Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 11, 2019

Saving Atlantis

Filed under: Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 8:56 pm

Starting tomorrow, “Saving Atlantis” will be available on iTunes. This is the definitive documentary on the loss of coral reefs as a result of global warming. It relies on the testimony of marine biologists and the people whose livelihood depends on their health. Such people, many of who are indigenous, are fisherman or small proprietors in the tourist industry who will be ruined by their disappearance. Others facing ruin include those who live near the seacoast where coral reefs are a natural barrier against flooding during hurricanes, cyclones and other storms that create monstrous waves. Finally, it will be a loss to our cultural heritage since the coral reef is one of the world’s great natural wonders, just as much as the Grand Canyon or the glaciers. With the irrational use of fossil fuels posing the danger to assets belonging to all of humanity, this film helps to raise awareness and should be seen and recommended to friends and comrades.

In the film, scientists explain how coral reefs come into existence. The coral is a tiny, tentacled polyp that enjoys a symbiotic relationship with algae that settle down in its innards. The coral keeps the algae alive while it provides its host with nutrients. When a coral dies, it leaves behind a calcium carbonate skeleton that starts off at the bottom of the ocean floor and soon reaches massive proportions over the millennia. When the water rises to a certain temperature (varying from one coral species to another), the algae is expelled from the host, which itself soon dies. The lifeless coral becomes a ghostly white, a process referred to as bleaching.

The film takes us on a journey to all four corners of the world where coral reefs can still be found. We meet fishermen in Colombia, Polynesian islands and Australia as well as surfing pros in Hawaii. In addition to preventing Hawaii’s coastal villages from being flooded, they also serve to create the giant waves that draws professional and amateur surfers to its islands from all over the world.

One of the main goals of marine biologists right now is to discover why some coral are more resistant to bleaching than others. A worldwide project is underway to identify their cellular makeup, including DNA, so as to bioengineer a strain that might be able to resist the effects of global warming. While this project is commendable, one must understand that it might lead to blind alleys over decades, just as the case with cancer research. In the meantime, all efforts must be made to join Greta Thurnberg and other activists on the front lines of the struggle to eliminate fossil fuels.

I recommend both seeing this film and consulting the official website that has an excellent collections of links to activists and scientists on the front lines. I particularly recommend the page on Coral Facts  that should be read, even if you don’t get around to seeing the film. Among them is this:

Coral reefs hold secrets to human health

Many drugs come from natural products, and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what medicines that impact human health can be found in these habitats. According to one recent study, “the prospect of finding a new drug in the sea, especially among coral reef species, may be 300 to 400 times more likely than isolating one from a terrestrial ecosystem.” Coral reef products have been used for the treatment of everything from cancer to cardiovascular disease.

If this isn’t reason enough to preserve them, then we have lost the ability to understand the need for self-preservation. Given a choice between SUV’s and air conditioning on one side and a cure for cancer on the other, most people would choose the latter.

November 5, 2019

When Lambs Become Lions; The Elephant Queen

Filed under: Africa,Ecology,Film,poaching — louisproyect @ 5:18 pm

Long before the African elephant became the poster child of wildlife preservation and ecology activists, I became aware of their precarious condition when I saw John Huston’s “Roots of Heaven” in 1958. Based on a Romain Gary novel about a small band of outsiders, as Godard would put it, who conducted nonviolent guerrilla warfare against elephant ivory poachers in French Equatorial Africa, it was the first film I ever saw that gave me a sense of the joy and honor of political resistance.

In my 2014 review of the film, the first time I had seen it since 1958, I wrote:

“The Roots of Heaven” was very much in the spirit of Edward Abbey’s 1975 “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, a novel that for all I know was inspired by “The Roots of Heaven”. While Abbey’s work celebrated sabotage against machines that were destroying the West’s natural habitats, Romain Gary’s heroes were using a monkey wrench against a system that had very little machinery to speak of. That system provided ivory for billiard balls and other ostentatious items, leaving the Africans without industry or wildlife. Indeed, some of the African nationalists who initially hook up with them—mainly for the publicity–view the elephants as an obstacle to progress and would be more than happy to see them sacrificed.

This week I saw two new documentaries filmed in Kenya that rekindled my interest in the preservation of the African elephant. One, titled “When Lambs Become Lions”, opens at the Laemmle in Los Angeles on November 22nd and at the Village East in NYC on December 6th. It is the story of poachers like the kind that were the villains in Huston’s film on one side and the game wardens on the other who have orders to shoot to kill any poacher. What gives the documentary particular interest, beyond the question of the elephant’s survival, is that the two main subjects of the film—a poacher and a cop—are cousins and very close. The other is titled “The Elephant Queen”, a family-oriented portrait of a herd led by Athena, a 50-year old animal ruling over a matriarchy that faces death from a drought rather than from poachers. It premieres on Apple’s new streaming service meant to compete against Netflix and Amazon Prime for $4.99 a month.

The films complement each other. They help to show both the importance of the elephant to the Kenyan ecosphere and the utter waste of a precious living natural resource as a result of the vain consumption of ivory for chintzy carvings sold to the Chinese nouveau riche,

We first meet the poacher in “When Lambs Become Lions”, who is only identified as “X”. He comes from a family that has been poaching for decades, including his father who was killed in the act by park rangers when X was only a child. Not having the stomach to see an elephant killed, he has an underling named Lucas carry out the act using a bow and arrow laced by poison drawn from a frog. It seems likely that these poachers are drawing upon tribal traditions that go back for centuries just like some American Indians who kill whales. However, when such practices become monetized in a society dominated by severe poverty, they are much more capable of leading to extinction.

X’s cousin Asan is a prime example of such precariousness. He and his fellow park rangers haven’t been paid for two months. When a government representative meets with them, they want to know when they will be paid. He shrugs his shoulders and tells them that he has no idea. He adds that if this does not meet their needs, they can find another job.

In a conversation between X and Asan, we learn that the park ranger had also been a poacher earlier in life. We soon begin to understand that both occupations, breaking the law and enforcing it, come with risks. The poacher risks being shot down by a ranger while the ranger has to risk penury because the Kenyan government will not live up to its fiscal responsibilities. Towards the end of the film, we see the new president Uhuru Kenyatta making a speech about the need to save the elephants, topped off by the burning of $150 million worth of tusks. One wonders why he can’t act decisively to keep the police force paid on time, especially since they are probably not making very much money to begin with.

During the film, Anas’s wife gives birth. One wonders how close she came to being denied basic health services because Kenyatta’s Ministry of Health officials stole nearly $50 million of funds allocated to the national free maternity program. In a society dominated by illegality, can anybody be surprised that those on the bottom imitate those at the top?

In an interview with director Jon Kasbe, who spent three years embedded in both X and Asan’s social milieu to gain their trust, he is asked if why the film did not result in a call to action, as is typically the case with documentaries about elephants or rhinoceroses facing extinction because of tusk poaching. He answered:

We hope that the film challenges the existing conversation around poaching. We can’t focus on the preservation of animal life without considering the economic realities and perspectives of the people who have shared land with these animals for a long time. While it is not an overt message in the film, we feel the story can point attention to the lack of proper pay, resources, and training given to wildlife rangers. These rangers are expected to live in the bush 26 days out of the month and oftentimes don’t have basic necessities like boots, clean water, food, or blankets. I spoke to many hunters who said it would be much harder to bribe rangers who had better work conditions. In fact, many poachers claim they would consider switching sides for good, if it meant stable pay and proper resources.

“The Elephant Queen” is a throwback to the heavily anthropomorphized Walt Disney documentaries that I grew up watching and loving as a kid. Athena, the matriarch, is always being described by narrator Chiwetel Ejiofor as “worried” or “sad” about some threat to her family’s well-being. There are also touches that smack of video and audio editing meant to entertain a child or early teen. When a dung beetle narrowly misses being stepped on by an elephant, we hear it squeak in alarm. I am no dung beetle expert but I doubt that any sound like that every came out of a dung-beetle’s mouth. The video editing is less egregious. It is obvious meant to draw out the full drama of an African elephant’s odyssey in search of water and food, even if it sometimes has a “staged” quality.

All that being said, it is a great documentary that like “When Lambs Become Lions” is a labor of love. Co-Directors Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble spent four years in close proximity to Athena’s family in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park that was prime territory for poachers until the Kenya Wildlife Service and conservation partners beefed up security.

Essentially, the film might be subtitled “The ecology of a waterhole” since 90 percent of the film shows the web of life that an elephant and a water source can nurture. The waterholes are home to elephants, bullfrogs, chameleons, dung-beetles, killifish, and terrapins—all of which are captured in minute detail by Mark Deeble’s camera. The elephant defecates and the dung-beetle rushes up to siphon off a ball of the stuff that he can then stash away for future meals. It is absolutely captivating.

Whether or not you decide to become an Apple TV+ subscriber is up to you. I would only urge you to take out a trial membership just so that you and your children—if you have any—can see a powerful film about a creature that was placed on earth not to furnish tusks to the poaching industry but to keep the humble dung-beetle and all other creatures both large and small alive and healthy.

 

October 5, 2019

Christian Parenti’s weak tea

Filed under: Ecology,Jacobin — louisproyect @ 7:51 pm

Christian Parenti

As should be abundantly clear at this point, the Bhaskar Sunkara publishing empire has little to do with ecosocialism. It unfurled its banner in the Summer 2017 Jacobin issue that included Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski’s recommendation of nuclear energy as well as other ecomodernist nostrums. In the latest Catalyst, there’s an article by pro-nuclear Syracuse University professor Matt Huber that continues along those lines. All three have a special animosity toward any notion of ecological limits, with Huber being irked by André Gorz’s call: “The only way to live better is to produce less, to consume less, to work less, to live differently.”

Two days ago, Christian Parenti’s “Saving the Planet Without Self-Loathing” appeared in Jacobin that, like the three authors mentioned above, took a hard line against the idea of ecological limits. He wrote:

This worldview has driven much of conservationism. It is at the heart of the concern with “overpopulation.” It lurks within the common left anxiety about “development” and “growth.” And it is found in the “jobs vs. environment” debate.

To start with, there are two ways of understanding overpopulation. In 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich, wrote “The Population Bomb”, a book that by the authors’ own admission was an attempt to apply Malthus’s ideas to the contemporary world. On the other hand, the combination of an expanding population expecting to enjoy the life-style of the average citizen in a G8 country will be impossible to realize. The world’s population today is 7.6 billion and is expected to be around 11 billion by the end of the century. If a car, air-conditioning, and meat 3 or 4 times a week are considered non-negotiable, then we are in trouble.

Last August, Leigh Phillips wrote an article for Jacobin titled “In Defense of Air-Conditioning” that had this subtitle “Opposition to air-conditioning is just another form of austerity politics. Nothing’s too good for the working class — especially not freedom from the heat.” He assures us that there would be no downside to making air-conditioning a universal right since Canadians enjoy electricity without environmental consequences: “While it may seem fantastical in much of the US, north of the border, the provinces of Ontario, British Columbia, and Québec have grids that are almost entirely fossil-fuel free (91 percent, 95 percent, and 99 percent clean, respectively), primarily from hydroelectric or nuclear power.” Leaving aside the obvious risks associated with nuclear power, one has to wonder if Phillips has any idea of the damage hydroelectric dams have done to indigenous people in Canada as I pointed out in a CounterPunch article 5 years ago. Perhaps Phillips agrees with Huber that such “marginal” populations do not offer sufficient social weight for an effective “strategy”. Perhaps? No, probably definitely.

Parenti alludes to the common left anxiety about “development” and “growth.” It sounds to me as if he is trying to pick a fight with “degrowth” advocates like Jason Hickel but is not quite up to the task. It should be mentioned that Parenti believes that there are technical solutions to climate change that might be capable of allowing everybody to keep their air-conditioners running 24/7. As pointed out by Ian Angus, Parenti wrote an article for Dissent that backed carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as a “fairly simple” way of solving the climate change crisis. Angus debunked this claim:

There is only one commercial plant in the entire world that captures CO2 directly from the air. According to the journal Science, it takes in just 900 tons of CO2 a year, roughly the amount produced by 200 cars. The company that built it says that capturing just one percent of global CO2 emissions would require 250,000 similar plants. “Fairly simple” just doesn’t apply.

Parenti’s main goal in this article is to debunk the notion that “Western environmentalism has long suffered from”, namely an implicit Malthusianism that sees humanity as intruders upon a harmonious and static thing called “nature.” It might have been helpful if Parenti had named some names but it is likely that he is referring to Deep Ecology, a movement with some misanthropic tendencies that are associated with David Foreman, who was a co-founder of Earth First! Foreman left the Sierra Club after it rejected his anti-immigration proposals. Nowadays, Foreman is involved with the Rewilding Institute, a project that might lead to a ban on cattle ranching in most of the West and repopulating it with native grasses and bison. In my view, something like this will be necessary for the survival of humanity whether or not Parenti gets it.

Parenti addresses the Jacobin readers as if they were in junior high school:

The truth is, we are not intruders. In reality, humans have always been an environment-making species. In fact, every species is.

What we call “nature” or “the environment” is ultimately just the sum total of layer upon layer of organism-environment interactions. Thus it is dynamic, not static. Every organism interacts with, and impacts, its environment. At the same time, every organism is always also part of the external environment of all other organisms.

Environment making is what life forms do. Bees need flowers from which to collect nectar and pollen; in the process of their foraging, bees pollinate flowering plants, helping them reproduce and spread. Thus, bees are central to producing a habitat that produces bees.

To survive, beavers need beaver ponds. But they do not find their niche habitat — they make it by compulsive dam building. When beavers build, they also destroy. In areas they flood, previously established plant communities drown — including, on occasion, bee habitat.

This is followed by a little lecture on Engels’s “The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man” that from Parenti’s presentation sounds to my ears like early ecomodernism:

Just as our ancient ancestors “learned to consume everything edible” thanks to the technology of fire management, Engels noted that fire allowed humans “to live in any climate” and thus “spread over the whole of the habitable world.”… The further afield early humans moved, the more technology they created and used, the more environments they helped shape.

How odd that Parenti would not refer to the section in Engels’s article that most ecosocialists know almost by heart:

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons.

Like a physician reassuring a 75-year old person with some deadly illness that they can live to 78 at least, Parenti tells us: “In other words, human labor can have life-encouraging effects, or it can do the exact opposite, depending on how labor and production are organized.” So, everybody knows what this means. Capitalism is life-discouraging and socialism is life-encouraging.

Except that the examples supplied by Parenti of “life-encouraging” human labor don’t have very much to do with socialism. He hails a fish farm in Spain and Chinese rice-growing. While there’s no point in denigrating such efforts, you don’t get the sense of the apocalyptic future that faces us at the end of the 21st century. Like everybody else on the Sunkara Express, Parenti believes in the Green New Deal. While the Jacobin/DSA sees this as tantamount to overthrowing capitalism, those with cooler heads see it as something likely not to come into existence under capitalism.

In a 2015 article written before the GND had become for the Jacobin/DSA what Trotsky’s Transitional Program was for me in my impetuous youth, Parenti wrote an article titled “Shadow Socialism in the Age of Environmental Crisis” that will give you a clear idea on where he stands on the most urgent issue of our day, namely how to get rid of the capitalist system that Malcolm X called “vulturistic”.

Shadow socialism is nothing more than government ownership of, for example, canals and railroads in the 19th century and the New Deal in the 20th:

Then comes the New Deal in which America’s Shadow Socialism becomes explicit. The effort to get out of the crisis of the Great Depression relied on the state to jump-start capitalism, to redistribute wealth downward to common people, to create markets by giving poor people jobs and income so they could buy the products of industry and keep the economy turning over. And the state itself purchased (and still purchases) large amounts of technology, invested heavily, and consumed a vast amount of output.

In the conclusion of his article, Parenti sheepishly apologizes to wild-eyed young radicals who probably made the mistake of reading Howard Zinn rather than Michael Harrington:

Let me end with that and an apology or explanation. I know this doesn’t sound revolutionary or radical, but what I’m trying to do is to be very, very realistic. Because I don’t think it is sufficient to be outraged about this and invoke the righteousness of our cause. We have to come up with credible solutions and stories that will really work and strategies that will work at different time frames. So, okay, what I’ve suggested here is not the solution to all problems associated with capitalism. It’s not even the solution to the environmental crisis. It’s just a realistic approach to dealing with climate change so as to buy time, so as to pull back from the brink, so that we can continue struggling. If we don’t take things that seriously and get comfortable with the contradictions implied in that, I think we will not be able to address the climate crisis. But we do have the means to do it economically and technologically, and so it is just a matter of politics.

Is this the end result of Parenti making a career as a professional intellectual rather than as a professional revolutionary as I tried back in 1967? He worked for George Soros’s Open Society for many years and is now ensconced in the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in NY. It is becoming clear to me that it exactly such people who are providing the brain-power, such as it is, for Sunkara’s publishing empire. But don’t fret. This kind of pablum leaves a vacuum that will be filled by genuine sans culottes, not the pretend kind that write for Jacobin.

September 20, 2019

This Land

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 2:23 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, SEPTEMBER 20, 2019

Christopher Ketcham’s “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption are Ruining the American West” is a politically explosive and beautifully written chronicle of the ongoing struggle to preserve publicly owned land in the West. This is home to iconic endangered species such as the grizzly bear, the wolf, and the wild horse. Much of the left is rightfully fixated on the horrifying prospects of Bolsonaro giving the green light to ranchers, miners, oil companies and farmers to ravage the Amazon rainforest. Now it is time that we took a stand against the same kind of devastation taking place on American soil. If it was up to Donald Trump and the “liberal” Democrats like Obama who paved the way for him, all of the land that had been protected under successive presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon (yes, that’s right) will face the same fate.

In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt persuaded Congress to set aside such land for public ownership, “socializing” it in effect. Under the aegis of the Forest Service, millions of acres were to be protected from profit-seeking enterprises with exceptions made for raising cattle but under strict limits. Despite his wanton appetite for shooting large animals (shared by Ernest Hemingway), Roosevelt was so alarmed by the loss of wilderness that he would write these prescient words: “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”

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August 9, 2019

How real is the eco-fascist threat?

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Fascism — louisproyect @ 10:46 pm

Eco-fascist literature?

COUNTERPUNCH, AUGUST 9, 2019

In a manifesto that was posted to 8Chan just before he carried out his murderous attack on Walmart shoppers in El Paso, Patrick Crusius expressed “Green” values that are widespread on the left:

The American lifestyle affords our citizens an incredible quality of life. However, our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country. The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations. Corporations are heading the destruction of our environment by shamelessly overharvesting resources. This has been a problem for decades. For example, this phenomenon is brilliantly portrayed in the decades old classic “The Lorax”.

Dr. Seuss wrote “The Lorax” in 1971 as a protest against corporate despoliation of the environment. The contrast between a racist mass murderer and a gentle children’s book could not be starker. It is no wonder that there have been multiple attempts to come to terms with his eco-fascism.

This is not the first amalgam of Green and Brown values from a neo-Nazi terrorist. On March 15, 2019, an Australian named Brenton Tarrant killed 50 Muslims in a New Zealand mosque justifying his attack on the “replacement” theory that motivated Patrick Crusius. Crusius paid tribute to Tarrant in the first paragraph of his manifesto.

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July 26, 2019

Ecological limits and the working class

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 2:01 pm

In the interest of the working class?

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 26, 2019

In the latest issue of Catalyst Magazine that is published by Bhaskar Sunkara, there is an article titled “Ecological Politics for the Working Class” by Syracuse University professor Matt Huber, which argues for the need to abandon the “middle class” orientation of the ecologists whose worldview was shaped by the 1960s radicalization. (I guess that includes me.)

These people with their affinity for the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil or the struggle for clean water in Flint, Michigan are neglecting the mainstream proletariat that sounds like Donald Trump voters:

It was working-class loggers who opposed the protection of the spotted owl or the restoration of salmon runs in the Columbia River. As Richard White recounts, the bumper sticker “Are you an Environmentalist or do you Work for a Living?” became popular among rural working-class communities.

To woo such people into a revolutionary movement, the emphasis should be on winning urban and suburban workers to the Green New Deal that is a lynchpin of Sunkara’s developing journalistic empire rather than “the struggles of poor rural populations (peasants, indigenous peoples, etc.) over land, resources, and environmental degradation within a Marxist political-economic framework.” Since most people are wage workers who have been dispossessed of land through “primitive accumulation” over the past four centuries at least, why waste time with the “marginal” population in Brazil, for example? For every Yanomami, there are likely 100,000 wage workers. That’s the argument, anyhow.

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July 12, 2019

Long Gone Wild; Sea of Shadows

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 9:38 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 12, 2019

Two new documentaries share by pure coincidence the threat to sea mammals posed by venal Chinese consumerism.

“Long Gone Wild”, which is available across all VOD platforms on July 16th, picks up where “Blackfish” left off. Made in 2013, “Blackfish” exposed the cruel exploitation of orcas at SeaWorld, where they were confined to unnatural, prison-like conditions and forced to perform circus-type tricks until the 12,500-pound Tilikum began to take vengeance on two of his trainers and a hapless trespasser. “Long Gone Wild” demonstrates that while SeaWorld made significant concessions to activists and scientists, it has continued to explore ways in which the killer whale can be commodified. Ironically, the nomenclature “killer whale” seems inappropriate since it is profit-seeking that is the real killer, especially as China has become the new SeaWorld colossus with Russia supplying most of the kidnapped creatures for big money.

“Sea of Shadows”, which opens at The Landmark at 57 West and Quad Cinema in New York today, concerns the vaquita, the smallest porpoise in existence. It is poised on the edge of extinction largely as collateral damage created once again by China. It turns out that the swimming bladder of the totoaba, a member of the drum family, is prized by Chinese for its medicinal properties and that can command $40,000 on the black market just like rhinoceros horns and other animal organs taken from animals at the top of the food chain. The fisherman of San Felipe, a seacoast village in Baja California, have begun using gillnets to snare the totoaba but the vaquitas are caught as well. Except for a small minority of fishermen in the village who disavow such wasteful practices, the rest are willing to break the law as part of cartel run by local gangsters and their Chinese middle-men.

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July 5, 2019

Bisbee ’17

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 4:06 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 5, 2019

For those who missed the chance to see “Bisbee ‘17” last year because you lived in places where it was not being shown or because, like me, you simply let it slip by, there is very good news. This documentary about an IWW-led strike of copper miners in the company town of Bisbee, Arizona was recently added to Amazon, iTunes, and other VOD services. It is a story very relevant to the period we are living in today. When workers went on strike for higher wages and better working conditions in July 1917, a posse organized by the bosses at Phelps-Dodge and the local authorities rounded up the strikers and deported them to Hermanas, New Mexico in railroad cattle cars, just like Jews being sent to Auschwitz. Once the 1,300 miners arrived in New Mexico, they were housed in tents originally intended for use by Mexican refugees, who took refuge in the USA in order to avoid the Mexican army’s scorched earth tactics against Pancho Villa. As should be obvious, not much has changed since 1917.

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June 25, 2019

James Steele’s fine biomess

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 8:47 pm

In Max Blumenthal’s new book, there’s a brief reference to a Colonel James Steele who was a righthand man to David Petraeus in Baghdad in organizing death squads during the occupation that led to the extreme Sunni/Shia polarization and the foothold it gave the Islamists who eventually formed ISIS. While Blumenthal’s book is worthless on Syria, it does have some interesting reflections on the American national-security state, including the revelation that Steele perfected his death squad tactics in El Salvador in the 1980s when I was active with CISPES, a group that was raising money and political support for the guerrilla movement.

A search on Steele in Wikipedia provided some other rather unexpected results. It turns out that after his military career came to an end, he became the CEO of Buchanan Renewables, an biofuels company. It appears that most of the money to start this corporation came from the John McCall MacBain Foundation that gives the appearance of a junior version of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. On the McCall MacBain Foundation website, you can see a page devoted to Climate Change & Environment that states “We believe that climate change is the single most pressing problem facing our planet and that we must all do our part to address it.” It also states that John McCall MacBain was the Founding Chair of the European Climate Foundation and the Foundation has been a major donor since 2009. To give you an idea of what the European Climate Foundation is about, it includes Pascal Lamy and Stephen Brenninkmeijer on the board of directors. Lamy used to be the Director-General of the World Trade Organization and Brenninkmeijer, the board chairman, runs Willow Investments, an outfit devoted to progressive social development.

John McCall MacBain, a Canadian, has the typical philanthropist’s profile. He made billions in the print classified ad business until Craigslist et al took over. One of his biggest payouts was $200 million to McGill University. In 2006, the Globe and Mail reported on his plans to donate $1 billion for sub-Saharan Africa projects. Like the Gates, his heart bleeds for the poor Africans.

One supposes that because of his generosity and social conscience, McCall MacBain was an ideal choice to head the Trudeau Foundation board of trustees. Like the Clintons, these people know how to game the philanthropic industry. In 2016, he was the key figure in the single largest bribery scandal in Canadian history. He made a $928,000 gift to Justin Trudeau that represents the largest bribery scandal in Canadian history, claim inside sources and lined up other donors who have affiliations with organizations currently lobbying the Canadian government.

Buchanan Renewables symbolized everything that is corrupt and self-serving about corporate environmentalism. The company went to Liberia with the intention of converting rubber trees into biomass chips that would power the nation and, better yet, fuel their own profits.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provided $217 million in loans to get the project going but within two years, it shut down after firing 600 workers. It never built the power plant but shipped its biomass chips to Europe for a tidy profit.

According to the AP, it repaid the U.S. government loans, paid its non-African employees handsomely, but “left behind fields of depleted rubber farms and a trail of allegations of sexual abuse and workplace hazards.”

James Steele was the perfect choice to run this operation. He was a onetime partner of OPIC’s CEO, Robert Mosbacher Jr. Mosbacher’s father was secretary of commerce under Bush ‘41. Just as was the case in El Salvador and Iraq, the natives got the shitty end of the stick.

Since wood was a precious commodity for cooking, some women said they became pregnant after trading sex for sticks with Buchanan employees. “If we didn’t have sex with the employees they wouldn’t give you sticks,” said Sarah Monopoloh, chairwoman of a local charcoal sellers union.

Tree planter Aderlyn Barnard was knocked unconscious, breaking a leg and wrist and dislocating an arm, when the company’s clearing machine felled her with a tree and left her disabled.

Leaving aside the treatment of such people, there is the additional question of biomass as an alternative energy source. Wikipedia defines biomass as any “plant or animal material used for energy production, heat production, or in various industrial processes as raw material for a range of products.”

For a good explanation of what biomass represents, I refer you to “Mapping the Biomass Racket” an article by Josh Schlossberg, the editor of Biomass Journal, that appeared in CounterPunch on February 12, 2013. He writes:

Over 200 electricity-generating, wood-burning biomass power incinerators currently operate in the US, with another 200 proposed, according to Forisk Consulting. Though more and more of these facilities are being built across the nation—due, in large part, to generous federal and state “renewable” energy subsidies and incentives—the ecological footprint of existing industrial-scale biomass energy facilities has yet to be adequately assessed.

“Even as forest protection is increasingly recognized as one of the best defenses against climate change—while also critical to protecting water, soils and biodiversity—governments are putting into place policies and subsidies to cut and burn forests the world over for ‘biomass’ electricity and heat,” said Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch, an international organization based in the US and UK. “They falsely refer to this as ‘clean, green and renewable,’ but it is a total disaster in the making.”

A total disaster in the making? Just the sort of words to describe James Steele’s role in El Salvador and Iraq. In El Salvador, you have economic misery that fuels the rise of gangs and desperate immigration to the USA. In Iraq, you have Shi’ite authoritarianism and Sunni resentment that helps to fuel wars across the entire Middle East. With people like James Steele having his fingers in pies across the planet, it is high time that someone took a good sharp knife and cut them off.

May 31, 2019

A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 7:18 pm

COUNTERPUNCH MAY 31, 2019

Your first reaction to a book titled A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things that consists of 312 pages is to wonder if it is the first in a series of volumes since a single volume hardly seems capable of packing in everything from Ancient Egypt to the 2007 financial crisis. Yet, oddly enough, it does an excellent job by using a singular perspective, namely how “cheapness” has become the sine qua non for class society’s dubious advances over millennia.

Co-authors Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore are exponents of what they call world-ecology. While I am not familiar with Patel’s work, I have been reading Moore ever since he was a graduate student and posting to the World Systems Network, a defunct mailing list that was home to scholars like Immanuel Wallerstein and Andre Gunder Frank. World systems theory always made a lot of sense to me since it was premised on the idea that Europe was responsible for what Frank called the development of underdevelopment in Asia, Africa and Latin America. What Moore contributed to this theory was the ecological dimension. Colonialism involved massive changes to nature that were universally destructive even though they helped to make cheap commodities available to the colonizers.

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