social programmes and redistributive policies. This helps legitimize extractivismo and silence its critics, with those opposing it portrayed as working against the national interest.
Extractivismo comes to be seen as the fundamental driver of growth, providing the resources to combat poverty. This growth model conflicts with other notions of development, such as those associated with 'buen vivir' or 'vivir bien' in countries like Ecuador and Bolivia.
Morales' government has tried to solve the contradictions inherent in property ownership of public goods such as oil, gas, water and electricity through a state-led process that some have called nationalization, but which, in fact, is more a favorable renegotiation of contracts with the oil and gas companies already operating in the country and the statalization of other sources.

Which is to say, that the state is intruding into new areas of the economy and life of Bolivians in a more vigorous manner, which is a larger feature of the Morales regime than any extensive nationalization of significant sectors of the economy.

In May 2014, Truthout spoke with Alfredo Viscarra, the former union leader at ELFEC, Empresa de Luz y Fuerza Eléctrica Cochabamba, the electricity company in Cochabamba for 35 years. After ELFEC was forcibly "nationalized" by the Morales administration, Alfredo said:
We never thought that the government was going to statalize the electricity company because the phone cooperative and the electricity workers were its owners. On May Day they took away our company through a decree. We, the workers, nationalized the company. In just one night, they occupied the company with soldiers like during the worst dictatorship and they kicked us out of there.
The electricity company in Cochabamba was privatized in the 1990s. The US company that owned it, PPL Corp, a US utility based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which had many concessions across Latin America, decided to leave. Once the company put its assets on the market, the workers, who had already bought 5 percent of the shares in the company in 1995, decided to buy another 35 percent.

So, at this point, 300 workers had purchased a total of 40 percent of the company using their severance benefits. The rest of the company (60 percent) was acquired in 1998 by the phone cooperative Comteco, the local phone company that today has more than 200,000 members in the region.

After it came to power, the Morales government declared its intention to nationalize the so-called "strategically important" companies and, in 2010, it continued prior nationalizations of oil and gas when it nationalized ELFEC. The government appointed three arbitrators to oversee the process.

These arbitrators declared that the existing worker and cooperative ownership was acquired illegally. As the elected workers' representative and president of ELFEC, Viscarra refused to hand over control of the utility unless the workforce was compensated for its original severance-payment outlay and ownership.

Although he has been placed under house arrest for the last two and a half years, and threatened with imprisonment, Viscarra has held firm to his convictions that although he agrees the Bolivian government has the right to nationalize the company, it must compensate the workers who are running it and are part owners.

Nationalization implies that the state takes over, with or without compensation, privately run corporations so as to run them as services for the people, rather than for-profit businesses, thus diverting cash from private investors toward the government treasury and social programs to address inequity in society and for the common good. Nationalization in Bolivia, however, is more complex than this definition implies.

While the Bolivian government has taken controlling stakes in the oil and gas sector, not a single foreign fossil fuel corporation has left Bolivia. While the Morales government is taking a larger percentage of royalties from Bolivia's abundant gas fields, the increases in commodity prices and gas production for export have more than compensated the private corporations.

Hence, though the Bolivian treasury is much healthier, fossil fuel corporations operating in Bolivia are making about as much money now as they were before "nationalization," as Morales has in practice maintained an investor-friendly climate. Indeed, the small worker and management-owned electricity company ELFEC is much more worthy of the term "nationalization" (without compensation to the workers), than the giant fossil fuel corporations.

Viscarra has been unable to leave his apartment for two and half years - even to visit his family - and is presently in a judicial limbo. He remains under house arrest, without definitive evidence against him, but with no idea whether he will be freed, put on trial or gain knowledge of what his future holds.

Public Sectors International and several unions in Bolivia have mobilized in support of Viscarra, starting a defense campaign and writing letters to the government of Bolivia demanding that he be released immediately. His imprisonment is a stain on the government of Bolivia and represents a direct attack on the self-organization of workers and trade union rights.

When a country with a left-wing president elected through an outpouring of popular outrage and self-mobilization receives fulsome praise for its economic policies from the neoliberal bastion of the World Bank - and imprisons a workers' leader, to boot - it is fair to assume that not all is playing out according to the hopes of the popular movement.

However, our skepticism must dig deeper than an argument about whether the debate over "extractivismo" is necessary given the history, and economic and social power of a deeply impoverished, small Latin American country, or whether the Morales government has done all it can to reduce poverty, inequality and racism. That's because Morales doesn't have complete freedom to act. There are real constraints in the shape of international capital, class consciousness in Bolivia, the strength of the domestic right wing, and the economically and technologically impoverished state of the country.

When Lenin and the Bolsheviks instituted war communism during the civil war, and later the New Economic Policy, they were hardly in line with Marxist theory, but policies were in many ways pushed on the Soviet government by the parlous state of the economy and the devastation of the civil war. An honest assessment is, therefore, not simply a balance sheet of pros and cons totted up on a spreadsheet of left versus right.

At the same time, several sectors and former allies of Morales maintain an independent position critical of the government, emphasizing that, despite a change in official rhetoric, and some welcome redistribution of wealth, Morales' policies are practically the same as his predecessors' with respect to natural resource extraction. That extraction continues to be the foundation for the country's financial stability, and it comes with attacks on grassroots self-organization when that organizing contradicts Bolivian state policy.

A deeper analysis of the evolution of the Morales government requires examining the evolving social dynamics within the country, and whether the government is concentrating power in the hands of the state, or, conversely, trusting the people who brought it to power. A true economic shift would require placing the power to make economic and political decisions more frequently and obviously in the people's hands, even as particular policies may be inadequate in the immediate sense and subject to practical and political limits.

Additionally, a real move toward socialism would require definitively shifting away from the capitalist pathway of intensified human and planetary exploitation and showing the world that a different road out of poverty and inequality is possible. This would mean not just redistributing some of the wealth gained from exports of natural gas, mining and industry, but fundamentally reordering the country's social and political priorities.

There is too much at stake not to pose the question: Is this what people imagining a different world are fighting for? Perhaps not as an end result, but does the Bolivian model headed by Morales offer a template for a step along the path toward more comprehensive and fundamental social change? Or will only a resumption of social unrest at a higher and more sustained level be required before MAS actually prioritizes the goals it advertises? Or, further, will wholly new political formations and parties be required?

The role of the state in Bolivia - and, really, everywhere - looms large for those of us fighting for a different world, as Mike Geddes wrote in 2010:
In the period since 2000 Bolivia has successfully overthrown a neoliberal regime and begun to build new institutions and policies, especially a re-founded state that is less alienated from the mass of the population than the neoliberal capitalist state. Clearly this is still a project under construction, but it raises the wider issue, important far beyond Bolivia, as to whether and how the capitalist state can be reshaped as part of the building of that 'other world' which is so necessary. What would such a state look like? How would it function?
The new Bolivian constitution, alongside radical initiatives elsewhere in Latin America, from the Zapatistas' alternative local state structures in Chiapas, Mexico, to the Venezuelan communal councils, may help to take such questions forward.
In light of more recent developments, from the increasing eruption of new protests in Bolivia to the Ecuadorian government's backtracking on previous commitments to environmental sustainability under Rafael Correa, Geddes' assessment of a re-founded state seems overly optimistic.
Raquel Gutierrez wrote in 2011 that people had other hopes when electing Morales and MAS to government:
The electoral victory gave Morales and his administration the right to govern. However, for many people, the massive electoral support for Evo and his political party MAS signified, above all, the possibility of expanding and consolidating communitarian-popular power.
In Bolivia, especially between 2006 and 2008, people expressed that they wanted to take charge of public affairs according to other logics - much more direct, horizontal and on smaller scales - that would allow communities, and by connection, the nation, to reappropriate the common wealth that had been stolen by multinationals and their domestic allies.
As the anarchist writer Carlos Crespo, a professor at the Center for Superior Studies at the Universidad Mayor de San Simón and a strong critic of Morales and a state-implemented road to change, told Truthout, "We have lost an opportunity for something based on our self-organization and self-management. There are a lot of examples of self-management in the country, with the campesinos and with the water committees. The water committees [or] irrigators are complete self-management. All these things can be used [as examples of ways in which] to reorganize society."

However, localized self-management, without broader coordination, is entirely inadequate for an effectively functioning, equitable and ecological society. Therefore, it also seems necessary to establish some form of broader organization, coordinated across different sectors and localities: a bottom-up, centralized, democratically elected body that can plan and coordinate the reconstruction of society. This body would function, essentially, as a state controlled by the people.

Even if we limit the conversation to a fully functioning city of 1 million, such as Cochabamba, where water, sanitation, electricity, health care, education and food are equally accessible to all, while minimizing waste, it would require considerable coordination between all sectors of society, including those living in the surrounding countryside, where the food and water would come from. In line with that view, as Marco Gandarillas Gonzáles of CEDIB said:
There is a problem with the current Bolivian economic model. Because we export the minerals and we import the tools to get them. That we need to consider these two things so that we can have a mining policy that is relevant. We are not industrializing and using the minerals that we are digging out of the ground. We have to keep the reserves and keep some of them underground. And there needs to be multilateral talks with other countries, like Congo and Colombia, so that we can make planned arrangements for what is needed - coltan etc.
In other words, this project even goes beyond a people-centered, state body: The process needs to be international.

Will the Morales government continue down its developmentalist, neo-extractivist pathway? Or can Bolivians create their own government, responsive to the needs of the people? As labor leader Oscar Olivera remarked in an interview this year, "We thought that having Evo Morales in government would change things. And many things have changed.

But we know now that not enough has changed. The people do not decide; the government decides.

Despite the constitution guaranteeing rights for indigenous people and Mother Earth, those policies are not implemented; they are just words."

Olivera emphasizes that the struggle against the privatization of water in Cochabamba was not, at root, about water. Rather, it was about the political question of "who decides." For Olivera, "that's why the struggle transcended Bolivia and had international resonance."

Just because the state apparatus that now controls Bolivia's water (and so many other priorities) has mass support for its social programs doesn't diminish the need for organization by the people in their own interests. It does, however, require a new type of struggle. "This is much more difficult than [organizing] against Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada or a military or neoliberal government," Olivera said.

"Evo is not like Sánchez de Lozada; he is a brother and a friend, for his other achievements. So, it is much more difficult to organize the people." Nevertheless, because the struggle over control of the water supply remains intimately connected to the political struggle, it is "therefore, about the survival of humanity."

These are all important lessons for the success of future struggles: As more and more people all over the world are seeing the need for "system change," we need to know what is required to achieve it. In that sense, Bolivia offers us the most concrete and useful lessons yet about what might work and what we must be wary of.

According to Olivera, the people won in Cochabamba because of two things: an all-encompassing cosmo-vision based on indigenous values of reciprocity and solidarity, and organization and coordination at every level.

That is to say, what was present was a dramatically different vision for a radically reordered world that went far beyond reforming current institutions, allied with the kind of broad and deep working-class self-organization required to bring about that vision.

Therefore, not only should we aspire to a profoundly reorganized and different world - one that is based on cooperation, not competition; and real democracy and production for need, not profit - but we should also build strong, democratic and transparent organizations so that the voices of the people are represented at every level of decision-making.

This brings us to how those of us outside Bolivia yearning for fundamental, revolutionary social change can support Bolivians struggling for this vision. The arguments made by Lenin and Trotsky in the early 1920s - that the young Soviet Union could not possibly survive without aid from a similarly revolutionary, but more advanced country such as Germany, and would degenerate quickly without outside help - offer an approximate analogy to the situation in Bolivia.

The best form of solidarity we can show to Bolivians still struggling for buen vivir is to forge a more powerful movement of resistance to our own leaders, in the United States and elsewhere. We must also seek to emulate Bolivia's example by pursuing freedom from capitalism and the freedom to decide our own future, collectively and democratically, sometimes through mass uprisings against our governments.

"We cannot put our hopes for a better future in the hands of the government," Olivera said, summing up the lessons of Bolivia's water wars. "What the people want and need for their future and how to achieve it must be decided and managed by the people.

It comes from below and outside; it should not be the province of those who sit at the top of and inside the government apparatus. Like water, this life-sustaining process must be transparent and in motion."


The One Way Forward

SUBHEAD: If you’ve driven down a dead end alley shouting “We can’t go back!” isn’t exactly a useful habit.

By John Michael Greer on 28 January 2015 for the Archdruid Report

Image above: "Homecoming G.I." Arriving back at home after the war. Painting creaeted May 26th, 1945 by Norman Rockwell for Saturday Evening Post. From (

All things considered, 2015 just isn’t shaping up to be a good year for believers in business as usual. Since last week’s post here on The Archdruid Report, the anti-austerity party Syriza has swept the Greek elections, to the enthusiastic cheers of similar parties all over Europe and the discomfiture of the Brussels hierarchy.

The latter have no one to blame for this turn of events but themselves; for more than a decade now, EU policies have effectively put sheltering banks and bondholders from the healthy discipline of the market ahead of all other considerations, including the economic survival of entire nations. It should be no surprise to anyone that this wasn’t an approach with a long shelf life.

Meanwhile, the fracking bust continues unabated. The number of drilling rigs at work in American oilfields continues to drop vertically from week to week, layoffs in the nation’s various oil patches are picking up speed, and the price of oil remains down at levels that make further fracking a welcome mat for the local bankruptcy judge.

Those media pundits who are still talking the fracking industry’s book keep insisting that the dropping price of oil proves that they were right and those dratted heretics who talk of peak oil must be wrong, but somehow those pundits never get around to explaining why iron ore, copper, and most other major commodities are dropping in price even faster than crude oil, nor why demand for petroleum products here in the US has been declining steadily as well.

The fact of the matter is that an industrial economy built to run on cheap conventional oil can’t run on expensive oil for long without running itself into the ground. Since 2008, the world’s industrial nations have tried to make up the difference by flooding their economies with cheap credit, in the hope that this would somehow make up for the sharply increased amounts of real wealth that have had to be diverted from other purposes into the struggle to keep liquid fuels flowing at their peak levels.

Now, though, the laws of economics have called their bluff; the wheels are coming off one national economy after another, and the price of oil (and all those other commodities) has dropped to levels that won’t cover the costs of fracked oil, tar sands, and the like, because all those frantic attempts to externalize the costs of energy production just meant that the whole global economy took the hit.

Now of course this isn’t how governments and the media are spinning the emerging crisis. For that matter, there’s no shortage of people outside the corridors of power, or for that matter of punditry, who ignore the general collapse of commodity prices, fixate on oil outside of the broader context of resource depletion in general, and insist that the change in the price of oil must be an act of economic warfare, or what have you.

It’s a logic that readers of this blog will have seen deployed many times in the past: whatever happens, it must have been decided and carried out by human beings.

An astonishing number of people these days seem unable to imagine the possibility that such wholly impersonal factors as the laws of economics, geology, and thermodynamics could make things happen all by themselves.

The problem we face now is precisely that the unimaginable is now our reality. For just that little bit too long, too many people have insisted that we didn’t need to worry about the absurdity of pursuing limitless growth on a finite and fragile planet, that “they’ll think of something,” or that chattering on internet forums about this or that or the other piece of technological vaporware was doing something concrete about our species’ imminent collision with the limits to growth.

For just that little bit too long, not enough people were willing to do anything that mattered, and now impersonal factors have climbed into the driver’s seat, having mugged all seven billion of us and shoved us into the trunk.

As I noted in last week’s post, that puts hard limits on what can be done in the short term. In all probability, at this stage of the game, each of us will be meeting the oncoming wave of crisis with whatever preparations we’ve made, however substantial or insubstantial those happen to be.

I’m aware that a certain subset of my readers are unhappy with that suggestion, but that can’t be helped; the future is under no obligation to wait patiently while we get ready for it.

A few years back, when I posted an essay here whose title sums up the strategy I’ve been proposing, I probably should have put more stress on the most important word in that slogan: now. Still, that’s gone wherever might-have-beens spend their time.

That doesn’t mean the world is about to end.

It means that in all probability, beginning at some point this year and continuing for several years after that, most of my readers will be busy coping with the multiple impacts of a thumping economic crisis on their own lives and those of their families, friends, communities, and employers, at a time when political systems over much of the industrial world have frozen up into gridlock, the simmering wars in the Middle East and much of the Third World seem more than usually likely to boil over, and the twilight of the Pax Americana is pushing both the US government and its enemies into an ever greater degree of brinksmanship.

Exactly how that’s going to play out is anyone’s guess, but no matter what happens, it’s unlikely to be pretty.

While we get ready for the first shocks to hit, though, it’s worth talking a little bit about what comes afterwards. No matter how long a train of financial dominoes the collapse of the fracking bubble sets toppling, the last one fill fall eventually, and within a few years things will have found a “new normal,” however far down the slope of contraction that turns out to be.

No matter how many proxy wars, coups d’etat, covert actions, and manufactured insurgencies get launched by the United States or its global rivals in their struggle for supremacy, most of the places touched by that conflict will see a few years at most of actual warfare or the equivalent, with periods of relative peace before and after.

The other driving forces of collapse act in much the same way; collapse is a fractal process, not a linear one.

Thus there’s something on the far side of crisis besides more of the same. The discussion I’d like to start at this point centers on what might be worth doing once the various masses of economic, political, and military rubble stops bouncing. It’s not too early to begin planning for that.

If nothing else, it will give readers of this blog something to think about while standing in bread lines or hiding in the basement while riot police and insurgents duke it out in the streets.

That benefit aside, the sooner we start thinking about the options that will be available once relative stability returns, the better chance we’ll have of being ready to implement it, in our own lives or on a broader scale, once stability returns.

One of the interesting consequences of crisis, for that matter, is that what was unthinkable before a really substantial crisis may not be unthinkable afterwards.

 Read Barbara Tuchman’s brilliant The Proud Tower and you’ll see how many of the unquestioned certainties of 1914 were rotting in history’s compost bucket by the time 1945 rolled around, and how many ideas that had been on the outermost fringes before the First World War that had become plain common sense after the Second.

It’s a common phenomenon, and I propose to get ahead of the curve here by proposing, as raw material for reflection if nothing else, something that’s utterly unthinkable today but may well be a matter of necessity ten or twenty or forty years from now.

What do I have in mind? Intentional technological regression as a matter of public policy.

Imagine, for a moment, that an industrial nation were to downshift its technological infrastructure to roughly what it was in 1950. That would involve a drastic decrease in energy consumption per capita, both directly—people used a lot less energy of all kinds in 1950—and indirectly—goods and services took much less energy to produce then, too.

It would involve equally sharp decreases in the per capita consumption of most resources. It would also involve a sharp increase in jobs for the working classes—a great many things currently done by robots were done by human beings in those days, and so there were a great many more paychecks going out of a Friday to pay for the goods and services that ordinary consumers buy.

Since a steady flow of paychecks to the working classes is one of the major things that keep an economy stable and thriving, this has certain obvious advantages, but we can leave those alone for now.

Now of course the change just proposed would involve certain changes from the way we do things. Air travel in the 1950s was extremely expensive—the well-to-do in those days were called “the jet set,” because that’s who could afford tickets—and so everyone else had to put up with fast, reliable, energy-efficient railroads when they needed to get from place to place.

Computers were rare and expensive, which meant once again that more people got hired to do jobs, and also meant that when you called a utility or a business, your chance of getting a human being who could help you with whatever problem you might have was considerably higher than it is today.

Lacking the internet, people had to make do instead with their choice of scores of AM and shortwave radio stations, thousands of general and specialized print periodicals, and full-service bookstores and local libraries bursting at the seams with books—in America, at least, the 1950s were the golden age of the public library, and most small towns had collections you can’t always find in big cities these days.

Oh, and the folks who like looking at pictures of people with their clothes off, and who play a large and usually unmentioned role in paying for the internet today, had to settle for naughty magazines, mail-order houses that shipped their products in plain brown wrappers, and tacky stores in the wrong end of town. (For what it’s worth, this didn’t seem to inconvenience them any.)

As previously noted, I’m quite aware that such a project is utterly unthinkable today, and we’ll get to the superstitious horror that lies behind that reaction in a bit. First, though, let’s talk about the obvious objections.

Would it be possible? Of course.

Much of it could be done by simple changes in the tax code. Right now, in the United States, a galaxy of perverse regulatory incentives penalize employers for hiring people and reward them for replacing employees with machines.

Change those so that spending money on wages, salaries and benefits up to a certain comfortable threshold makes more financial sense for employers than using the money to automate, and you’re halfway there already.

A revision in trade policy would do most of the rest of what’s needed. What’s jokingly called “free trade,” despite the faith-based claims of economists, benefits the rich at everyone else’s expense, and would best be replaced by sensible tariffs to support domestic production against the sort of predatory export-driven mercantilism that dominates the global economy these days.

Add to that high tariffs on technology imports, and strip any technology beyond the 1950 level of the lavish subsidies that fatten the profit margins of the welfare-queen corporations in the Fortune 500, and you’re basically there.

What makes the concept of technological regression so intriguing, and so workable, is that it doesn’t require anything new to be developed. We already know how 1950 technology worked, what its energy and resource needs are, and what the upsides and downsides of adopting it would be; abundant records and a certain fraction of the population who still remember how it worked make that easy.

Thus it would be an easy thing to pencil out exactly what would be needed, what the costs and benefits would be, and how to minimize the former and maximize the latter; the sort of blind guesses and arbitrary assumptions that have to go into deploying a brand new technology need not apply.

So much for the first objection. Would there be downsides to deliberate technological regression? Of course. Every technology and every set of policy options has its downsides.

A common delusion these days claims, in effect, that it’s unfair to take the downsides of new technologies or the corresponding upsides of old ones into consideration when deciding whether to replace an older technology with a newer one.

An even more common delusion claims that you’re not supposed to decide at all; once a new technology shows up, you’re supposed to run bleating after it like everyone else, without asking any questions at all.

Current technology has immense downsides. Future technologies are going to have them, too—it’s only in sales brochures and science fiction stories, remember, that any technology is without them. Thus the mere fact that 1950 technology has problematic features, too, is not a valid reason to dismiss technological retrogression.

The question that needs to be asked, however unthinkable it might be, is whether, all things considered, it’s wiser to accept the downsides of 1950 technology in order to have a working technological suite that can function on much smaller per capita inputs of energy and resources, and thus a much better chance to get through the age of limits ahead than today’s far more extravagant and brittle technological infrastructure.

It’s probably also necessary to talk about a particular piece of paralogic that comes up reliably any time somebody suggests technological regression: the notion that if you return to an older technology, you have to take the social practices and cultural mores of its heyday as well.

I fielded a good many such comments last year when I suggested steam-powered Victorian technology powered by solar energy as a form the ecotechnics of the future might take.

An astonishing number of people seemed unable to imagine that it was possible to have such a technology without also reintroducing Victorian habits such as child labor and sexual prudery. Silly as that claim is, it has deep roots in the modern imagination.

No doubt, as a result of those deep roots, there will be plenty of people who respond to the proposal just made by insisting that the social practices and cultural mores of 1950 were awful, and claiming that those habits can’t be separated from the technologies I’m discussing.

I could point out in response that 1950 didn’t have a single set of social practices and cultural mores; even in the United States, a drive from Greenwich Village to rural Pennsylvania in 1950 would have met with remarkable cultural diversity among people using the same technology.

The point could be made even more strongly by noting that the same technology was in use that year in Paris, Djakarta, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Tangiers, Novosibirsk, Guadalajara, and Lagos, and the social practices and cultural mores of 1950s middle America didn’t follow the technology around to these distinctly diverse settings, you know.

Pointing that out, though, will likely be wasted breath. To true believers in the religion of progress, the past is the bubbling pit of eternal damnation from which the surrogate messiah of progress is perpetually saving us, and the future is the radiant heaven into whose portals the faithful hope to enter in good time.

Most people these days are no more willing to question those dubious classifications than a medieval peasant would be to question the miraculous powers that supposedly emanated from the bones of St. Ethelfrith.

Nothing, but nothing, stirs up shuddering superstitious horror in the minds of the cultural mainstream these days as effectively as the thought of, heaven help us, “going back.”

Even if the technology of an earlier day is better suited to a future of energy and resource scarcity than the infrastructure we’ve got now, even if the technology of an earlier day actually does a better job of many things than what we’ve got today, “we can’t go back!” is the anguished cry of the masses.

They’ve been so thoroughly bamboozled by the propagandists of progress that they never stop to think that, why, yes, they can, and there are valid reasons why they might even decide that it’s the best option open to them.

There’s a very rich irony in the fact that alternative and avant-garde circles tend to be even more obsessively fixated on the dogma of linear progress than the supposedly more conformist masses.

That’s one of the sneakiest features of the myth of progress; when people get dissatisfied with the status quo, the myth convinces them that the only option they’ve got is to do exactly what everyone else is doing, and just take it a little further than anyone else has gotten yet.

What starts off as rebellion thus gets coopted into perfect conformity, and society continues to march mindlessly along its current trajectory, like lemmings in a Disney nature film, without ever asking the obvious questions about what might be waiting at the far end.

That’s the thing about progress; all the word means is “continued movement in the same direction.” If the direction was a bad idea to start with, or if it’s passed the point at which it still made sense, continuing to trudge blindly onward into the gathering dark may not be the best idea in the world. Break out of that mental straitjacket, and the range of possible futures broadens out immeasurably.

It may be, for example, that technological regression to the level of 1950 turns out to be impossible to maintain over the long term.

If the technologies of 1920 can be supported on the modest energy supply we can count on getting from renewable sources, for example, something like a 1920 technological suite might be maintained over the long term, without further regression.

 It might turn out instead that something like the solar steampower I mentioned earlier, an ecotechnic equivalent of 1880 technology, might be the most complex technology that can be supported on a renewable basis.

It might be the case, for that matter, that something like the technological infrastructure the United States had in 1820, with windmills and water wheels as the prime movers of industry, canalboats as the core domestic transport technology, and most of the population working on small family farms to support very modest towns and cities, is the fallback level that can be sustained indefinitely.

Does that last option seem unbearably depressing? Compare it to another very likely scenario—what will happen if the world’s industrial societies gamble their survival on a great leap forward to some unproven energy source, which doesn’t live up to its billing, and leaves billions of people twisting in the wind without any working technological infrastructure at all—and you may find that it has its good points.

If you’ve driven down a dead end alley and are sitting there with the front grill hard against a brick wall, it bears remembering, shouting “We can’t go back!” isn’t exactly a useful habit.

In such a situation—and I’d like to suggest that that’s a fair metaphor for the situation we’re in right now—going back, retracing the route as far back as necessary, is the one way forward.


Turn off the lights on the way out

SUBHEAD: A world where we together create customs and culture all our own, without the power hoarders.

By Vera Bradova on 23 January 2015 for Leaving Babylon -

Image above: Painting "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Rhonda Gray. From (
Reality and power are so mutually incrusted that even to raise the question of dissolving power is to step off the edge of reality.
— John Holloway
I started this blog with a longing familiar to many: stop the world, I wanna get off! I had a dream, a dream to find a way out of Babylon, this accelerating nightmare that has us addicted and horrified, both.

The standard argument for the impossibility of an exit is simple and persuasive. Even if you move to the fringes, Babylon finds you, either to destroy, or to engulf and devour. Same thing, different time line. As we speak, the last unknown tribes are being chased out of the Amazon jungle to be wiped out. There is no place to go.

Except, I refused to believe it. My gut told me that escape is possible; we were not looking at the problem with sufficient snake-eyes. So I kept searching, imagining, looking for just the right crack in the edifice of this civilization. Here is what I found.

Hakim Bey fired up people’s imaginations with his Temporary Autonomous Zones. His T.A.Z. is a “liberated area of land, time or imagination where one can be for something, not just against, and where new ways of being human together can be explored and experimented with.” He documents many past escapes.

I just came across evidence that rural intellectuals in ancient China talked about, and tried to build into, those so-called “cracks in the system.” It saddens me to think that we know nothing else of them. Their efforts faded very long ago, and the Machine kept on grinding. Note to self: the crack must be persistent, durable.

Explorations of Amish attitudes, beliefs and lifestyle framed my search for a while. Since the Machine is an apt metaphor for the workings of Babylon, I felt that getting away from machines would be a good general direction; my feelings were strengthened by an introvert’s detestation of the increasingly deafening noise indiscriminate use of machines inflicts on most of us.

Full of admiration for the famous Amish community-minded restraint when it comes to adopting new technologies, I located and romanced a very old-fashioned Mennonite group that welcomes Babylon’s escapees.

Concurrently, I joined an online Mennonite community where a modified-Plain lifestyle was a reality for many. But when I found that I could be a full-fledged, outspoken member of that community only because I was taken for a man, I sobered up. Note to self: getting away from machines is good, but not as good as getting away from being dominated.

Nevertheless, “being Amish” provided a useful metaphor for my aim. I realized I wanted to be “out” as much, at least, as the Amish are out. I long to be part of another world that is palpable in its otherness.

Familiarity with Daniel Quinn’s and Andy Schmookler’s argument (viz the Parable of the Tribes) impressed upon me that going to the fringes was indeed a strategy, at best, to delay the inevitable. Fringe existence exposes one to marginalization and its accompanying vulnerabilities. The crack must defy the problem of power. (Problem of power in a nutshell: become Babylon, or be destroyed. Those who step outside it lose. Viz Aldous Huxley’s Island.)

John Holloway has spoken about spaces where a prefiguration of another world can be grown. He is among those who believe that for the underdog to grab power-over leads to yet another version of power-over. Not a path that leads to a brand new world, only more of the same.

Here is how he puts it: “You cannot build a society of non-power relations by conquering power.

Once the logic of power is adopted, the struggle against power is already lost.” The crack must emerge from a new way of using power. Knocking off the old power hogs and installing our own brand new power hogs just won’t cut it.

In an interview, Holloway hints: “These cracks can be spatial (places where other social relations are generated), temporal (“Here, in this event, for the time that we are together, we are going to do things differently. We are going to open windows onto another world.”), or related to particular activities or resources (for example, cooperatives or activities that pursue a non-market logic with regard to water, software, education, etc.).

The world, and each one of us, is full of these cracks.” And in a recent book, he states: “A crack is the perfectly ordinary creation of a space or moment in which we assert a different type of doing.” So ecovillages and monasteries, Burning Man or the Rainbow Gatherings, coops and land trusts, and many lesser alternative spaces provide refuge. But are they sufficiently and durably “outside”? Not in my experience.

My sense of them, despite all the clamor about degrowth, “new economies” and all the rest, is that they are not strong enough to be a countervailing force against the Machine. They are, to be sure, part of the answer, but by themselves, they will eventually be pushed to conform, just like most Christians or hippies were.

The spaces opened up by them turned out not to be the radical and permanent exit they had once thought it was. They themselves carried Rome/Babylon with them wherever they went and infected all those spaces they newly inhabited. And the minions of the Machine have been many and well financed; they are sent out to co-opt or crush any alternative that shows significant success.

One example is the so-called “sharable economy” which is turning into yet another way to monetize the remaining few assets of increasingly impoverished people (rent your home to passing strangers, spend your free time picking up passengers with your car, why dontcha).

The space must robustly resist Babylonian contagion from seeping in. And it must be a realistic strategy to slow and stop the Machine: the new world we birth will share this “one and only planet” with Babylon, and so its runaway ruination must end.

James C. Scott talks about an important aspect of spaces successfully hidden for centuries from the depredations of empire: illegibility. When those in power cannot read you right, you are effectively hidden from view, obscured by being incomprehensible.

The agents of empire always, always work hard to make newly encountered cultures legible: they send in missionaries, anthropologists and medical people to “study” and “help” these folks so they can be successfully dominated and exploited in due time.

With new cultures within Babylon, the system sends friendly researchers, overeager NGOs offering to make you visible, and agents provocateurs. The crack must be hard to penetrate by and illegible to the PTB.

I tried eco-village living, and while I loved many aspects of it, especially the face-to-face, walkable community, I was shocked how “hijacked by Babylon” the relationships were. For all the efforts to clean up process, our process has not been cleaned up. A new kind of social relationship must be the molten core of the new world.

Nevertheless, there is great relief one experiences in an ecovillage — or an old-fashioned village — out on the fringes, despite the fact that the Machine still intrudes from the distance and Babylon is never altogether absent within. Distance from Babylon, just like distance from machines, is part of the path to sanity, at least in my view of it.

From complexity thinking I learned about emergence from tiny local beginnings. So finally, the obvious: the way out must be in our power to find, not something to petition the power brokers to bring about (as though they could or would!). It must be doable from each person, from the grassroots, outward. A tall order, ey?

There is yet another space. Having glimpsed this terra incognita, I am on the cusp of walking away into the world that emerges when at least two people, who have each cultivated the attitudes, skills and forms of thinking that allow power sharing, come to connect.

This space only comes into being when human beings relate in a new way — the power-sharing way — and form a new sort of relationship. It is born when two or more people are both willing and able to leave power games behind, and their radical communion opens up a portal into what Riane Eisler, somewhat ruefully, calls “partnership.”

Suddenly, we are in another world, a world of our co-making, emergent, brand new, uncolonized by any outside powers, yet to be explored, ready to be nurtured. Here is the ember of another reality, waiting to be stoked into flames.

A world of mutuality where we together create customs and culture all our own, without the constant interference of power hoarders.

And since the foundation, indeed the be all and end all, of Babylon — this particular civilization — is domination, once you step out of domination, you are out of Babylon.


Fear and Hope in Oura Bay

SUBHEAD: The Oura Coral Reef Ecosystem is the last intact one in Japan! US military actions threaten it.

By Katherine Muzik on 15 January 2015 for Asian-Pacific Journal -

Image above: Oura Bay's expansive cathedrals of blue coral is at least 5,000 years old. From original article.

On a sunny September day, last year, I tumbled from a diving boat into the bright clear blue sea of Henoko’s Oura Bay, feeling both fear and hope.  Would the corals living there still be fine, as they had been during my previous visits in years past?

Or would they and other marine life here be suffering and dying from various negative impacts of human behavior (toxic  runoff, sedimentation, garbage, ocean acidification, global warming, overfishing, etc.) which are steadily and inexorably killing coral reefs all around the world?

As I breathed through my SCUBA regulator, and peered through my mask, slowly descending, my worries vanished.  I saw waving red sea fans, a resplendent school of silvery Fusiliers, the Okinawan Prefectural fish, and countless beautiful and healthy corals. I was filled with joy! I felt I had returned to the seas of my childhood!  I swam like a turtle, slowly down and around a huge colony of Porites, over 7 meters tall, a huge golden colony, with no blemish at all.

I admired its perfection with gratitude, and then kicked my feet to swim happily through Oura’s expansive cathedrals of blue coral, to see my other old coral friends, at the so-called “Coral Museum”, many at least 5,000 years old. (Blue coral, Heliopora coerulea, has been declared by CITES to be a vulnerable species, on its way to extinction. Here at Oura it is fine!)

I felt so safe.  I had healthy corals all around me, fish, crabs, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, clams, everything fine as far as I could see.  Meanwhile above in the boat, awaiting me were my Okinawan friends, Nakasone the captain and Iha, a retired high school chemistry teacher. Guiding me was another friend, the expert diver, Makishi. I was snugly embraced by a SCUBA harness borrowed from friends at local Snack Snufkin divers.

What happiness! I was honored that these friends and others had invited me to visit, to help them explain to the world, how important the corals of Oura Bay are. Can’t everyone understand how unique and diverse this Bay is?  It is miraculously healthy.

There are thousands of species living here: over 420 species of coral, 1,040 species of fish, 403 species of algae and seagrasses, of sea 1,974 mollusks (including 120 kinds of sea slugs) and 753 crustaceans. More species inhabit the associated mountains, forests, rivers, mangroves, and tidal flats! Many are new to science and still undescribed. Feeling ecstatic, I returned to the blue sky above, but, oh no, there was an American military ship hovering nearby the dive boat. I was again filled with worry and fear.

From our boat, I could see long red floats, marking the area near shore where exploratory drilling had already begun, despite the appalling absence of an official Environmental Impact Survey. The dugongs have fled, but the corals and seaweeds cannot move away.  They will surely perish if we cannot stop construction.

Besides diving at Oura, during my 10-day visit to Okinawa in September, I sang my Waterdrop song in Japanese with children gathered at Sedake beach in Oura. I rallied with elderly and youthful protestors at the gate at Henoko’s Camp Schwab, and with more protestors at Takae, still defiant, daily, against Ospreys there.

I participated in two Symposia, one at Okidai (Okinawa University) with former Okidai President Sakurai and Architect Makishi, and one in Nago with Nago Mayor Inamine, held a press conference in Naha with the Governor’s team, and finally, as I left Japan, another one in Tokyo at the Parliament, with Itokazu Keiko, Okinawa’s Diet Member.

Why did I agree to travel all the way from Kaua’i to Okinawa to dive at Oura Bay?  Coral reefs all around the world are in great peril.  They are dying in the Florida Keys, in the Arabian seas of Oman, at the Great Barrier Reef. (As a Marine Biologist, I have studied corals in Florida, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Belize, Barbados, Mexico, Florida, Kenya, Fiji, the Philippines, New Caledonia, Australia, Tahiti, Hawaii, Japan and Okinawa, and therefore am acutely aware of their decline.)

When I lived in Okinawa, during 1981 to 1988, I dived from Amami Oshima down to Yonaguni, and I was shocked to discover that even then, most of the coral reefs of the Ryukyu Archipelago were dead or dying.

When I returned to Okinawa to live there again, thirty years later, from 2007 to 2011, I was further saddened. Even more of the island has been over-developed and paved with cement, and thus, the remaining life nearby in the sea is even more threatened by man’s activities on land. To destroy Oura’s unique and remarkable reef purposefully, to obliterate it, which will certainly happen with the current US-Japan military-industrial plan, is simply, not acceptable.

The 3.5 million truckloads of fill to be brought there will not only destroy the place from where it is removed, the fill will block and change Oura Bay’s incoming life-giving currents. A quick calculation shows, an impossible 9,589 trucks per day every day for a year, or about 959 trucks a day for ten years, destroying the reef and bringing dust and noise and more CO2 pollution.

Again, not acceptable! It breaks my heart to see videos of my old friends lying (perhaps even pushed by police) on the highway pavement outside Camp Schwab gates, and protesting from boats, risking arrest and their lives, to avert this tragedy.

I fear that Abe and Obama have forgotten compassion and history.  Their actions are not helping to end racism, militarism and extreme materialism, the giant triplet of societal and environmental destruction.

They are ignoring the facts:  the Oura Coral Reef Ecosystem is the last intact one in Japan! 80% of Okinawans are against the military airport construction at Oura! In November, Onaga, running for Governor on an anti-base platform, and anti-base Mayor Shiroma of Naha, were both elected by landslides!

Although this US military Base is purportedly part of Obama’s plan to “contain China”, also in November the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, warned that empires always fail, that disputes must be resolved peacefully! With eighty percent of the Japanese population voicing opposition to the bases, the LDP suffered major setbacks in the Okinawa election.

Nineteen different Japanese scientific societies have now publicly added their support to protect the life of Oura!

So yes I have fear, but I also have hope. My Uchinanchu (Okinawan word for Okinawan!) friends are indomitable.  I salute their tenacity, awareness, and political savvy.  As a democracy, Okinawans have the right to choose.  For example, they can choose to exchange a Marine Base for a Marine Sanctuary! Yes!

They can choose to perpetuate peace, not conflict, to perpetuate conservation, study and jobs in ecotourism for local students, scientists and fishermen.  Instead of Harm, let’s choose Harmony! Together we might be able to continue to keep this fabulous ecosystem safe.

Together we will help protect the rare and endangered blue coral, the dugong, the Okinawan rail, and Pryer’s Woodpecker.  We will speak for the fishes, seaweeds, seafans and clams!

I take great hope from my steadfast Uchinanchu, who now, in January 2015, continue to protest the US-Japanese military activities, as I remember the words of Rachel Carson in her book, “Sense of Wonder”:

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

• Marine biologist Katherine Muzik Ph.D., is director of Kulu Wai, Kauai, Hawai’i.  She has many years experience of research in Japan and Okinawa.

Protesters oppose Okinawa base relocation

SOURCE: Koohan Paik (
SUBHEAD: U.S. Navy container ship remained stuck on a coral reef near Okinawa for a second day.

By Francis Burnsmon 26 January 2015 for Asahi Shimbun -
 Thousands of people, including lawmakers, formed a human chain around the National Diet Building in Tokyo on Jan. 25 to protest the central government’s planned relocation of a U.S. air base in Okinawa Prefecture.

“(The government) turns a deaf ear to the will of Okinawans and forges ahead with the relocation plan,” said Natsumi Okubo, a 28-year-old company worker from Tokyo’s Koto Ward, who joined the demonstration. “As mainlanders, we want to think about what democracy is all about.”

Organizers of the protest, including pacifist groups, put the turnout at around 7,000 people.

The central government is moving ahead with the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma currently in Ginowan to the Henoko district of the city of Nago, both in Okinawa Prefecture.

Voters in Okinawa Prefecture expressed their opposition to that move on Nov. 16 by electing Takeshi Onaga as governor over the incumbent, Hirokazu Nakaima, who had supported the relocation plan.

Onaga, who wants the U.S. air station moved outside the prefecture, says he has been repeatedly snubbed by the central government in his attempts to discuss the Futenma plan.

Among the participants in the Jan. 25 protest were the winners of Okinawa’s four single-seat constituencies in the Dec. 14 Lower House election who had all campaigned on a platform of opposing the relocation plan.

In Tokyo, they jointly condemned the Abe administration’s moves in relation to the project.

USNS ship stuck on Okinawa coral reef

SOURCE: Koohan Paik (
SUBHEAD: U.S. Navy container ship remained stuck on a coral reef near Okinawa for a second day.

By Francis Burnsmon 1 January 2015 for UPI News -

Image above: File photo of Sgt. Matej Kocak at sea. From original article.

A total of 131 people, including 38 civilian crew members, 26 Marines and 67 soldiers, were still on board the USNS Sgt. Matej Kocak, officials said, with another ship on the scene if they need to be evacuated. The vessel was leaking but the amount of water coming in is "manageable," Lt. Charles Banks, a spokesman for the 7th Fleet, said.

The 821-foot vessel struck a reef or outcropping Thursday 6 miles off the coast of Okinawa. High tide that night did not free it.

Banks said experts were headed to the area to determine what must be done to get the ship off the reef. In one case in 2013 the USS Guardian had to be taken apart to remove it from a reef in the Philippines.

Banks said the divers had not discovered yet if any live coral was damaged when the ship struck.

"The safety of the civilian crew members and the environment are our top priorities. So we're taking this situation very seriously and will continue to investigate the situation until it's resolved," Cmdr. William Marks said Thursday.


Fukushima worst human disaster

SUBHEAD: Obesity rates now nearly double Japan average — Excessive weight gain after nuclear crisis “a marker of radiation brain damage”.

By Admin on 24 January 2015 for ENE News -

Image above: Children play in a facility in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 10, 2014. From (

Asahi Shimbun, Jan 24, 2015 (emphasis added): Obesity a growing problem among children in Fukushima… An education ministry survey released Jan. 23… found that 15.07 percent of 9-year-olds in Fukushima Prefecture were 20 percent or more heavier than normal. The figure was much higher than the national average of 8.14 percent, and the highest among all 47 prefectures. [It] was also the highest among all prefectures for 7-year-olds, 11-year-olds and 13-year-olds… According to the ministry, obese children are most commonly found in the Tohoku region… the trend has been especially acute in Fukushima Prefecture since the 2011 onset of the nuclear crisis…. The ministry said this appeared to be because children in Fukushima Prefecture are restricted from playing outdoors due to radiation fears…

National Research Center for Radiation Medicine (Ukraine), 2013: Rise of obesity incidence in ChNPP accident survivors is related to abnormal secretion of α-melanotropin [α-MSH]
  • Accident at the Chernobyl NPP… was followed by the intensive release of a wide range of radioactive elements with affinity to many endocrine tissues. The mentioned radioactive fallout resulted in both internal and external radiation exposure, among others, of the central endocrine structures of the human brain.
  • Higher incidence of borderline obesity – 37%… and of primary obesity – 32.5%… was found in the ChNPP accident survivors vs persons in the control group (31.1 and 24.6% respectively)… For the first time there was revealed a new abnormal way of a reaction on radiation namely – the ‘blunted’ protective response of the physiological increase of α-MSH secretion along with body mass index elevation normally preventing further growth of adipose tissue. There is no increase of α-MSH secretion or even there is a hormone deficiency in most [obese] survivors of the ChNPP accident
  • Received data indicate to the increased risk of borderline obesity and obesity after the prolonged exposure to radiation in moderate doses. The mentioned risk is stipulated by disorders in melanocortin system resulting in α-MSH deficiency at the background of obesity that can be considered as a marker of such an abnormality.
Poster presentation for ‘Rise of obesity incidence in ChNPP accident survivors is related to abnormal secretion of α-melanotropin’ (pdf), 2013:

  • The Chernobyl NPP accident in 1986 and Fukushima NPP accident in 2011 are still the most serious wide scale man made disasters in human history… Massive radioactive release and fallout followed both accidents. Wide range of radioactive isotopes were released some having high affinity to hormone-producing tissues including ones in the cerebral endocrine structures… Today the Chernobyl NPP accident is not over but has evolved into the long-term fourth phase
  • Subjects: The Chernobyl NPP accident survivors (emergency workers… and evacuees…)
  • Decrease of α-MSH… can be considered as a marker of radiation brain damage. Thus α-MSH can be considered as a sensitive marker of radiation impact which deficiency of synthesis leads to disorder of pathways preventing further body mass increase…
α-MSH: Most important of the melanocyte-stimulating hormones in stimulating melanogenesis, a process that… plays a role in feeding behavior… regulation of appetite, metabolism…

See also: Yomiuri: Alarming trend in Fukushima children -- Parent's radiation fears and stress from disaster blamed for spike in obesity rates