Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The White Jetta

After nine hours of driving, I finally hit the outermost limits of Urb and found myself in a swarm of glaring red and white lights -- five lanes going and five coming, all at 70 mph with the usual lane mavericks cruising for death and destruction.

Another white-knuckle forty five minutes and I was a prime candidate for road-rage. I turned into the final stretch of I-80 South and moved into the right lane. A white tour bus muscled its way in front of me as I tried to run it off the road muttering expletives.

At last, I turned onto the vast Bay Bridge toll plaza. Fortunately, it was not clogged with cars; in fact, the traffic was sparse. I was now anxious minutes away from my destination. Heading into the shortest line at the toll booths, I pulled up behind a white Jetta.

In the lane to my left, one car went through. Then another. And another. And the truck I had avoided. And another. And I lost it.

I started screaming and yelling. “You fucking idiot! Goddamn it. What’s taking so goddamn long? Hurry-up! Hurry-up! Hurry-up! You pathetic moron...dickhead...” And that was the better half of it.

FINALLY, the white Jetta pulled out and I pulled in. Catching a glimpse of the toll taker, I muttered a sarcastic expletive. In my best controlled voice, I handed her a twenty dollar bill and said, “Receipt please”. She handed me back my bill.

It’s already been paid for by the person ahead of you.


The toll-taker broke into a big smile.

Yeah... we heard you screaming an’ yellin. She said to wish you a Merry Christmas.


And a Merry Christmas to you too White Jetta, and to all outraged gentlemen, glad tidings of comfort and joy!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bolivia's Bill of Rights for Mother Earth

On 13 December 2010, the Bolivian Parliament passed a Law for the Protection of Mother Earth. Although the story was largely ignored by the European and North American corporate press, it was carried in a number of Hispanic news sources which reported that Bolivia had declared Mother Earth to be a “juridical person.”

Of course, such a declaration would have been an absurdity. Mother Earth (or Mother Nature) is the Alpha and Omega of our physical and sensory existence. She encompasses all that is and we merely exist in her womb. It is not possible for All to be a part.

The Bolivian law did not, in fact, declare Mother Earth to be a person. To have done so would have merely established that she stood on equal footing with other legal persons, such as Occidental Petroleum Company, a prime devastator in the Andean/Amazonian eco-system.

As its title indicates, the law is more a Bill of Rights that, in its overall substance, enumerates a series of obligations owed to Nature by individuals, artificial persons and the nation state itself. Article One, states

“The purpose of this Law is to recognize the rights of Mother Earth and the obligations of society and the Pluri-national State [Bolivia] to respect those rights.”

The reason it was reported that Bolivia had conferred “personality” on Mother Earth is that both in Civil and Common Law systems of jurisprudence it is virtually impossible to conceive of ‘having rights’ without having ‘personality’. Thus, even though the Law never once mentioned the word ‘person’, the grant of rights to Mother Nature implicitly established her as a person-at-law.

But this typical “lawyers’ quibble” reveals something very interesting about the way we talk and how the way we talk influences our habits of being.

In the overall, and from a pragmatic perspective, the Bolivian Law (which is partly translated below) could be summarized as a strong “environmental impact law” coupled with an “ecological agenda” including certain demands for environmental compensation (both technical and monetary) on account of colonialist and capitalist devastation and plunder.

But beneath the “agenda,” lies a radical reversal of the Liberal paradigm. The individual is subordinated to the community in which he lives and the community to the environment in which it exists. In complete antithesis to the industrial culture of utilitarian dominance, Article Three, decrees that Mother Earth is to be considered "sacred."

By the time one finishes reading the text of the law, he or she ceases to conceive of Mother Earth as a conceptual “object” on which there can be an “impact”. Instead, one starts to think of self as a “subject” that is a mere component of a greater living construct.

In this respect the Law acts something like a litany or meditation. Unfortunately, this is not very translatable into English. The text in Spanish contains words and syntactical constructions sufficient to raise stern eyebrows at the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language in Madrid. It is evident that this legislation is the work of “indian peasants” or, in more politically correct terms, “indigenous persons.”

As the more or less condescending summary offered by the Mexico City daily Excelsior put it, “the text of the law mixes up religious, pantheistic, Andean, animist and ecological concepts in a plague of syntactical errors.”

That it does, which is why it draws a line in the sand; and which is why Centa Rek, a Bolivian senator in opposition, commented sarcastically that the law was a “song of sirens” which “rather lyrically” endowed Earth not only with “motherhood” but with living being. (Imagine that!)

Less sarcastically but more viciously, she explained that “In psychology this is called 'animism' which is the thought process of three year olds who endow living characteristics to inanimate objects.”

Ah yes, the sweet voice of scientific reason! To which it might be answered: what is wrong with “animism” anyway? Does Senator Rek prefer “mortism”? Her remarks are appropriately contrasted with two quotes from Hans Urs von Balthasar, an eminent 20th Century Catholic theologian

"[W]henever the relationship between nature and grace is severed... then the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of 'knowledge', and the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science, technology and cybernetics. The result is a world without women, without children, without reverence for love in poverty and humiliation — a world in which power and the profit-margin are the sole criteria, where the disinterested, the useless, the purposeless is despised, persecuted and in the end exterminated — a world in which art itself is forced to wear the mask and features of technique." ('Love Alone' pp. 114-115.)

He goes on to write,

“Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness.

"We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. ..." (Theological Aesthetics, Bk. I, Seeing the Form, p. 18.)
But the Creator’s first beauty was Mother Earth and a celebratory intimacy with her “goodness” was at the core of Amerindian habits and customs. Even if the pre-European sense of stewardship was not without its awful aspects, Nature was beheld as a living -- animated -- envelopment, as in “The House of Spring,” by the Aztec Emperor Nezahualcóyotl (1402-1450),

Cascade of flowers
gladness of song.
Above the flowers
the resplendent pheasant
His song unfurls
from within the waters.
And In refrain
red birds in chorus
sweetly sing.
A book of colors is your
You are the cantor.

Hispanic America has never quite lost its paradoxical mixture of Indo-Catholic, Andean, Mayan, pantheistic, ecological, communitarian concepts, which are still extant. It is precisely the humility and poverty of these indigenous communities that has allowed these concepts to survive beneath the glittering, polluted constructs of the National Bourgeoisie. It is precisely the “plague of syntactical errors” that lets us know we are hearing the dispossessed voice from below.

In his acclaimed book, Mexico Profundo, (Univ. of Texas Press 1996) Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, a noted Mexican anthropologist, argued that vast sectors of the rural and urban poor comprised a cultural and economic subsoil whose world-view remained rooted in Mesoamerican civilization. An ancient agricultural complex provides their food supply, and work is understood as a way of maintaining a harmonious relationship with the natural world. Health is related to human conduct and community service is part of each individual's life obligation. Time is circular and humans fulfill their own cycle in relation to other cycles of the universe. In Bonfil’s view, it is the developed, first world strata of Hispanic America that is “imaginary” because it lives in denial of the both the economic and cosmological reality lived by the greater part of Mexicans - or for that matter Guatemalans, Bolivians, Venezuelans...

Bonfil’s thesis is fairly evident to anyone who has travelled off the beaten tourist path in Hispanic America. However, a caveat is necessary. There is no such thing as an extant Amerindian civilization. That world ceased to exist with the Conquest. What exists in the “profundo” is inextricably (and at times imperceptibly) interwoven with Western forms, ideas, techniques and things -- which is why a German theologian can state the case for the Bolivian Law on Mother Earth.

In other words, we in “the West” need not self-denigrate and make an ideological totem of “indigenism.” Objectification, empiricism and profit are not the only constructs in Western civilization, Senator Rek notwithstanding. There are and always have been other voices within the European tradition.

Nor is this to say that primitive communities and primitive modes of production are up to the task of feeding six billion plus human beings as well as providing valuable technological benefits that are not possible without taking chunks out of Mother Earth’s flesh and gouging her body to extract her precious blood.

But we are at a cross-roads where Beauty is forcing us with due warning to take stock of what we, as a derelict species, are doing.

What the Bolivian legislation really does, (bad syntax and all), is raise a sequence of socio-ecological issues which we have to focus on and ponder, as a matter of law.


[Because the Law is not likely to be translated into English any time soon, the following translation and/or summary is provided. ]


Art. 1 - The purpose of this Law is to recognize the rights of Mother Earth and the obligations of society and the Pluri-national State [Bolivia] to respect those rights.

Art. 2 - The principles governing the aforesaid obligations are as follows:

(1) Harmony. Human activities ...should attain dynamic equilibriums with the inherent cycles and processes of Mother Earth;

(2) Collective Good. The interests of society..., in the context of the rights of Mother Earth, shall prevail over any acquired [individual] right;

(3) Regeneration of the Earth. The State...and society shall guarantee the conditions necessary for Nature’s diverse ecological systems to adapt to disturbances and to regenerate without significant alteration to their functional and structural characteristics....

(4) Respect & Defence of the Rights of Mother Earth. [The State and all persons are obligated to do both.]

(5) No Commercialization. [The clause is unclear but seems to say that nature’s life processes cannot become the private (?patented) property of any private person.]

(6) Inter-culturality.


Art. 3 - Mother Earth. Mother Earth is the dynamic and living system comprised of the indivisible community of all systems of life and living beings which are inter related, inter-dependent and complimentary and which share a common destiny.

Mother Earth is to be considered sacred, [as per] the cosmic-vision (“cosmovisiones”) of the original, agrarian indigenous nations and communities.

Art. 4 - Systems of Life. [The gravamen of the paragraph is that systems of life encompass all living and dynamic communities (including micro-organisms) commonly and mutually subject to ecological factors and productive practices.]

Art. 5 - Juridic Character of Mother Earth. For the protections and guardianship of her rights, Mother Earth is assigned the character of a “collective subject matter of public interest.” Mother Earth and all her constituent parts (“componentes”), including human communities, are beneficiaries (“titulares”) of all inherent rights recognized by this Law. The enforcement (“aplicación”) of Mother Earth’s rights shall take into consideration the particular nature and characteristics (“especifidades y particularidades”) of her diverse components. The rights established by this Law do not operate to the exclusion of other rights not enumerated.

Art. 6 - Exercise of the Rights of Mother Earth. All Bolivians, as members of living, component communities within Mother Nature, may exercise the rights established herein in a manner compatible with their individual and collective rights.

The exercise of individual rights are subordinate to the collective rights of the life-systems within Mother Nature and any conflict [between the two] shall be resolved in a manner that does not irreversibly affect the functionality of the life-systems.


Art. 7 - Mother Earth has the following rights:

1. To Life. [I.e.]the right to the maintenance of the integrity of life-systems and the natural processes which sustain them... including their regeneration.

2. To Diversity of Life. [I.e.] the right to preservation of the differentiation and variety of beings that comprise Mother Earth without genetic modification ... or in any form which endangers their existence, functioning or future potential.

3. To Water. [I.e.] the right to preservation of all water-cycles in such quality and quantity as necessary to the sustenance of life-systems....

4. To Clean Air. [Self-Explanatory]

5. To Equilibrium. [I.e.] the right to the maintenance or restoring of the inter-dependent, inter-related, complementary functionality of Nature’s life-systems in manner calibrated (“equilibrada”) to foster their cycles and the reproduction of their vital processes.

6. To Restoration. [I.e.] the right to opportune and effective restoration of life-systems [adversely] affected by human activities.

7. To Freedom from Pollution. [Self Explanatory]

Art. 8 - Obligations of the Plurinational State.

1. [To promote policies which prevent human activities which are existentially detrimental to living beings and life processes, including cultural systems which are part of Mother Earth.]

2. [To promote such modes of production and consumption which are conducive to the welfare (Vivir Bien) of the Bolivian people while safeguarding the regenerative and integral life processes of Mother Earth.]

3. [To develop such domestic and international policies which will defend Mother Earth against over-exploitation and commercialization of her life-systems and processes.]

4. [To develop policies which insure energy autonomy (soberanía energética) and clean, renewable sources of energy.]

5. [To demand in international forums, recognition of the environmental debt (owed to Bolivia and other similarly situated countries).]

6. [To work toward the elimination of all nuclear, chemical, biological weapons and WMDs.]

7. [To promote recognition of Mother Earth’s rights in bi-lateral, multi-lateral, regional and international relations.]

Art. 9 Obligations of Private Artificial Persons.

1. To Defend the rights of Mother Earth.

2. To promote harmony among all human communities and with all other of Nature’s systems of life.

3. To proactively participate personally or collectively in the formulation of polices directed towards the defence of the rights of Mother Earth.

4. To adopt practices of production and habits of consumption that are in harmony with the rights of Mother Earth.

5. To adopt sustainable uses and practices with respect to Mother Earth’s component [parts].

6. [To Denounce (?by legal action) all violations of this Law.]

7. [To Aid and Assist all lawful and authorized summons to action in defence of this Law.]

Art. 10 [Establishes a Ministry for the Defense of Mother Earth]

Spanish version :

©Woodchip Gazette, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wiki Witch Hunt Reveals True Face of Government

Over the past 10 days, there has been endless palaver over the significance of Wikileaked cables showing diplomats and public officials to be somewhat less than “these like saints appearing.”

But the real “leak” in the WikiLeaks affair is that it has forced the U.S. Government to drop its mask and reveal itself as a vindictive ogre that brings all its force to bear on hunting down a single man as a sacrificial prelude to extinguishing fearless, free speech, informed debate and open government.

This is not to say that the blood curdling shrieks from the press to “take out” Julian Assange by any means is not shameful itself. The howlings of the American 'mudia' make hyenas seem melodic sweetness.

But far more lethal to liberty are the quieter slitherings of those snakes who, manoeuvering through the tall grass of judicious sounding legalities, aim to criminalize the possession of unauthorized knowledge that is inconvenient to governmental impunity.

On 29 November Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “strongly” condemned “the illegal disclosure of classified information” which she said, “puts people's lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems....”

Seeking to “objectify” the harm, Clinton called the leak an “attack” on “America's foreign policy interests,” on the “international community” and on “negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.”

Also on 29 November, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, declaimed that,

"Whoever released this information should be punished severely. ... [C]learly more is needed to deter people from disclosing secret information. ...The Intelligence Committee is looking at whether legislation is needed to accomplish this goal."

That same day, Attorney General, Eric Holder held a news conference at which he stated that the Wikileak,

“puts at risk our national security... [and] puts at risk individuals who are serving this country in a variety of capacities either as diplomats, as intelligence assets; it puts at risk our relationships with important allies around the world.”

Holder went on to declare that,

"To the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law and who has put at risk the assets and the people that I have described, they will be held responsible,"


"To the extent there are gaps in our laws, we will move to close those gaps, which is not to say ... that anybody, at this point, because of their citizenship or their residence, is not a target or a subject of an investigation that's ongoing."
In straightforward English, the Justice Department was bearing down on foreign citizens living abroad.

Almost on the dime, Holder’s assurances earned a resounding “Bravo!” from the Senate Intelligence Committee which, on 3 December, formally urged the Department of Justice “to bring criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.” The Committee’s letter stated,

“We believe that Mr. Assange’s conduct is espionage and that his actions fall under the elements of this section of law. Therefore, we urge that he be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.”

“If Mr. Assange and his possible accomplices cannot be charged under the Espionage Act (or any other applicable statute), please know that we stand ready and willing to support your efforts to ‘close those gaps’ in the law, as you also mentioned this week.”
In sum, the Obama Administration, egged on by Congress, is taking Bushian unilateralism one step further by going after anyone anywhere who puts American assets and relationships “at risk.”

This is the hubris of a raving lunatic.

From the dawn of civilization it has been understood that each independent village, city or state has exclusive jurisdiction over criminal conduct that takes place within its borders. For example, China does not prosecute a burglary that takes place in France, even if the victim or the perpetrator is Chinese. To maintain otherwise is to claim a right of intervention in the internal affairs of other states. It is the sort of claim made by empires and megalomaniacs that desire to rule the world.

Worse even than this claim of unilateral and universal jurisdiction is the basis on which it is being invoked.

There has been no claim of actual damage to the United States. None of the inflamed and ominous sounding reactions to the Wikileaks have pointed to more than a risk to some vague “asset” like our “relationships” with slimebag diplomats from other nations. Instead, the Administration proposes to criminalize and prosecute people who put American assets at risk.

After a quarter century of listening to sociologists, distressed mothers, sobbing victims and “at risk groups,” Americans may have forgotten that a “risk” is simply a conjectural possibility of harm. Some risks may be more probable or more direct than others but all risks are simply a speculative harm which might or might not actualize.

With this in mind, it can be seen that the Administration is seeking to prosecute and imprison anyone who is unfortunate enough to have done something that some official decides is potentially injurious to the interests of the State. This principle is not unheard of; it just happens to be a principle insisted upon by tyrants and totalitarian regimes.

The poisonous seed of this tyranny lies within the Espionage Act of 1917 itself, which provides:

“Whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States, ... copies, takes, makes, or obtains, ... any sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, document, writing, or note of anything connected with the national defense... Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. "(18 U.S.C., § 793.)

Subsection(e) of the statue penalizes anyone who,

“having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document, writing, [etc.]... willfully [and with the same purpose and intent] communicates, delivers, transmits the same to any person not entitled to receive it....”

Subsection (g) penalizes conspiracy to acquire defense information.

The manifest aim of the statute was to punish stealing codes or battle plans and passing them on to an enemy with whom we were at war. Unfortunately, the statute said far more than that and thus sprouted the usual copious weeds of jurisprudence.

No one disputes that governments are entitled to protect their data and documents, especially in wartime. But there are hundreds of innocent ways people can acquire or come into possession of such information. A person who takes a picture of a docked battleship or who finds a diplomat’s briefcase on an eleveated train is not necessarily a spy. Some destructive or anti-social purpose or intent is required before his conduct can be deemed to be what we call “spying”.

It is here that the statute opens Pandora’s Box because what will aid the enemy or should be forseen to be injurious to the country is highly speculative. The annals of war are rife with accounts of treasonous disclosures which the enemy ignored and of innocently trivial remarks that cost the battle.

In the context of true and actual spying, the facts and circumstance of the case are what end up solidifying a very liquid legal definition. But when the context involves disclosure of information for the purpose of informing the citizenry of a democratic country what their government is about, then the liquid definition turns into a cannon ball fired at the First Amendment.

Some in the pundit-press seem to think that the WikiLeaks affair is “resolved” by the so-called Pentagon Papers Case (New York Times Co. v. United States (1971) 403 U.S. 713.) Actually not.

In that case, the Nixon Administration did not seek to punish the Times for unauthorized possession, or for having compromised national security, or for the violation of any statute. Instead, it sought to censor news on the basis that the president had an "inherent" power to prevent the publication of any information which "could," "might" or "may" compromise "national security." (Id., at pp. 718, 725.)

The claim was so over-the-top that virtually no one was persuaded. But over-the-top cases do not make good law, since everyone supposedly agrees that the minimum standard of anything is something more than plain crazy. Unfortunately, although eight justice agreed that the Times could not be restrained from publishing the papers on such a basis, they could not agree why.

The result was a collection of OpEd pieces from the bench, which all together established nothing more specific than that a president cannot go about silencing people at will. Whether the Government can punish people for possessing or disseminating official information in violation of the Espionage Act is a different issue.

The call to criminalize WikiLeak’s conduct squarely raises that statute’s twin problems concerning possession and intent.

In any case brought under the statute, the inceptional issue concerns the meaning of “having unauthorized possession.” There is little question that the Act applies to the original unauthorized taker (in this case, the alleged Pvt. Bradley Manning).

But (assuming digital-documents are included) does the Act apply to Julian Assange who only received the information or to the New York Times who supposedly retrieved it third-hand from the cyber curb-side where Wikileaks dumped it?

There is every likelihood that the Act will be held to apply to anyone, within the United States, who receives property he knows to be stolen. Such a result would conform to long-standing principles concerning theft and knowing possession of stolen property.

Asserting "long arm" jurisdiction over a non-citizen, non-resident whose conduct took place abroad involves a question on a different order of magnitude. Whether by “implication” within the statutory terms or by explicit amendment, the Government will assert a “nexus” on the basis of which jurisdiction can be asserted.

The obvious prosecution argument is that, when it comes to cyber-space, there is no "here" there so that in so far as data-flows are concerned, all “there” is here. If the courts accept this sort of “nexus” argument, Assange’s conduct in receiving the digital documents will be deemed criminal under U.S. law.

In all events, the Administration has given notice that it will seek to close any leaky loophole by amending the statute so that U.S. jurisdiction will be asserted to follow the trail of U.S. property. Traditionally, the Supreme Court has deferred to Congress on such issues.

Apart from the receiving and jurisdictional questions, the primary issue concerns intent. As noted the statute requires that the “obtaining” of information be done with the intent to injure the United States or with reason to believe that the information “is to be used” to injure the United States. Did that requirement (phrased in the present tense) mean that the accused had to have known that the information was going to be used imminently to actually harm the United States or did it mean that he should have known that the information might be used to the detriment of the United States?

The first alternative requires strong evidence of actual knowledge and objective harm, which was why Secretary of State Clinton was all ablather about “attacks” on the United States, even though she really could not point to any concrete harm beyond “undermining” diplomatic conversations concerning security and prosperity. Attorney General Holder wasn’t up to the effort, and simply rested on the second alternative which allows prosecution based on free-form risk speculation.

Thus, the critical question affecting the publication and disclosure of leaked information will concern intent, harm and whether or to what extent a so-called public right-to-know trumps any actual or prospective harm to the Government.

Surprisingly, after close to a century of litigation, the Supreme Court has not definitively ruled on what one must need to intend or know in order to be guilty of unauthorized possession or dissemination of classified information.

The answer to these questions involves judicial policy of the highest order because they reach those transcendent issues that inform the very nature of our society.

The U.S. Constitution recognizes and enshrines certain paradoxes. For example, it allows magistrates to be impeached and removed from office, despite their democratic election, on the basis of “high crimes and misdemeanors” which need not be statutory crimes or misdemeanors at all. The provision derives from the nefarious subversion that was entailed in King James II’s declared purpose (1688) to raise his son and heir as a Catholic, thus sounding a death knell for the Church of England.

The Constitution also allows people the right to keep arms for the evident and originally recognized purpose of physically defending against the national government should the need arise. From a european Civil Law perspective, such a provision is a logical absurdity; but, as Justice Holmes wrote, the “life of the common law is not logic but experience.”

On par with such provisions, is the First Amendment which states categorically that Congress shall make "no law" abridging freedom of speech. Nothing in that provision conditions speech on its being “lawful” or “properly informed” or free from unauthorized knowledge. The reason it does not contain such qualifiers is that they a fortiori negate the very freedom supposedly guaranteed. The framers of the Bill of Rights understood very well the meaning of “no law” and the political value judgements it incarnated. The question today is whether our current Supreme Court will be informed with the correct and proper memory.

The most likely result is that the courts will avoid grand pronouncements along the lines of freedom trumping security. Instead, they will seek to decide the issue on narrow grounds defining intent and harm. A ruling on such a basis will avoid theoretical jurisprudence in favor of practical rules which do almost as well. This niggardly mode of decision is entrenched in Anglo-American law and not without good reason.

In a curious way, the “niggardly” question brings the nastiness of what the Government proposes into sharper focus than broad brush palaver. Focusing on intent, knowledge, risk and harm forces us to look closely at the artful and subtle devices tyrants use to oppress and punish their subjects.

No King ever sent his men to kick down doors claiming a right to do evil. Rulers always justify their acts by piously claiming to do good, which inevitably ends up entailing a need to protect "honest citizens" against the specter of lurking evils.

It was thus that, almost immediately upon passage of the 1917 Espionage Act, Congress added the so-called “Sedition Act” of 1918 which prohibited various forms of speech including "any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States... or the flag of the United States...” The Act was an immediate disaster and was repealed in 1921; but not before it had spawned some bad judicial weeds.

Pursuant to the Act, the Post Office Department sequestered any “matter which is calculated to interfere with the success of... the government in conducting the war." Lower courts followed suit. For example, in United States v. Motion Picture Film "The Spirit of 76," (SD Cal 1917) 252 F 946 , a federal court (in anticipation of Hillary Clinton) upheld the suppression of a film about the Revolutionary War on the grounds that the depiction of cruelty by British soldiers might undermine popular support for a wartime ally. Oh the risk!

The constitutionality of the Act came before the Supreme Court in Schenck v. United States, (1919) 249 U.S. 47, where it was held that the Government could prosecute an anti-war activist who sent anti-draft pamphlets to draft age men. Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes who, despite his popularity and experience, was never known for careful judicial craftsmanship, opined that Shenck’s activity constituted a “clear and present danger” to the Government. (Id., at p. 51.) He added, uselessly and cryptically, that free speech did not include the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. Like flooding sludge, the phrase passed into public consciousness and has muddled thinking ever since.

The difficulty with the Schenck formula is that it failed to preclude speculative harm as a basis for prosecution or for invoking state secrecy. To repeat, the word “danger” refers to a risk, a potential harm, some bad thing that could possibly arise in the future. The adjective “present” does not make the harm less improbable or remote because it modifies danger and not the harm lurking within the danger. In other words, any danger is always "present" precisely because a danger is simply the present prospect of future harm. The real question concerns the degree, probability and imminence of the potential harm. Holmes did not see this.

Neither did the rest of the High Court. In Whitney v. California, (1927) 274 U.S. 357, the Court made matters worse by holding that "the Constitution d[id] not confer an absolute right to speak, without responsibility, whatever one may choose," and government had the power to punish those who "abused" their rights of speech "by utterances inimical to the public welfare, tending to incite crime, disturb the public peace, or endanger the foundations of organized government and threaten its overthrow." (Id., at p. 371.) In other words, if words had an arguable "bad tendency" they could be punished.

The reason matters could be made worse is that “bad tendency” is precisely what lurks within the “clear and present danger test.” Boiled down to its essence, that test is no more than ominous sounding rhetoric covering up the small beer of tenuous conjecture and amorphous ills.

However, the Supreme Court has not been entirely blind to the problem. Even Justice Holmes had reservations about his rule and dissenting opinions in subsequent cases attacked the formula as insufficiently precise. In Dennis v. United States (1951) 341 U.S. 494, the Court reviewed its own jurisprudence and concluded that the "clear and present danger" test was really one of degree "although it is not clear whether 'degree' refers to [a] clear and present danger or evil." (Id., at p. 505.)

In the end, Dennis upheld the Holme's test but re-defined it so as to require a court to weigh "the gravity of the 'evil,' discounted by its improbability." (Id., at pp. 510, 515.) This boiled down to asking "how bad? how close?" which, as a "test," did not provide much of an answer.

Finally, the Court more or less made up its mind in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) 395 U.S. 444, in which it held that government could not constitutionally punish abstract advocacy of force or illegal action. Such speech could be punished only when it was intended to incite imminent lawless action and was in fact likely to incite or produce such action. Clearing up the sludge, Justice Douglas went on to explain that the reason it is unlawful to shout fire in a crowded theater is because in that specific situation "speech is brigaded with action." (Id., at p. 456.)

Otherwise, he said, "[t]he only difference between the 'expression of an opinion' and an 'incitement' ... is the speaker's enthusiasm for the result. (Id., at p. 452.) Douglas could "see no place in the regime of the First Amendment for any 'clear and present danger' test, whether strict and tight as some would make it." (Id., at p. 454.) With that classic frankness which made him equally loved and resented, Douglas concluded by observing that criminalized "threats were often loud but always puny and made serious only by judges so wedded to the status quo that critical analysis made them nervous." (Ibid.)

None of the sedition and seditious syndicalism cases from Schenck to Brandenburg dealt with the Wikileaks problem under the original or current Espionage Act, and they are technically not controlling as precedent. However, by dealing with the question of the intent and harm necessary to punish speech, they provide a rule for the analogous question of the intent and harm necessary to punish the unauthorized obtaining and dissemination of information.

The Brandenburg approach was in fact followed in the espionage case against Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), who were charged with conspiring to obtain classified military information which they then passed on to the Israeli government and The Washington Post.

The Justice Department dismissed the case after the District Court ruled that prosecutors were required to show that the defendants actually knew that the information they allegedly disclosed would in fact harm the United States or help a foreign government. (U.S.A. vs. Rosen and Weissman (2009) Crim. No. 1:05CR225) Such a rule, while neither sonorous rhetoric nor satisfactory to strict First Amendment constructionists like Justices Douglas and Black, still serves to protect free speech by requiring more than government annoyance or outrage for conviction.

But while Congress was resoundingly silent in face of the AIPAC leaks, it has been full of outraged demands when it comes to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

In an interview with Fox News (12/7/2010) Senator Joseph Lieberman opined that not only did WikiLeaks violate U.S. law under the Espionage Act, but The New York Times itself was on shaky legal ground for republishing some of the cables. Given the decision in the Pentagon Papers Case, Lieberman was correct. However, he went on to state,

“To me, The New York Times has committed at least an act of bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime, I think that bears very intensive inquiry by the Justice Department."

Lieberman’s remarks signalled clearly that, once again, the outcry from Congress is for a law against “sedition.”

Did Senator Lieberman mean that the law should seek to punish some sort of unspecified "bad citizenship" or that "bad citizenship" (whatever that might be exactly) should be subject to equally vague sanctions or pretextual prosecutions under other statutes?

Outlawing vague detrimental tendencies which put equally vague things “at risk” is the chief weapon in the arsenal of tyranny. Section 13 of the Reich Editorial Law (4 October 1933) which required editors in Nazi Germany to "keep out of the newspapers anything which: .... tends to weaken the strength of the German Reich, outwardly or inwardly, the common will of the German people, the German defense ability, culture or economy; or [which] ... offends the honor and dignity of Germany; [or] ... makes [a person] ridiculous or contemptible;" or ... is immoral for other reasons." (1933 Reichsgesetzblatt, Part I, page 713.)

Laws for the protection of people is the reason we live in societies. Laws for the protection of the State is what renders society a prison.

But more than providing an occasion to revive laws against sedition, the WikiLeaks affair has presented the neocon security network with the excuse they have been waiting for to bring the internet under government surveillance and control.

In fact, in June of 2010, Senator Lieberman introduced the ‘‘Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010’’

In essence, the 197 page amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, designates the internet as part of America’s “critical infrastructure” and would establish a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC) at the Department of Homeland Security to conduct “risk-based” assessments of the internet, as well as to collect and share information with other federal agencies in order to develop and implement, in "cooperation" with the private sector, such measures as would “increase the security and resiliency of cyberspace.”

According to the bill, America’s critical “information infrastructure” includes the internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems, embedded processors, controllers, frameworks, programmable electronic devices and any associated hardware, software or data.

It encompasses not only government networks per se but any information structure “owned, operated or controlled” in the United States” and any structure outside the United States “the disruption of which could result in national or regional catastrophic damage in the United States.”

In his remarks introducing the bill, Lieberman stated that "the internet" was "under constant attack" putting “our economic security, national security and public safety ... at risk from new kinds of enemies -- cyber-warriors, cyber-spies, cyber-terrorists and cyber-criminals.”

Co-Sponsor, Senator Susan Collins, raised the specter of a “cyber 9/11” and stated that “our enemies have identified cyber space as an ideal 21st century battlefield” and “could cause billions of dollars in damage and put thousands of lives in jeopardy.”

Just as no one disputes the legitimacy of detecting and arresting spies, no one disputes the legitimacy of taking internal, technical steps to prevent hacking or subterfuge of the internet’s infrastructure. But those reasonable and limited steps are not what the bill is about.

The Lieberman/Collins Bill was none other than a legislative implementation of the “Cyber War” strategies set out in the infamous policy paper of the neocon Project for a New American Century, entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century (September 2000). One of the paper's proposed, core “defense” strategies was “Control of the new ‘international commons’ of space and cyberspace.” (Rebuilding &c., p. v.)

“Over the next several decades,” the paper stated, “the United States must ... divine ways to control the new ‘international commons’ of space and cyberspace, ...” (Id., p. 7.) This would be "key to world power in the future [since] an America incapable of protecting its interests or that of its allies in space or the infosphere will find it difficult to exert global political leadership." (Id., at p. 51.) The policy paper concluded its thoughts with a Strangelovian drool that “[t]aken together, the prospects for space war or ‘cyberspace war’ represent the truly revolutionary potential inherent in the notion of military transformation." (Id., p. 57.)

It also represents a truly revolutionary constitutional transformation.

The sudden barrage of DNS attacks on WikiLeak portals speaks, with cynical irony, for itself. The arrest of Julian Assange on flimsy sexual charges goes to show the length to which the United States Government is prepared to hound, pressure and prosecute those who have offended its impunity. But even more than the persecution of Assange under a tissue of law, is the clear and imminent danger of irreparable harm to constitutional liberty.

Americans should not ignore what is slithering beneath purview in the tall legal grass. Laws against sedition whether National Socialist or Patriotically American are always framed so as to outlaw vague and speculative risks, dangers and tendencies in the name on national safety.

But liberty, said James Madison, is like air. One would no sooner abolish oxygen because it gives life to fire than one would abolish freedom because it may be abused. (Federalist Paper No. 10.) Rather than reinforce the courage required to live in a free world, tyrants of whatever stripe prey on fear.

Neither should Americans repose in confidence that the Supreme Court will protect their freedoms. As Justice Douglas wrote in Brandenburg the Court's track record in sedition cases had shown little inclination to value liberty over threats or inconveniences to security or the statu quo.

The imposition of sanctions, whether formal or informal, against the dissemination of allegedly harmful information is the cornerstone on which State control of expression and opinion is erected. The securitization of social intercourse whether on the green or in cyberspace is civic death.

©Woodchip Gazette, 2010


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Black Friday and Purple Sunday

Quite a few years ago, new to San Francisco, I was finishing up Thanksgiving Dinner when I remarked to my hosts that I thought I would go into the city the following day “Oh my god, don’t do that!” came the aghast reply. It was explained to me that “the whole world” went shopping the day after Thanksgiving, that traffic would be a snarl and that whatever I had in mind would better be put off until the following Monday.

I now wonder where I had been -- if perhaps on Mars -- for I had honestly never heard of such a thing. Of course, it was true. The following day, traffic was backed up on both bridges into the City as “le toute monde” inched along towards the Temples of Stuff. But I had never in my life thought of Thanksgiving as the starting line for a shopping frenzy.

On the contrary. In the Christian calendar, Thanksgiving ushers in the First Sunday in Advent, which is a time for existential penance when we remember, after our blessings, the inadequacies of our existence.

Advent begins with an acknowledgement of our essential needfulness and the emptiness of even those lives that are fulfilled in their material well-being. A bountiful harvest, for which we may be duly thankful, is necessary but not sufficient. For a fortnight, with due paradox, altars are draped in purple.

Most religions recognize this spiritual fact. It is not a question of atonement, but rather a species of regret and longing. Within the multi-layered symbolism of Christianity, the resolution of our waiting is the birth, within poverty, of the Light of the World, which is sacrifice for others.

And yet, the “beauty in poverty” of the Advent season has been replaced with an Abduction which holds captive Israel ransom to the balance sheet of profit. We are told by a thousand whispering and blaring voices from a thousand corners that the emptiness of our lives will be sated by more consuming. Something missing? Buy more!

Like junk food, junk infotainment, junk politics and even junk religiosity, it leaves us fat, hungry and all the poorer.

It is an obscenity which must be snuffed out before lighting a better candle.

©WCG, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Habit of Freedom

We were struck the other day when we came across a picture of John F. Kennedy giving a stump speech in West Virginia during the 1960 presidential campaign.

The masters of the world, wrote Gibbon, professed themselves to be the Servants of the Senate and the supreme Augustus affected himself a bourgeois gentilhomme.

But the affectation had a real effect. Then, as now, studied simplicity does keep things simple. When things are simple they are direct and clear; and, being clear, open, and thus free and fearless.

It is a question of habit.

Habit is a form of doing things -- an outward motion. It is, to be sure, an appearance but one that dictates substance. A man who holds his head high, must of necessity walk erect and walking erect breathe fully and breathing fully feel full and flush and thus confident. Disease produces symptoms; habits (which are symptoms in reverse) induce health.

Jack Kennedy would have understood this instinctively.

It was odd that we should have come upon the photo of Kennedy standing on the kitchen stool, for a few days before that our mind had -- for some random reason -- called up the memory of Hyannis Port.

The Kennedy's were a wealthy clan; but their compound was nothing extraordinarily grand, particularly bearing in mind the clan's size. It was "roomy", well appointed and gentilement bourgeois.

Of course, America has had its ostentatious moguls and diamond-studded Trimalchios. There is always a class whose inner disgrace reveals itself in gilded depravity, as openly as possible for all to see! But they were not what the Country was about or conceived itself as being.

The habit of a retiring simplicity affected by the greater part of America's ruling class, as by the first Caesars, engendered and preserved an egalitarian concourse and familiar freedom despite our conflicts and imperfections.

The curtain on that habit of being was rung down by crisp rapports on a sunny November day, 47 years ago.

Even before the president was laid to rest, the cry went up that the Secret Service had been "lax". Indeed it had been precisely because the country itself was. In becoming correctively "un-lax" the Secret Service took those first critical steps which led to the forbidden end and made the country un-free.

We do not mean to suggest that there were no security concerns before November 23, 1963, or that the country became a police state the day after. The acquisition and loss of habits is always a question of time and degree. But before that day, even the police services, respected the demands of openness; after, even society itself became increasingly focused on achieving air-tight security.

It is inconceivable today that a president would stand on kitchen stool in the open air, and we, as a consequence, are no longer free.

©WCG, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Woodchip's People Friendly Balanced Budget

The Woodchip Miracle
As we noted in News and Notes, The New York Times published an inter-active chart allowing readers of their rag to try their hand at balancing the budget. It goes without saying that the choices offered were summarized in gross and that the inter-active, as a whole, was subtly biased toward social austerity choices the Times would like us to make. Nevertheless, the inter-active proves that the budget can be balanced by cutting our obscene military spending and raising taxes on the excessively rich, without touching a hair on the head of Social Security or Medicare. Woodchip’s Choices:


1. Cut Foreign Aid in Half .........................saves: 17 billion
(Most of this “aid” is disguised military spending and spying)

2. Eliminate Earmarks ...............................saves 14 billion

3. Cut 250.000 contractors .......................saves 17 billion
(Most of these contracts are scams, payback and kick backs.)

Not Selected were options to cut federal workers pay by 5% and the federal worlforce by 10%. We have no doubt that the federal workforce could stand cutting, but absent specification that the cuts will not affect services delivered to the needy, we cannot offer an endorsement. In addition, when unemployment is at 20% it is supremely stupid to cut any jobs even if they were only federal make work.


1. Reduce nuclear arsenal & space spending .. 19 billion
(This item would reduce our total nukular warheads by half to a mere 1,000; it would also give up on Mars-based interplanetary missle programs.

2. Reduce military to pre-Iraq War size ...... 25 billion

3. Reduce Navy and AirForce fleets. ......saves 19 billion
(Under this proposal the navy would “shrink” to from 286 sheeps to 230.)

4. Cancel/Delay weapons progams .........saves 19 billion

5. Reduce non-combat benefits/costs ......saves 23 billion
(This proposal would raise health care premiums/shift costs to private employers; it would also reduce housing allowances etc. We are loathe to cut personal benefits and do so only because we continue to emphasize that what is needed is a UNIVERSAL plan for all rather than patchwork of programs that benefit some and discriminate against others)

6. Reduce Iraq and Afpakistan troops to 30,00
by 2013 .............................................................saves 86 billion.
(If the cuts are delayed to 2015, it saves only 51 billions, but it is lunacy to delay ending a war that we know is unwinnable and which is bankrupting the country)

What these items indicate is how obscene and bankrupting the NeoCon 'escapade' into Iraq and Afghanistan has been. They also indicate how colosally disastrous the a war with Iran will be. It is simply no exageration to say that the ZioCon Agenda more than anything else has brought the country to the brink of fiscal ruin.

1. Cut Estate Tax to Pre-Clinton Levels ......... 50 billions
(The GOP/Blue Dog proposal would impose piddling estate taxes saving no more than 12 billion. Obama's "socialistic" proposal would tax a little more resulting in deficit savings of 24 billion. What gets forgotten here is the "Pre-Clinton" levels means the tax rate that existed under Good Ol' Ronnie. Join the Chipster Chorus in singing, "If 'twas good enuff for Ronnie; if 'twas good enuff for Ronnie; if 'twas good enuff for's goo inuff fo' me."

2. Raise Investment Taxes to Clinton Era levels... 32 billions
(Obamacrats would raise the capital gains tax to 20% for people making “a few hundred thousand dollars a year”. In theory, Clinton era levels would affect workers pensions plans; but in practice these have been wiped out anyway.)

3. All Expiration of Bush Tax Cuts for incomes over 250,000 ..........................................................saves 54 billion
(An alternative option would eliminate the tax cuts for incomes under 250,000 saving 172 billion; but under includes 100,000 and 50,000 and the Gazette sees no reason to hit working people harder. The savings figure illustrates just how much of the tax burden is borne by the working class, specifically three times as much as the upper class.)

4. Impose a social security tax on incomes over
$106,000 ...........................................................saves 50 billion
(There is simply no reason to exempt those who make more from paying more)

5. Special sur-tax income over 1 million .........50 billion
(If the Times wants to talk about an era of "austerity" it should include the concept "social austerity" which means that there is no reason why anyone needs more than 1 million dollars a year to have a perfectly good and decent life.)

6. Cut all tax breaks except child and earned income credits the mortgage interest deduction and health and retirement benefits ........................................ 75 billion
(An alternative proposal would impose higher rates yielding savingt of 136 billion)

7. Reduce mortgage interest deduction by converting it to a credit .................................................. saves 25 billion
(This deduction is very popular with the "middle class" but in actuality it is of principal benefit to real estate speculators and corporate property owners. There are better ways to incentivize and reward first home purchasers.)

8. Carbon tax ...................................................saves 40 billion

9. Bank tax ...................................................... saves 73 billion
Woodchip rejects any national sales tax or VAT (projected savings of 41 billion) because it is as highly regressive.

What the foregoing shows is that the budget can be balanced by taxing the wealthiest and least productive elements of society and reducing military spending from monstruously stratopheric heights to merely "over-the-top" levels. By the same token, the inter-active shows just what and who is responsible for this country's fiscal disaster. Banks, Insurance Companies, War Profiteers (that's what they used to be called before the Era of Euphemism) and the obscenely wealthy are the country's problem...not its poor.

The New York Times rather coyly offered the following options that would "blame" the working class and the poor for the country's woes and that would "solve" the problem by reducing the thread bare to rags:

1. raise the social security retirement age to 68 or 70.........saves 8 billion
2. reduce social security for those above 60th percentile ...saves 6 billion
4. tighten disability eligibility .............................................saves 9 billion
5. use alternate measuses for inflation adjustm..................saves 9 billion

6. increase medicare eligibility to 68 or 70 .........................saves 8 billion
7. medical malpractice reform .............................................saves 8 billion
4. reduce credits for employer provided health insurance .........41 billion
5. cap medicare growth as of 2013 .....................................saves 29 billion

The social security/medicare savings show what a vilely vindictive creep of a human Alan ("Cow Tit") Simpson is. On the scale of things the savings from social security and medicare cuts to recipients are among the smallest. But the human cost in suffering and hardship is immense. Alan Cow Tit Simpson and the Top Two Percent are perfectly happy to let old ladies eat cat food for dinner in order to save 8 billion dollars while excusing banksters from paying a tax which would generate 73 billion.

Nevertheless, we Chipsters have to thank the New York Times for baring its neo-liberal ass, allowing the rest of us to see, very clearly, how the fiscal woes of this country can be resolved by two principal measures: cutting back military spending to Bush I levels and returning tax policy to Reagan/Clinton levels. Ironic.

©WCG, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Remembrance of Armistice Day

Today was Armistice Day but I did not wear a red poppy.

Today, 92 years ago, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month a haunting stillness fell upon Europe's battlefields as acrid smoke dispersed into the sky. In the bomb-plowed ground, red poppies bloomed.

I was nowhere in existence then but I was taught to fix a poppy onto my coat, to stand and ponder the vileness of war, the evanescence of peace and the tragedy of a species that is left to remembrance of its folly.

"What passing bells for those who died as cattle?"

But today, Armistice Day, lies buried under a heap of War Days and loud remembrances of heroes gone to wars.

What shadow of civilization have we become that we number our mass murders like cattle and pretend to remember the nameless fallen? Is it not obscene? Today is not “Veterans Day”. Today is not a one-for-all size “Remembrance Day” of service in war. Armistice Day marked an existential passing for a species that had shown its true quintessence.

World War I was the Great War. It was great because it was absolutely senseless and destructive of all sensibility save despair.

The World War -- that is, the one which really did engulf the world 21 years later -- killed six times as many humans beings with a diabolical murderousness that rivaled the fires of hell. But there were grievances and causes and, hence, reasons for war, misbegotten as they might have been. There was no reason for the Great War.

Historians have sought in vain for some tissue of a reason to cover the depravity of mass suicidal slaughter. The war was caused, it is said, by interlocking alliances, or by national jealousy, or by the building of boats or of a desert railroad. But none of these attempts explain what was the supposed advantage to be gained or the alleged grievance to be settled by marching off to war. The true explanation was the one offered by Emil Ludwig that the Great War was unleashed simply by two very, very bored aristocratic junior diplomats in Vienna. In other words, the cause of a senseless war was itself senselessness.

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
---Cecil Spring-Ryce (I vow to Thee My Country)
The Great War was great because it was a pure war, intrinsic and pristine like a bloody sacrament.

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
---Wilfred Owen (Anthem for Doomed Youth)

Just as senseless was the devotion with which men just threw themselves into the daily dread of killing and being killed in numbers that staggered the imagination. This was not strategic carnage but ritualized suicide. Four years, day after day, men rose up from the within the earth, ran into a leaden rain and fell back dead into the muck oozing with blood.

Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
--- AE Houseman

And being young, men were lifted upward by shimmering allures of Faith! Country! Freedom! and, above all, Honour! until one by one all the noble sentiments too were slain and lay befouled in the muck oozing with blood.

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
--- Wilfred Owens (Dulce et Decorum)
The Great War was great because Man emerged from the clouds of smoke and gas knowing that he had become more senseless than a beast.

“Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle now long since ironed, can laugh among the dying unconcerned."
--- Wilfred Owens (Insensiblity)

And a lover of death.

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into this solitude.
Blessed are the dead ...

Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be for what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.
-- Edward Thomas (Rain)

The Great War was great because, like no war before it, it hollowed out the soul and left civilization a mere husk of appearances.

“After the shells ... and the gas, the bullets were like the gentle rain from heaven ... I cannot say I suffered anything; having let my brain grow dull”
---Wilfred Owens

Senseless in purpose, senselessly begun, begetting senselessness, the Great War rendered civilization itself senseless.

“Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
as we miss the march of this retreating world”
---Wilfred Owens

No war has produced such poetry, for in no other war was the overweening hope of civilization so cast down into the nightmare of senselessness and despair. All war is stupid and its teasing vainglory exacts a vengeful price. But the Great War was a pure communion with death that revealed Europe’s marbled cities to be white washed sepulchres. It is only through understanding the existential passage traversed in the Great War that we can comprehend the unique essence of that day when the passage ended.

For if despite all progress, Man relapsed into murdering suicide; and if every courage and every lofty hope and every cowardice and every sordid lust was cut down equally in the muck oozing with blood, then there was no hope greater than that we might from time to time relapse into Armistice.

Armistice. A time to remember that peace is but a pause in the pace of war.

For years that day, that pause and that dismissal silence was marked by two minutes of stillness throughout the land

What passing bells? None.

leaving us to ponder in pitiful poverty

What have we done?
for we know not what we do

Once the pause was turned from a confession of senselessness into a commemoration of those who died in battle, and the ones thereafter and after that and thence of all veterans proudly "flesh-marked by the Beast", the holy and awful memory of Armistice Day was whored to war.

The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.
---Wilfred Owens

Subtly and vilely the remembrance of a tenuous and evanescent peace has been corrupted into a celebration of heroic sacrifice in war; tricked out as always with sham affect and easy tears for the fallen while urging the young ever more to live the old lie and die.

What a defilement that we should remember Armistice Day even while, at the very moment, engaged in war.

No. I did not wear a poppy today. It was stolen from me.

Wilfred Owen’s mother received notification of his death on 11 November 1918.

©WCG, 2010

Armistice Day 2010

Armistice Day.
The day to remember, sadly, that peace is only a pause in war.

Essay: "In Remembrance of Armistice Day"


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Stop Goofing Around

Oh c'mon you guys. Stop goofing around up there on the Hill. The Republicans need to get busy building bridges for people to die under.


Pope Does "El Camino"

Since it was not reported by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or the U.S. press in general (except for the Washington Post on its back pages), the Woodchip Gazette will note that Pope Benedict has paid a second visit to Spain where he made pilgrimage (mini-version) to the tomb of Saint James, at Compostella.

The Princes of Asturias, welcome Pope Benedict to the Accompaniement
of the Papal and Royal Anthems

Arriving in Galicia, the Pope exhorted Spain and Europe to be "concerned not only with people’s material needs but also with their moral and social, spiritual and religious needs, since all these are genuine requirements of our common humanity."

At the Shrine of St. James Benedict stated that "To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself The Church is this embrace of God, in which men and women learn also to embrace their brothers and sisters and to discover in them the divine image and likeness which constitutes the deepest truth of their existence, and which is the origin of genuine freedom."

The Pope has called for a rapprochment ("meeting") between the Church and the Spanish Government which are in conflict over the issues of abortion, divorce and marriage. Spain's prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero was not in attendance to greet His Holiness at the airport, and a gay "kiss in" is planned on Sunday when Benedict visits Barcelona to consecrate Gaudi's fantasmagorical Cathedral of the Holy Family, a hundred years in the building.

Earlier in the week, at a Papal Audience on the eve of All Saints Day, the Pope stated that "God Excludes No One."


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Of Probabilities and Punishment

The Chipsters at the Gazette are aware that politicians and voters around the country have been waiting expectantly and impatiently for our endorsements in the upcoming mid-term elections; and so we have taken the time to consider our endorsements carefully.

In 2008 we Chipsters endorsed Obama, despite the fact that he was not Dennis Kucinich, on the less than sanguine grounds that he had hinted sufficiently at change to be taken at his word. Upon his being elected, however, we cautioned not to expect too much from a candidate who at best represented a more socially conscious aspect of capitalism. We did not expect Obama to fundamentally change the historical trajectory of the United States; however, we did hold out some hope that he would mitigate and mollify the effects of empire by restoring some civil liberties, by enacting universal health care, by undertaking to make education something less than a highway to debt peonage, and by re-regulating the economy so as to make it something other than a brute and cunning exercise in rapacious plunder and despoilation for the benefit of a few. At the end of six months Obama had run up his colors and we called for punitive voting to punish his Administration and the Democrat Party for their betrayal of every item on progressive agenda.

At the end of the day, we cannot but call for a total repudiation of the Democrat Party at the national level. To be sure, this anti-endorsement arises from the dismal record of the party at the federal level but, more fundamentally, the issue concerns democracy itself and the survival of its enfeebled remains.

The theory of democracy is that government policy should be determined by the greater number of society's participants, where each citizen votes his desires and interests as best he sees fit. The idea of a representative democracy is the same, except that the desires (and would-be votes) of a given number of citizens are distilled into an elected official who represents their interests and views.

In a direct democracy, politics is the art of the "doable" -- how many people can any individual voter convince to see things his way. In representative democracy politics is the art of the probable. This involves a double calculation to choose among the candidates whose promises (a) most coincide with the number of things we want to see done and (b) has the greater chance of getting elected.

But this calculation alone is not enough. In addition one has to rank and weight the objects of one's political desires and then assess, with respect ot each item, the likelihood of its getting accomplished. Candidate A may best represent our desires, but have no chance of getting elected; whereas candidate B may only reflect one of our less important desires but have both a good chance of getting elected and of getting our desire enacted -- even if it not the most important one.

To vote intelligently one needs to be a statistician which goes to show that most voting is probably no better than a spit in the dark.

But while politics thus becomes an uncertain and often disappointing thing, the democratic system itself is nullified if candidates lie about their positions. In order for the idea of democracy to work at all and for the attendant probablistic calculations to operate as such, it is essential that the electorate be able to calculate and vote on the basis of representations that represent reliable, factorable values. If not, then democracy is a spit in the dark from a carousel.

If after lying outright, a representative is re-elected -- that is to say, if, after a betrayal of democratic fundamentals, the electorate does not use the power of the vote to recall that representative but rather re-elects him despite his proven lies, then democracy is rendered a complete and total farce. Why not pick a candidate at random? Why bother to vote at all?

The present election represents a choice between a party that is opposed to progressive values (the Republicans) and a party that has not only betrayed progressive values but that has betrayed the concept of democracy itself. The republicans at least do stand for what they say; the democrats don't. A vote for the Obamacrat Party is a vote to betray democracy itself.

Typically, the national Democrtatic Party couples obsequious whining with a threat. Politics is that art of the probable, they will whimper, we can't always get all of what we want at once. And then, ominously: the other side is far far worse than our far far miserable performance.

It is too nauseating for words. Yes, politics is the art of the probable; but the fact is that the Obamacrats never even tried. Their "failure" has been so consistent and uninterrupted that it can only be deemed intentional.

No administration was ever more disgraced at the end of its term than the Bush Cabal. No one could reasonably interpret the election of 2008 as anything but a repudiation of Bush policies across the board. The Republicans tried their usual demagoguery and were soundly rejected. The Democrats were given commanding majorities in the House and Senate. Obama's 52% to 45% popular vote was not quite the Johnson Landslide of 1964 (61% to 38%) nor was his 59 to 41 seats in the Senate anywhere close to Johnson's unassailable 68 to 32; but the results were far more than Bush's 47% to 48% popular loss in 2004 and its 50/50 split in the Senate. Even in Bush's second term, his Senate majority was only 55 to 44.

The Demorats whine incessantly that they were one vote short of cloture and therefore the Republicans could "block anything" thereby necessitating that Obama go hat in hand offering compromise in order to gain some measily consensus. The short answer to this is: ______

The longer answer is that the numerical breakdown of the Senate is only a rough guide to the effectiveness of any one party's majority. Johnson's 68 Senate seats included 22 Dixiecrat seats, giving him less than an impermeable majority (46) on certain issues. What the numerical breakdown in the Senate indicates is a rough probability of the success -- not of compromise -- but of political pressure, which is where the popular presidential vote figures in.

It was precisely here that one can see the truth of Teddy Roosevelt's remark that the real power of the presidency lies in the "Bully Pulpit". The key word here is BULLY....which is what TR and LBJ did so well. A friendly squeeze on the shoulder from LBJ was more than enough to squeal out a needed vote. The more popularity a president has, the greater his bullying power.

But instead of getting into the grease-pit of politics, Obambi took the distanced, academic high road "letting" Congress work out a consensus. It was nauseating to watch from the get-go as this Gazette has said from the get-go. When the ball is passed into your hands, you make a lunge for the goal post for as far as you can with as great a burst of forward motion you can muster. Every president has understood that, especially FDR in whose memory the phrase "First Hundred Days" was coined.

Worse than Obambi's shine-off was the spinelessness of the self-serving Democrat whores to whom he flubbed the ball. How was it, one may ask, that a minority president with a split Senate was able to take the country to war, expunge the Bill of Rights, negate one environmental and social protection after another, and institute an unaccountable "unilateral" presidency working for a corporate dictatorship while at the same time wasting a surplus and running the country into massive debt for the benefit of a few? Where was the cloture rule then? It was nowhere to be seen because the Democrats themselves connived at everything Bush did.

And it is at this point in the pudding that we come to the definitive answer to the Demorat's gambit at blackmail: there is no "worse" alternative because the Demorats are themselves part of the very corporate-military-bankster cabal as the Republicans.

While letting the congressional Demorats and their Republican "colleagues" arrive at a consensus that gave us no health care reform, no global warming initiative, no repeal of the Patriot Act, no end of unwinable wars or diminishment in military spending, Obambi himself has been quietly at work continuing the Bush Agenda on every front. That he may from time to time throw some regulatory chicken feed in the progressive direction does not change his path or his goal. We will illustrate with a few items from an otherwise dismal roll-call of Obama policies and accomplishments.

It was bad enough that Obama did not close down Guantánamo prison within months as promised, instead he asserts the right to unilaterally assassinate American citizens while at the same time his FBI smashes down doors and ransacks the offices and private homes of groups engaged in legitimate political activism and dissent, undeterred by any legal (much less constitutional) restraint. These are the hallmarks of despotism pure and simple.

It was bad enough that Obama did not end the Iraq War as promised but merely extended it into Afghanistan turning yet another part of the globe into a terrorised, brutalized chaos-land -- no, as if that were not bad enough, his administration is champing at the bit to extend these full-spectrum operations into South America and even next door into Mexico.

It was bad enough that Obama had nothing but praise for Blankenfein, Wall Street's biggest billion dollar crook or his idea of financial reform instead of taming the shrew simply required 30-notice before the screw. It was bad enough that Obama did nothing to resolve the problem of "undocumented workers", his administration's immigration reform consists in massive, unprecedented deportations that just somehow manage to target labor unions while doing nothing against scum-bag corporations that exploit what has become all but imported slave labor.

It was bad enough that Obama shovelled billions into the coffers of bankster crooks, but when it turns out that that those very crooks themselves decide to back off from foreclosure because they don't have valid title and/or valid mortgages which will fly in a court of law, the administration decries the let-up of foreclosure actions. In other words, not only did the administration turn a blind eye to financial criminality it is encouraging the banks to continue to profit from their wrongdoing.

It was bad enough that Obama did not make the slightest attempt to bully-hoo Blue Dog Democrats and Yellow Dog Republicans into line during the last sesssion, instead during the run up primaries to this year's election the Administration consistently backed Republocrat candidates against viable progressive challengers -- thereby insuring as best it could that the next Congresss will not have a strong progressive contingent to work for a progressive agenda.

As if all this weren't bad enough, just this month, after promising to end "Don't Ask Don't Tell", the administration chastized a courageous federal judge for nullifying the military's anti-gay policies. It then told insurance companies that although they were required to insure children with pre-existing conditions that surely did not mean they couldn't raise premiums through the roof. And then to top it all off, as if there weren't more important issues for a federal executive to be concerned with, the Attorney General prattles against California's marijuana initiative. Laura Bush would be more progressive than that.

This Administration is not only a betrayal it is a nightmare.

We have heard people warn of the mistake liberals made in walking away from Hubert Humphrey in 1968; and indeed that act of electoral disgust was a truly historic blunder. For it was Humphrey's defeat that rang in the reactionary, neo-con, corporo-imperialist era that currently depoils and oppresses billions around the globe, including us, the ordinary American.

But the analogy does not hold because in 1968, LBJ had already resigned. Early in that year Johnson, held his own private election. As sure a vote-prognisticator as any man who ever lived, Johnson understood, ante-hoc, that he had been defeated for second term. Thus, in 1968, electoral disgust had already achieved its legitimate, democratic, repudiatory objective. Humphrey was not a proper object of electoral punishment because as Vice President he had been an mere by-stander. He should have been judged on the basis of probable calculations; punishing him for the sins of LBJ was pointless.

But in 2010 all the Demorat culprits are still at large. In the wake of their massive betrayal --- at best a rank and incompetent species of cowardice --- none of these slimes have the Johnsonian decency to resign. Instead by hook, crook and snivelling blackmail they hope to slime into back into office still clawing onto the perks to which they are addicted.

There is every reason to repudiate these pukes. Democracy herself demands it.

©WCG, 2010