Left Agrarian Populism

SUBHEAD: So my program is to go on asking can we produce enough to see the people through?

By Chris Smaje on 23 Janaury 2017 for Small Farm Future -

Image above: Contemporary peasnants gathering grian in North Korea.  From (http://imgur.com/r/pics/8rG4vtj).

I was aiming to take a January break from blogging, but various whisperings (and the odd shout) in my ear prompt me to put this one out into the ether right now. It’s a bit longer than my usual posts.

But on the upside you won’t hear from me again for a couple of weeks after this.

What I mostly want to do on this site over the next few months is resume exploring the alternative world of my Peasant’s Republic of Wessex.

But there’s a case for taking a step back, putting that exercise into a wider context, and laying out something of a program for the year – especially in the light of some comments I’ve recently received. So that’s what I’m going to do here.

The first comment was from Vera, who took exception to the fears I expressed in my review of 2016, A Sheep’s Vigil, that we may be witnessing an emerging fascism. She also questioned my advocacy for agrarian populism:
“maybe he is not really interested in building an agrarian populist movement — maybe, he is only interested in building an agrarian faux-populist progressively-politically-correct movement. In which case I am out. Maybe it’s time he stopped pussyfooting around and made things clear.”
Well, I’m not sure I can clarify everything in a single post, but it seems worth trying to set out as best I can what I understand left agrarian populism to be and why I support it. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time if their politics lie wholly elsewhere…

Left Agrarian Populism: So then, three key terms – ‘left’, ‘agrarian’, and ‘populist’. The last is much the trickiest. For many commentators, ‘populism’ refers to little more than the unscrupulousness of those politicians who’ll say whatever they calculate will make them most popular with the electorate. We’ve had way too much of that recently, and frankly ‘populism’ has become such a toxic brand as a result that I’m half inclined to wash my hands of it.

The reason I don’t is partly because there are historical and contemporary peasant movements I support which fly under the banner of populism, and partly because there’s an important aspect of populism which differentiates it from most other modern political traditions.

Let me expand that last point through some admittedly gross over-simplifications of three such other traditions.

First liberalism, which believes that private markets, if allowed free rein, will deliver optimum benefits to humanity.

Second conservatism, which believes in defending the established social order and fostering progress through the cultivation of individual character. Third socialism, which believes in organising human benefit on a collective, egalitarian basis through politically-guided planning.

There are elements of all three traditions I’d subscribe to, but I can’t wholly identify with any of them. A feature they share is a rather totalising normative vision of what a society should be like and how individual people ought to fit into it, and a willingness to bend the world hard to fit that vision.

Populism, by contrast, doesn’t really have a totalising normative vision in this way. It’s a politics ‘of the people’, and all it expects of people is that they’ll do their people-like things: be born, grow up, secure their livelihood, raise families, live in communities, die. That’s pretty much it. I prefer it to the stronger normativity of the other traditions.

But it only takes a moment to realise that things aren’t so simple when it comes to implementing a populist politics. Who are ‘the people’? They’re any number of individuals and groupings with endlessly jostling identifications, hostilities, aspirations and conflicts. ‘The people’ don’t exist as an undifferentiated mass any more than ‘the community’ does in your town.

So you can be pretty sure that when a politician says they’re acting in the interests of ‘the people’, they’re really acting in the interests only of certain people, a group that probably includes themselves (and may well not include the group they claim to be acting for).

You can be doubly sure of it if they say they’re acting in the interests of ‘ordinary people’, ‘real people’ or ‘the silent majority’.

I think this problem for populist politics is virtually insurmountable in highly monetised, consumerist societies characterized by wage-labour and riven by class, ethnic and national differences.

Political movements do arise in these societies under populist banners which purport to represent the interests of ‘the people’, but to my mind their claims are invariably spurious, papering over class, ethnic or other interests. And that, I think, is pretty much where we’re now at in the UK and the USA, among other places.

An aside on ‘political correctness’, the ‘alt-right’ and class
Let me go with that last sentence for a moment before returning to my populist theme. I’ll recruit for the purpose some help from John Michael Greer’s latest (1/18/17) blog post  The Hate that Dare Not Speak its Name albeit with some trepidation.

It is mishmash of half-truths and flat untruths – in which we learn, for example, that the New Left forgot social class was important until a working-class champion by the name of Donald Trump came along and took up the cudgels on behalf of the oppressed, and in which Trump’s appointment of Goldman Sachs executives to his administration somehow becomes evidence not of his own hypocrisy but that of his critics – is truly a document for these post-truth times.

In environmentalist circles Greer increasingly seems to resemble some weird kind of alter ego to Trump himself – no matter how superficial, ridiculous or outrageous his pronouncements, his fanbase only seems to grow. Still, there are a few nuggets in his piece that make a good foil for my analysis, so I’ll proceed.

Greer correctly notes that Trump garnered a lot of support from working class voters who felt disenfranchised by politics-as-usual.

But he then imputes leftist horror at Trump’s election largely to class hatred from the middle classes against those who put him there.

Even Greer can see some of the contortions involved in making such a bizarre argument stick. He tries to shore up the edifice, but what he fails to do – and what he’s consistently failed to do throughout his writings on the 2016 election – is to see that a politician who gains class support and a politician who acts in class interest aren’t necessarily the exact same thing.

The missing ingredient in Greer’s recipe is a concept of ideology – the insight that ideas about society are both systematically structured and selective, and that the relationships between things, words and actions are complex.

It’s an insight that social scientists and political thinkers have developed in numerous ways in recent times but we now seem to be in danger of forgetting. Greer could certainly have done with remembering it when he wrote this:
“The Alt-Right scene that’s attracted so much belated attention from politicians and pundits over the last year is in large part a straightforward reaction to the identity politics of the left. Without too much inaccuracy, the Alt-Right can be seen as a network of young white men who’ve noticed that every other identity group in the country is being encouraged to band together to further its own interests at their expense, and responded by saying, “Okay, we can play that game too.””
I mention this because it’s relevant to the issue of ‘political correctness’ that Vera identified in my thinking.

Although I deplore the censoriously ‘PC’ excesses of essentially insignificant bodies like student unions in their calls to “Check your privilege!” as much as the next man, or perhaps I should say as much as the next gendered subject, I think the concept of political correctness lacks any real political traction.

It stems from the kind of right-wing mythology peddled here by Greer, which posits an equivalence between different ‘identity groups’, all supposedly competing on the level playing field of life.

One of the few things I have first-hand experience of is what it’s like to be a straight, white, middle-class man – and I’d have to say that, from where I sit, alt-right politics based around that identity indeed looks to me a lot like ‘playing a game’. I’m not sure that’s always so true for people in other situations.

Somebody wrote this to me in relation to the Greer passage I cited above: “Women, Mexicans, Muslims, and LGBT folks such as myself have been working for many years to be treated fairly and respectfully, something that has been lacking in my lifetime.  None of us in these categories wish to treat “young white men” the way we have been treated.” Quite so. In contrast to Greer, I’d submit that the horror many people feel at Trump’s election arises not out of hatred, but out of fear.
There’s often a fine line between explaining a phenomenon and justifying it. To my mind, it’s a line that despite his occasional distantiating turn of phrase Greer has unquestionably now crossed – his political writing has become little more than an apologia for Trump and the alt-right. But that’s by the by. I want to take my discussion back towards agrarian populism via the issue of class with a final quotation from Greer:
“According to Marxist theory, socialist revolution is led by the radicalized intelligentsia, but it gets the muscle it needs to overthrow the capitalist system from the working classes. This is the rock on which wave after wave of Marxist activism has broken and gone streaming back out to sea, because the American working classes are serenely uninterested in taking up the world-historical role that Marxist theory assigns to them.”
There’s certainly some truth in that – and it’s why left populism appeals to me more than Marxism or socialism as such. Note, though, Greer’s slippage from ‘Marxist activism’ as an unqualified and therefore presumably global phenomenon, to its specific grounding in America (actually, the USA).

The tendency to see the USA as a synecdoche for the whole world is a mistake often made by US citizens and by the country’s overseas admirers, but I imagine it’s one that will be less commonly made in the future (when the US president says “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first” it does, after all, drop a big hint to the remaining 96% of the world’s population about how to order their own priorities).

So, wrenching our gaze momentarily from the USA, perhaps we should ask if there are any countries where socialist revolution has been successful, at least in the short term. Well, it turns out that there are. Russia, China, Vietnam and Cuba spring to mind – all countries with large peasant populations at the time of their revolutions.

The story of how Marxism co-opted peasant revolutions – populist revolutions – to its own purposes can’t detain us here. But I want to note that, in contrast to the inherently contradictory populisms of contemporary industrial-capitalist countries, populist politics has made some headway in societies where there are a large number of poor farmers and a small, wealthy elite.

Here, populists have sometimes succeeded in clawing back some of the surplus produced by the farmers and appropriated by the elite, and more generally in validating the agrarian lifeways of the farmers as something important and worthy of respect.

And I further want to note that, in these countries, there’s been a basis for populism in social class.

Back to populism:  
So I’d argue that populist politics remains relevant in the many parts of the world where peasantries still exist in significant numbers. I think it may also be relevant in ‘post-peasant’ parts of the world such as Britain, where I live, inasmuch as various looming crises in global consumer capitalism may propel us towards more local, land-based and low energy forms of living.

That, in a nutshell, is the ‘agrarian’ part of the populism I espouse. A nice thing about it is the promise it holds out that this local, land-based, low-energy style of life can be a rewarding way to live, even if we have no choice about living it, rather than being a disastrous reversal in the progressive unfolding of industrial modernity.

But it can only be rewarding if everybody has a decent chance to live it. The agrarian populism I espouse is therefore a left populism, for two main reasons. First, even assuming a fair initial distribution of land and resources, through bad luck or bad choices some people inevitably end up less well endowed with the capacity to provide for their wellbeing than others.

If these differential endowments are inherited down the generations, then the evidence is pretty clear that before long we’re back with a downtrodden mass peasantry and a small, wealthy elite – which is to nobody’s long-term benefit, including the elite.

So a redistributive element is necessary that prevents the accumulation and defence of unearned inter-generational advantage – we can argue about the extent and form of the redistribution, but I don’t see good arguments against the fundamental need for it. Presumably that would be something on which for once John Michael Greer and I would agree.

The second reason is that while there’s something to commend the conservative trope of stand-on-your-own-two-feet-and-don’t-expect-the-world-to-owe-you-a-favour, all of us ultimately depend on numerous other people. We’re not the sole authors of our fates, and we all screw up in ways small and sometimes large in the course of our lives.

So I favor an approach to others based wherever possible (though it’s not always possible) on empathy and generosity of spirit rather than censoriousness or status competition.

And that in barest outline is how I’d characterise left agrarian populism. There’ve been places in the past where something like it has prospered for a while, and I suspect the same will be true in the future. I think a lot of human suffering could be avoided if it were to be a norm rather than an exception.

But I’m not too optimistic. What seems to me more likely as resource crises bite and the global capitalist economy hits the buffers is a slamming of shutters, a beggar-my-neighbour race for resources and an authoritarian policing of the body politic which seeks to root out any dissent from various nationalist senses of manifest destiny (“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first” etc.)

An aside on fascism.  
In view of various comments I’ve received, including Vera’s, I’d like to clarify my use of the term ‘fascist’ to describe my fears about that kind of future. It’s a word that, I acknowledge, comes with a lot of baggage. And history never repeats itself exactly, so there’s always a debate to be had about the relevance of past events to the future.

On the other hand, history contains some useful warnings if we care to heed them. In invoking ‘fascism’, I don’t mean it as a generic term of abuse but as a reference to a fairly specific type of politics: the creation of an authoritarian corporate state grounded in an essentially mythical conception of a unified and exclusive ‘people’, in which various independent bodies that can hold the state to account such as parliaments, judiciaries and media are repressed.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the EU, a good deal of the political discourse around Brexit in the UK has been leading in that direction. The lesson I draw from the 1920s and 1930s is that people didn’t take the threat of fascism seriously enough soon enough to prevent the first stirrings of nativism and discrimination – and indeed the kind of alt-right normalisation that Greer is peddling – from later turning into all-out war and genocide.

There’s little I can do individually to stop the re-emergence of fascism if that’s the way the world is going, but I can promise to challenge it when I see it.

So when the Daily Mail calls judges ‘enemies of the people’ for deciding that parliament has to debate the Brexit referendum vote (in which, let us remember, 37% of the electorate voted to leave the EU and 35% voted to remain), the word for it is fascism.

But my main point isn’t that we’re currently under the thumb of the fascists – it’s that I can’t really see many plausible future scenarios in which President Trump or Britain’s Brexiteers will be able to deliver what many of their supporters thought they were voting for. And those conditions will be ripe for fascism – though I acknowledge that we may get away with mere xenophobic right-wing authoritarianism.

I pray that I won’t ever think the latter is the best outcome I can hope for. So let me be clear – I’m not using the word ‘fascist’ out of contempt for people I simply disagree with. I’m using it out of fear for what the future holds, and out of determination to work for something better.

Left agrarian populism, again:  
That ‘something better’ is left agrarian populism. But perhaps I’ve caught myself in a contradiction here. I emphasised above the actual rather than the normative basis of populist politics.

Given that nothing remotely approximating left agrarian populism currently animates western politics except at its furthest fringes, a programme for realising it involves advocating for it normatively as an ‘ought’, a political ideal around which the world needs remodelling. So in that sense perhaps agrarian populism is no less normative or totalising than, say, liberalism.

I can think of various ways to try to get myself off that hook – by arguing, for example, that our modern ideologies of progress have warped our thinking away from the honest actuality of making a living from the land, or by arguing that whether we like it or not the gathering crisis of global consumer capitalism is going to deliver us (if we’re lucky) into a world of local self-reliance, to which an agrarian populist politics is best fitted. There’s some mileage in such arguments, but ultimately they’re a bit lame.

So maybe I have to argue that when all is said and done left agrarian populism is just a normative political ideology like any other – one that I happen to think answers the puzzles of contemporary human existence better than others, partly indeed because it doesn’t opine normatively too much on how people ought to live other than by saying, well, they do have to live, they have to do that by farming, and their farming should try to screw other people and the rest of the planet as little as possible.

In that sense perhaps my populism is rather impure, drawing on aspects of liberalism, conservatism and socialism.

So maybe Vera is right that the populism I espouse is a ‘faux populism’ – though, if she is, then I’d venture to say that all populisms are ‘faux populisms’, since I don’t think there can be any singular, historically fixed or ideologically neutral conception of ‘the people’, still less ‘the people’s will’. All populisms reference other political ideologies.

When I wrote about this previously, Tom Smith questioned the extent to which my position was different from socialism. I think it is different in the way it understands the relationship between peasants or farmers, states and historical change.

But maybe not all that different – it is a left populism, after all. Suffice to say that it probably has more common ground with socialism than with forms of right-wing populism that consider the concept of ‘political correctness’ to be useful.

But I’d hope that at least it lacks the disdain of Marxists and certain other flavours of socialism for peasants and the petit bourgeoisie. In fact, that’s exactly where I see the best hope for a left agrarian populism – as a class movement.

The fact that, as I’ve mentioned, there’s virtually no extant peasant or petty proprietor class in western countries is therefore a bit of an inconvenience for my politics. I do have some cards up my sleeve on that front that I’ll lay out in later posts. Though I confess they don’t make for the greatest of hands.

Whatever anyone might think of the case for a left agrarian populism, it certainly won’t get far if it can’t furnish people with their basic needs. So the aim of the vast number-crunching exercise I’ve been undertaking over the past few months in relation to the Peasant’s Republic of Wessex has been to check for myself, if for no one else, whether it can.

It often surprises me that such exercises aren’t more commonly undertaken by government agencies with the funding to do them properly and the remit to secure the wellbeing of their populace.

On that note, I was struck by the reasons Michael gave in a comment under my last post for why such exercises aren’t more routinely undertaken – “too divisive, nationalistic, fear-mongering”. I was also struck by the following passage in Georges Duby’s classic history of the medieval European economy,
“Wherever economic planning existed, it was seen in the context of needs to be satisfied. What was expected of manorial production was that it should be equal to foreseeable demand…It was not a question of maximizing output from the land, but rather of maintaining it at such a level that it could respond to any request at a moment’s notice”1
In that sense my mindset is medieval. The question that interests me is the same one, at whatever scale – can we produce what we need in the next period to see the people through? The modern mindset asks a different question – how can we produce the highest profit from these inputs?

In modern society, the bridge between that question and the first one is usually provided, if it’s sought at all, by some kind of ‘implicit virtue’ notion in the tradition belonging to Mandeville’s fable of the bees, Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’, and Milton Friedman’s ‘capitalism and freedom’.

What’s becoming increasingly clear – as other thinkers have long been warning – is that there is no invisible hand, or if there is its designs are forever being thwarted by an invisible foot which, just as the hand works yet another miracle, simply can’t help treading in the next bit of shit up the road.

So my program for the year, aside from a few digressions and diversions, is to go on asking the question – can we produce enough to see the people through? And once I’ve addressed that as best I can I’ll continue by asking how we might organise ourselves socially and politically to help us do so.

That’ll take me deep into the history and the politics of agricultural production and agrarian populism, wherein I hope I might be able to find some more productive ways out of the crises facing us than the dispiriting contemporary populisms of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and their fellow travellers. If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll be travelling in fellowship with me.

But if not, I hope you get the politics you want from the other paths you tread – so long as it doesn’t involve selfishly trampling over other people. Ach, me and my danged outmoded liberalism…

  1. Duby, G. 1974. The Early Growth Of The European Economy, Cornell Univ Press, p.92.


The Trumpotopia to come

SUBHEAD: President Donald J. Trump has risen... but for how long Trumpotopia last?

By James Kunstler on 23 January 2017 for Kunstler.com  -

Image above: The United States Trumpital on Inauguation Day. From (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/01/19/trump-inauguration-parade-how-to-watch-live-stream-online.html).

If the first forty-eight hours are any measure of the alleged Trumptopia-to-come, the leading man in this national melodrama appears to be meshuggeneh (Yiddish for "a mad or idiotic person").

A more charitable view might be that his behavior does not comport with the job description: president. If he keeps it up, I stick to my call that we will see him removed by extraordinary action within a few months.

It might be a lawful continuity-of-government procedure according to the 25th Amendment — various high officials declaring him “incapacited” — or it might be a straight-up old school coup d’├ętat (“You’re fired”).

I believe the trigger for that may be an overwhelming financial crisis in the early second quarter of the year. In, the first case, under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, it works like this:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Or else, it will be an orchestrated cabal of military and intelligence officers — not necessarily evil men — who fear for the safety of the nation with the aforesaid meshuggeneh in the White House, who is summarily arrested, sequestered, and replaced by an “acting president,” pending a call for an extraordinary new election to replace him by democratic means.

I’m not promoting this scenario as necessarily desirable, but that’s how I think it will go down. It will be a sad moment in this country’s history, worse than the shock of John Kennedy’s assassination, which happened against the background of an economically stable Republic. History is perverse and life is tragic. And shit happens.

Returning to the first forty-eight hours of the new regime, first the ceremony itself: there was, to my mind, the disturbing sight of Donald Trump, deep in the Capitol in the grim runway leading out onto the inaugural dais.

He lumbered along, so conspicuously alone between the praetorian ranks front and back, overcoat open, that long red slash of necktie dangling ominously, with a mad gleam in his eyes like an old bull being led out to a sacrificial altar.

His speech to the multitudes was not exactly what had once passed for presidential oratory. It was not an “address.” It was blunt, direct, unadorned, and simple, a warning to the assembled luminaries meant to prepare them for disempowerment.

 Surely it was received by many as a threat.

Indeed an awful lot of official behavior has to change if this country expects to carry on as a civilized polity, and Trump’s plain statement was at face value consistent with that idea.

But the disassembly of such a vast matrix of rackets is unlikely to be managed without generating a lot of dangerous friction. Such a tall order would require, at least, some finesse.

Virtually all the powers of the Deep State are arrayed against him, and he can’t resist taunting them, a dangerous game.

Despite the show of an orderly transition, a state of war exists between them. Anyway, given Trump’s cabinet appointments, his “swamp draining” campaign looks like one set of rackets is due to be replaced by a new and perhaps worse set.

Trump was correct that the ruins of industry stand like tombstones on the landscape. The reality may be that an industrial economy is a one-shot deal. When it’s gone, it’s over.

Even assuming the money exists to rebuild the factories of the 20th century, how would things be produced in them? By robotics or by brawny men paid $15-an-hour?

If it’s robotics, who will the customers be? If it’s low-wage workers, how are they going to pay for the cars and washing machines? If the brawny men are paid $40 an hour, how would we sell our cars and washing machines in foreign markets that pay their workers the equivalent of $1.50 an hour.

How can American industry stay afloat with no export market? If we don’t let foreign products into the US, how will Americans buy cars that are far more costly to make here than the products we’ve been getting? There’s no indication that Trump and his people have thought through any of this.

Trump can pull out the stops (literally, the regulations) to promote oil production, but he can’t alter the declining energy return on investment that is bringing down the curtain on industrial society. In fact, pumping more oil now at all costs will only hasten the decline of affordable oil.

His oft-stated wish to simply “take” the oil from Middle Eastern countries would probably lead to sabotage of their oil infrastructure and the cruel death of millions. He would do better to prepare Americans for the project of de-suburbanizing the nation, but I doubt that the concept has ever entered his mind.

The problems with Obamacare, and so-called health care generally, are burdened with so many layers of arrant racketeering that the system may only be fixable if it is destroyed in its current form.

The overgrown centralized hospitals, the overpaid insurance and hospital executives, the sore-beset physicians carrying six-figure college-and-med-school loans, the incomprehensible and extortionate pricing system for care, the cruel and insulting bureaucratic barriers to obtain care, the disgraceful behavior of the pharmaceutical companies, all add up to something no less than a colossal hostage racket, robbing and swindling people at their most vulnerable.

So far, nobody has advanced a coherent plan for changing it. Loosing the Department of Justice to prosecute the medical racketeers directly would be a good start.

Overcharging and defrauding sick people ought to be a criminal act. But don’t expect that to happen in a culture where anything goes and nothing matters. A financial crisis could be the trigger for ending the massive medical grift machine. Then what? Back to locally organized clinic-scale medicine… if we should be so lucky.

Saturday afternoon, Trump paid a call at CIA headquarters, ostensibly to begin mending fences with what may be his domestic arch-enemies. What did he do? He peeved and pouted about press reports of the lowish attendance at his swearing in. Maximum meshuggeneh.

I’m surprised that some veteran of The Company’s Suriname outpost didn’t take him out with a blowgun dart garnished with the toxic secretions of tree frogs.

Do you suppose Trump is going to improve? That was the hope after the election: that he’d take on some POTUS polish.

No, what you see is what you get. I can only imagine that what’s going on behind the scenes in various halls of power would make a Matt Damon Bourne movie look like a sensitivity training session — grave professional men and women on all fours with their hair on fire howling into the acoustical ceiling tiles.

Don’t forget that it was the dismal failure of Democratic “progressive” politics that gave us Trump.

His infantile lies and foolish tweets were made possible by a mendacious political culture that excuses illegal immigrants as “the undocumented,” refuses to identify radical Islamic terror by name, shuts down free speech on campus, made Michael Brown of Ferguson a secular saint, claims that there’s no biological basis for gender, and allowed Wall Street to pound the American middle class down a rat hole like so much sand.

You think this is the dark night of the national soul? The sun only went down a few minutes ago and it’s a long hard slog to daybreak.


The Day the Earth Changed

SUBHEAD: Club Orlov Press promotion of a new book on how collapse might really unravel the lives we now lead.

By Dimtry Orlov on 17 January 2017 for Club Orlov -

Image above: Detail of cover art for doomster collapse novel "Seat of Mars"by Jason Heppenstall and published by Club Orlov Press.  From original article.

We are conditioned to think of change as lots of small changes—a continuum—although history tends to be punctuated by large, unforeseen events that are only understood after the fact.

Last year's reconquest of Aleppo was one such incident. People are still assuming that Pax Americana is still an item; well, we'll just have to see. The US defense establishment may have just joined higher education, medicine and, of course, finance as just another brazen swindle.

Whenever something big happens, people become confused. Is a power cut just a temporary glitch in the grid, or is it the end of the grid?

Novels can very helpful in helping us think through scenarios, filling the void left by journalism, by journalists who are conditioned to think that there will always be the next news cycle—until there isn't one. Jason Heppenstall's The Seat of Mars, now available from Club Orlov Press, is one such novel. Here's an excerpt.
The crowds became tighter and the sounds of a Samba band swirled around them as they walked along with their plates of food. Shrill whistles pierced the air and the streets reverberated to the sounds of drumming and singing.

Huge figures appeared above the heads of the revellers and the crowd began to cheer. The monstrous tentacled face of a movie pirate appeared – twenty feet tall and with a mechanical arm that raised an oversized bottle of rum to its lips over and over. Cat squeezed her way through to the front of the crowd to get a closer look.

The effigy was being borne on a bamboo palanquin by a dozen schoolchildren, their teachers all wearing plastic pirate hats. Next came a giant tin man, followed by a Cyclops, followed by a red-skinned devil with smoke pouring out of his nostrils. She laughed. What kind of crazy place has Jack brought me to? she thought.

The sound of the samba band receded and as the parade passed people poured back onto the roads, which had been blocked off from cars. Jack spotted Cat and came over to her. “Let’s go down to the seafront and get a drink,” he said.

They walked down a narrow street past a house that had been turned into an Egyptian folly, through a churchyard and down a hill that led to the sea. Strung out along the promenade was a funfair, the cries and whoops of teenagers rising above the drone of the diesel generators that powered the rides.
There was a tent selling beer and Jack went in and ordered drinks. He emerged a couple of minutes later holding two plastic glasses containing frothy Cornish beer. “Been ages since I had a pint of Doom,” he said, handing one of them to Cat, who eyed it suspiciously before taking a small sip. They sat on a low wall together and watched the revellers.
Mostly it was families, strolling along with buggies and candyfloss. Gaggles of teenagers charged about, unable to contain their restless energy. And behind this human scene of fun and frivolity lay the sea, blue and implacable, glinting in the sun.

There are a lot of drunks here,” stated Cat matter of factly. Jack looked around. It was true. They stood outside the beer tent, men with sun-reddened noses, softly bulging beer bellies and raucous laughs, gabbled loudly with one another.
Close by, a particularly large woman with faded shoulder tattoos was holding court with a group of them, causing them to bend over with laughter at something she said.

A muscular man with a shaved head and a dog tied to a piece of string staggered past holding a bottle of vodka, followed by his equally plastered girlfriend who was hurling insults at him. Cat sipped her drink and tried not to stare.

It was early evening when the tide came in and the crowds began to drift away. “I am hungry,” announced Cat, prodding Jack.

Jack knew a place. It was an old beachside tavern, redone as a bistro and with a star chef from London. He knew Cat would approve and he wasn’t wrong. They ate Newlyn crab and fresh mussels for starters, and beer battered pollock with monkfish tail and wild mushrooms for the main.
The waiter suggested a wine pairing for the crab, saying the lightness and acidity of a bottle of Domaine Chandon Brut would “elevate the crab’s sweetness and purify your palates.”

I could get used to this,” said Cat, thinking it would please Jack to hear it.

When it came to paying it was already getting late and candles had been lit at each table. The waiter took Jack’s credit card and wrote down the details, getting him to sign a receipt. The manager came out and spoke to the diners one table at a time. When he got to Cat and Jack’s he said “We will take payment when the system comes back online.”

The pair returned to the town centre, walking beside the sea as the light faded. Some beach revellers had set fire to a pile of debris and their techno music pulsed across the bay as sparks rose into the darkening sky.
In the centre of the town once more the pair came across a troupe of well-lubricated Morris dancers who were leaping about, bashing their sticks together and waving handkerchiefs.
A heavily bearded man with a black top hat squeezed an accordion and a thin woman with grey hair played a tin whistle as the dancers performed their ancient fertility rite.

“I’ll just use the bathroom,” said Jack, disappearing into a nearby pub and leaving Cat by herself. She carried on watching the dancers as she waited, getting out her mobile and taking some pictures of them. She was about to tweet it with a suitably sarcastic message when she remembered. “Still no signal,” she said out loud to nobody but herself.

And neither will there be for a very long time,” interjected a man standing next to her. Cat looked up at him. He was a smooth-faced and overweight man in late middle age, and he appeared to be slightly unsteady on his feet.

What do you mean?” said Cat. “When will the signal come back?”

Problems upcountry is what I can tell you,” he replied. “Power’s out all over the place, they say. Motorways at a standstill, shops shut everywhere, no word from anyone as to what’s going on. For all we know it could be a nuclear war’s ’appened and they forgot to tell us.”

Cat stared at him in horror. “How do you know this? My boyfriend says the television and radio is not working.”

The man looked at her for a moment and took a swig of beer.

“Driver, I am. Been in haulage since ’84 and never seen anything as bad as this. Got a radio in the rig and I’s been on it ’alf the night speaking with our boys. Pumps stopped working, they say, and one of ’em’s got a load of dairy and he’s stuck on the M5. ’Parently there’s some sort of tyre depot fire near Bristol, he says, black smoke billowing all over the place and nobody to put it out.”

But why?” said Cat. “What’s happening?”

"Your guess is as good as mine. Seems there’s some sort of power outage, though nobody’s saying why. Army’s out on the streets of London, trying to stop what ’appened the last time, what with all them riots and all.” The man paused for thought for a second, as if something had just occurred to him. “You wouldn’t be down from London would you?”

At that moment Jack reappeared, another couple of pints in his hand. He smiled at Cat sheepishly. “I couldn’t just walk past the bar, could I?”

Cat ignored him. “Jack, we have to leave this place and get back home. We need to leave right away.”
They never “leave this place,” and they never “get back home.” And that's actually a good thing, because by then their home—London—is no longer a desirable destination. To find out more, please read the novel.


Montana oil & gas leases cancelled

SUBHEAD: Blackfeet Tribe swayed the Interior Department to cancel the leases in Badger-Two Medicine River area .

By Elizabeth Shogren on 11 January 2017 for High Country News -

Image above: Blackfeet sacred land in the 170121saceedBadger - Two Medicine River area. From (http://grist.org/article/oil-and-gas-leases-canceled-on-blackfeet-sacred-land-in-montana/).

This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Wednesday morning, as John Murray drove north from his home on the Badger-Two Medicine River to his job as the historic preservation officer for the Blackfeet Tribe, the mountains glowed red. His wife, who drove with him, commented on their beauty.

Murray, 69, noted with deep satisfaction that for the first time in more than 30 years, there are no more oil and gas leases up there.

For thousands of years, the area was home to the Blackfeet, and Murray has spent decades fighting a collection of oil and gas leases sold for $1 an acre by the Reagan administration without consulting the tribe. On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell canceled the last two leases in the area known as Badger-Two Medicine, which now is part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

“The cancellation of the final two leases in the rich cultural and natural Badger-Two Medicine Area will ensure it is protected for future generations,” Jewell said in a statement.

The landscape just outside of Glacier National Park where the prairies meet the mountains is sacred to the Blackfeet. “This area is like a church to our people,” Harry Barnes, chair of the Blackfeet Nation Tribal Business Council, said in a statement. “We’ve lived for 30 years under the threat that it might be industrialized, and we’re extremely grateful that this cloud is finally lifted.”

Anthropological studies have found hundreds of artifacts in the area, but it’s the landscape itself that is most treasured by the Blackfeet, Murray says.

That landscape also is extremely important to conservation groups because it provides crucial habitat for grizzlies, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and the other fauna that roam between Glacier, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the Blackfeet Reservation.

Hunting and fishing groups laud the area as unmatched for elk hunting and wild trout fishing. But conservationists who worked to preserve it say it was the Blackfeet that swayed the Interior Department to cancel the leases.

The decision comes as the Obama administration has sided with tribes in other recent decisions.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers early last month suspended an easement necessary to finish the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, pending a deeper environmental assessment and consultation with the tribe. On Dec. 28, President Obama created two national monuments after intense campaigns by Native Americans: Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada.

The hard-fought victory for Badger-Two Medicine comes at a time Murray sees as a renaissance for the Blackfeet people. The tribe also negotiated an important water settlement with state government, which Congress finally approved last month.

Now that the leases have been canceled, the tribe is looking forward. “Our next move is to be more proactive in what happens in the Badger-Two Medicine,” Murray says. Specifically, the tribe is advocating for the Lewis and Clark National Forest to stop allowing cattle grazing and instead reintroduce buffalo.

In November, Interior announced that Devon Energy had agreed to the cancellation of its 15 leases in the Badger-Two Medicine region. But another company, Solonex LLC, is fighting the earlier cancellation of its lease in the same area. That dispute, which is currently in front of a federal court, tempered the celebration of the Blackfeet’s long-awaited victory.

Michael Jamison, Glacier program manager for the National Park Conservation Association, first protested the leases as a college student some 30 years ago. Through the years, he has learned from Blackfeet elders why the landscape is so important to them.

“Their future success as a people is rooted in hanging on to who they are culturally,” Jamison said. “They need something firm underfoot if they’re going to succeed in stepping into the future.”


From now on all progress is local

SUBHEAD: In the Trump Era work on climate change, alternative energy and conservation will be local.

By Ben Adler on 18 January 2017 for Grist Magazine -

Image above: Poster advocating restoration project of native species in Los Angeles River.  From (https://californiawaterblog.com/2014/12/09/new-environmentalism-needed-for-california-water-2/).

California Gov. Jerry Brown is arguably the most pro-climate governor in the country. So when he spoke to a group of scientists about Donald Trump’s election last month, you might have expected him to fret about all the damage a climate-denying White House can manage in the next four years.

Instead, Brown came out swinging. If the Trump administration ends NASA’s climate research, Brown promised that California would step up, reminding the crowd that he was once called Governor Moonbeam for his fascination with outer space.

“If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” he said. “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight.”

This can-do climate attitude has swept the country in recent years. And now that a climate science–denier is moving into the White House, activists, mayors, and state legislators from across the country are pulling up their organic cotton socks and setting more aggressive goals. They’re pushing for more wind and solar power, trying to block coal exports, and planning to put more electrical vehicles on the road.

“States have always led the way in regards to creating significant U.S action on climate change,” says Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment New York. “The Trump victory will make state climate change efforts even more important.”

Going back to Cali
In the wake of Trump’s victory in November, the highest-ranking leaders of both houses of California’s legislature and mayors of the state’s major cities, such as Los Angeles’s Eric Garcetti, reaffirmed their commitment to making progress on climate change.

“I’m encouraged that California leaders have all made clear statements that California will continue to set the bar high and lead the way,” says Michelle Kinman, clean energy advocate at Environment California.

In September, Gov. Brown signed a law requiring the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. That’s no small feat for a state with a growing economy and a swelling population. So California is looking for new ways to meet that ambitious emissions target, aiming to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2023 and to get half of the state’s power from renewable sources by 2030.

The Brown administration also increased the size of rebates for buying electric cars and announced plans to add 7,500 electric vehicle charging stations in the coming years.

California already has three state-supported pilot programs for getting more electric cars on the road. In the San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles metro area, partly to help clean the smog-choked air, buyers can get up to $9,200 in incentives to retire their conventional car and buy a low-emissions one.

Another pilot program in the San Francisco Bay Area provides low-interest loans to people with little or no credit history to purchase an electric car. A third program sets up a low-income electric car sharing service expected to launch in L.A. and Sacramento later this year.

The biggest ambition for California climate hawks, however, is a statewide ban on fracking. Momentum is building: Six California counties have already prohibited the practice. The latest victory came in November when voters approved a ballot initiative in oil-rich Monterey County, even though Chevron and other oil companies spent millions of dollars to stop it.

Best coast
The Pacific Northwest sits between the oil and gas-rich Bakken Shale, Wyoming’s coal-heavy Powder River Basin, and oil hungry markets in Asia. Communities throughout the Pacific Northwest have been organizing to stop fossil fuels from coming through their towns on trains, ships, and in pipelines. Last year, for instance, the Vancouver, Washington, city council passed a ban on future oil terminals, although the measure still requires the Governor’s approval. Elsewhere in the state, the towns of Hoquiam and Aberdeen changed their zoning codes to prevent oil companies from using their ports to ship their product to Asia. Locals worry that an oil spill could devastate the local fishing industry.

And just last week, the Quinault, a coastal Native American tribe, won a key legal challenge to a proposed oil train terminal, which likely spells the death of the project.

“Tribes and environmental activists have run the tables on the fossil fuel companies over the last few years in the Pacific Northwest,” says Eric de Place, policy director at the Sightline Institute, an environmental think tank in Seattle.

Now that Big Oil will have a friend in the White House happy to grant them federal construction permits, these communities will have to rely on their own local powers to block fossil fuel expansion, rather than pressuring the federal government. Case in point: Portland, Oregon.

Last month, its city council passed zoning changes banning construction of fossil fuel terminals. Activists hope that other cities will follow Portland’s lead, erecting a “green wall” blocking coal, oil, and liquefied natural gas exports to Asia.

“What we’ve done in Portland is replicable now in other cities,” Portland Mayor Charlie Hales told InsideClimate news. “Everybody has a zoning code.” Whatcom County in northwest Washington looks like the first to follow. In the next few weeks, its county council is likely to amend its zoning rules to stymie fossil fuel exports.

Meanwhile, back East
East Coast states have been taking climate change seriously for decades. It was Massachusetts that started the lawsuit which resulted in the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2007 that required the EPA to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. The Bay State also has a commitment to get 80 percent of its energy from renewables by 2050, and it’s part of a consortium of Northeastern states that has been working to cut power plant emissions through a regional cap-and-trade system since 2008.

Even though Massachusetts has a Republican Governor, Charlie Baker, it has veto-proof Democratic majorities in the state legislature who are pushing climate action forward. Massachusetts State Senate President Stan Rosenberg recently said he hopes to pass a raft of legislation increasing climate ambition in 2017.

Next door, New York State has set targets to curb carbon emissions and increased renewable energy deployment by 2030. To get there, the state’s utility commission has adopted innovative strategies to reduce energy demand and clean up its energy portfolio, including building a new transmission line for hydropower from Quebec.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the Long Island Port Authority to approve a 90 megawatt offshore wind farm, which would be the country’s biggest.

Clean energy commonsense, nationwide
The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 program is an effort to get cities to shoot for 100-percent renewable energy by 2035. The group targets local governments in the 20 states that let cities strike their own deals with energy providers.

“We think this will be a vehicle that will accelerate the transition to clean energy, despite what might happen at the federal level,” says Kassie Rohrbach, Ready for 100’s associate director.

San Diego, the country’s eighth-largest city, and 20 others have committed to relying only on renewables. That includes the seven cities that have already hit that goal. In November, Georgetown, Texas, became the latest to run purely on wind and solar.

Cities are also trying to coax people out of their cars. In November, voters in red and blue states passed initiatives to pay for expanded transit. Seattle and Los Angeles County raised sales taxes to support light rail, while Kansas City, Missouri, and Indianapolis approved tax hikes for new bus service.

Taking it to the streets
And then there are the fights happening outside the walls of any council chamber, courthouse, or statehouse. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign has been taking its case directly to the public energy utilities that decide whether to close coal-fired power plants. Last year, the organization helped shutter 24 coal plants, extending a string of successes for Beyond Coal since it launched in 2010.

Closing these plants has curbed carbon emissions and led to cleaner air and water. In November, a research team at Stony Brook University in New York examined Western Atlantic bluefin tuna and found that a poisonous byproduct of burning coal, methylmercury, had dropped 20 percent over the last decade.

To be sure, Trump has promised to trash all of the Obama administration’s rules cracking down on coal pollution, including the Clean Power Plan that prompted Georgetown, Texas, to go green in the first place. But coal appears to be doomed, anyway. In the energy market, it’s getting trounced by cheaper wind, solar, and natural gas. Trump might slow the death of coal, but he can’t stop it.

Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal’s director, said she expects to see dozens of coal plants shut down in Trump’s first year in the White House.

“We expect similar progress in 2017,” she says, “and record amounts of renewable energy coming online to replace it.”

All this progress at the local level may seem paradoxical when we’ve just elected a climate science denier as president. But even most Trump voters don’t agree with his climate policies. That’s why activists are urging local politicians to adopt an ambitious climate agenda.

“It’s important to remember the public overwhelmingly supports a cleaner, healthier future,” says Leibowitz of Environment New York.


Trump’s angry inaugural speech

SUBHEAD: The cries of protesters added to the sense that a hostile takeover was underway.

By Howard Fineman on 20 January 2017 for Huffington Post -

Image above: A policeman, in militarized unitform, stands in Times Square, as a guard during the televised inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, Jan. 20, 2017, in New York City. From original article.

Forgive me, but I love presidential inaugurations.

Covering politics and adoring America ― especially our Constitution ― I relish the pageantry of the law-based transition of power, even if I know that we are still not a perfect union.

I have covered many inaugurations, and they’ve shared certain reassuring characteristics. The speech allows each new president to start things off on a peaceable note, however urgent the tasks at hand.

It’s a chance to pay homage to the constitutional process, to acknowledge those who may not have supported the incoming president during the campaign, to offer soothing words about the durability of freedom.

And for the better part of a century, the inaugural speech has allowed new presidents to reaffirm our faith in an active global alliance of free nations for the spread of humanistic values.

Well, President Donald J. Trump’s speech offered almost none of that.

It was a triumphant day for the new president — but you wouldn’t know it from his angry, conspiratorial address.

No one like him has ever been elected, so in one sense, this departure from the norm wasn’t surprising.

At the same time, it was a shocking thing to hear and see and feel from a couple hundred feet below the podium.

First, the urgency and the anger. Ronald Reagan came to town in 1981 with a good bit of the same attitude. But it wasn’t nearly as pure or simplistic as what Trump expressed in his jeremiad Friday.

When Reagan was inaugurated, he made sure to stress that he wasn’t against government per se, or even against Washington, D.C. Rather, he said, he was against wastefulness.

Trump, on the other hand, made it personal, even if he didn’t mention any names. And he made ominous allusions that called to mind old European tropes.

“For too long,” he said, “a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”

Who is this “small group?” Does he mean Congress? The wider federal bureaucracy? The K Street lobby corps? The press?

Maybe he was talking about the whole churning machine of Washington itself. But something that vast wouldn’t seem to fit the devil-in-hiding liturgy of Trump’s more conspiratorial, xenophobic supporters, led by White House counselor Steve Bannon.

Trump’s vehement tone was all the more striking given the relatively small turnout for the event on the Mall ― which was nowhere near as crowded as it had been for some past inaugurations ― and the genial, unthreatening mood of many of his supporters in seats beneath the Capitol’s West Front.

Tony Ledbetter, for example, was a Trump elector in Florida, but he’s also a county chair with roots in the Reagan campaign of 1980. A practiced politician, he begged off comparing Trump to his original hero, saying his main hope for the new president is simply that he “create jobs.”

Presidents tend not to talk about themselves very much in their inaugural speeches. But Trump, as usual, departed from tradition, and did so in the dramatic, passionate tones of a revolutionary leader.

“I will fight for you with every breath in my body,” he declared, “and I will never let you down.”

At times, the anti-Washington populism of Trump’s speech ― he indicted much of the very system that had just installed him ― made his predecessors, even Reagan, seem like go-along, get-along types.

“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” he said.

There was the pitchman’s urgency to it all, with little stately, secular sermonizing. “The time for empty talk is over,” he said. “Now arrives the hour of action.”

The language throughout was nakedly combative, even bloody. Of drugs and violence, he vowed, “This American carnage stops right here and it stops right now.”

The wealth of the middle class has been “ripped from their homes,” he said. Americans will be able to watch their country “eradicate from the face of the earth” every shred of “radical Islamic terrorism.” All of us, he said, citing an old military slogan, “bleed the same red blood of patriots.”

In fact, rather than simply nodding to the idea of patriotism and love of country, Trump made it the central feature of his vision.

“At the bedrock of our politics,” he said, “will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.”

And to underscore the centrality of patriotism, he said that he was “issuing a new decree” in the name of the “people assembled here today.”

“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first,” he said. “America first.”

The cries of protests wafting up to the West Front added to the sense that a hostile takeover was underway.

As inherently American as presidential inaugurations are, no modern president has ever made patriotism per se the central feature of his message.

There are two reasons for that. One is that the United States has, since World War II, been part of a global alliance of nations standing for values that are American but that transcend any one nation.

The other reason is that the president, in the oath of office, doesn’t declare allegiance to the United States, its people or its borders. Rather, the oath is a vow to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.”

The Constitution, not the president, is the boss in America, and it cannot be fired.

But unless I missed something in his abattoir of an address, Trump did not mention on Friday who the real boss is.


Zuckerberg sues Hawaiians

SUBHEAD: Mark Zuckerberg sues to keep local landowners off right-of-way through his 700 acre Kauai estate.

By Maya Kosoff on 19 January  2017 for Vanity Fair -

Image above: Mark Zuckerberg and his wife on either side of young woman surfer on Kauai. From (http://usuncut.com/news/mark-zuckerberg-suing-force-native-hawaiians-off-ancestral-land-build-island-resort/).

The Facebook billionaire isn’t exactly endearing himself to his neighbors.
Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of the world’s largest social network, would just like some privacy.

In the past year alone, the 32-year-old billionaire spent $30 million to buy up the four homes surrounding his Palo Alto abode, only to demolish them, and later built a six-foot-tall wall around his 700-acre plot of land in Hawaii, to the chagrin of his Kilauean neighbors.

Now, Zuckerberg is seeking additional peace and quiet, this time by filing a series of lawsuits against several hundred people—some of whom are dead—who own or have claims to the land Zuckerberg purchased on the island of Kauai for more than $100 million in 2014.

Last year, onstage at Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference, Zuckerberg decried the isolationism sweeping the country, taking an unsubtle jab at a certain presidential candidate’s plan to wall off Mexico from the United States. “I hear fearful voices calling for building walls and distancing people they label as others,” he intoned. “Instead of building walls, we can build bridges.”

Those words apparently don’t apply to Zuckerberg, who reportedly wants to create a secluded sanctuary where he will have exclusive rights to every one of its 700 acres.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which first reported the news on Wednesday, Zuckerberg has filed a set of lawsuits with Hawaii's state Circuit Court, seeking to identify the owners of land on his property, so that he may force a sale of those properties.

The Star-Advertiser reports that nearly 300 people could claim ancestral ownership of small pieces of land on Zuckerberg’s property, and Zuckerberg’s legal team has spent a year and a half trying to identify those individuals.
There are about a dozen small pieces of land contained within Zuckerberg’s enormous estate that are owned by other people, the Star-Advertiser reports. These native Hawaiian families currently have the right to “traverse the billionaire’s otherwise private domain.”

But because of Hawaii’s “quiet title” law, Zuckerberg may be able to appear before a judge, who will determine rightful land ownership. The land can ultimately be auctioned off if co-owners can’t agree to terms, in which case, Zuckerberg, who made almost $5 billion in the first two weeks of the year, could easily buy them out.

On Thursday, Zuckerberg posted a statement on Facebook in response to what he called “misleading” stories about the lawsuits. “To find all these partial owners so we can pay them their fair share, we filed what is called a ’quiet title’ action,” Zuckerberg said. “For most of these folks, they will now receive money for something they never even knew they had. No one will be forced off the land.

We are working with a professor of native Hawaiian studies and long time member of this community, who is participating in this quiet title process with us. It is important to us that we respect Hawaiian history and traditions.”
The lawsuits come at an odd time for Zuckerberg. The young Facebook C.E.O. has been meticulous about his own self-image, hiring a professional photographer and employing a team of about a dozen people to comb through and delete negative comments from his Facebook posts. He’s also remained largely apolitical, even as he has fueled speculation about his political ambitions.

He has pledged to donate the vast majority of his wealth to his own philanthropic organization, and recently hired a prominent White House alum to help run it. He has defended keeping Trump donor and surrogate  

Peter Thiel on Facebook’s board, and after the election said on Facebook that he was feeling “hopeful” about the future. The incoming president, he noted diplomatically, reminded him of “all the work ahead of us to create the world we want for our children.”
Even so, he can’t help but to be drawn into the muck himself. When Zuckerberg tried to depoliticize Facebook’s news feed last year, by replacing its human editorial team with an algorithm, Facebook only endured more criticism as hoax and fake political news stories filled up users’ feeds.

Zuckerberg’s recent plan to fight fake news—empowering users to flag misleading stories and enlisting third-party fact-checkers to provide additional context—only generated more controversy. Conservatives accused Facebook of censorship, with the Daily Caller, among other conservative outlets, dismissing Facebook’s fact-checkers as “liberal.”
Still, Zuckerberg is treading lightly, and working diligently to expand his coalition. On Tuesday night, Facebook threw an inauguration party in Washington, D.C. with the Daily Caller, which was sponsored by the oil giant BP.

Zuckerberg recently began a 50-state talking tour, making his first stop in Texas this week, where he met police officers, pressed hands, and helped build a community garden.

The resulting photos looked campaign-ready, if and when Zuckerberg is ready to exercise the new clause in his contract that will allow him retain control of Facebook if he takes a leave of absence to serve in a government position or office.

Suing to keep native Hawaiians off his 700-acre estate, however, suggests Zuckerberg still has a ways to go before he’s campaign-ready himself.

As Donald Trump knows, there’s a fine line between being a man of the people and appearing out of touch.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Mark Zuckerberg.

Fear and Loathing in America

SUBHEAD: As we descend into Donald Trump's America we are reminded of Hunter Thompson's nightmare journeys.

By Juan Wilson on 20 Janaury 2017 for Island Breath -

Image above: Mashup of scene from movie version of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" sporting Vladimir Putin as "Raoul Duke" and Donald Trump as Dr. Gonzo. They are on a road trip fueled by LSD, amphetamine and alcohol. Out of touch with nature and reality. From (https://www.theautomaticearth.com/2017/01/debt-rattle-january-20-2017/).

Yes we are beginning a long and weird journey. And Donald Trump behind the wheel. Is there any way to bail out?

I don't take much stock in those that think the Trump phenomena is one arranged by Russian trickery. The CIA is perfectly capable of doing something like that here or anywhere else all by itself. Our "normal" channels of communication (the press, journalism, media, netowrks) seem to have failed us.

We are left with the outlier sources. There you can find both "Truth" and "Bat Shit Crazy". Go find what works for you but be skeptical.

Hunter Thompson was a reporter who has been credited with inventing "gonzo journalism". Two of his books made a profound impression on me in the 1970's - "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail".

In "Campaign Trail" he follows and befriends Richard Nixon. The book reveals aspects of Nixon no one else talked about - and is like lifting a rock and finding a scorpion, poisonous centipede or rattlesnake. Something dangerous, alien and fascinating.

Thompson wrote:
Richard Nixon  was the real thing -- a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. 
Such a person is The Donald. My take on this guy is that he is not much different than Nixon in personality - a megalomaniac substance abusing alcoholic out of tune with the flow of life around him. . Both men have displayed vindictive mean streaks.

However far he came up in the system Nixon always, neurotically demonstrated his "low" background".  On the other hand in Trump we have a Medici. A pampered spoiled rich kid used to bullying those beholden to his inherited fortune. An greedy and twisted individual.

Who better to be at the helm when our ship of state grinds into shoals that we are nearing now?

With the players on the incoming Trump Team it is hard to imaging a worse set of administrators, and directors of our government agencies. Some are simply incompetent, like Texas ex-governor of  Rick Perry named to head the Energy Department. There are also sly ones who either despise and plan to subvert or dismantle the agency they will be running.

Some have called this kind of leadership "kakistocracy": A government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens. From the root Greek word "kakistos" the root of the English word "catastrophe".

Today I posted Richard Heinberg's article about what he plans to do this Inauguration Day (A Good Day for a Walk in the Woods). A point he made their really struck me as profoundly true. He wrote:
"In my view, the most revealing personal characteristic of Trump may be his complete disconnection from the natural world.

Here is an individual who grew up in a city, who sees land only in terms of profit potential, who proudly covers the tortured ground with high-rise buildings, who lives in a penthouse, and who walks outdoors only on golf courses."
Having lived in Manhattan for almost a decade of my life I can substantiate that living there (or perhaps in the middle of any urban area of millions of people) isolates and separates an individual from Nature in a profound way. One begins to believe there is nowhere else that really matters.

That "Nature" is a view of Central Park from Trump Tower.

In answer to the question: "Is there any way to bail out?" I would answer "Yes". Hunker down in a locale that is the most resilient you can find.  Gather your friends and family close. Be self reliant and stay away from the government.

Good Luck and Bon Voyage! It's going to be a wild ride.

A good day for a walk in the woods

SUBHEAD: Trump's inauguration day is a time to find a place in nature with some fresh air.

By Richard Heinberg on 19 January 2017 for Post Carbon Institute -

Image above: A walk in the winter woods. From (http://everystepmatters.blogspot.com/2012/11/winter-walking-safety-tips.html).

Not since the Civil War has an American presidential Inauguration Day been so fraught with fear and dread (on February 23, 1861, Abraham Lincoln traveled to his inauguration under military guard, arriving in Washington, D.C., in disguise).

The incoming president is the most unpopular of any to assume office since modern polling began. In a single news cycle this past week he managed to alienate allies throughout an entire continent (Europe) during a brief break in a string of petulant tweets intended to persuade his own nation that Saturday Night Live is “not funny . . . really bad television!”

Much has been made of the new president’s personality and psyche—his narcissism, his germophobia, his irritability, his minimal sleeping habits, and his reported inability to laugh (though he does smile). In my view, the most revealing personal characteristic of president #45 may be his complete disconnection from the natural world.

Here is an individual who grew up in a city, who sees land only in terms of profit potential, who proudly covers the tortured ground with high-rise buildings, who lives in a penthouse, and who walks outdoors only on golf courses.

One could make some similar comments about many of his recent predecessors (certainly not Teddy Roosevelt), but in this instance the tendency reaches an extreme.

Image above: Trumpism - Donald Trump on his plan for the EPA: "We'll be fine with the environment... We can leave a little bit, but you can't destroy businesses." From Fox News Sunday 10/17/15.

How can a person so isolated from natural phenomena hope to understand the vulnerability of our planet’s climate, water, air, and innumerable species to the actions of people (one hastens to add—people much like himself)?

How can he appreciate that civilization itself is an organism with a constant need for “food” (not just grain and meat, but energy, minerals, and water as well), that is organized by way of hierarchically ordered and interlinked cycles, and that is subject to natural limits and ultimately to death?

One could argue that all hubris is tied to human beings’ illusion of dominance over nature. Our long withdrawal from wildness surely started with language, which gave us the ability to name and categorize, and thus to psychically control and distance ourselves from what we named; it erupted into alienation with the advent of agriculture, cities, and most recently fossil fuels.

But we never stopped depending on the fabric of life in which we have always been entwined. Even as we unravel the ecosphere’s delicate fibers, we draw upon eons of accumulated soil nutrients and minerals, fresh water, and biodiversity.

Life implies death—one’s own mortality above all. Everything has limits. Wisdom resides in the understanding that we are subject to forces we cannot control, and that we must respect and accommodate ourselves to those forces.

If we want to have language, farming, cities, and energy, then we must make a deliberate cultural effort to maintain an attitude of individual and collective humility.

In practical terms, that means keeping the size of our global population low enough so that it can be supported long-term without eroding natural systems, managing consumption so that resources are not depleted and non-biodegradable wastes do not accumulate, and maintaining checks on wealth inequality.

Image above: How many Earths does it take? Productive global hectares (gha) per capita required for the current world population. Data source: Global Footprint Network.

Obviously, we haven’t been doing these things very well, especially in recent decades. The power of fossil fuels fed our collective megalomania. Like people in previous civilizations, we went out on a limb—but modern energy and technology enabled us to go much further than any humans had before.

Still, as all civilizations do, ours has reached the point of diminishing returns, of over-reach. Before us lies the senescence and death of a way of living and of seeing the world. Perhaps the new president’s qualities of character are emblematic of these final stages of cultural disintegration.

In the days to come, there will be plenty of opportunities for resistance, protest, and, one hopes, celebration. Inauguration Day 2017 is a turning point; for me, it seems a perfect occasion for a walk in the woods.

• Richard Heinberg is Senior Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute and is regarded as one of the world’s foremost advocates for a shift away from our current reliance on fossil fuels. He has authored scores of essays and articles that have appeared in such journals as Nature Journal, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, The American Prospect, Public Policy Research, Quarterly Review, Yes!, and The Sun; and on web sites such as Resilience.org, TheOilDrum.com, Alternet.org, ProjectCensored.com, and Counterpunch.com.

He is the author of thirteen books including:
– Our Renewable Future: co-authored with David Fridley (2016)
– Afterburn (2015)
– Snake Oil (July 2013)
– The End of Growth (August 2011)< – The Post Carbon Reader (2010) (editor)
– Blackout: Coal, Climate, and the Last Energy Crisis(2009) – Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines (2007) – The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism & Economic Collapse (2006) – Powerdown: Options & Actions for a Post-Carbon World (2004) – The Party’s Over: Oil, War & the Fate of Industrial Societies (2003)


See film "Island Earth"

SUBHEAD: An underground movement of young people moving back to the land and growing their own food.

By Jerry DiPietro on 18 January 2017 for GMO Free Kauai -

Image above: Detail of promotional poster for film "Island Earth". From Jeri DiPietro.

the Kauai premiere of a film "Island Earth" by Cyrus Sutton, an Emmy Award winning film maker and Professional Surfer. The film features many of our local and national friends in the movement!

The film is about all of you, and will help bring our story to the rest of the world!

Documentary movie "Island Earth" about agriculture, GMOs, pesticides and Hawaii.

Friday, Feburary 10th, 2107. Doors open at 6:00pm. Movie starts at 7:00pm.

Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center
Kaumaulii Highway
Puhi, Kauai

Hawaii SEED, GMO Free Kauai and The MOM Hui

Tabling space available for our coalition partners (with reservations in advance of the event.
Call MiKey at (808 )651-9603 or Jeri at (808) 651-1332. 

We hope to fill up the Performing Arts Center so please come meet filmaker Cyrus Sutton, and please share and help spread the word! See you on Friday, February 10th.

Video above: Trailer for "Island Earth" From (https://youtu.be/8YHfoehag5I). Provided by (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cyrussutton/island-earth-documentary)

This documentary is about an underground movement of young people moving back to the land and growing their own food in response to corporate corruption in our food supply.

Video above: Background film about Cyrus Sutton and "Island Earth". From (https://youtu.be/q1YCMkcVDDg).

Cyrus Sutton is many things. A surfer. A storyteller. A filmmaker. An activist. It's his dynamic, healthy skepticism of the status quo and profound dedication to change that make him a visionary in the canon of contemporary surf personalities.

Currently, he's producing a new film called Island Earth that explores the world's food supply. You can bet that it will inspire you to take your food – and the way you choose to spend your cash in supporting business – just a little more seriously. And that's a good thing.