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Messages - Surly1

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Geopolitics / Re: Collapse Going Mainstream
« on: April 06, 2012, 05:38:26 AM »
Good to know.

I agree with you in toto about contrarian instincts. If Stratfor is on the case, let's assume that marketers have discovered preppers as an exploitable segment.

The Kitchen Sink / Re: The Age of Limits
« on: April 05, 2012, 12:31:14 PM »
No Mexican dentists in southwest PA.

Conspiracy / Re: Someone You Love: Coming to a Gulag Near You
« on: April 04, 2012, 01:14:57 PM »
The obvious question to ask in this situation is; how can you object to, oppose, defeat such an organization?
Reorganize your life so you need to work as little as possible within the economy, both above and underground. Ideally don't work at all. Everything you work at no matter how seemingly benign and/or insignificant benefits TPTB far more than it does you. Without workers their conspiracy will fall apart.

Become as self-sufficient outside the economy as possible. Anything you need to purchase or even barter for requires that you input your labour into the economy to achieve what you need. If you don't need anything from the economy you don't need to produce anything for the economy.

Where I have mostly fallen down in following my own advice is in becoming visible. The tactic described above will only work if enough  individuals adopt it to disrupt the surveillance state's ability to conduct it's business. I have suggested this idea in public for a number of years with the hope that others will quietly adopt it once they are aware of it. I have been a thorn in the side of TPTB for most of my life and therefore have no anonymity left to protect.

My current intentionally created lifestyle demonstrates that even today, with virtually no resources, one can still check out and stop being a production center for the slave-masters. //

Doing nothing to object doesn't guarantee your well being at this point or in the future. Which would you prefer for yourself and your loved ones? Change now which means taking more responsibility for your actions and taking some risk of failure or censure in order to object to the current transgressions effectively, but without glory, or doing nothing now and knowingly accepting the risk of being put through the current crop of despots' meat grinders without any option of resistance some time in the near future?

I found this post very thought provoking and wanted to mull it over a bit before writing anything in reply.

It does seem that the only thing we can do is withdraw our consent from the status quo. And that means withholding our labor, as you suggest. Doing that without bringing the Full Majesty of the State down on our heads is clearly another matter, as you illustrate clearly. Guess it's not 1848 anymore.

You shed new and unpleasant light on how data miners can find anomalies. I can only share with RE the (reasonable) hope that we are all pretty small beer, in the scheme of things.

What you have written reminds me of Dmitry Orlov: “Much of the transformation is psychological and involves letting go of many notions that we have been conditioned to accept unquestioningly. In order to adapt, you will need plenty of free time. Granting yourself this time requires a leap of faith: you have to assume the future has already arrived.” Also: “Beyond the matter of personal safety, you will need to understand who has what you need and how to get it from them.”

Most of us are like fish trying to describe the shape of the fishbowl, so dependent are we on the paradigms with which we have grown up and participated in this economy. And then I look at someone like you, who has lived outside the paradigm for years, and successfully so . . . although as you wrote in the MIA thread, having such a varied skill set puts you in high demand, which is in itself a mixed blessing. All in all though, I would rather live in a community of likeminded people and be valued and thus busy than the alternative.

We are deeply challenged to understand what it would mean to live without an economy, when cash is virtually useless and most people won't be getting any income anyway because they'll be out of a job. RE echoes Orlov when he says that when faced with a collapsing economy, one should stop thinking of wealth in terms of money.  Physical resources and assets, relationships and connections will be worth more than cash.

In working with local homeless I have often observed a resilience from street living that those of us more comfortably positioned wholly lack. It seems clear to me that those who operate on the margins and who possess a variety of "do it yourself" skills will do better, when the end comes, than those whose incomes and lifestyles have accustomed us to petroleum fueled comparative luxury.

When TSHTF, if your only skills are arbitrage or insurance sales, you will end your short life pushing a wheelbarrow through the mud in a FEMA re-education camp.

The Kitchen Sink / Re: The Age of Limits
« on: April 04, 2012, 12:39:15 PM »
No, I missed that... will have to look.

East coast road trip?

The Kitchen Sink / The Age of Limits
« on: April 04, 2012, 12:19:05 PM »
Interesting meeting coming up, which I saw on Orlov's site:

The Age of Limits

Dedicated to the pioneering work of Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers & Dennis Meadows
and their epochal 1972 report "The Limits to Growth."

Conversations on the Collapse of The Global Industrial Model

Friday May 25th thru Monday May 28th, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend at Four Quarters


The original “Limits to Growth Report” (1972 Meadows et al) did not include a time line for the global growth scenarios it examined. With the addition of statistical data for the following 40 years it is now possible “to fit to the curve” and make rough predictions based on observed resource production and consumption patterns, overlaid upon continued population growth.

For 50 years serious thinkers have questioned the assumptions of our global industrial culture and its prospects over the longer term. In recent decades they have succeeded in bringing at least some of the core science into popular discussion, notably petroleum depletion and especially climate change. Through these years proposals have been made outlining the governmental policies that would be necessary to begin “solving” these problems. Sadly, we can now see through the course of events, or rather non-events, that the window of opportunity is closing, if not already closed. We are now confronted not by a problem, but by a predicament; one which has no solution, but only adaptations and mitigation's.

Environmental Degradation and Resource Depletion.
Global Population Growth and Demographics.
Rentier Debt and Growth Based Finance. Global Climate Change.
A world now reaching The Limits of Growth on a Finite Earth.

·In-Depth Conversations With:
John Michael Greer: Scholar and author of more than twenty books on a wide range of subjects, including The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, The Ecotechnic Future: Exploring a Post-Peak World, and The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered.

Carolyn Baker Ph.D.: Professor of history and psychology, psychotherapist and author of Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition and Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse.

Dmitry Orlov: Essayist, wry social commentator and author of the acclaimed Reinventing Collapse – The Soviet Experience and American Prospects.

Gail Tverberg: Professional Actuary and Mathematician, global limits analyst and writer.

Thomas Whipple: Retired senior analyst for the CIA and a well known researcher and writer on energy and oil issues, Chief Editor of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil-USA’s flagship publication, Peak Oil News and Review.

Conspiracy / Re: Someone You Love: Coming to a Gulag Near You
« on: April 04, 2012, 12:13:11 PM »
No, GITMO will be for the violent sorts. More likely you and fellow travellers will be interned at the FEMA camp in Wyoming, the one Dick Cheney had Halliburton build. I'm sure there will be crafts and ceramics there . . .

Geopolitics / Re: Lt. Col. Eggen's Thesis
« on: April 04, 2012, 10:42:33 AM »
I started it as well and agree with your assessment. This report is certainly found a home in the right place.

Conspiracy / Re: Someone You Love: Coming to a Gulag Near You
« on: April 04, 2012, 09:16:35 AM »
Here's one dystopian nightmare, coming soon To a Theatre Near You:

Yes, you can have your Medicare, your Social Security, and your unemployment compensation, but you'll need to be chipped. All in the name of efficiency, of course. And you won't even need to carry a wallet. We'll just use scanners to debit your account, all accessible from the Verichip in your arm.

And should you cause us too much unpleasantness? We just turn off the chip. Good luck getting some your favorite GMO foods in a world with no money.

Turn, inevitably, to a life of crime? We activate the subroutine buried within the chip . . .

The Kitchen Sink / Re: Spring has Sprung!
« on: April 04, 2012, 08:16:42 AM »

You can survive a whole lot of time provided you have some tools&skills. // Having some genuine hard working friends (people who don't freak out when hard times hit) would help weathering the shitstorm. I'm preparing for a similar approach (don't have money to buy land or anything and I also agree with you that you don't own anything on this world that you can't defend - and even then it's only a rental from nature) which involves bugout vehicle (RV if we really get a deflation and I can change my chump change for one) and hunting/wood cutting gear, then it's the Great White North //

There was a very spirited thread on the Reverse Engineer Yahoo site about this very subject. It had various threads, including strategies for bugging out, vehicles, tools, clothing and the like. One of my favorites was the "storage unit bugout" which consists of amassing essentially survival items and barter goods in a storage unit close to where you eventually want to bug out, a strategy which in itslef is good until TEOTWATKI goes Mad Max. So there's that. You are certainly among friends.

In terms of Defending what you have, Survival Knives, Pepper Spray, and Tasers are good starts. A survival Knife is a much needed tool in any event. If memory serves, and at this age it does not, I think there was even a thread on knives...

What Are the Essential Tools for Survival?

A short list...

Two Lighters and Tinder in a Waterproof Container (#1)
Baseline preps mean you should have fire starter (a good lighter, and tinder, as well as a back-up lighter). Carry in a small water-proof container.

Adequate Clothing for the Climate
This is another Prep 101 item. There was much discussion, mostly by RE, about this one. A lot of it is common sense stuff: layers are good. You can stay relatively warm at 45 degrees F (indoors) with sufficient layers. Adequate clothing for the temperature and weather conditions can make survival pleasant, and keep you warm and relatively dry. Pay particular attention to shoes.

Tarp, Rope, and Tent
Simply having a tent is no guarantee that you've got good shelter. When it tears or the rain is so severe that your tent can't keep up pack an extra tarp or two. Each person in the party should pack at least one, maybe two  small tarps as well. Together with some rope you can improvise almost anything in terms of shelter.

Backpack and Sleeping Bag
Pre-packed with survival gear, clothing, and the right shoes / boots  at all times. Good well-made sleeping bag with adequate cold weather temperature rating, along with emergency food as well as drinking water, and a map or two, and first aid kit.

Water bottle and water purification tablets / water purifier
The stainless steel water bottles widely available is a handy item. Certain water bottles can be rigged to allow water to be boiled right inside the bottle -- no need for a pot or tea kettle. Be sure to check whether a bottle is actually stainless steel, or aluminum, etc. Having a few water purification tablets on hand is a good way to deal with exigent circumstances. Know how to use them effectively, which probably means reading the directions beforehand.

Self defense-- A matter of personal taste and preference requiring no elaboration here.

A Map for when the GPS goes out and you can't get a signal on the iPhone
My personal preference from backpacking days was the USGS maps. If you have a bugout in mind, it obviously makes sense to  a good idea of the lay of the land. Hiking the area, preferable with a map, to familiarize yourself with the landscape, should give you a leg up on understanding the obvious avenues of approach.

There was much more in impressive depth on the old site. But this is a start, if indeed a poke in the eye with the obvious.

Speaking of tech indicators, here is another, to serve as a nice counterpoint to those rosy job growth numbers oozing out of DC:

US Internet firm Yahoo! said Wednesday it was cutting roughly 2,000 jobs as it seeks to build a "smaller, nimbler, more profitable" company and reduce costs.

"We are intensifying our efforts on our core businesses and redeploying resources to our most urgent priorities. Our goal is to get back to our core purpose -- putting our users and advertisers first -- and we are moving aggressively to achieve that goal," said Scott Thompson, chief executive of Yahoo!, in a statement.

The struggling Internet pioneer announced a restructuring to focus on a "select" group of core businesses and the platforms that support them.

A key focus will be the data that drives "deep" personalization for users and return on investment for advertisers, the Sunnyvale, California-based company said.

"Today's actions are an important next step toward a bold, new Yahoo! -- smaller, nimbler, more profitable and better equipped to innovate as fast as our customers and our industry require," Thompson said.

The company said it would notify approximately 2,000 people that their jobs have been eliminated or would be in the future. It gave no details on the timing of the layoffs.

Yahoo! said it expects the workforce reduction will produce about $375 million in annualized savings.

"With a clear focus on profitability and growth, the company will be disciplined in its investments and radically simplify how it builds, launches and maintains many of its properties and products," it said.;_ylt=AoH399drnA5mbXgRXyRI_4Gs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNpaGRkYmw0BG1pdAMEcGtnA2U1NDE4NzVjLTNiNGUtMzY5Ny04NjMwLTliOGNjNzFiYmFmMARwb3MDMQRzZWMDbG5fTGF0ZXN0TmV3c19nYWwEdmVyA2NlMmE5MTMwLTdlNWQtMTFlMS1hZmJlLTM1MTY1NjhkYWZhMQ--;_ylv=3

The Kitchen Sink / Re: Building Our fences Ever Higher
« on: April 04, 2012, 03:10:52 AM »
My favorite "Orwellian euphemism" for gated communities is "prisons-in-waiting." When the grid goes off, these places will become as veal-fattening pens for the surrounding zombie hordes. How quickly we forget that the fences and gates that shut out "the other" can also shut us within!

Not that I'm to spend a great deal of time worrying about the fate of those who choose to live inside of gated communities. Today, gated communities represent a retreat from a common enterprise, and turning of the back on one's fellow citizens. I do imagine that we are the same people who built the Eisenhower interstate system. Now we can't agree together to go build a bridge.

I recall seeing my first gated community in Florida in the 1980s when I was working on a video project. I marveled at what it meant that that time. Unfortunately, now I have a better idea. The perfect suburban incarnation of the libertarian dream. I'm afraid the story ends much the way the one in Somalia does-- with warlords. And zombies, if you will.

Geopolitics / A Very Sick Country: David Michael Greer
« on: April 03, 2012, 11:58:05 AM »
Long-- pack a lunch. But well worth reading.


It looks now like the regressive majority on the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, his health care bill.

That is so fitting.

More than that, it is also a reminder of just how sick this country truly is. Imagine that the lab returned the results from your battery of blood work tests, and all the indicators were screaming out “Danger!” and “Broken!”. That’s us, baby. Get this patient to the ER!

What a total disaster.

The first indicator of how unhealthy we are as a country – literally and figuratively – is the fact that we still don’t have universal health care here in the wealthiest place on Earth. It’s been more than century since the welfare state – a system in which the national government assumes responsibility, as an agent of the national will, for guaranteeing certain benefits and protections to its citizenry – was invented, and, unlike every other developed country in the world, the richest one still doesn’t come close to having universal care for our public, including millions of children. It’s a crime – there’s no other word for it – of astonishing proportions . But it gets worse. We pay more than half-again per capita above the cost of the next most expensive system in the world, and still one-sixth of our population remains completely uninsured, with many more poorly insured. Nice.

By the way, it’s worth noting that the guy who originally launched the welfare state was none other than the regressive and aggressive old Prussian chancellor himself, Otto von Bismarck. Golly, I don’t mean to be critical or anything, but you know you’re hurting when your country’s politics are to the right of the “blood and iron” father of the German Empire. Just saying...

I’ll hold my gauze-packed nose in a vise-grip and give Obama a little bit of credit for addressing the issue. But the way he went about it constitutes the original sin that will have brought us to the place of almost complete disaster after the rump Court finishes its ideological hijack. To begin with, Obama looked at the existing disaster of regressive health care policy – the joys of commercializing and profitizing the public’s need for medicine – and then decided to promulgate the next most conservative option he could come up with, one which commercializes and profitizes medicine even more. He could have gone for single payer – that is, Medicare for all – which is only the system employed by just about every other developed country in the world, all of whom, naturally, are more highly ranked by the World Health Organization on delivery of health care. Yes, yes, I know. All the Obama apologists out there say this was politically impossible. Maybe that’s true. But maybe it’s not. The presidency is all about persuasion. If the punk Bush could sell the insane Iraq war, which in fact he did to an originally skeptical public, perhaps Obama could have talked sense to America about health care, and moved people enough to force action out of Congress. Or, short of that, he might at least have demanded that the public option be part of the legislation, the next best choice.

What he did instead was to pretend to care about a public option, in order to keep stupid liberals on board, while he cut a secret deal with the parasitic insurance industry guaranteeing their profits and promising there would be no public option in the bill. That isn’t reckless surmise. Tom Daschle, Obama’s political mentor and health care point man, wrote that the president did just that. Then he adopted a model for his plan that was so conservative it had originally been put forth by the Heritage Foundation, was a plank in Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, and had already been implemented by Mitt Romney (who, in case you hadn’t heard, is a Republican – though he can be whatever you need him to be, as long as you make him president) in Massachusetts, in addition to being blessed by that bastion of progressivism, the insurance industry. Hey, what’s that old line about reposing with canines...?

Obama compounded his sell-out to the one percent by not selling his legislation to the ninety-nine percent. Polls show that most Americans don’t understand the legislation – today, three years after the extended sausage-making process that produced it – and most favor repeal. What’s astonishing about that latter fact is that, even though the bill is deeply flawed, it provides pretty much nothing but good news for American citizens. Opposing it – unless you’re opposed to the 99 percent getting a fair shake (hmmm?, who could those opponents be?) or you’re just dead-set on seeing this president fail (hmmm? again) – is like opposing free chocolate sundaes or bonus checks from your employer. When you can’t sell Christmas to a six year-old, maybe you should get out of the Santa business, eh?

Obama appears to have also been the last person in America to understand the vicious nature of today’s so-called conservatives. Generally, I think his incompetence as president is overstated. Too often, it’s the excuse suckered liberals give themselves for the cognitive dissonance they experience when they look at how corporate and conservative and militant and statist their hero’s actual policies are. But health care may be a case where this is an accurate portrait. I suspect he was actually dumb enough – as if he, like Sarah Palin, had simply not been paying the remotest attention to the government shutdowns, the impeachment of Clinton, the 2000 election, the Swiftboating of John Kerry and Max Cleland, and the rest of American history these last thirty years – to believe that he could find some moderate Republicans, compromise with them and get their vote. And I also think he is the most inept owner of the bully pulpit since George III. All during the year (year!) of legislating health care, this administration completely ceded the high ground, low ground, and everything in-between ground to the bellowing, foaming-at-the-mouth, blatantly lying (remember death panels?), corporate-sponsored, Koch Brothers-funded, Tea Party idiot right. And all during this last year they’ve done exactly the same thing while the four or six or ten Republican presidential candidates running at any given time have trashed the bill relentlessly, with nary a counter peep from Barack and his communications wizards. Gee, is it shocking under those conditions that the American public doesn’t understand the bill, or that they oppose it? Is it such a leap to imagine that such public sentiments have given license (as if they needed it) to the same five hacks-in-black-robes who gave us Bush v. Gore and Citizens United to legislate from the bench as the most activist court in perhaps all of American history and strike down the legislation wholesale?

Which brings us to even deeper maladies being suffered by the body politic. This debacle demonstrates in full the degree to which the American political system is completely broken. But, alas, not in the way people think, which leads to the possibility (and, given the events of the last thirty years, the likelihood) that in the coming years we will simply compound our problems in response to these indicators, by simply going further in the direction of our systemic carnage, rather than running as fast as we can the other way. There are four main issues here, and none of them are peripheral or symptomatic – each of these go to the core dysfunctionality of the American political system. They are: the American presidential system, its electoral system, the extensive use of judicial review, and the kleptocratic ownership of the state.

Americans revere their Constitution, but they mostly don’t know why. Just like we grow up Catholics or Mets fans or anti-communists, we just by-and-large think what we’re told to think and do what we’re told to do, never stopping to ask the big Why? questions. As a political scientist, I do admire certain feats of engineering embodied in the Constitution, and the clever solutions these provided to otherwise intractable problems at the time of the Founders. And as a citizen, I admire parts of the document – such as the Bill of Rights – very much, especially given the era from which they emerged.

However, one of the handful of most salient ideas of the Constitution is a bad one, as has becomes increasingly evident in our time for anyone who cares to look. This is the notion of separation of powers, along with the twin concept of checks and balances. I suspect most Americans don’t even realize that you don’t have to structure your political regime this way in order to have a democracy, and in fact, most democracies don’t. They use a parliamentary system instead, rather than our model, which is referred to as a presidential system. What’s the difference? Well, in a parliamentary system, you have one singular government responsible for governing. The executive function (prime minister and cabinet) emerges directly out of the legislative function (parliament) to which it is permanently fused, and, meanwhile, there typically is no judiciary with the power to speak to legislative matters. That means, quite simply, that the undivided government governs, unimpeded by anything other than the criticisms of the media and the opposition, and how its work plays with public opinion. It gets things done – none of the divided government plaguing the American system so badly today – and if the public approves, it gets another term. If not, it doesn’t.

It’s a simple straightforward concept that fully embodies the notion of responsible government, thus permitting accountability and, ultimately, real functioning democracy. Contrast that with the American system. Is there anybody in the US who isn’t unhappy with the current government? Maybe that one guy in Nebraska, but he’s been off his meds for years now. Or the woman in Florida with the sixty-seven cats. Otherwise, though, the remaining three hundred million of us are pretty much sickened by Washington. So what do we do? Well, throw the bums out, of course, and replace them with some new bums. But think about what that would mean today. We would be replacing a Republican House with a Democratic one, a Democratic Senate (with an insufficiently large enough majority to do anything) with a Republican Senate of the same gridlocked structure, and a right-wing Democratic president with a Republican president. Wow! That’d be a relief, eh?! What a difference that would make! What a prescription for boldly launching the future!

We are, of course, a million miles away from shredding the worshiped Constitution (and a change of this magnitude to such a core item would indeed represent something of a shred, starting with Articles One, Two and Three), and even further from possibly imagining that foreign people – let alone those squishy European bastards who inconveniently live healthier, happier and longer lives – could teach us anything about anything. But, that said – since we’re just talking among friends here – one of the greatest gifts we could give ourselves at this point would be a parliamentary system and the gift of responsible government. Then, when we’re not happy with any particular government we’ve got, we can make a change at the ballot box which might actually result in a genuine change of direction.

Assuming, that is, that there is an alternative to be chosen. If, on the other hand, you have an electoral system like ours, you can have parliamentary government and yet may still be left with only two parties to pick from. Worse still, on fundamental issues like foreign policy and the distribution of wealth in the society, the parties may be identical enough (or just owned enough) so as to offer no real choice at all. Hello! Can you say “America 2012”? There are a lot of systemic reasons for this duopoly we’ve produced in American politics, but the chief one is our use of the winner-take-all district model electoral system – which will tend to produce two dominant parties over the long-haul wherever it is employed – instead of a proportional representation system, which does not. Again, god forbid Americans should learn anything from anyone else, but if we did stoop that low, we might want to think about revising our electoral system (which would not require Constitutional amendment). It would do us a world of good, not only by giving us multiple and genuine choices at the ballot box, but also by injecting alternative ideas into our poverty-stricken political discourse.

Meanwhile, if we return to the separation of powers problem again for a moment, we encounter another severe problem which is a natural artifact of that system. If you’re going to have separate branches of government, each with the capacity to check and balance against each other, that means your judiciary pretty much needs to have the power known as judicial review in order to be a meaningful player in that contest. This term refers to the capacity to strike down legislation produced by the other two branches. Again, this is – especially to the degree with which it is practiced here – a fairly peculiarly American idea. In most other democracies, parliament rules. Period, full stop. Not here.

Does judicial review makes sense? I can see two domains where it does, though often (like now) only in a theoretical sense: civil rights and civil liberties. Stupid and angry politicians, often reacting to the stupid and angry sentiments of the public, almost never fail to relieve minorities of their rights and deny individuals the human rights (little things like due process, and so on) they are otherwise entitled to possess. All too often, in short, it’s just plain politically popular to be mean and bigoted and ‘legally’ violent, and democratically elected governments will readily oblige a lathered up public (when politicians aren’t in fact whipping up voters themselves – remember McCarthyism? the war on drugs? gay marriage?). Who will stop them from doing this? Theoretically (meaning, only if they happen to be so disposed – just the opposite of our condition today with the regressive majority on the Supreme Court), courts populated by justice-seeking and principle-protecting judges will do so, judges who also happen to be insulated from the public wrath by lifetime terms. They can afford to stand on lofty principles when the political branches are assembled into a lynch party. There is definite wisdom to this concept, though no guarantees. Do you see Justice Scalia, for example, slapping down Congress for depriving African Americans or women of their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights? I rest my case.

Apart from those two areas, however, I would argue that the very notion of judicial review is a disaster, because it is profoundly undemocratic. That was perhaps never more evident than it is now, as the rump majority of this extremely activist Court is preparing to fully legislate from the bench – in full contradiction of their own fervently argued ‘principles’ of federalism and judicial restraint from previous cases no less – by overturning not just the individual mandate part of Obama’s bill, but all of it. And apparently – judging from Scalia’s comments – they’ll be doing so without even reading the legislation, and certainly without understanding it. I see little difference between such a governing structure and the essence of monarchy. In both cases you have political decision-makers who have not been chosen by the public, serving life terms, making legislative decisions in secret, unaccountable and nonreplacable, making policy on high and dictating it to the masses without fear of consequence. What possible relationship does that bear to anything one could plausibly label as democracy? The question answers itself. It also therefore reminds us that the third major political malady infecting our system is the expanded and profoundly undemocratic notion of judicial review.

Notwithstanding these structural handicaps, the American political system has nevertheless been moderately successful at negotiating the rocky shoals of policy-making over the last two-plus centuries. There have been, to be sure, some glaring inadequacies and the occasional near-fatal meltdown. But people ultimately vote with their feet, and something chronically broken would ultimately be unlikely to have seen that many candles on its birthday cake. In that same two hundred year-plus time period, for example, the French have had five republics (along with several iterations of empires and monarchies). But after one false start (the Articles of Confederation), the American regime has remained more or less intact for more than twenty decades, though it is manifestly broken today. Calling the federal government dysfunctional would be an act of charity.

But there is one last peril that threatens American democracy today, to a degree not seen for at least a century, and to the extent that the term democracy itself becomes a rather dubious appellation for the system we live under. Let’s just be honest, shall we? – if for no other reason than the refreshing novelty of doing so: Fundamentally, the representatives in our ‘representative government’ don’t represent you and me. They represent the one percent. You can play all the games you want about how campaigns are funded, and spin all the tall tales you need to about how money ‘only’ buys access, not Congressional votes, but the real system of pay-to-play is transparently obvious to anyone willing to risk even a sidelong glance at the emperor’s new clothes. It’s just that simple and just that broken. The only place American representative democracy exists anymore today is in eighth-grade civics textbooks.

General governance mechanics are important, as I’ve noted at some length above, and there are campaign finance systems that are way better than others at promoting true democratic representation, to be sure. But at the bottom of the pile of political engineering problems lies human nature. If we allow greed to control our public sphere, we will wind up with a government representing the one percent and not the ninety-nine percent. Indeed, it will be a government very much intentionally governing at the expense of the ninety-nine percent. We will wind up with a political system that is completely dysfunctional, except for purposes of the wholesale transfer of wealth upwards. We will wind up with policies in every domain – from national security to tobacco policy to guns, prisons and taxes and far beyond – that reflects the needs of the special monied interests over the public interest. And we will end up with a health care system whose purpose is not to provide health, but rather to enrich insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.

Hey, what the hell am I doing, saying “We will...”? Strike that.

We have.

Welcome to America, 2012.

Here’s to your good health.

Conspiracy / Re: Someone You Love: Coming to a Gulag Near You
« on: April 03, 2012, 10:22:31 AM »
No conspiracy theory about it. Hedges lays the case out clearly. NDAA and all the fearsome apparatus of the National Security State is in full ascendance, and the window for action is shrinking quickly. The alternative is internal exile, or, if one has sufficient means, emigration to El Cafayete with Doug Casey, or Cheelay.

More on gated communities. This time, the writer is a black man.

The Gated Community Mentality
Published: March 29, 2012

AS a black man who has been mugged at gunpoint by a black teenager late at night, I am not naïve: I know firsthand the awkward conundrums surrounding race, fear and crime. Trayvon Martin’s killing at the hands of George Zimmerman baffles this nation. While the youth’s supporters declare in solidarity “We are all Trayvon,” the question is raised, to what extent is the United States also all George Zimmerman?

Under assault, I didn’t dream of harming my teenage assailant, let alone taking his life.

Mr. Zimmerman reacted very differently, taking out his handgun and shooting the youth in cold blood.

What gives?

Welcome to gate-minded America.

From 2007 to 2009, I traveled 27,000 miles, living in predominantly white gated communities across this country to research a book. I threw myself into these communities with gusto — no Howard Johnson or Motel 6 for me. I borrowed or rented residents’ homes. From the red-rock canyons of southern Utah to the Waffle-House-pocked exurbs of north Georgia, I lived in gated communities as a black man, with a youthful style and face, to interview and observe residents.

The perverse, pervasive real-estate speak I heard in these communities champions a bunker mentality. Residents often expressed a fear of crime that was exaggerated beyond the actual criminal threat, as documented by their police department’s statistics. Since you can say “gated community” only so many times, developers hatched an array of Orwellian euphemisms to appease residents’ anxieties: “master-planned community,” “landscaped resort community,” “secluded intimate neighborhood.”

No matter the label, the product is the same: self-contained, conservative and overzealous in its demands for “safety.” Gated communities churn a vicious cycle by attracting like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders. These bunker communities remind me of those Matryoshka wooden dolls.  A similar-object-within-a-similar-object serves as shelter; from community to subdivision to house, each unit relies on staggered forms of security and comfort, including town authorities, zoning practices, private security systems and personal firearms.

Residents’ palpable satisfaction with their communities’ virtue and their evident readiness to trumpet alarm at any given “threat” create a peculiar atmosphere — an unholy alliance of smugness and insecurity. In this us-versus-them mental landscape, them refers to new immigrants, blacks, young people, renters, non-property-owners and people perceived to be poor.

Mr. Zimmerman’s gated community, a 260-unit housing complex, sits in a racially mixed suburb of Orlando, Fla. Mr. Martin’s “suspicious” profile amounted to more than his black skin. He was profiled as young, loitering, non-property-owning and poor. Based on their actions, police officers clearly assumed Mr. Zimmerman was the private property owner and Mr. Martin the dangerous interloper. After all, why did the police treat Mr. Martin like a criminal, instead of Mr. Zimmerman, his assailant? Why was the black corpse tested for drugs and alcohol, but the living perpetrator wasn’t?

Across the United States, more than 10 million housing units are in gated communities, where access is “secured with walls or fences,” according to 2009 Census Bureau data. Roughly 10 percent of the occupied homes in this country are in gated communities, though that figure is misleadingly low because it doesn’t include temporarily vacant homes or second homes. Between 2001 and 2009, the United States saw a 53 percent growth in occupied housing units nestled in gated communities.

Another related trend contributed to this shooting: our increasingly privatized criminal justice system. The United States is becoming even more enamored with private ownership and decision making around policing, prisons and probation. Private companies champion private “security” services, alongside the private building and managing of prisons.

“Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” laws like Florida’s expand the so-called castle doctrine, which permits the use of deadly force for self-defense in one’s home, as long as the homeowner can prove deadly force was reasonable. Thirty-two states now permit expanded rights to self-defense.

In essence, laws nationwide sanction reckless vigilantism in the form of self-defense claims. A bunker mentality is codified by law.

Those reducing this tragedy to racism miss a more accurate and painful picture. Why is a child dead? The rise of “secure,” gated communities, private cops, private roads, private parks, private schools, private playgrounds — private, private, private —exacerbates biased treatment against the young, the colored and the presumably poor.

Rich Benjamin is the author of “Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America” and a senior fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan research center.

The Kitchen Sink / Building Our fences Ever Higher
« on: April 03, 2012, 09:22:22 AM »
Was reading some Dmitry Orlov today and came across a couple of links to articles about gated communities in the comments section. Went down that rabbit hole...

I have always been put off by gated communities, by their self-satisfied smugness, by their implicit retreat from a shared sense of sacrifice, obligation or purpose on the parts of their inhabitants. . .  Feffer actually distills that inchoate loathing in a few words: "We are building our fences ever higher. We are patrolling our borders with ever more sophisticated weaponry. And we are punishing any and all who trespass."

Some very good insights here.

March 28, 2012
France, Florida and California
Three Killings

The note left next to the bloodied body of Shaima Alawadi read “go back to your country, you terrorist.” Alawadi, who died on Saturday after being taken off life support, was an Iraqi-born mother of five living outside of San Diego. Someone had delivered a similar note to the family earlier in the month. It was likely the same person who returned with a tire iron and struck her repeatedly on the head. Alawadi had lived in the United States for 17 years. Several family members reportedly provided cultural training to U.S. soldiers deployed to the Middle East. In a very sad coda, Alawadi is indeed going back to her country – to be buried.

There were no notes that accompanied Trayvon Martin’s death at the end of February. But he was also killed for a perceived trespassing. An African-American teenager, Martin was guilty of “walking while black” as he carried iced tea and Skittles through the Florida community of Sanford. The self-appointed head of the community’s neighborhood watch, George Zimmerman, identified Martin as a threat. Zimmerman didn’t wait for the police to arrive. He chased after the young man and, in circumstances still very murky, shot him dead. Because of the “stand your ground” law that permits shooting in self-defense, the police did not arrest Zimmerman.

In the middle of March, Mohamed Merah went on a killing spree in Toulouse, France that left seven people dead. The victims were a rabbi, three Jewish children, and three French soldiers. Two of the soldiers were Muslim. Merah, who identified with Islamic extremism, specifically targeted Muslim soldiers for being“traitors.” The French-born Merah better fit the profile of a serial killer than a political extremist. But his Muslim victims are an important reminder that ordinary, everyday Muslims, even more so than Jews or Americans, figure as the most potent threats to the worldview promoted by al Qaeda and its ilk. The overwhelming majority of al Qaeda and Taliban victims are Muslims.

These deaths are, on the face of it, quite different: a hate crime, a serial killing, and an act of vigilantism. But underlying these three tragedies is a notion of violated borders, of trespass. The message behind all three is this: you should not be here, you are not one of us, and your death shall serve as a warning.

Trespass is originally an economic term intimately connected to evolving concepts of public and private space. In the late medieval period in England, wealthy landholders began to fence off common lands to increase the pasturage for their flocks of sheep. This enclosure movement, privatization avant la lettre, created a new class of dispossessed, of those who did not belong. The word “trespass” – to enter private property without permission – comes from this period of late Middle Ages. Fences marked off the newly enclosed property. You could not enter without the permission of the owner or his agents. And scaffolds appeared throughout England to punish those thrown off the land who were forced to steal because they had no other means of subsistence.

In his captivating book The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt describes how the violence and oppression of this system drove theologian Thomas More to create his famous “utopia” of commonly held property.

“Utopia begins with a searing indictment of England as a land where noblemen, living idly off the labor of others, bleed their tenants white by constantly raising their rents,” Greenblatt writes, “where land enclosures for sheep-raising throw untold thousands of poor people into an existence of starvation or crime, and where the cities are ringed by gibbets on which thieves are hanged by the score without the slightest indication that the draconian punishment deters anyone from committing the same crimes.” Greenblatt cites the statistic of 72,000 thieves hanged during the reign of Henry the VIII, when More was composing his tract.

We too are living at a time of gibbets and enclosures, of death penalties and gated communities, of state violence and privatization. The United States has become a country of wealthy enclaves, neighborhood watches, and charter schools. Widening inequality has directly contributed to the deterioration of any sense of the public good. The drive for minimal government has reduced the capacity of public servants to ensure basic services and security. The erosion of the middle class has not only reduced the tax base, it has weakened political support for programs that aspire to universality. “Ill fares the land,” wrote Oliver Goldsmith in his 1770 poem “The Deserted Village,” “to hast’ning ill a prey/Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.”

Colorado Springs, a sort of anti-Utopia, is a case in point. There, the city council responded to state and federal budget cuts by radically reducing public services. In its place, the city set up an extortion racket. If you want the electricity restored to all the streetlamps in your neighborhood or the Parks Department to take care of your local park, you have to pony up the dollars yourself. Most disturbingly, as a recent This American Life episode on Colorado Springs detailed, residents are willing to pay more money to maintain services in their own little patch of earth than they would have paid in additional taxes to keep the services running for everybody in the city.

Trayvon Martin was killed in a modest gated community in Sanford, Florida, a suburb of Orlando hard hit by the recession. The name of the community, tellingly, is The Retreat. As in Colorado Springs, the residents of Sanford must band together to compensate for what a diminished public sector fails to provide. The Retreaters, who live in townhouses priced around $100,000, have recently been concerned about a rash of burglaries. According to one resident, there had been eight cases in 15 months, and the culprits were mostly African-American males (or so he said). There are no signs at The Retreat that read: No Poor People or No African-Americans or No People Wearing Hoodies. The rules regarding trespass are unstated, shaped by fear and subject to the worst kind of stereotyping. Trayvon Martin was a victim of profiling but also of the insecurity that accompanies the decline of the middle class, an insecurity that especially plagues those of modest means, for they cannot afford all the perquisites of the wealthy. Vigilantism is the byproduct of a failed state. And the austerity measures promoted during our current mean season result in such a failed state.

Shaima Alawadi and her family recently moved from Detroit to the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, home to the second-largest Iraqi community in the country. Alawadi, like so many Iraqis living in El Cajon, took refuge in America from the human rights violations and the subsequent sectarian violence of Iraq. But they also found themselves in a city close to the Mexican border and therefore on the frontlines of the immigration debate in the United States. The economic crisis has produced a spike in anti-immigrant sentiment: “they” are taking “our” jobs; “they” are a burden on “our” city services; “they” are not assimilating into “our” culture. Hate crimes against immigrants have been on the rise. Alawadi was not only an immigrant. She wore a headscarf and so was identifiably Muslim. As such, she was a target for all those who conflate Islam with terrorism. Religious freedom and respect for ethnic diversity are still core American values. But a certain tribalism has crept into American discourse. A tribe of xenophobic Christians is fearful that demographic shifts and economic malaise will undermine their precarious cultural status. A small but growing minority within this tribe will resort to violence to maintain this status.

The politics of immigration, multiculturalism, and Islamophobia take on a very different character in France. In this election year, President Nicolas Sarkozy has tried to steal the fire from an unabashedly xenophobic right wing. He has stated that there are “too many foreigners” in the country. He has strenuously backed the French ban on the hijab. He has gone after halal meat (which has also raised concerns in France’s Jewish community that Kosher food will likewise be stigmatized). What had once been on the margins of French debate is now in the very mainstream. Muslims are somehow under suspicion for challenging a mythical unitary French identity through what they eat, what they wear, and how they pray. Mohamed Merah, meanwhile, believed that some Muslims had become too French and should be punished for their transgression. French Muslims find themselves in an increasingly difficult position. They trespass on French culture if they attempt to retain their identity. Or they trespass in the imaginations of religious extremists if they identify too closely as French — by, for instance, joining the army. If France and the European Union were enjoying an economic uptick, these culture wars would retreat into the background. As it is, Muslims have become a convenient scapegoat.

The European Union was supposed to be a borderless space. But the old dream of an ever more prosperous and economically equitable regional arrangement has come up hard against economic downturn and polarization. The United States was supposed to be a country without the class barriers of feudal Europe. But the old dream of a growing middle class and the relatively stable politics that accompany it cannot survive in the austerity liberalism and anti-government conservatism of the 21st century. When our notion of the common good, of commonwealth, begins to disintegrate, all that is left are tribes defending their turf, standing their ground, enclosing their land.

We are living now in a new world of enclosures. We are building our fences ever higher. We are patrolling our borders with ever more sophisticated weaponry. And we are punishing any and all who trespass. The victims of these recent killings are the collateral damage of these border wars.

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, writes its regular World Beat column. His latest book is Crusade 2.0: the West’s Resurgent War on Islam, published by City Lights.

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