Monday, January 18, 2016

A richness that's worth fighting for

Many of the people waging the fiercest anti-extraction battles are, at least by traditional measures, poor. But they are still determined to defend a richness that our economy has not figured out how to count. “Our kitchens are filled with homemade jams and preserves, sacks of nuts, crates of honey and cheese, all produced by us,” Doina Dediu, a Romanian villager protesting fracking, told a reporter. “We are not even that poor. Maybe we don’t have money, but we have clean water and we are healthy and we just
want to be left alone."

– Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything, 2014

Around the world, indigenous peoples are embracing the reality that money doesn't buy health and happiness.  Closer to home, the Northern Cheyenne of Montana mobilized themselves to successfully oppose one of the largest coal mining operations in the world, the proposed Otter Creek mine in the Power River Basin (the mining rights or land leases were given by the state to the Arch Coal and Peabody Energy corporations). 

Most people will probably be surprised to learn that 40% of all the coal that is mined in the US comes from Montana, which has the largest repositories of recoverable coal in the US, at least 120 billion tons, one-quarter of all known US reserves. [ source ]   But not one bit of that coal comes from Cheyenne reservations, and if the Cheyenne have anything to say about it; not one bit more will be mined without their approval.

The Cheyenne are, by our standards, desperately impoverished.  The unemployment rate for the tribe is 62%.  Substance abuse is a huge problem; most of the tribe lives in sub-standard housing.  Why would they opposed a mining project that would bring money (actually, lots of it) into their communities and reservations?  Why did they fight it so hard for so many years; when they were always totally outgunned by corporations which had far more political power, and almost endless financial resources?
Simple.  The Northern Cheyenne, like so many indigenous peoples around the world, decided that their culture was worth more than all the wealth that the coal mining could bring them. That's extremely hard – almost impossibly hard – for anglos to understand.  It's something we've never had to choose for ourselves, culture versus money; our culture is based on money.
What these native peoples are resisting and rejecting is "colonialism" ... not colonization.  They fought colonization generations ago, and lost that fight.

Colonization: displacing the rightful inhabitants of a territory
Colonialism: destroying the culture of those inhabitants

Colonialism, I believe, happens to immigrants too.  Destroy their culture.  Enforced conformity.
When the Canadian government passed Bill C-33 last Spring, the First Nation Education Act, it was rejected by the national Assembly of First Nations (AFN).  The funding for native schools was rejected because the strings attached to it, to control those schools, were unacceptable to natives who remember the history of Canada's residential schools.  The Assembly of First Nations rejected $1.9 billion in education funding from the Harper government.  That's huge.  To accept that money, they felt, would have meant giving control of the native schools back to the Canadian government. [more about that]

The history of the residential schools is the main reason why they would not accept that money.  Colonialism.  They would not accept the government's open apology as full recompense for past injustice.  They won't agree to "live in peace, as long as you live like us."  And I think their choice was admirable.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Remember "Climate-gate" ?

"Climate-gate" was an example of the logical fallacy of the "irrelevant conclusion," in other words, it was asserted that one or two emails, out of hundreds that were scrutinized (after they were made public on the Internet), proved that all of the evidence that our planet is warming from man-made causes is bogus.  Reviews were conducted, but no evidence was ever produced of a systematic suppression or manipulation of data used by climate change researchers.  It was a "tempest in a teapot" and was a strategically timed stunt intended to derail the 2009 Copenhagen summit by influencing public opinion.  Opinion.  It was a political stunt that was completely irrelevant to the scientific community.

Virginia Burkett, chief scientist for global change research at the U.S. Geological Survey, told The Associated Press that, even if the data and studies mentioned in the e-mail exchanges were ignored, the evidence "is still hugely overwhelming in terms of the rates of changes that can only be attributed to the warming of the atmosphere. That includes melting Arctic sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets, decline of spring snow season, coral reef bleaching and earlier onset of spring in plants and animals," she said, referring to changing patterns of blooming, hibernation, and migration. They may be talking three or four datasets in the e-mail scandal, we're looking at 28,000 data sets of physical and biological systems from around the world," she said.

The bulk of the evidence is clear; the consensus of the scientific community, firm.  Man-made.  And the scientific consensus that came out of the Copenhagen summit was no different than when the summit began, as expressed in the "Fourth Assessment Report" of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in February 2007:

The Fourth Assessment Report finds that human actions are "very likely" the cause of global warming, meaning a 90% or greater probability. Global warming in this case is indicated by an increase of 0.75 degrees in average global temperatures over the last 100 years.

Global warming is absolutely no "hoax" as the global warming "deniers" would like to claim.

I'll say it again:  it was, plain and simple, a stupid move, and a bad blunder. Instead of saying "there is reasonable doubt about man-made global warming," they chose to say, "global warming is a liberal hoax."  Which it was not.  They chose to tell an untruth, to deceive, rather than to stand up for what they claimed to believe.  Why?  Because they never really believed what they were saying.  

That little "publicity stunt" did as much as anything to hurt the case of the deniers.
And, just for what it's worth, no, truth does not have a "liberal bias."  It only appears that way to those who are, themselves, biased.

Monday, January 4, 2016

I slept with the real enemy for years

I spent 15 years of my life working for the US Department of Defense, 8 years as a civilian employee of the US Army, and the final 7 for defense contractors.  I do not miss it.  Looking back, though, I sometimes ask myself "what was so bad about it?  It certainly paid well."

Then I remember incidents like the following.

In the late 1990's my company was preparing a bid (as the prime contractor) for a multi-year contract to provide the information technology support for a large military installation (Redstone Arsenal, Alabama).  It was a huge contract, and the competition was truly brutal.  Our company "teamed" with a major Defense Department information technology contractor, Harris Data of Melbourne, Florida, to prepare our contract proposal.  The preparation of the proposal, which took the better part of a year, was conducted in a "secret" facility that was well guarded against espionage.  Part of the secrecy surrounded the exact makeup of the proposal team, and what types of people were flown in by Harris Data to work on it (most were technical writers, as I recall).  At the facility where we worked on the bid proposal, they even posted a lookout who watched the parking lot from an upstairs window, and described anyone who approached the building.  It was very serious business.

Two of my co-workers were having lunch with friends of theirs who just happened to work for one of our company's competitors for the contract.  A senior management official from our company approached their table at the restaurant and said to them, "You are sleeping with the enemy" and then walked away.  Several days later, on the military post, federal marshals with military police escorts came to the offices of these workers and made them stand in the hallway while their computers were searched.  They were fired on the spot for having compromising material on their workstations.  What "compromising material"?  Who knows?  Who cares?  They weren't fired for anything they did wrong.  They were fired because they were considered a risk to our company's chances at that base support contract.  And they were fired in a manner which would make it impossible for them to go to work for the "enemy," indeed, to work for any company on Redstone Arsenal.  The intent was not must to relieve them of their jobs, but to destroy their careers.  And to deliver this message all of us who remained: "And let that be a lesson to the rest of you!"  They were fired to make the rest of us cower in fear. It was psychological. We were made to feel like our own jobs, our careers, hung in the balance.  We were made to know our place, and to keep silent and remain submissive.  And it worked.  At least for most of the people.

Even now, years later, I sometimes look back and wonder, What was so bad about that, really?  How did it really affect me, personally?   All I had to do was to go along, to remain silent, to be careful who I chose to be friends with, to express nothing but the right political opinions, to look the other way when I was aware of any wrong-doing.   Hey, I could've done it; I could've retired comfortably, early, in one of those big brick south Huntsville Alabama homes, with an in-ground swimming pool and big redwood deck.  And what was so wrong with that?

Most people I knew had absolutely no problem with doing any of that.  It simplified life.  It made things black and white.  Do what you are told and hold no controversial opinion of your own.  We saw, very well indeed in 2002, how that dominated the thinking of most Americans.

The only problem was, I couldn't do any of those things and hold my head high.  I couldn't admit to myself for a very long time that submission and fear were the real keys to my own success.  Not my ability or my knowledge or my intelligence.  To admit that fact, I'd have to admit to myself that I made a career out of being weak.  And I had to admit, I was also "sleeping with the enemy." Because, for most of those years, I worked with and for people I could not respect and many I honestly detested for their lack of courage, or true adherence to principle.  For the most part, they weren't "bad people" at all.  They were, like most people are, governed by their own personal interest and the advantages of the moment.

I'm not saying anything at all about the Department of Defense, or its culture, ok?  I'm saying something about people who thrive in that culture. In the world's eyes, many of them would I believe, be considered "successful."  Yet, I pity them.