Monday, October 29, 2012

2012 Election Endorsements

It’s that time of year. And in keeping with what will hopefully become a long tradition, I offer my endorsements for the California November 6th General Election.


I’m voting for Gary Johnson. I like Jill Stein, but she lacks Johnson’s executive experience. And while I believe she is well-intentioned and would continue to operate under the ethical code of “first, do no harm,” I don’t think Washington contains the political will to accommodate her agenda. While Stein’s most intriguing goal is to convene a UN convention advocating the ban of drones in warfare, Johnson is sufficiently anti-war for me. Further, unlike Stein, he has a clear plan for addressing the national debt and the looming fractional reserve crisis without the ballyhoo of austerity in Romney-Ryan extremes. In either case, a vote for a third party is strongly encouraged, as we will not cost Obama the election and we can send a clear message to the Democratic Party establishment that we want a broader policy discussion and we know that we can take our government back from the monied interests.

Vote Third Party.

4th Congressional District

Tom McClintock is the best example of a hyperpartisan, Grover Norquist coalition partner in Washington. He is also the archetypal career politician, having never established principles through community organizing nor in business--McClintock ran for his first office a few years after college and has yet to cease his parasitic attachment to the same government he claims he wants to eliminate. He has personally snubbed me as I reached out to discuss streamlining environmental review for energy development of the northeast district’s geothermal potential. These are ideas any Republican should be willing to entertain. Instead, McClintock sits, as a career politician, in a majority GOP district and serves not his constituents but the radical fringe of the anti-tax crusaders and austerity pusher-men. 

Jack Uppal is a breath of fresh air for the typical voter in the 4th district. He has experience in the private sector, managing massive budgets. He represents the American Dream and the future of the Democratic Party, and American politics, as an Indian-American scientist and entrepreneur. He has the pragmatism to navigate the polarized halls of Washington and recognizes that education is the foundation of a strong economy and robust democracy. 

Vote for Uppal.


I may abstain here. But Feinstein hasn’t done anything too bad, as far as I can tell. And we also need to recognize that control of the Senate may be the only bulwark against a Romney-Ryan slash-and-burn agenda. 

CA 1st Assembly: The farmer and the Philly

We have two choices in the 1st Assembly District. We could look at party labels and judge we have no real choice, seeing to Republican candidates. However, in this interesting system of top-two primaries, at least we have a choice between two different versions of conservatism. While it may beg skepticism of the Republican-led charge to break Democratic dominance of the legislature when we consider the 1st District used to seat a Democrat until redistricting, we should take our choice with a grain of salt and embrace the nuances of character, rather than party affiliation that make democratic political systems interesting. 

Rick Bosetti seems a reasonable enough guy, a former Philly, businessman and local political star. He wants many of the things his constituents also desire. However, if you spend some time reading his issues platform, you may find yourself strangely staring at a duplicate of Tea-Party candidate platforms: anti-tax, anti-regulation, lots of empty talk about “job creators”. The most intriguing thing he states is that he believes public lands should remain public for under the stewardship and for the use of the public. However, in the next breath he stirs fear of some dangerous conspiracy of “extreme environmentalists” threatening mining, timber and agricultural industries in the district. More Teahadist rhetoric. Yuk.

Brian Dahle is also a Republican, but reading his platform, he sounds much more focused and much more reasonable than Bosetti—ironic too considering that Bosetti received the Sac Bee’s endorsement based on his “pragmatism”. Dahle talks about two central pillars of his campaign. First, as a farmer, Dahle wants to secure “point-of-origin” water rights. Second, Dahle wants to preserve rural values. While the latter smacks of black-and-white primetime gender roles and iron-fisted household discipline, and he is indeed not afraid to accept endorsements from religious groups, the former catches my ear. Now, I’ll admit my own bias toward a farmer. However, also considering the future that awaits us, focusing on water storage capacity and the ability of people to subsist in their native environment and within their regional or local culture are two profoundly simply goals with potentially system-shaking ramifications. When (or perhaps, if) I run for office, I would run on the slogan: Ethics and Resilience. Dahle seems to carry this fire. And he has executive experience in regional issues councils to boot.   

Vote Dahle.

1st Senate District: Beauty and a Beast
Gaines is the incumbent. He will likely win because of the demography (and perhaps the educational inadequacies) of our district. But here’s my beef. Gaines is consistent, but this is far from a virtue. He consistently adheres to the Norquist-Reagan coalition of bathtub crusaders, those who want to drown government. We live in an era that government is all that stands between the huddled masses and the vicious claws of the capitalist system. As an anarchist, or libertarian socialist for a softer label, I would rather keep government around long enough to make the necessary institutional changes that will create the requisite social system to live peaceful and meaningful lives without government. Gaines promises everything that will destroy the masses in unleashing the forces of economic neoliberalism and political fascism. Gaines might echo Reagan, but I make my own noise. “Read my lips: go fuck yourself.”

Julie Griffith-Flatter is a woman after my own heart. And reading up on her goals and guiding philosophies, I was forced into the above angry tirade. If Julie didn’t have a (D) next to her name, I’d say she’s probably a Green. And on top of that, this is the first time in more than a decade of closely following politics that I’ve come across a candidate who knows what truly ails us as a people. She proposes a platform that weaves the simplest ideas, showing me that American politics can embrace holism. She proposes economic development that maintains communities. She believes a healthy environment is necessary for a healthy resource-based economy, where “creating jobs” is about serving the needs of a community based on its proximate resources—rather than providing tax breaks to lure companies in for a few years only to move again leaving the jobless in their wakes. Most importantly, she sees rural development under the above principles as necessary for a strong state economy. She believes that any jobs created should be fairly compensated and that education is the foundation of a new California. If I had to venture another guess, I’d say that she is a bioregionalist. And this makes me happier than words can describe, because the bioregional vision is the practical application of Social Ecological Politics a la Murray Bookchin. If we want to hang hierarchy and smash the state, or even if we just want to elect someone who has our interests in mind, she’s the best damn choice I’ve ever seen. [update: G-F emailed me back and confirmed with a humble "I'm still learning" that the deep ecology/bioregional vision informs here policy ideas.]

Vote for a real future. Vote Griffith-Flatter! 
Taxes for education: Prop 30 versus Prop 38

I don’t need to explain the importance of education, or how fucked the whole system has become in the last few years. Prop 30, which Gov. Brown supports, will raise money for the schools through a very temporary sales tax increase and a higher income tax for high wage earners. It has built-in citizen accountability measures and places funds in a hands-off account to prevent the legislature from borrowing from education monies as precipitated the current conundrum. The “no” campaign is funded by one Charles Munger, a Republican super activist on the Forbes 400 list. Follow the money…

Prop 38 could be construed to be the one-percent’s answer to Prop 30. It offers similar education funding with similar accountability guarantees. The primary differences are that it will raise income taxes on all Californians and it is a 12 year increase versus the four years for Prop 30. While we may think this is less acceptable than a small sales tax increase and a heavier burden for the Golden State’s most golden, I think that both initiatives could provide a needed steroid to primary, secondary and higher education to create the skilled workforce and enlightened citizens to help us transition in to the post-carbon future. Prop 38’s longevity will help create a stable tax regime for education in the near future and also diverts 30% of revenue to pay off debts for the first four years. Finally, Prop 38 has a provision to require districts to disclose their spending. Transparency and local accountability are important to consider.

Vote Yes on 30 and 38.

Government accountability

Prop 31 and 40 both aim to create more accountability of our broken state legislature. The former establishes budgeting guidelines and requires performance goals to judge program efficacy. Any bill spending more than $25 million would have to have built-in funding. Finally, Prop 38 establishes a precedent for returning money to the local level, permitting counties and municipalities to collaborate in providing government services. This is an alternative to the top-down approach of government. While opponents note some dangers in this degree of flexibility, I think it is a step toward a more federated system of governance that will be increasingly important as centralized institutions begin to fail. 

Prop 40 maintains citizen control of redistricting. If this prevents gerrymandering, as it should, I think it’s worthy of a yes.

Vote Yes on 31 and 40.

Of, by and for the corporations: Prop 32, 33 and 39

Prop 32 is union busting disguised as campaign finance reform. The yes campaign is funded by two people on the Forbes 400 list. This bill prohibits union members for opting to deduct campaign contributions from their paychecks. It does nothing to curb PAC and super PAC spending. 

Prop 33, funded by a Forbes 400 insurance magnate and a list of lobbies representing insurance agents, is supposed to be consumer protection allowing auto insurance premiums to remain at a discount if you change carriers. In fact, this bill establishes the grounds for charging higher premiums for those that leave the auto insurance market for any length of time. If we already receive a good driver discount by law, there is no reason to open the door on higher premiums for those that move to a city where car ownership isn’t necessary. 

Prop 39 changes the two-option multistate business tax regime to a sales-based assessment only. The big push for this reform is to fund (almost $1 billion/year in new revenue) an energy efficiency program to retrofit schools and other public real estate. The existing tax regime was created using backroom deals to provide loopholes for tech companies. While opponents point out that a dedicated fund is irresponsible and limits legislative flexibility, I believe energy efficiency retrofits are a serious attempt to curb the effects of rising energy costs on the general fund, and are therefore, worth the fiscal straight-jacket. 

Vote No on 32, 33, and Vote Yes on 39.

Prop 37

All I need to say is Follow the money. Monsanto, Dow and DuPont are funding a deceptive campaign against GMO labeling. Literally, hundreds of populist farming groups, health care experts and environmental groups advocate for GMO labeling. And so do I. If there was one truly no-brainer vote on the ballot, this is it.


Vote YES on Prop 37!

Criminal Justice Reform: Prop 34, 35 and 36

Prop 34 saves money and stops the immoral practice of executing prisoners. The US is one of the few developed countries that execute its prisoners. California once outlawed it but we reneged. Now is our chance to put a nail in that coffin.

Prop 36 ends three strike sentencing for non-violent third offenses. It will also allow some people who had, for example, a DUI as a third offense, to get credit for time served and perhaps be released after resentencing instead of overcrowding our prisons with people who don’t deserve to be there. In either case (36 and 34), the opponents can’t make a logical case and rely on appeals to fear and emotion.

Prop 35 is a tough one. While most voters will probably agree that human trafficking is deplorable, Prop 35 tries to address something we don’t need to legislate. Trafficking is almost entirely a federal—and global—law enforcement issue. We already punish human trafficking. Prop 35, opposed by victims’ advocates and the sex industry but lauded as necessary by a broad coalition headed by dozens of churches, defines vaguely what constitutes trafficking. It also expands the sex offenders registry and would make legal the monitoring of any sex offender’s internet usage. Again, while all this seems welcome, it would make madams, pimps, johns and hoes all sex traffickers. It also doesn’t explicitly exempt people convicted of aiding the movement of illegal farm labor. It creates one VERY BROAD, VERY VAGUE AND VERY DANGEROUS category of crime and opens the door to incredibly oppressive criminal punishment for consensual sex workers. The bill is well-intentioned but is too vague, and at this point, not necessary.

VOTE NO on 35, Vote Yes on 33 and 34.

This concludes my analysis. Stay informed. Stay engaged.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Process of Convergence in the Ethereal

An interpretation of dreams

               A few days ago, I had a dream. I woke up, my back aching from either the rigorous exercise regime forced upon me by the imperative of lowering government health care costs or some other physiological condition. The dream itself wasn’t important, simply my subconscious justifying sensations of my conscious. However, conversing first with my sister, and then Simona (my wife), I realized there were similarities in all our dreams, experienced at approximately the same time. Since it seemed a little strange for coincidence, I examine several similarities and apparent themes and thought I’d write them down. I know admittedly little about the interpretation of dreams and capitulate that this may just be another huge helping of my characteristic confirmation bias.

               In my dream, I was going somewhere. I was with a few others I didn’t know. We were compelled to depart our meeting place, I vaguely remember, to alert another household of something. Time was of the essence, so we jumped into a beater American pick-up. An older model made of steel. We were careening down a gravel road in a sparsely settled outpost, one not unlike the skeletal remains of mining towns in the Rockies on I-70 west of Denver. As we rounded a corner, the back end slid out and I apologized as we, first slipped, and then tumbled down a hill. I woke up after acknowledging that I and my comrades had survived relatively intact. Just a few scrapes and bruises, and my twisted back.

               Simona also had a dream with an automobile as the focal object. In her dream—details, of course, less vivid in translation—she was driving down a stair case. As she approached a landing, another car obstructed the path. She hit the gas and wedged herself between the wall and the impediment, badly damaging both, but succeeding in her passage.

               My sister explained that she, and I and others, were the prey of a vicious serial killer. She spent most of her dream trying to avoid a certain death. However, she confronted this menace on more than one occasion. When she did, it transformed into a mouse that resembled Brain, the comical menace hell bent on conquering the world, a quiet genius of dubious motive. 

               She also explained that her life-partner had a strange dream of his own. In it, he transformed periodically, under what conditions he did not disclose, into dog. And every time he strutted off to his own rhythm, he would encounter more and more dogs until, together, they formed a formidable pack.  

               Now, If I had to employ speculation in the interpretation of these dreams—and in hearing of these second two from members of our tribe separated by the expanse of the continent, I determined there must be some story of which these comprise chapters—I’d give them a revolutionary twist. And I would order the pieces into a narrative as follows.

               *We are being pursued by an evil force that seeks to destroy us. But when it is exposed to light, those that cannot chisel the fa├žade see something smart. Capitalism seeks to consume us and we are made ignorant by the myths of efficiency, progress and inevitability.

               *To fight this menace, we must seek those who share our passions, our ideologies and our vision for true equality through transcendent love. We must build our army from these volunteers and we must embrace the fierceness of wild dogs. 

               *On our road, we must make hard choices. We will certainly have to choose sacrifice, of our possessions and of our comfort in maintaining order through easy choices. It is, after all, our own fear and inability to act in faith that has thus prevented our congealing into a coherent revolutionary force. 

               *Finally, we have little time. We don’t know when the bend in the road is going to be too tight for the speed at which we must move. We don’t know if we are going to make it to the future unmolested. However, if we can fall back onto the resilient communities (this is how I interpreted an old steel pick-up truck from the age of good craftsmanship)—our families, churches or whatever institutions we find most humanizing—we will have no trouble crawling from the heap of a mistake and continuing on toward the journey. 

               Reading some words of Emma Goldman the other day, it occurred to me that my own growing interest in the spiritual mystery teachings and anarchist political thought and practice are really two sides of the same coin. 

               The mystery teachings and anarchy are not ends, but processes of learning and love.    


Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer days, not so gentle


My sincerest apologies to the A to Z community for failing to follow through. I fell behind when I was in California for my grandfather's funeral. I wrote a couple posts saved to a word document but wanted to tie at least three related themes into one seamless mega essay. Unfortunately, I can't find them now. I also lost a bunch of time planting the garden and spending six weeks being indoctrinated into how the military runs its evaluation system, but doesn't because it is a hopelessly bureaucratic and insanely conservative organism.

Also in this time, I attended the Age of Limits conference in Artemas, PA. Lots of great speakers and topics. If you really want justice done to the scope and significance of the event, stop by fellow Blogger, John Michael Greer's page The Archdruid Report. It was refreshing to be surrounded by people who were no longer debating peak oil and its implications but scrambling to figure out how to build resilient communities.

The whole purpose of the A to Z challenge topic, Anarchy, was not to say "hey, man, we're fucked." My intent was to explain why we're fucked so we can begin to move forward, and as Greer explains, "collapse now and avoid the rush." The original intent was to play armchair anarchist philosopher and critique the lifestyle anarchists and the professional left, generally. Instead, I started realizing that discussing the merits and/or flaws of Syndicalism and other anti-statist forms of communism, wasn't really worth the time. Instead, we can continue that debate well into the future. I decided--last minute, really--that I would instead employ my knowledge and skill as an historian to untangle the complexities of our current milieu of crises. It dawned on me that we don't need to debate anarchist philosophy, because anarchy will be reality if we understand what forces preceded and perpetuate its existence.

I thought that I could find no more appropriate way of reinvigorating the mind than to explain the purpose of my literary escapades. The legitimacy of the statist system is now in question, even if most don't realize it explicitly. If we understand why we operate in a statist system, I think we can also understand the kind of choices we need to make as industrial civilization collapses to establish the foundation of a truly free society--anarchism.

Hopefully I find those damn essays soon so we can continue our exploration into what our future can look like if we want it and work toward it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sobering Up

Anarchy A to Z:
a guide to understanding our history unfolding for the anesthetized and apathetic

L is for Limits

   When I was in college, I had a friend who carelessly lived--and almost died--by the 30-rack of Keystone Light. If he wasn’t with friends playing beer pong, he was managing the keg at a frat party. If he wasn’t with his brothers, he was at the bar. Our little Northern California college town was a bad place for someone who takes to the drink. Any night of the week one could find 50 cent shots, dollar pints or two dollar Long Islands. We went to a few house parties where we dumped six or seven half gallons of liquor into a plastic tub and simply add one of those cardboard cartons of Kool Aid to make it palatable. We called it Jungle Juice, but it should have been called a stupid-shit-o-meter. Every ladled cup was a step closer to a fight, an inch closer to death, a mile farther from the people who truly cared about you.

   In his worst three years, he pissed myself, spit on his sister, stole some random girls pizza before intentionally burning her with a cigarette, tried to convince a very large woman to fuck him behind a dumpster. The ambulance got called at least once and he spent three different nights in jail. And this is just a fraction of his escapades. Many told him he needed to learn my limits. But it wasn’t really about learning how to balance his physiological limits with something completely incompatible with good health. He was in a bad spot mentally, and it crept into his psyche. He had an alter ego, even though he wasn’t schizophrenic. His name was Drunk Steve.

   Drunk Steve didn’t pay attention to limits. He proceeded to stumble around town in his own universe. He didn’t need limits. He would presumably wake up in the morning a little hung over, hopefully in his own bed, without any broken bones or bloodied body parts. The fact remains that he had limits, even if he ignored them. He did, in fact, need to know his limits. It took him a long time to come to fully realize the damage he had done to his friendships. He’s still discovering the damage he did to his body.

   What if we knew our limits? Would we ride our bicycles more to save some cash and hydrocarbons? Would we plant a garden or meet our local farmer? Would we stop buying into the political circus and create parallel institutions in a spirit of mutual aid? Could we divorce ourselves from our lifestyles? Smash our Magnavox? Throw our iPods into the wind? Would we be willing to live simply, to enter into a compact of voluntary material poverty if it meant access to greater humanity or even enlightenment? 

   Ah, the hyperbole of a pessimist! And his false dilemmas! What reason has he!? We need to be pragmatists. Remember?

   Our spectacles conceal our fears. We turn to the solitude of group identities because reality is like Jungle Juice, but without the Kool Aid. It tastes like shit. We don’t want to drink the Kool Aid called reality. We would rather live and die by our spectacles, in shallow soulless shells of humans that never learned to be human. The Kool Aid won’t kill you, though, drinking it won’t save you either. But it most certainly will help you sober up.

   We live in an age of limits—I’ll be attending a conference by this name Memorial Day weekend, so check back with the Mad Mind of a Man later. Our media narratives are proof positive we are ignoring these limits. With all the talk about gas prices, you hear competing claims that domestic drilling or the Keystone XL would solve the problem on one hand and that it is simply a matter of demand on the global market—the developing world is mighty thirsty and wants to drink up the milkshake. The latter is the more factual claim, the former a political stunt to speak to the fears of crusty old white conservatives who are already deeply skeptical of science, Democrats and dark-skinned folk. To talk about oil demand immediately validates the former’s claim that we need to produce more. But that’s not going to happen. We’d rather ignore the supply side of the equation. More on peak oil later.

   We live in a world of demographic limits too. Malthus’s predictions were not disproven, only postponed. 7,000,000,000 is a lot of mouths to feed. The Green Revolution was itself a spectacle built on petrochemicals and genetic manipulation. It is a complex dinosaur. It doesn’t take much to roll the snowball down the hill. With the unpredictability of climate change-induced extreme weather, we can expect to see the Malthusian skeptics and the techno-romantics look at each other with gaping mouths. “Dude. I didn’t believe it could happen.” No shit, dude.

   Aside from food, humans need water. Many of the world’s people are already water insecure. As climate change ushers in prolonged droughts, and hydrofracking, agricultural runoff and industrial pollution continue to render potable water poisonous, Americans too will know water insecurity. An Old West adage reads: “Whiskey’s for drinking. Water’s for fighting over.” I hate needles, and pain, but I’ve always said, if I get a tattoo, it will bear this mark. If you are going to permanently brand yourself, you might as well brand yourself with something that won’t change. I suspect, it will only become more prophetic with time. If you’re from the arid West, you should know what I’m talking about.

   We don’t really need to be drinking whiskey, because we’re already drunk. And when we’re drunk we’re already past our limits. We’re drunk on the illusion that economic growth will recover, that growth can be limitless. We’re intoxicated with the present. We keep thinking, like Drunk Steve, we’ll wake up in the morning with one helluva story to tell. We keep believing that we can keep pushing our limits, that we can continue to live in an advance and complex industrial society.

   The reality of limits says otherwise. We need to sober up to our limits. But instead, we’re still stumbling around, bar-hopping as if tomorrow is as given as the sunrise. We can hydrate with some reality Kool Aid and recognize that the age of the industrial civilization is in collapse. When we sober up, our heads might hurt for a while, but at least we can begin to manage the transition to a world where less is more, a world where we no longer spin the stupid-shit-o-meter.

   Know that we have limits and we can sober up. It really is that simple. Drunk Steve eventually sobered up.

   Trust me. I was Drunk Steve.