Sunday, June 30, 2013

When the President says, "The American people don't have a Big Brother who is snooping into their business," it probably means the American people have a Big Brother who is snooping into their business . . . .

(Just sayin' . . . . )

Obama quote from The New York Times, After Leaks, Obama Leads Damage Control Effort,

Related posts

Re-reading George Orwell's 1984 recently made me see at least 15 ways 2013 is like the world he describes in the book . . . .

(See 2013 = 1984?)

"Big Brother is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt toward an individual than toward an organization." (p. 185)

(See Big Brother: Not the Watcher, But the Reason We Allow Ourselves to be Watched)

One issue that has a key place in the midterm elections in 2014, I believe, is surveillance.  With each passing day, I am hearing more and more people say that the surveillance issue is something that a wide spectrum of people are deeply upset about. That includes people on the right as well as people on the left -- people who don't usually talk with each other, much less work together for positive change!

(See The Surveillance Issue: The Fulcrum of the 2014 Election?)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Don't Let Free Assembly Become "Inconceivably Dangerous"

[Part of the series: 2013 = 1984?]

"The idea of following up their momentary contact hardly crossed his mind. It would have been inconceivably dangerous even if he had known how to set about doing it." (George Orwell, 1984 - p. 16)

An atomized society. Everyone afraid to talk with anyone else (at least about anything important). Just the way the government likes it.

Hurtling through our days, tuning the rest of the world out . . .

In Chicago, we've seen exactly how this works. In September, 2010, Chicago antiwar activists were among 24 raided by the FBI in several different cities. Raids, grand jury subpoenas, and infiltrators have become part of the background noise of the antiwar movement.

One consequence -- fully intended -- of FBI intrusion is to sow fear and suspicion. No meaningful movement to disagree with and protest the actions of our government can form if people are constantly guessing who is (and is not) an FBI informant.

Read more about this at Committee to Stop FBI Repression.

Of course, to whole communities of people, the constant threat of FBI informants and agents provacateurs discourages free association and assembly, and the expression of dissent. Combating the intrusions of the FBI and local law enforcement on communities of color and especially Muslims is being tackled on a national scale by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), Project SALAM, and National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms. The phenomenon of FBI entrapment has now been documented in a new book by Trevor Aaronson, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism.

Upcoming in fall 2013 will be a major trial in Chicago: the NATO3. A searingly important part of this trial will be the question of whether the government can use a sweepingly broad Illinois terrorism statute and laws on conspiracy to put a chill on dissent. (For more on this, read the excellent analysis of the case by Kris Hermes: "The NATO 5: Manufactured Crimes Used to Paint Political Dissidents as Terrorists".

The only possible antidote is to intentionally push back against this repression.

Occupy Chicago assembly at "the horse" (Michigan and Congress)


NATO protester with
Veterans for Peace flag

Go have coffee with someone "dangerous."

(Do it today.)

Get hooked up with one or more of the civil liberties organizations mentioned above.

Oh, and one more thing . . .

Read 1984.

Occupy Chicago: "RAISE HELL"

Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo: "End Indefinite Detention"

(1984 page references are to the 2009 Plume paperback edition.) 

Related posts

There is an eerie similarity between events in the book Paul Revere's Ride and events in our world today. I'm thinking particularly of how a network of mass resistance springs into action.

(See New World Counterinsurgency: Deja Vu All Over Again)

I've realized that when we ask ourselves, "What is it that we hope people will do?" we must include an element of recursivity: One of the things we want people to do is to involve more people in doing it. In a way, that element of recursivity -- dare I say "evangelism"? -- defines what it means for people to really become part of a movement.

(See Invite More People into Activism! (Pass It Along!) )

Faced with chorus of voices saying, "Isn't it time for you to tone it down? Can't you be more reasonable? What is it you want, anyway?" Jesus kept right on doing what he was doing. And that was a sign to us about how to live our lives . . . .

(See WWJD? Occupy! )

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Obama's Climate Action Plan: How Do You Say "Yawn" in Chinese?

Barack Obama's "U.S. National Climate Action Plan" -- announced two days ago -- is a high-wire act.

People seem pretty sanguine about some aspects of the plan;  others verge on unknown territory. And the stakes in convincing people around the world that the United States is serious couldn't be higher.

Obama and Climate: the heat is on . . . .

Key goals are the percentage reductions in greenhouse gas reduction that Obama is targeting:
* 2020 target: emissions reductions of 17% below 2005 levels

* 2050 target: emissions reductions of 80% below 2005 levels
(See Key Features of Obama's Climate Plan).

Actual 2013 emissions, in fact, already stand 11 percent below 2005 levels -- though a big factor in that drop is thought to be a slowing U.S. economy. It is hoped that that the economic slowing won't continue forever, but those numbers still seem to suggest to some that the 2020 target of a 17% reduction is within the realm of possibility. (See At Last, an Action Plan on Climate.)

As for the 2050 target: who knows? Between 17% and 80% stands an enormous chasm.

The Obama plan also commits the United States "to expand major new and existing international initiatives, including bilateral initiatives with China, India, and other major emitting countries," and it is perhaps these initiatives that are the "dog" that the "tail" of the power plant measures are intended to wag.

The U.S. idea seems to be, "We'll show a good faith effort to clean up our act, and then lean on China to cut emissions. After all, that's where the really big gains are to be made!"

2008 Global CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuel Combustion and some
Industrial Processes (million metric tons of CO2)
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

In my opinion, Obama and the United States have badly miscalculated what's at stake in trying to induce China to play a significant role in addressing the climate crisis.

The problem, as I see it, is that China is disinclined to be impressed by small improvements by what it perceives as a "mature" U.S. economy. The Chinese thinking, as I understand it, goes something like this: "You had your shot at industrializing; your economy is mature and so, yes, of course you are now in a position to scale back on carbon output. But we're still in the very early stages of our industrialization."

(Look at the numbers for yourself. Put yourself in China's shoes. What would you be thinking?)

Source: Greenfudge, CO2 emissions by country

In fact, China has a stated coal of 40-45% reductions in "carbon intensity" by 2020. The "carbon intensity" measure adjusts the target based on GDP growth. (Read more about the China carbon goal here.)

So, to be blunt, the United States is going to have to doing something really shocking to get China's attention. Like: go on a crash program to cut carbon emissions to zero in a decade (and, somehow, to achieve a sort of "economic invincibility" -- whatever that means -- in the process).

In other words, half measures are not going to make the grade. The Earth is in the balance, and what happens depends on what China and the United States decide together.

MORE: #chinaEARTHusa - Radical Change? or Planetocide?

Related posts

It has been announced that China and the U.S. will hold a top leadership meeting at the beginning of June. If the past is any indication, we will get a lot of cautious, lukewarm pronouncements about cooperation that don't begin to address the reality. It's time for activists in the U.S. and China to join hands and start to militate for radical change. We need a zero-carbon USA and a zero-carbon China. Anything less is planetocide.

(See #chinaEARTHusa - Radical Change? or Planetocide? )

China would like nothing better than to cut its carbon emissions. By all means, let the U.S. demonstrate how this can be accomplished -- while maintaining standards of living at the same time, if you please --  and China can be counted on follow the U.S. lead (as in so many other areas of development).

(See Obama's Tribute Mission to China )  

Oil companies are valued by the market based on their reserves. The problem with this approach is that the total reserves claimed by the oil companies is FIVE TIMES what can possibly be burned without driving up the temperature of the atmosphere up by a catastrophic amount and, as McKibben puts it, "breaking the planet." How can the value of oil companies be a function of reserves that can never be used?

(See The REALLY Big Short: The Jig is Up with Oil Companies)


Hoping Against Hope (Resistance in America)

[Part of the series: 2013 = 1984?]

"Perhaps the rumors of vast underground conspiracies were true after all -- perhaps the Brotherhood really existed! . . . There was no evidence, only fleeting glimpses that might mean anything or nothing . . . . " (George Orwell, 1984 - p. 15)

People hope that someone else -- somewhere -- is resisting.

We all have our heroes.

But it's not going to work if we leave the heavy lifting to someone else . . . .

Go online today and find a way to get personally involved.

Get outside your comfort zone.

Take a risk.

Talk to some other people. Make some new friends.

You might be surprised to find that you're not alone.

(1984 page references are to the 2009 Plume paperback edition.)

Related posts

Like a full-service prophet, Ron often has to be his own interpreter and explain to people what the expression "fly in the ointment" means! However, when he shows them his sign, with the big gross fly on it, they intuitively understand the role of social critic in making people uncomfortable and pointing up the need for change. And they understand that the role is not
always welcomed.

(See Flies in the Ointment and Plumb Lines for Israel)

 Make no mistake: the powers that be have know that they have cowed most of the public into being afraid to talk about Guantanamo, and that suits them just fine. Our power to act starts with talking widely -- beyond just our usual circles -- about the way in which we're being scared ... and why a government would possibly want to scare its own people.

(See Pentecost, Guantanamo, and the Moment When Talk Becomes Priceless)

There are some people who say, "Why does it take the sacrifice of an American to get people to care about the many people who have died and suffered in Gaza and other parts of Palestine and Israel?"

(See Where were YOU on April 10, 1979?)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Facecrime in America

[Part of the series: 2013 = 1984?]

"He had set his features into the expression of quiet optimism which it was advisable to wear when facing the telescreen." (George Orwell, 1984 - p.4)

Rather surprisingly, Hendrik Hertzberg asserted in The New Yorker this week, apropos of the revelations about the U.S. government spying program PRISM, "In the roughly seven years the programs have been in place in roughly their present form, no citizen's freedom of speech, expression, or association has been abridged by them in any identifiable away . . . . The critics have been hard put to point to any tangible harm that has been done to any particular citizen." (The New Yorker, June 24, 2013 - p. 26)

Nothing tangible? Really? Reach up and touch your cheek, Mr. Hertzerg.

As George Orwell knew, the first victim of government assault on free expression is that remarkable organ known as the human face.

1984 is replete with references to what happens when people experience so much repression that they can't trust their own faces.
[T]here was a space of a couple of seconds during which the expression in his eyes might conceivably have betrayed him. (p. 15)

His face remained completely inscrutable. Never show dismay! Never show resentment! A single flicker of the eyes could give you away. (p. 32)

It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself - anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called. (p. 55)

[I]t was only a twitch, a quiver, rapid as the clicking of a camera shutter, but obviously habitual. He remembered thinking at the time: that poor devil is done for. (p. 56)

Not to let one's feelings appear in one's face was a habit that had acquired the status of an instinct . . . ." (p. 94)
"Prescient" is a word that one can get tired of hearing applied to Orwell, but it really is startling how completely he anticipated the work of Paul Ekman, who has documented the science of how the human face conveys -- and betrays -- feeling and thought. (His work is familiar to millions of Americans as it was popularized through the Tim Roth TV series, Lie to me*.) The images on this page are examples of Ekman analysis.

There was a time when we would have scoffed at the notion that this description from 1984 could be relevant to life in America:
There are therefore two great problems which the Party is concerned to solve. One is how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking, and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few seconds without giving warning beforehand. Is so far as scientific research still continues, this is its subject matter. The scientist of today is either a mixture of psychologist and inquisitor, studying with extraordinary minuteness the meaning of facial expressions, gestures, and tones of voice, and testing the truth-producing effects of drugs, shock therapy, hypnosis, and physical torture; or he is a chemist, physicist, or biologist concerned only with such branches of his special subject as are relevant to the taking of life.
But today, the notion that we have any privacy -- and that we have the right to remain silent -- is rapidly becoming an object of nostalgia.

(How long will nostalgia be tolerated?)

(1984 page references are to the 2009 Plume paperback edition.) 

Related posts

Despite the difficulties associated with engaging in effective solidarity with dissidents in China, it is important to make the effort. A fundamental tenet of all peace and justice activism is that if we have the power to speak we can do anything, and if "they" succeed in shutting us up, it's the beginning of the end.

(See What is the US Peace and Justice Movement Doing for Dissidents in China?)

"In whom and in what should we be putting our faith?" If not in Manning -- and the Manning Principle -- then in whom, and in what?

(See The Path to Peace: Why Not the Manning Way?)

Posterboard and markers: $21.79
Leaflets: $7:50
Bullhorn: $99.99
Standing up for peace and justice when everyone around you is saying "Get a job!" and "GO F**K YOURSELF!": PRICELESS!

(See Dissent: PRICELESS!)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fed Up With Being Spied On

[Part of the series: 2013 = 1984?]

"There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork." (George Orwell, 1984 - p.2)

Edward J. Snowden has forced us to confront what we all knew already: our government is running wild and we can't get our privacy back, short of some kind of very extreme change.

For a long time, many of us have been shrugging off the probability that our Facebook posts and other social media were being seen by the government; we joked about hearing strange sounds on the phone lines and the possibility that our meeting rooms were bugged. We remarked over the ubiquitous cameras in Chicago and other cities. We had a vague sense that the government's computer and communications system power were far beyond anything we could really understand.

But Snowden has stuck it in our face, and now -- like Winston Smith in 1984 -- we're being challenged to confront it. Do we really want a world in which our own affairs are 100% transparent to the government? Can't we push back?

And that's just the half of it. My sister, Elaine Scarry, has written about how things have gotten turned on their head in Transparent Citizens, Invisible Government: "The Patriot Act inverts the constitutional requirement that people's lives be private and the work of government officials be public; it instead crafts a set of conditions in which our inner lives become transparent and the workings of the government become opaque. Either one of these outcomes would imperil democracy; together they not only injure the country but also cut off the avenues of repair."

The problem is not that we are living our lives in public. People are entitled to be "out" without fearing that the facts of their lives will be abused.

We have a problem with our government. It sees opportunities for power in every bit and byte of our personal data, and it's time to call it what it is: wrong.

We've been fortunate to have some modern-day Paul Reveres -- Bradley Manning and now Edward J. Snowden -- to raise the alarm. Now it's up to us to rise to the call.

For more on the surveillance state: Read 1984.

(1984 page references are to the 2009 Plume paperback edition.) 

Related posts

A large number of people are marked for exclusion and deprivation -- and worse -- because they have characteristics that are susceptible to the whole apparatus of power:  they are easily recognizable as  NOT "normal" or "right" or "acceptable" . . . under the gaze of surveillance this condition is recorded and propagated . . . for perpetual recording and processing within the data centers of power . . . accompanied by intermittent acts of physical and cultural injury -- random, senseless -- to reinforce their unshakeable status. 

(See Drone Gaze, Drone Injury: The War on Communities of Color)

One issue that has a key place in the midterm elections in 2014, I believe, is surveillance.  With each passing day, I am hearing more and more people say that the surveillance issue is something that a wide spectrum of people are deeply upset about. That includes people on the right as well as people on the left -- people who don't usually talk with each other, much less work together for positive change!

(See The Surveillance Issue: The Fulcrum of the 2014 Election?)

There has been a good sign in 2013, in that many people have become outraged about government surveillance. A recent Pew poll found that Americans are now more worried about civil liberties abuses than terrorism. I believe a big question in 2014 will be whether challengers successfully address the issue of NSA surveillance in their campaigns.

(See What Will Election 2014 Boil Down To? )

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hate As Tool of State in "1984" … and Post-9/11 America

[Part of the series: 2013 = 1984?]

1984 by George Orwell gives a frightening description of the way people are coerced into hating.

Or maybe "coerced" isn't the right word . . . .
"The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in." (George Orwell, 1984, p. 12)
Orwell was interested in politics, but he was even more interested in psychology. And with that "it was impossible to avoid joining in," he invites us to care about psychology, too, and to start down the road to understanding the awful source from which our political system today derives its power.

I've been mulling over George Orwell's writing, trying to understand how he could have written such an accurate picture of 2013 America while living in England back in 1949 -- including the way we consciously or subconsciously hate people we deem to be "different," and the way this has come to be relied upon by the U.S. government to maintain a state of perpetual war.

In Orwell's 1984, people were taught that the Enemy of the People was a man named Emmanuel Goldstein, and this point was reinforced over and over and over again, until "the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically" (p. 11).

In 2013 America, we have been conditioned to feel anything associated with Middle Eastern and/or Muslim men should trigger feelings of suspicion, fear, and hatred.

And when those cues are triggered, all of our objectivity and healthy skepticism goes out the window.

Having spent a significant amount of time over the last several years advocating on behalf of the men being held without trial at Guantanamo -- the vast majority of whom have not even been charged -- and now having become active in trying to stop the U.S. program of drone killing, I have become acutely aware of how these and other U.S. government programs depend on the general public's subconscious habits of hate.

Time and time again, people are entombed or their lives are wiped out by the U.S. government, and we are told in public forums like The New York Times that we should be accept they-were-Muslim-men-acting-threatening innuendo together with the usual accompanying atmospherics by way of explanation.

If we want to avoid becoming a shadow of George Orwell's 1984 we must, must, must work harder --  much, much, much harder -- to clear out the residues of suspicion, fear, and hate in our hearts that our manipulative government so relishes.

For more on the state's uses of hate: Read 1984.

(1984 page references are to the 2009 Plume paperback edition.)

Related posts

Undercover police . . . months of infiltration, taping, coaxing, inducements . . . an alleged "terrorist" device . . . lots of police assertions about what the defendant was thinking and intending and wanting . . . . The Pimentel case is just one in a long line of government set-ups of Muslims since 9/11.

(See The Curious Incident of the "Lone Wolf" Terrorist )

I wonder if, years from now, we will be thinking back to today and feeling surprise at how little we thought about some of the developments in our world, and in our country, and how we talked about them even less. Someday will I have to explain to my kids, or to my kids' kids, why it was that "people just weren't talking about it" . . . ?

(See Why Weren't People Talking About It? )

So there are these terrible things called nuclear weapons, and it just turns out that they hover around the Korean peninsula, as if "Korea" and "crazy nuclear terror" belonged together. And I thought to myself, "Where have I heard this before?"

(See The Cynical American Scapegoating of Korea as a Cover for Nuclear Terror )

Morning Glories on Point Alanna

All summer long I run along the lakefront in Chicago. My turnaround point is Point Alanna. (OK, I call it Point Alanna; most people know it as the point at North Avenue Beach.)

Point Alanna is where I pause to look out across Lake Michigan and think of my daughter, Alanna, over on the other side. (I can often sense that she is picking up the thoughts I am sending her, and sending good thoughts back to me.)

The other thing I do at Point Alanna is marvel at the morning glories that grow in the dunes.

They remind me of the morning glories that used to grow on a trellis in front of my grandfather's house.

And day that starts with morning glories on Point Alanna is a good day!

Related posts

Cottonwoods! They serve to anchor the dune and create an environment in which a ridge can build up and more and more plants can take hold. (Good.) And then they take over everything. (Not so good.)

(See Cottonwoods!)

Some thoughts on the odds of holding back the ocean ... from an old New Jersey boy ....

(See NJ Sense and Wising Up to the Climate Crisis )

On Sky Sunday, I will also be thinking about the sky over Chicago — especially when that sky is filled with birds on their semi-annual migration. Or, to be more precise, I will be thinking about the treetops by the lakeside filled with migrating birds, seen against the background of the fall sky.

(See St. Luke's Messenger, "The Sky Over Our World: The Sky Over St. Luke’s … Chicago … Lake Michigan … the World"  )

Chicago has a tremendous head start in being a place that is inspired by the beauty all around us to do the difficult things that are needed. And Chicago is so beautiful all summer long, there's no reason to leave the city. Think of all the carbon emissions save on car and jet travel!

(See "One Word: Wildflowers" on Zero Carbon Chicago)

More wildflowers . . . .