Monday, July 13, 2009

Do You Still Seek Justice?

From The New Yorker last week

Winter solitude.
In a world of one color
the sound of wind.


Mountain after mountain without a bird,
a thousand paths without a footprint,
a simple boat, a cloak of bamboo,
an old man fishing in the falling snow.

---Liu Tsung-yuan

Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

---Thomas Wolfe

In February Nation Magazine started up a discussion message board, which attracted me and a whole bunch of other lefties, some pretty well-known. At first interaction was vigorous and exciting. My first comment attracted disagreement from none other than Katha Pollitt. I thought it all was going to be different. But eventually my Internet habits took over, and I grew as weary of endless, wandering threads there as I do at other sites. I stopped clicking in.

Last week a message came from the moderator reporting only 5 people were posting. He wanted to know why no one was bothering with it anymore. He also started sending messages about what topics were getting posted, and eventually some of us have come back in. But it got me to thinking. Everywhere in the States there seems to be some kind of lethargy setting in---or something.

People I know have the same concerns they did before the US presidential election...and some have decided Obama's had enough time now to communicate the directions his administration is taking. Supporters who gave his campaign lots of time and money came to believe he really meant his message of Change. Where is that grassroots spirit now that brought the man into office? Are we disillusioned? What are our real feelings? Are we just too tired to bother? Did we pay our money, and now we want the show? What is going on in America? I'm not alone in wondering. The columns this weekend were brimming over with such questions.

But before I start siting where I think some of the best ones are, let me share with you an email I received just a couple of hours ago. It's from someone who is very much awake and still on the front lines. Here's a report from Elisa Young on the world premiere in Charleston of the new documentary Coal Country. As you may know, the film was made by Mari-Lynn Evans who also created the recent 3-part Appalachia series that showed on PBS~~~

"The premier was kind of a bipolar experiencing - extremely good things jaggedly contrasted against extremely hard things.

"I don't know how MariLynn dealt with everything that happened from Wednesday to Saturday. I think you know the Labelle cancelled. Then the hotel we were in canceled our rooms!! Then they scheduled to show the film at the cultural center in the state capitol complex. The next e-mail I got after that was that the coal industry was calling in so many threats to the cultural center that there would be police in riot gear!!

"I got there about a half an hour into the reception because the rain was so heavy we could barely see to drive down 77. Once we got there, saw lots people I've worked with over the years but have not had time to stay in touch. It felt like a reunion. Larry Gibson, Maria Lambert, Chuck Nelson, Maria Gunnoe, Judy Bonds, Matt Noerpel, Terri Blanton, on and on. Many of the students who have been actively involved turned out. I met some people fighting coal that I'd heard of or corresponded with, but had never met face to face. Me and Kathy Selvage ended up sitting together - had not met before - she is fighting MTR (mountaintop removal) and the Wise power plant in Virginia.

"Matt Peters and Corey Frost (a young man I met at Power Shift who decided to move here and work on a farm) made the trek down from Athens. Amanda Comstock who is fighting coal in Dover Ohio (AMP contracts coal mining and prep plant) caught up with us at the Blue Grass Cafe where people were visiting afterwards.

"People said there'd been some arguments/fights before I got there - miners getting mouthy and trying to start fights. State police were present - Riot gear wasn't.

"Most of the miners and coal industry people were up in the balcony during the screening, and they kept getting really loud, hurling insults, jeers, at times could not hear the movie, but I was proud of the people in our camp - they did not respond by telling them to shut up or throwing insults back over the fence, sat there respectfully. If we had responded in kind to them, it could have gotten really ugly.

"Overall I think MariLynn tried her best to tell both sides of the story, which was difficult because not many from the coal industry were willing to talk with her or go on record....

"The way I see it unless we successfully stop the industries that are fueling the demand for coal, MTR and all the other methods of coal mining will continue. Most of the underground mining in WV is mined out, the coal that's left is in the mountains and for the most part unminable by other means. As long as there is a demand for coal, the best we'll get for MTR-threatened communities is a temporary cease fire - like we just went through with Obama after all the promises he made..

"I think the greatest value of Coal Country is was done in a way that both sides of the story are told - pro-coalers can't dismiss it as propaganda - and it will to raise awareness about the injustice because people will actually see and hear it - hopefully to drive home that we need to invest, right now, in healthier ways of generating our electricity.

"The movie was great, concentrated mostly on MTR. When we were talking the next day, MariLynn told me that their family farm in WV that was lost to the coal industry years ago recently had the coal beneath it $680 million. They are getting ready to go after it.

"Here is one review written on coal country: "

There are photos at that blog, and Elisa wrote the third comment. Another review, with a photo of the film crew interviewing Ms. Selvedge, is here~~~

Around these parts, coal is probably a bigger issue than elsewhere in the world...but people everywhere are getting the message that when you flick an electrical switch, you're involved with coal. The news also is out that oil, gas, and coal are deeply invested in the legislative battle over environmental change. (I notice we're using that phrase now, as more effectively descriptive than "global warming" or "climate change.") But what of that...and other issues?

Paul Krugman this morning describes an apparent lack of response in the nation to that of a frog in an increasingly heated bowl. On Saturday Ralph Nader's column questioned elected Democrats' answers to the demands of their constituents~~~

"These lawmakers---Democrats all, who are the majority in Congress and who agree with these questioners---keep saying 'It's not going to happen' or 'It's not practical.'

"'It's just not practical' to provide a federal minimum wage equal to that in 1968, inflation adjusted, which would be $10 an hour.

"'It's not going to happen' to get comprehensive corporate reform at a time when a corporate crime wave and the Wall Street multi-trillion dollar collapse on Washington, on taxpayers and on the economy is tearing this country apart. A little regulatory tinkering is all citizens are told to expect.

"'It's just not practical' to give workers, consumers and taxpayers simple facilities for banding together in associations with their own voluntary dues to defend these interests in the corporate occupied territory known as Washington, D.C."

Then he lets loose~~~

One of Bill Moyers most critical concerns is the "select few" who seem to run our republic. On Saturdayas well, he and his main Journal partner, Michael Winship, discuss how things really get done in the nation's capitol~~~

And then there's the Bush administration, and what actions should follow what those people did to us. Here there seem to be stirrings, especially over the weekend after the news was divulged regarding Cheney. There are many reports on this today but here is one from Raw Story on Friday, about Cheney's "assassination ring"~~~
and another at Politico, where the story first broke about keeping information away from Congress. This update was yesterday~~~

We all know about the importance of vigilance in a democracy. We learned it in school, yes? May we awaken the responsibilities of our citizenship in this great country!


jazzolog said...

Elisa Young continued her reflections yesterday on the showing of Coal Country over the weekend. This was in a message to the director of Rural

"I did not hear it quiet down at the screening after union vs nonunion was brought up - the jeers went on throughout and there were coal industry supporters that had to be escorted out at the end for trying to start an altercation. So much manipulation from the industry and buy in from people who should know better if they are really out to protect our health and environment.

"There are some groups who are creating agendas to make it be about union vs nonunion jobs, but it's really a mixed bag of dynamics on the mining jobs issue. I worked on MTR (mountaintop removal) for years and continue to, but can only speak wholely to what is developing in my own community.

"The coal industry keeps saying it's about creating local jobs here.

"The WV mining company that's got it's foot in the door now here, Gatling, had hired 100% of people from outside the area with their first mine across the river from us beside the power plants. (It's more efficient to hire miners that are laid off or the area they were working in has been mined out than it is to hire and retrain local people everywhere they go). Their chief engineer told me they had 100% turnover in the first year because 'people hated the area.' So they decided to hire 25% local people. That's all of about 15 people, maybe.

"With the first mining permit here, they had it all over the media that it was about creating local jobs - again.

"We fought that mine tooth and nail.

"What we see now are mud covered trucks from Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, coming on and off the mine site. They hired so many 'local' non-English speaking workers (most migrant workers have been displaced off farmland by the concentration of coal industry proposals along the river here) that they had to hire an interpreter. The local 'mine inspector' they hired was a local farmer who had never been in an underground mine before.

"The union vs. non-union issue from my perspective is divisive. It's mainly on MTR they are making this argument - that will not stop the proliferation of polluting coal-dependent industry proposals that fuel the need for more coal extraction. When they sent me out west to the Indigenous environmental Network conference last year, there were elders from all over the planet.. And it hit me so hard that if we just stop mining by one method or power plants in one community, we've missed the mark. They will just destroy someone else's community - it's a shell game that does not bring meaningful change.

"While I think the jobs should be union jobs, that will not make mining under my farm and community any more acceptable to me. They don't even have the coal rights here, even though they are laying the ground work for the next mining permit that will encompass my farm and other neighbors who own their coal rights."

jazzolog said...

"I don't owe them or anyone a job, union or non-union, that will make our water table drop (we have people who have already lost their wells), toxify the water (they want to do sludge injection here), subside my home and outbuildings (you should see the West end of the county where they already have been), destroy our roads, health etc., etc.,

"On the power plants and construction jobs, they are bringing in partly union workers from different corners of the state and have them driving hours to get here to raise the union cry for power plant construction jobs at our public hearings. I remember before Paul died [community leader at Cheshire, Ohio(a town PURCHASED by a power plant rather than clean up its act)], I talked with him and Steph about this. Steph said the only local improvement they saw when these workers came in to install the scrubbers (which destroyed the community) was an increase in liquor sales and the price of food, etc., going up (because these workers could afford to pay that). But the prices never went down after the workers left those temporary jobs, and the stores have been torn down and no longer exist. My family was one of the founding families of Cheshire. To see it bought and depopulated does not balance out with the jobs created. The coal company wants to buy and depopulate Antiquity (another village just below Racine) now. One of the older women said, 'I wish they'd just quit picking on us.'

"Do I want them to have union jobs? Yes

"Building more power plants in my community and undermining us to fuel it while the pollution kills us? Hell no.

"To me the union vs. non-union argument is a diversionary tactic that totally misses the target and will waste precious time and resources from creating real change right now while they are deciding where that economic stimulus money goes. UNLESS we are incorporating local union jobs with retraining in renewable, sustainable energy industry (would love to have a windmill factory here), I stay out of the conversation because it will make no meaningful difference on how or how much money someone is paid to destroy my health and community.

"For the people who are buying into the stand that mining should be union and done 'responsibly.' Well, know in your heart - that means us. Most of WV has been mined out that can be by underground mining - that means them coming here like we are seeing now and destroying the resources in Ohio like where they have already been.

"There are a group of us women who are fighting coal in Ohio - coal issues that are directly impacting our communities. It would be good if you could get together with us.

"One of them from Greenville who is organizing against CCS in her community (sets off seismic activity and this is on an active fault line near a nursing home and multiple residents with private drinking water wells) is going to be bringing a group down probably the second weekend of August, we are looking at dates, so they can get a taste of what we are fighting here - that's the kind of exchange we need - not propaganda that sells us out.

"Come meet some of our people.


jazzolog said...

I've been among those cheering on Matt Taibbi, at Rolling Stone, as he closed in on Goldman Sachs as a special villain in our economic collapse. And I've tried to wade through his big Bubble article that has brought him so much deserved attention. But when it comes to the nitty gritty of macroeconomics or whatever it's called, he may be in over his head. This morning Paul Krugman takes the company on and does a better job within a few paragraphs~~~


The New York Times
July 17, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
The Joy of Sachs

The American economy remains in dire straits, with one worker in six unemployed or underemployed. Yet Goldman Sachs just reported record quarterly profits — and it’s preparing to hand out huge bonuses, comparable to what it was paying before the crisis. What does this contrast tell us?

First, it tells us that Goldman is very good at what it does. Unfortunately, what it does is bad for America.

Second, it shows that Wall Street’s bad habits — above all, the system of compensation that helped cause the financial crisis — have not gone away.

Third, it shows that by rescuing the financial system without reforming it, Washington has done nothing to protect us from a new crisis, and, in fact, has made another crisis more likely.

Let’s start by talking about how Goldman makes money.

Over the past generation — ever since the banking deregulation of the Reagan years — the U.S. economy has been “financialized.” The business of moving money around, of slicing, dicing and repackaging financial claims, has soared in importance compared with the actual production of useful stuff. The sector officially labeled “securities, commodity contracts and investments” has grown especially fast, from only 0.3 percent of G.D.P. in the late 1970s to 1.7 percent of G.D.P. in 2007.

Such growth would be fine if financialization really delivered on its promises — if financial firms made money by directing capital to its most productive uses, by developing innovative ways to spread and reduce risk. But can anyone, at this point, make those claims with a straight face? Financial firms, we now know, directed vast quantities of capital into the construction of unsellable houses and empty shopping malls. They increased risk rather than reducing it, and concentrated risk rather than spreading it. In effect, the industry was selling dangerous patent medicine to gullible consumers.

Goldman’s role in the financialization of America was similar to that of other players, except for one thing: Goldman didn’t believe its own hype. Other banks invested heavily in the same toxic waste they were selling to the public at large. Goldman, famously, made a lot of money selling securities backed by subprime mortgages — then made a lot more money by selling mortgage-backed securities short, just before their value crashed. All of this was perfectly legal, but the net effect was that Goldman made profits by playing the rest of us for suckers.

(Remainder here~~~)

Quinty said...

Not an economist, I nevertheless agree with Krugman. For having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years I'm quite familiar with the culture of Montgomery Street, "the Wall Street of the West." Where quick and large gain is the bottom line.

They are not evil, they are not dumb, but they are aggressive. And they want to get rich quick. They want theirs before the bubble bursts, so they are all in a hurry go get it. I have met people like that. And that is why I think Krugman is probably right.

I think we will see how serious the Obama administration is when the new regulations come out. That will tell the story.

jazzolog said...

A small section of Naomi Wolf's report in the London Times last week~~~

As the military handlers made pleasant jokes about the heat, I took in a low-tech vision of Hell. This was the site of the first scenes from Guantánamo, where men sweltered in kennel-like cages. These were the cages themselves: about 50, each about 8ftx12ft, an aisle down the centre for guards to move in, a slab of corrugated iron on top of each cell, and a pipe with a funnel at groin level, in which to urinate; open to the elements; no walls, no true shade. Concrete floors. There had been buckets for defaecation, MC1 Dwight told us; but the prisoners had thrown the faeces at the guards. There was a communal shower, now crumbling — but the prisoners had not liked to shower in groups, naked.
The scene was being reclaimed by nature: vines and brambles were swallowing the wire, twisting around the doors. At 10am the humidity was so intense that sweat was pouring down our faces. The temperature was close to 40C. I went into a cell; grinding heat, drenching humidity, pure exposure to the sun. It was as if you were being cooked in a man-sized convection oven. “Look out!” shouted Petty Officer Dwight. “Banana rats!”

I looked up and shrieked, staggering to my feet: climbing across the wire walls and on to the roof of the cell was a 40lb rodent, with a long wiry tail, the size of a bulldog. Another one scurried along the base of the wall, a baby on its back; a third made itself at home in the undergrowth of the neighbouring cell — big, grotesque creatures with no fear. I imagined what it must have been like to try to sleep in that black heat, these animals slipping in and out of the cages with their great claws and teeth.

Behind the cages was the interrogation hut — a plywood shack painted with a red cross. A one-man cage stood near by. From Human Rights Watch reports and documents in Michael Ratner’s book Guantánamo: What the World Should Know, I knew that this was the notorious isolation cell. Prisoners in a detention camp are so cowed by the sight of the isolation cell and those held in it that they become compliant, since isolation is far more damaging psychologically to many prisoners than anything else.

“This is the isolation cell?” I asked Petty Officer Dwight. “Yes,” he said. Then he advised us that the detainees themselves had requested it. “They asked that other detainees who were disruptive and disturbing them be taken here for a ‘time out’. This was a ‘time-out’ area ... if someone was to act up and they needed a ‘time-out’.”

jazzolog said...

Noam Chomsky sums up the Bush years---as well as the continuing negativity~~~

"The point of public relations slogans like 'Support our troops' is that they don't mean anything... That's the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody's going to be against, and everybody's going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn't mean anything. Its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: Do you support our policy? That's the one you're not allowed to talk about."