Roaming Charges: The End of the Age of Protest

Here’s an expurgated version of my Earth Day talk at the Humboldt Anarchist Bookfair, scrubbed for popular consumption of all the crudities, vulgarities and fisticuffs that are the customary fare at such gatherings….

It’s delightful to be here in Arcata on a sunlit day in Humboldt County, where the air is enlivened by the restorative scent of the Redwood Country’s most invigorating agricultural product. I just returned to the Northwest from a deflating week in Indianapolis, a city whose nightly soundtrack throbs to the shrieks of police sirens, as cops rush to put the street hassle on black teenagers selling weed in crumbling neighborhoods. Indy’s the city of my birth and I still have an affection for it, though it’s a tougher and tougher love to maintain as the decades roll by and the town remains encased in some of the most venomous prejudices of 1950s America.

On the flight back, I was poking through an unjustly neglected novel by the greatest Hoosier of them all (give or take Oscar Robertson), Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. The book is Deadeye Dick and it is set in a Midwestern town, a lot like the Indianapolis of my youth, after the city has been blitzed by a neutron bomb, that emblematic weapon of the Cold War which was designed to inflict maximum damage on living beings and leave all of the mansions, bank vaults and oil refineries standing pretty much intact.

Alas, Vonnegut didn’t live to see Donald Trump become president, but, as a seasoned observer of Manhattan’s flim-flam capitalist class, he knew all about Trump and the toxic appeal of his post-fascist brand of politics. Kurt had seen it all before, from the KKK-ruled sundown towns of the Midwest to the firebombing of Dresden.  In Deadeye Dick, Vonnegut observes that “the Dark Ages, they haven’t ended yet.” Note that he didn’t say, “We have entered a new dark age.” Instead, Vonnegut was remarking on the continuity of a vicious style of American politics, which only gets darker and darker as the faint glimmer of the Enlightenment recedes farther into the past.

Vonnegut’s joke, which like most of his one-liners cuts sharply to the core of a profound truth, can help us orient ourselves in the time of Trump, who seems like a scary new beast, with his twitchy microhand fluttering over the nuclear button. In fact, what Trump has done is to the reveal the Beast that has always lurked in the anterooms of American power, sucking the blood and mining the bones of the Earth.

A few days ago, the carbon dioxide readings at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawai’i cracked 410 parts per million, an all-time record and a frightening one. On Earth Day, climate marches took place in cities across the world. Trump’s policies didn’t drive the spiking CO2 levels, but they did propel tens of thousands onto the streets for a few hours of fun. Where were those people during eight years of Barack Obama, an oil and gas man of some distinction? Where were they during eight years of Bill Clinton, one of the greatest environmental con men of our time?

Has Trump finally shattered our illusions, so that we can see clearly the forces—economic, political and technological—that are plunging the planet toward a man-made heat death? Is he, in fact, a kind of clarifying agent for the real state of things?

One can hope so.

Except one mustn’t hope.

As Kafka, the High Priest of Realism, admonished his readers, “There is hope. But not for us.”

Hope is an illusion, an opiate, an Oxycontin for the masses.

Instead of hope, we need a heavy dose of realism. A realism as chilling as reality itself.

Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Buddha instructed us that the world is suffering, and indeed it is. He also advised us that the cure for suffering is empathy, especially for those living beings—among which I would include redwood trees, sea coral and saguaro cacti—which have no defense against the forces that are inflicting that globalized torment.

That’s where we come in. Defenders of the Earth need to abandon all hope before entering the fray. Hope is a paralytic agent. Hope is the enemy.

The antidote is action.

Action, however, is not marching in a parade a couple of times a year, featuring puppets, vagina hats and signs printed up by the Sierra Club©.

Action is not taking selfies with a celebrity in the back of a police wagon after a designer arrest.

Action is not typing your name on a MoveOn e-petition or voting for Jill Stein in safe states like Oregon or California.

Action is standing arm-in-arm before water cannons and government snipers on the frozen plains of North Dakota. Action is hanging from a fragile perch 150-feet up in Douglas-fir tree in an ancient forest grove slated for clearcutting, through howling winter storms. Action is chaining yourself to a fracking rig in rural Pennsylvania or camping out in the blast zone at a Mountain Top Removal site in the hills of West Virginia. Action is intervening when police in storm trooper gear are savagely beating a defenseless woman on the streets of Portland. Action is jumping into the Pacific Ocean with a knife in your teeth to cut the vast trawler nets ensnaring white-sided dolphins and humpback whales. Action is stopping bad shit from going down, or trying to.

The time for protests is over.

Protests will not prick the conscience of the unmasked beast called Donald Trump. Trump has no conscience to arouse, no shame to trigger, no remorse to cultivate. Trump is a full-frontal menace, that dangerous object in the mirror that is closer than it appears. It is the old threat, coming at us faster than before and from all directions at once. An unchained beast that will not be moderated by regulations, social conventions or appeals to common decency.

We are witnessing the wet-dream of Steve Bannon—the Trump Whisperer—made manifest: the dismantling of the regulatory state. This new reality compels us—for those who are willing to look—to confront the shedding of another illusion, an illusion that mainstream environmentalists have been marinating in since the 1970s, when our most progressive president, Richard M. Nixon, cynically created the modern environmental regulatory state in order to split the anti-war movement, pacify the Left and smother a much more radical defense of the natural world.

The green regulatory state–as personified by the EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and the BLM (Bureau of Livestock and Mining), as well as thousands of laws, administrative rules and regulations, the meaning of which can only be divined by lawyers, lobbyists and professional environmentalists—has not slowed the decimation of native forests, the extirpation of wildlife or the poisoning of our air and water. It has simply codified and systematized the destruction, allocating the looting to a coterie of well-connected corporations large enough and shrewd enough to navigate the legal labyrinth for their own bloody profits.

At the same time, the creation of the regulatory state effectively neutered the once potent environmental movement as a real threat to the System. As their budgets swell, often fattened by the largess of grants from foundations linked to the fossil fuel industry, the big DC-oriented conservation groups—who many years ago Alex Cockburn and I dubbed Gang Green—become more and more complicit with the political fool’s gold of neoliberalism. Try finding a lobbyist from NRDC with callouses on their hands and a trace of mud on their boots.

As Trump begins the demolition of the regulatory state, we begin to see how hollow many of Gang Green’s alleged environmental victories of the past—from coal mining and air quality regulations to endangered species protections and new national monuments—really are. They are being wiped out with a slash of the pen.

As my old boss David Brower used to say: “When we win, it’s only a stay of execution, when they win it’s forever. Thus we must be eternally vigilant.” These days the corporate environmental movement is vigilant about only one thing: claiming fake victories in their sustained barrage of fund-raising appeals.

But the days of the laptop environmentalists are numbered. Trump is creating a battlefield where professional conservationists will fear to tread, a direct, face-to-face confrontation with the machinery of ecocide.

And we know who will rise to the call. The ones who always have in the past: the indigenous, the altruists and the anarchists. Those are the ones who will fight as if their lives depend on the outcome, because, of course, they do.

If we are to believe the Sociobiologists, such as E.O. Wilson, the altruistic gene may only be present in three percent of the human population—may their gene pool increase! But, hell, that’s still three times as many people as the one-percenters who are running the show! If you want hope, there’s a microdot to swallow.

Small, scruffy and unruly as it is, we’ve seen the power of our movement in the past. When our backs are—often literally—against the wall, when the battle lines are clear from the immobilizing fog of liberal rhetoric and free from the timid advice of professional compromisers. We’ve seen it emerge from the Lacandon jungle to say enough is enough and overtake the streets of Seattle to shut down the World Trade Organization. We’ve seen grandmothers and housewives expose the toxic crimes of Love Canal and corn farmers shut down nuclear power plants. We’ve taken the international timber industry to its knees on its home turf, blocked strip mines, pipelines and river killing dams. We’ve thrown monkey-wrenches big and small into the gears of the System. It has been done and it will be done again and again. No grant applications or protest permits needed.

As Ed Abbey used to say: there’s no battle more important, no fight more fun waging, no comrades more trusty-worthy than those in the trenches with us when we rise up together in defense of life on earth. To crib a line from Leonard Cohen: “we may be ugly, but we’ve got the music.”

So draw a line and take a stand—almost any place will do, since the whole shebang is under threat—and let loose an old battle cry so that others will know where to come join you: Earth First!


Roaming Charges

+ Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton share many personality traits, none more puissant than a lack of moral conscience that borders on the sociopathic. Neither Trump nor Clinton ever admit to any taint of personal culpability. Fault always lies with others–or, in absence patsies, with the stars themselves. This week Hillary was back out on the road on her No Apologies Tour, promoting her as-yet-unwritten book, that casts blame on everyone except herself: Comey, Wikileaks, Putin, Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Julian Assange, the media and Trump.  She even had the temerity to call herself part of the “Resistance” to a man that she–and only she–helped to elect. Resistance to truth is more like it.

+ A week in the life of Bernie Sanders: praise Trump’s approach to North Korea, defend Ann Coulter, attack the UN for being too tough on Israel, refer to the IDF’s human rights crimes in the Occupied Territories by using air quotes.

+ Make way for the Sanders’ two-step. Here’s Bernie’s self-serving defense for signing a letter condemning the UN for being too harsh on Israel. Make sense of it at your own mental peril:

“I didn’t write that letter. I signed on to that letter. It’s not a letter I would have written.”
— @SenSanders

+ HRC can’t see her own faults and the Sandernistas can’t admit Bernie’s. No wonder he’s hired on as a shill for the still-Clintoneseque DNC that rigged the 2016 primaries, even to the point of agreeing to work as a political errand boy for the Senator from Citibank, Chuck Schumer.

+ We’ve come to the point where having a nuke is the only way to keep from getting nuked by the US.

+ This week the US Air Force provocatively launched an unarmed ICBM missile from Vandenberg Air Base in California out over the Pacific Ocean. I hope North Korea lodges a protest at the UN and a demand for sanctions….

+ The Justice Department announced this week that it will not seek federal charges against police officers in Baton Rogue involved in the killing of Alton Sterling. Let’s revisit this dreadful case. In the early morning of July 5, 2016, two police officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, accosted Sterling outside of the Triple S Food Mart. Sterling, who was selling CDs outside the store, had allegedly been involved in an altercation a few minutes earlier. The police hurled Sterling onto the hood of a nearby car, threw him to the ground, where he was penned down and then shot in the chest multiple times by one of the police officers. The shooting was captured on a cellphone camera. The footage leaves little doubt as to the culpability of the officers. The failure of the Justice Department to file charges in the case is evidence of the the cold hand of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions at work…At least 393 people have been killed by police since January 1, 2017, a number certain to rise as police realize there will be no consequences for their murderous tactics.

+ Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get more depraved, now comes news from Flint that more than 8,000 people are facing eviction from their homes for refusing to pay bills for toxic water that they can’t safely consume.

+ Don’t weep for ObamaCare, it was an insurance industry scam from the beginning. Take it from the Man himself, Barack Obama: “I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors.”

+ Paul Mosley is a particularly repulsive member of Congress from western Arizona, whose primary mission in Washington seems to be aimed at making the lives of the poor even more miserable. This week Mosley offered his jaundiced view that public education should be a privilege not a right. “Education used to be a privilege,” Mosely piously lectured the Arizona Capitol Times. “People used to believe getting an education was something you had to be privileged to get, that you had to work hard to get.” These jerks would nullify every “right” except the “right” for whites to bear arms…

+ This winter Trump’s White House handyman Jared Kushner offered to officiate the wedding of MSDNC’s morning lovebirds, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzesinski. The couple turned down the opportunity to be united in holy matrimony at Mar-a-Lago, instead opting for an engagement weekend in the Antibes. This will be Morning Joe’s third marriage. The former congressman once voted to ban LGBTs from adopting children. He’s a real family values man. As for Jared, is there anything he won’t do? Change the cat litter perhaps?

+ Ben Carson is off to a running start at dismantling the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson believes that the main problem with low-income public housing (i.e., the Projects) is that the conditions in these rat-infested firetraps are much too relaxing. So Carson is intent on making these federal slums much less comfortable, to the point where the unfortunate inhabitants might prefer sleeping on park benches and sidewalks. The problem, according to Carson, is that good-hearted bureaucrats have been showing the downtrodden too much misdirected compassion, creating dependency on having a roof over their heads. There’s no constitutional right to a warm and dry hovel to rest your weary bones. Don’t worry, Dr. Ben, I’m sure there’s a federal contractor out there who, for the right price, will construct beds made of nails and glass for your cardboard shacks…

+ Her poll numbers slipping, British Prime Minister Theresa May has raised the alarm that the EU is meddling in the her upcoming snap elections in an attempt to tilt the field toward the pesky insurgent Jeremy Corbyn. Perhaps Ms. May will make an emergency call to Vladimir Putin with a request that his cyber-crew intervene to even the playing field?

+ Since the election of Trump, there has been a record surge in the number of illegal Israeli homes built on Palestinian land. Since the end of January, the Israeli government has announced plans for 11,000 new homes for Jews in the West Bank, has retroactively legalized 4,000 other homes in the West Bank and announced plans for 15,000 new homes in East Jerusalem. They call these people settlers, which is a much more palatable word for home invaders.

+ If S&M is your thing, you can get your kicks at nearly any border crossing in the US. Every day, more than 750 people are denied entry, often arbitrarily, into the US and another 850 people are tagged as potential security threats and subjected to intrusive searches, often amounting to a kind of full-body fondling. Customs agents have almost dictatorial powers at the border and act with legal impunity, even harassing US citizens, especially of the journalistic and activist variety, on their reentry into the states by demanding the passwords to unlock their cellphones, computers and i-Pads. Even cancer patients, returning to the US for chemotherapy treatment, have been interrogated for as long as four hours. The trends are getting more malign every week.

+ I’m a Baltimore Orioles fan and have been since I lived in DC and Baltimore in the 1970s and early 1980s. Camden Yard is the most beautiful stadium in the Major Leagues and Orioles fans, most of them working class people, have stuck with the team through some lean decades. For the past few years though, the Orioles, a small market team with a limited budget, have been very good indeed, with much of their success attributable to a fleet-footed centerfielder with incandescent skills named Adam Jones, who the Seattle Mariners let slip from their grasps in one of the worst trades in baseball history. This week the Orioles were playing their bitter rivals the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park, where Jones was repeatedly taunted with racist epiteths. Red Sox fans also threw bags of peanuts at him as he tracked down fly balls hit toward the Green Monster.

Despite its liberal pretensions, Boston has a rancid history of racism, which explodes in public from time to time, most notoriously during the period of court-ordered busing to integrate city schools in the mid-1970s and 1980s. For 60 years, the Red Sox were owned by the Yawkey family, whose stern patriarch Tom Yawkey privately vowed never to field “a n—-r” on his team. The old bastard kept his word for many years. The Red Sox were the last team to start a black player, Pumpsie Green in 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Red Sox were the last profession sports franchise in Boston to field a black player, including the Boston Bruins NHL team. Even Red Sox players have been subjected to racist jeers from Boston fans. In January of this year, Red Sox pitcher David Price told Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe  that racial slurs were shouted at him from Red Sox fans last year while he was warming up in the bullpen. It’s long past time to rename the offensive Yawkey Way, which runs between Brookline Avenue and Boylston Street at the entrance to Fenway Park, Pumpsie Green Way or perhaps the more ecologically minded Pumpsie Green-way.

+ Even Bill Russell, the legendary center for the Boston Celtics, endured racist slurs from Boston basketball fans and has continued to be treated by the city as something of a second-class citizen. As Celtic player and longtime broadcaster Tommy Heinshon noted: “Bill Russell won 11 championships for Boston and the city named a tunnel after Ted Williams.”

+ Five states now have only one functioning abortion clinic: Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. In the past 10 years, more than 300 onerous regulations on abortion rights have been enacted across the country, nearly crippling unfettered access to abortion in dozens of other states. Yet, Nancy [Net Worth $48 million] Pelosi pronounced this that abortion is “fading” as a political issue for Democrats, even as right-to-lifers close in for the final kill. This is typical Pelosi palaver. Rich women can get abortions, even if they have to fly to other states. Poor women can’t. Hence, no problem…

+ The state of North Dakota has declared itself the first “protester disaster area” and now has its hand out for an infusion of federal money to pay for its violent suppression of indigenous people trying to block the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will no doubt spring a leak in a few months despoiling rivers and wheat fields and prompting a new plea for federal cleanup money. Demanding federal money to subsidize the armed goons who attacked grandmothers and kids at Standing Rock is like Exxon submitting a bill for the bar tab of Captain Joseph Hazelwood after he drunkenly rammed the Exxon Valdez into Bligh Reef, spilling 11 million gallons of Alaskan crude oil into Prince William Sound. Naturally, these jack-booted conservatives are implacably opposed to federal handouts of any kind … for poor people.

+ The fascist femme fatale of France, Marine Le Pen, apparently plagiarized passages from the speeches of her conservative rival François Fillon during the closing days of the French presidential elections. Her supporters called the word theft nothing more than a “small” loan. Le Pen was hers, the text wasn’t.

+ The Arctic Ocean, and with it the entire planet, seems to have passed the point of no return. A recent report by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program suggest that even under the rosiest scenario for reducing carbon dioxide emissions under the Paris Climate Accords, which Trump wants to yank the US out of, sea levels will rise by .52 meters over the levels in 2010. If, as seems more likely, carbon dioxide emissions continue to puff along at current trends, the seas will rise by at least .74 meters. End game.

+ Let them eat cupcakes, washed down with giant Slurpees! Trump’s Department of Agriculture, now helmed by Sonny Perdue (who once held a prayer vigil for rain in drought-striken Georgia), is weakening nutrition standards for school lunch programs. No word yet on whether ketchup will once again be reclassified as a vegetable as it was under Reagan.

+ So you want to move to Portland, where another day brings another cop riot? This week the Rose City was aflame after the commissioners abruptly rescinded a permit for the traditional May Day rally and then sent their military-clad police goons in to violently crackdown on the demonstrators, a crowd which included many women, children and disabled people. Two days earlier, however, these same police allowed a neo-Nazi group to prowl through Portland’s streets without a permit, spewing racist chants and harassing blacks and Hispanics on block after block. The police protected these tender neo-Nazi marchers from angry anarchists. Reportedly, Hipsterville’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, who is marketing Portland internationally as a kind of pot-friendly Whitetopia, then commissioned three TriMet buses to safely transport the white power dregs back to their starting point.

+ Anarchists who break a few shop windows get charged with terrorism, oil companies that shatter entire towns in Oklahoma get billions in new subsidies…

+ Ernest Hemingway, who suffered dozens of concussions during his rambunctious life, may have suffered CTE, the degenerative brain disease that now ravaging through the ranks of former football players. Perhaps Papa wasn’t as hard-headed as we thought he was…

+ On May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on students protesting the bombing of Cambodia at Kent State University, killing four students–Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krauss, William Schroeder, and Sandy Scheurer–and wounding ten others. Most people are familiar Neil Young’s song “Ohio.” More obscure, but equally moving, is Harvey Andrews’ “Hey Sandy,” recorded a few weeks after the massacre.

+ More proof we are in the grip of another Cold War: UFO sightings are at an all time high.

+ Donnie: “Why was there a civil war, Daddy? Why?”

Fred: “How many times have I told you not to talk with a silver spoon in your mouth, Donald!”

+ Trump don’t know much about history
Except what he learned that time at Scientology
But he does know that one and one make three
And what a hugely great world this could be…

(Humblest apologies to the great Sam Cooke)

+ Alexander Cockburn and I saw Gatemouth Brown perform shortly before Katrina destroyed his home. Breaux Bridge Rag is one of my favorite Brown songs, which he sang, played guitar and fiddle on that night in Oakland. The farther we get away from the Blues, the less we hear songs about how one bad night can land your ass in jail and turn your entire life upside down. They don’t even make prison films anymore, though all of our prisons are overflowing. We increasingly live in a fantasy world and have to dig back to the voices of the past to find any kind of sonic map of the treacherous terrain we’ve entered, those maps preferably engraved on vinyl…


Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Trombone Shorty: Parking Lot Symphony
Jeb Loy Nichols: Country Hustle
Jimmy Greene: Flowers: Beautiful Life, Vol. 2
Mark Lanegan Band: Gargoyle
Ray Davies: Americana

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Bertolt Brecht: War Primer
Walter Scheidel: The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality
Bruce Sterling: Pirate Utopia

Needy Bigotry

China Miéville: “It is depressing to have to point out, yet again, that there is a distinction between having the legal right to say something and having the moral right not to be held accountable for what you say. Being asked to apologise for saying something unconscionable is not the same as being stripped of the legal right to say it. It’s really not very fucking complicated. Cry ‘free speech’ in such contexts, you are demanding the right to speak any bilge you wish without apology or fear of comeback. You are demanding not legal rights but an end to debate about and criticism of what you say. When did bigotry get so needy?

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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

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