Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Walmart: Paragon of Freedom and Justice

While browsing Jakeneck after the previous posting I couldn't resist importing this brilliant post of a letter to Wal Mart executives:

Walmart: Paragon of Freedom and Justice

From Jesus' General. Do your patriotic duty. Fight tryanny and hypocrisy.

Dear Wal-Mart Executive Team,

I imagine that the traitors among us are giving you a hard time for refusing to carry Robert Greenwald's Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War. They just can't comprehend how you could consider such a film to be unpatriotic. You see, they don't understand the value of having unquestioning loyalty for a great leader even when he's wrong.

That's why they'll probably condemn you for rejecting Uncovered while carrying Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. I imagine they'll take great pains to paint you as a corporation which values authoritarian order over free speech. They'll never understand Triumph of the Will's patriotic message about the importance of blind obedience to leadership.

I say to hell with the traitors. Wal-Mart should be proud to be a symbol of authoritarianism. Indeed, I urge you to sponsor a Triumph of the Will like tribute to fascism at your headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. I'm sure the local Chamber of Commerce would love the idea. Think about it. Bentonville could become the new Nuremberg.

Heterosexually yours,

Gen. JC Christian, Patriot

(courtesy Atrios and SNAFU)

Downloading Music--Serious Crime? Welcome to Bizarro World?

Does the downloading of music from the Internet harm recording industry sales? A recent study published in the New Scientist disputes any correlation between downloading and declining record sales:

Net music piracy 'does not harm record sales'

While the folks at Wired magazine state what I have been thinking all along, that maybe the music's just lousy and the recording industry would like us to buy the crap anyways so that they can have nice houses and drive expensive cars?

Nonetheless our continuously distracted congress took the time to pass the pirate act on March 25th, which could carry up to ten years in prison for simple file sharing. Once again the folks at Wired supply us with the full lowdown on the act and other events:

Congress Moves to Criminalize P2P

(Thanks to Paul Jones, SNAFU, Mobius, and the posting sites Mediasquatters and Jakeneck for sources/discussion)

Various Thoughts At the End of a Work Day

Tragic news hitting the airwaves this afternoon of American bodies being mutilated and dragged through the streets of a town west of Baghdad. There seems to be the sense that this is a continuation of the populace resisting the intrusion of American military and business (the bodies are businessmen) forces, but still the Bush administration wants to paint it as the desperate acts of a few terrorists?

Yahoo report

Of course our failed democracy plan has nothing to with it:

Shutting Down Newspapers in Iraq

But then what do I know I'm obviously no expert, just a concerned citizen wondering... why?

Still, Bush painting his administration as the saviors of the world from evil terrorists leaves such a bitter taste in my mouth. Have you seen the newest Move On ad that confronts this claim:

MoveOn's disputed ad

Republican Attack on Non-Profit Groups

Move On alert

Are you involved in a local or national non-profit or public interest organization? As a leader or board director or member? Please read this message carefully, because your organization could be facing a serious threat.

The Republican National Committee is pressing the Federal Election Commission ("FEC") to issue new rules that would cripple groups that dare to communicate with the public in any way critical of President Bush or members of Congress. Incredibly, the FEC has just issued -- for public comment -- proposed rules that would do just that. Any kind of non-profit -- conservative, progressive, labor, religious, secular, social service, charitable, educational, civic participation, issue-oriented, large, and small -- could be affected by these rules.

By the way, one thing FEC's proposed rules do not affect is the donations you may have made in the past or may make now to or to the Voter Fund. They are aimed at activist non-profit groups, not donors.

Operatives in Washington are displaying a terrifying disregard for the values of free speech and openness which underlie our democracy. Essentially, they are willing to pay any price to stop criticism of Bush administration policy.

We've attached materials below to help you make a public comment to the FEC before the comment period ends on APRIL 9th. Your comment could be very important, because normally the FEC doesn't get much public feedback.

Public comments to the FEC are encouraged by email at

Comments should be addressed to Ms. Mai T. Dinh, Acting Assistant General Counsel, and must include the full name, electronic mail address, and postal service address of the commenter.

More details can be found at:


We'd love to see a copy of your public comment. Please email us a copy at

Whether or not you're with a non-profit, we also suggest you ask your representatives to write a letter to the FEC opposing the rule change.

Some key points:

- Campaign finance reform was not meant to gag public interest organizations.
- Political operatives are trying to silence opposition to Bush policy.
- The Federal Election Commission has no legal right to treat non-profit interest groups as political committees. Congress and the courts have specifically considered and rejected such regulation.


If you need help finding the phone numbers and addresses of representatives visit the Move On site.

Socialist Position One Year After the Invasion of Iraq

Important simply because they seem to be the only party concerned with worker rights and are effective critics of the two-party hegemony which supplies only one option with two choices. No wonder they are completely ignored and silenced by the mainstream media.

"One year since the US invasion of Iraq: Statement of the World Socialist Web Site and Socialist Equality Party"
World Socialist Web Site

One year after the US invasion of Iraq, the lies upon which the war was based have been completely exposed.

There were no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. There were no ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda—although Islamic fundamentalist terrorists may now be active in US-occupied Iraq. The Iraqi people did not welcome the American military as their liberators. Many resisted with arms in hand, and the vast majority looked upon the occupation authority as a colonial regime to be expelled as quickly as possible.

The lie that the war was waged to bring democracy to Iraq and the Middle East has been thoroughly exposed by US actions in Iraq and elsewhere. In Iraq, the US occupation authority has ruled out elections and instead plans to declare its stooge governing council the “sovereign” government—one that will sanction the indefinite continuation of the US military presence and the exploitation of the country’s oil wealth by US and British companies.

In Haiti, Washington engineered an armed coup against an elected government in order to install a regime of murderers and political thugs directly beholden to the Haitian elite—one that will be more subservient to US dictates.

The first anniversary of the war has been marked by a major turning point in the world political situation—the popular upsurge in Spain that brought down the right-wing government headed by Bush’s accomplice, José Maria Aznar. The intensely felt and widespread opposition to the war internationally—which took the form of mass demonstrations mobilizing more than 20 million people worldwide in February 2003—found renewed expression in the election results of March 14. Aznar’s Popular Party was thrown out of office and replaced by the social-democratic PSOE, which had pledged to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.

The Spanish election sent shudders through every imperialist government—not only the direct participants in the assault on Iraq, Bush and Blair, and those who joined the occupation, like Italy’s Berlusconi and Australia’s Howard, but also the leaders of the powers that opposed the invasion, such as Chirac in France and Schröder in Germany. All of them are aghast at the prospect of the direct intervention of masses of working people to effect a change in imperialist foreign policy.

The defeat of Aznar has provoked an especially frenzied reaction in the American political and media establishment. Bush administration spokesmen, congressional Democrats as well as Republicans, and countless media pundits have denounced the Spanish people for “capitulating to terrorism” in the wake of the Madrid train station bombings that occurred three days before the election.

There is a deeply anti-democratic component to these slanders against the Spanish people. The underlying premise—stated or unstated—is that major questions of government policy such as war cannot be left to the people to decide. The implication is that elections themselves are a luxury that should be discarded if they interfere with the pursuit of the global economic and geo-political interests of the American ruling elite.

It has been widely reported in the Spanish media and on the Internet that the Popular Party, feeling the ground shifting beneath its feet the day before the election, approached King Juan Carlos with a proposal for a royal decree postponing the election. The king declined, saying this would amount to a coup d’etat.

The US reaction to the Spanish vote poses very directly the question of what the response of the Bush administration would be to a terrorist attack in the run-up to the US election. As the World Socialist Web Site has warned, there is every possibility that such an attack would become the pretext either for canceling the presidential election outright, or holding it under such conditions of police-military mobilization that it would amount to an exercise in mass intimidation.

The electoral upset in Spain has shattered any pretense that the Democratic Party opposes the war in Iraq. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry responded to the threats of the Spanish prime minister-elect to withdraw his country’s troops from Iraq by declaring: “In my judgment, the new prime minister should not have decided that he was going to pull out of Iraq. He should have said this increases our determination to get the job done.”

Kerry repudiated the comments of Howard Dean, who suggested that Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq “apparently had been a factor in the death of 200 Spaniards over the weekend.”

In the weeks since he clinched the nomination, Kerry has been at pains to reassure the ruling elite that he will not challenge the rationale for the conquest of Iraq, but will confine his criticisms of the Bush administration to tactical prescriptions on how to wage war more effectively by enlisting international support. He is telling the corporate and political establishment that his election is necessary to change the international climate and provide a political cover for the European powers, acting under the umbrella of the United Nations, to buttress the US occupation by sending their own military forces into Iraq.

Kerry’s position was summed up by “liberal” New York Times foreign policy columnist Thomas Friedman, who published a March 18 attack on the Spanish electorate under the headline “Axis of Appeasement,” in which he called for sending more US troops into Iraq.

These developments underscore the significance of the orchestrated drive to scuttle Dean’s bid for the Democratic nomination. Despite the former Vermont governor’s assurances that he too supported the so-called “war on terror” and was opposed to the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, he was considered too closely associated with the mass anti-war sentiment to be permitted to run as the Democratic candidate.

The ruling elite, utilizing the media, intervened to take the issue of the war out of the presidential campaign and ensure that any potential replacement for Bush could be relied on to continue the basic thrust of the current administration’s policies. At the same time, the political and media establishment provided a platform for left-talking candidates Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich, who performed the critical service of fostering the illusion that the Democratic Party can serve as a vehicle for seriously improving the conditions of working people.

The overwhelming consensus of the American political and corporate elite—Democratic as well as Republican—is that the war in Iraq must be continued and the repression of the Iraqi people intensified. It is a misnomer to call this illegal and predatory enterprise “Bush’s war.” Both parties are committed to a policy of using military force to establish the global hegemony of US imperialism.

For all the mud-slinging between Kerry and Bush, the Democrats represent no genuine alternative for working people, and this applies to jobs, health care, education, housing and the defense of democratic rights, no less than militarism and war. The Iraq war is a bipartisan undertaking of the two-party system—the long-standing instrument of the American ruling elite to insure its political monopoly and deprive the working class of any means for effecting fundamental change.

Basic lessons have to be drawn from such fundamental political experiences as the war in Iraq, the Spanish election, and Democratic Party’s embrace of the continued US occupation. There can be no viable anti-war movement so long as it remains tied to the Democratic Party. The struggle against war requires something more than a protest movement that seeks to pressure the parties and institutions of the ruling elite. It requires a complete break with the Democrats and the implementation of a new strategy—based on the independent political mobilization of working people, in the United States and internationally, against imperialism.

The Socialist Equality Party is intervening in the 2004 elections to present before the widest possible audience the socialist alternative to war, social reaction and the assault on democratic rights. Our presidential and vice presidential candidates, Bill Van Auken and Jim Lawrence, as well as SEP congressional candidates, will utilize the elections to fight for the development of an independent political movement of working people on the basis of a socialist and internationalist program.

We reject the position of those who oppose a socialist alternative on the grounds that the only issue is the defeat of Bush. Such a position ignores the real roots of militarism, war and social reaction—the crisis of American and world capitalism. It is an illusion and a trap, which only reinforces the political monopoly of the financial oligarchy exercised through the two-party system. A vote for Kerry is not a vote against the Iraq war. It is a vote for a trusted representative of American imperialism pledged to continue the occupation of Iraq and the overall colonialist policy of the US ruling elite.

The central issue in the 2004 election is the need to establish the political independence of the working class from all of the political representatives of American imperialism.

The Socialist Equality Party election campaign aims to create a genuine anti-war movement that will link the fight against militarism with all of the social issues facing working people—jobs, living standards, health care, education and the defense of democratic rights.

We are placing at the center of our campaign the demand for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq, Afghanistan and the entire Middle East and Central Asia.

We call on all those who oppose imperialist war and the colonialist occupation of Iraq to support the SEP election campaign. Read our election statement, which is posted on the World Socialist Web Site. Contact the WSWS editorial board and the SEP and join in the campaign to place our candidates on the ballot. Join the Socialist Equality Party and help make it the mass socialist party of the working class.

Statement Link

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

International Women's Month: Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva
by Brooke Shelby Biggs
Anita Roddick

With a master's degree in particle physics, a Ph.D. in the philosophy of science, and eleven books to her credit, Vandana Shiva is nothing if not erudite. But she's no ivory-tower intellectual. In 1982, several years after getting her Ph.D., she cut short her research at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore to establish the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology in her home town in the Himalayan foothills. As the foundation's director, she helps communities counter threats to forests and agricultural land, leads a movement called Navdanya ("nine seeds") for the conservation of indigenous seeds, and is an active and articulate defender of diversity -- be it biological, cultural, or intellectual.

Hers is also a key voice in the international debate over globalization and development. Shiva has been an important figure in the movement to put pressure on the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization. "Our policy work simultaneously addresses biodiversity, intellectual property rights, and globalization," she explains. Indeed, in 1993, Shiva won the prestigious Right Livelihood Award (widely referred to as the "alternative Nobel Prize") "for placing women and ecology at the heart of modern development discourse."

Shiva's ecological activism began in the 1970s with the Chipko ("embrace") movement, a broad-based grassroots protest -- organized principally by women -- against the commercial exploitation of Himalayan forests by outside contractors. The women chained themselves to tree trunks or threw their arms around native trees to save them from the ax.

Shiva has taken pains ever since to draw out the connections between the environmental, the ethical, and the political. Just as Gandhi and Bhave fused the spiritual and the social in the practice of satyagraha ("fight for truth"), Shiva sees ecology and equity as intimately linked. Gandhi led a satyagraha against the British policy of forcing Indian farmers to produce indigo; Shiva sees her movement as a satyagraha in the same tradition.

Shiva's primary focus is on resisting the forces of globalization in India, especially agribusiness. She sees an industry that forces farmers to abandon traditional and sustainable farming practices for genetically engineered monoculture, with its accompanying pesticides, irrigation requirements, and intellectual property demands. Farmers are plunged into debt and beholden to multinational companies while the land is quickly exhausted and misery mounts.

"The real issue, for both people and nature," says Shiva, "is the extent to which control over seeds and other genetic materials is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of those whose only interest is profits." Shiva helps farmers roll back this process in practical ways -- establishing living seed banks, training farmers in chemical-free methods of sustainable agriculture, and engaging in policy advocacy to oppose implementation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in Indian law.

This question of control is also the linchpin that links the fight for biodiversity with the defense of cultural diversity and diversity of knowledge. And it is a fight, albeit a nonviolent one. "The primary threat to nature and to people today comes from centralizing and monopolizing power and control," she said as she accepted the Right Livelihood award. "Not until diversity is made the logic of production will there be a chance for sustainability, justice, and peace. Cultivating and conserving diversity is no luxury in our times: It is a survival imperative."

When change comes, Shiva says it will be driven by a spiritual outrage at the brutality of corporate rule. "To be outraged by violation and violence is a necessary complement to being spiritual," she told an organic farming convention. "To me this means that one has boundaries that say, 'This is sacred, it cannot be violated.' If the rage is directed to protecting the sacred, it can become a creative rage, it can be a compassionate rage." Here, as elsewhere in Vandana Shiva's thinking, the legacy of satyagraha is legible: "From Gandhi we have learned that you cannot respond to violent systems with violence. But you have a duty to not cooperate with violence through nonviolent means."

Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology
Founded in 1982 by Vandana Shiva, the Foundation is commited to conservation and the resistance of global exploitation of local ecological assets.
60, Hauz Khas
New Delhi India 110016
Tel.: +91-11-6968077

From Brave Hearts, Rebel Spirits

New Medicare Bill's Hidden Profits

"Medicare's Hidden Bonanza: After millions in campaign contributions, an insurance magnate's 10-year lobbying campaign finally pays off"
by Michael Scherer
Mother Jones

For conservative leaders, the best part of the Medicare bill President Bush signed in December had absolutely nothing to do with Medicare. Rather, the provision that House Speaker Dennis Hastert calls "the most important piece in the bill" and former Speaker Newt Gingrich considers "the single most important change in health care policy in 60 years" is a little-noticed tax rebate set to cost the Treasury $6.4 billion over the next decade. The measure allows Americans to open tax-free "health savings accounts," which can be used to pay medical bills—in effect removing their owners from the shared risk that has been the core of the health-insurance system since World War II.

Conservatives claim health savings accounts will encourage people to more closely monitor their health care spending and bring down medical costs. Critics call the accounts a tax shelter that will benefit the wealthy and draw young, healthy workers out of health care plans, potentially doubling the cost of insurance for everyone else. But no matter who is right about the long-term impact, there is little doubt about the biggest short-term winner. He is J. Patrick Rooney, a major Republican campaign donor from Indiana who has done more than anyone else to make health savings accounts a reality. Rooney is the chairman emeritus of the Indianapolis-based Golden Rule Insurance Co., which has been selling health savings accounts through a now-expired pilot program that Rooney helped convince Congress to approve in 1996. Just days before the new Medicare bill passed, UnitedHealth Group, the largest insurer in America, paid $500 million in cash for Rooney's family-owned company—a move that analysts said was directly tied to the Medicare bill's provisions broadening the market for health savings accounts.

Rarely has a basic federal program been so tied to one man or one company. In their 10-year campaign to promote health savings accounts, Rooney's family, companies, and employees have given $3.6 million to political candidates and committees, with 90 percent going to Republicans. Rooney and his companies gave another $2.2 million to Republican organizations, including $121,000 to help pay for President Bush's Florida recount battle, and nearly $1.9 million for a group called the Republican Leadership Coalition, which ran attack ads against Al Gore during the 2000 campaign. Rooney also registered himself as a lobbyist and spent close to $2.2 million working the halls of Congress and the White House.

For conservatives, a key selling point of health savings accounts is the potential effect on the future of health care: In making their case to lawmakers, Rooney's allies cited polls showing that two-thirds of Americans support government-run, universal health care. By giving a large segment of the population the option to withdraw from the health-insurance system, they argued, health savings accounts could serve as a poison pill preventing another "Hillarycare" debate. "It's going to be real hard to socialize the system if everybody has their own account," explains John Goodman, head of the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis.

In the meantime, the Golden Rule division of UnitedHealth has gotten a jump start on the competition, having rolled out new health savings accounts within weeks of the bill's passage. By then, UnitedHealth's stock had already jumped 9 percent. "We know this market exceptionally well," Golden Rule's top lobbyist, Brian McManus, boasted. "We pioneered it."

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Mapping Media Ownership

Why stop with Clear Channel?... learn who is telling you about the world and what their interest are!

Columbia Journalism Review's Media Ownership page:

I Want My Media Ownership page

Why stop with knowing who is telling you about the world and what their interests are, why not become the media and start restor(y)ing your world?:

Become the Media!

Clear Channel Hegemony

It surprises me (perhaps it shouldn't) when I talk to people about Clear Channel and they have never heard of the radio giant. So I found a good series of articles posted at Salon outlining the concerns about Clear Channel:

Salon Magazine's Series on Clear Channel's Tactics

Also check out Harper's recent cover story:

Big World: How Clear Channel Programs America

Harper's is one of the best print magazines that is inexpensive and easily available, so I would prefer that Americans buy it (thus I won't post the article), but if you are reading this outside the U.S. where you have difficulty finding it let me know if you would like to read the article and I'll see what I can do.

More reports on Clear Channel:

Clear Channel Politics

CorpWatch's Article on Clear Channel

Wired News on Clear Channel

Clear Channel Stumbles

Of course I would be remiss if I didn't supply Clear Channel in their own words:

Clear Channel's Website

Clear Channel's Radio Stations

Clear Channel's Education and Museum Exhibits

Clear Channel Outdoors

Clear Channel Entertainment

Clear Channel United Kingdom

Clear Channel Italy

Clear Channel SE

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg...

City of God (A Hypertextual Review)

My newest column at In the Fray I'm not really sure what my editor was thinking when she titled it "In God's Country" (although I appreciated her taking care of posting it while I was at the CCCCs conference in San Antonio, TX) ... but it is better than her suggestion of "New Age Ethnography" (a title so revolting to me that I demanded it be changed back immediately) for my previous column Ethnography for the 21st Century She believes that my titles are not sexy enough--ha, oh well.

So here is "City of God: A Hypertextual Review" now known as:

In God's Country

Top 25 Censored Media Stories of 2003: #1) The Neoconservative Plan for Global Dominan

Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Media Stories of 2002-2003

#1: The Neoconservative Plan for Global Dominance

The Sunday Herald
September 15, 2002
Title: "Bush Planned Iraq 'regime change' before becoming President"
Author: Neil Mackay

Harper's Magazine
October 2002
Title: "Dick Cheney's Song of America"
Author: David Armstrong

Mother Jones
March 2003
Title: "The 30 Year Itch"
Author: Robert Dreyfuss
December 12, 2002
Title: "Hidden Agendas"
Author: John Pilger

Random Lengths News
October 4, 2002
Title: "Iraq Attack-The Aims and Origins of Bush's Plans"
Author: Paul Rosenberg

Project Censored wishes to acknowledge that Jim Lobe, the Washington, D.C. correspondent for Inter Press Service (IPS), has been covering the ways in which neo-conservatives, using the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) among other mechanisms, used the 9/11 attacks to pursue their own agenda of global dominance and reshaping the Middle East virtually from the outset of the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism.” For more information, please vist the following website link

Faculty Evaluators: Phil Beard Ph.D. and Tom Lough Ph.D.
Student Researcher: Dylan Citrin Cummins

Corporate Media Partial Coverage:
Atlantic Journal Constitution, 9/29/02, The President's Real goal in Iraq, By Jay Bookman

Over the last year corporate media have made much of Saddam Hussein and his stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Rarely did the press or, especially, television address the possibility that larger strategies might also have driven the decision to invade Iraq. Broad political strategies regarding foreign policy do indeed exist and are part of the public record. The following is a summary of the current strategies that have formed over the last 30 years; strategies that eclipse the pursuit of oil and that preceded Hussein's rise to power:

In the 1970s, the United States and the Middle East were embroiled in a tug-of-war over oil. At the time, American military presence in the Gulf was fairly insignificant and the prospect of seizing control of Arab oil fields by force was pretty unattainable. Still, the idea of this level of dominance was very attractive to a group of hard-line, pro-military Washington insiders that included both Democrats and Republicans. Eventually labeled "neoconservatives," this circle of influential strategists played important roles in the Defense Departments of Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr., at conservative think tanks throughout the '80s and '90s, and today occupies several key posts in the White House, Pentagon, and State Department. Most principal among them are:

·Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, our current Vice-President and Defense Secretary respectively, who have been closely aligned since they served with the Ford administration in the 1970s;
·Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the key architect of the post-war reconstruction of Iraq;
·Richard Perle, past-chairman and still-member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board that has great influence over foreign military policies;
·William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and founder of the powerful, neo-conservative think-tank, Project for a New American Century.

In the 1970s, however, neither high-level politicos, nor the American people, shared the priorities of this small group of military strategists. In 1979 the Shah of Iran fell and U.S. political sway in the region was greatly jeopardized. In 1980, the Carter Doctrine declared the Gulf "a zone of U.S. influence." It warned (especially the Soviets) that any attempt to gain control of the Persian Gulf region would be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the U.S. and repelled by any means necessary, including military force. This was followed by the creation of the Rapid Deployment Force — a military program specifically designed to rush several thousand U.S. troops to the Gulf on short notice.

Under President Reagan, the Rapid Deployment Force was transformed into the U.S. Central Command that oversaw the area from eastern Africa to Afghanistan. Bases and support facilities were established throughout the Gulf region, and alliances were expanded with countries such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.

Since the first Gulf War, the U.S. has built a network of military bases that now almost completely encircle the oil fields of the Persian Gulf.

In 1989, following the end of the Cold War and just prior to the Gulf War, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Paul Wolfowitz produced the 'Defense Planning Guidance' report advocating U.S. military dominance around the globe. The Plan called for the United States to maintain and grow in military superiority and prevent new rivals from rising up to challenge us on the world stage. Using words like 'preemptive' and military 'forward presence,’ the plan called for the U.S. to be dominant over friends and foes alike. It concluded with the assertion that the U.S. can best attain this position by making itself 'absolutely powerful.'

The 1989 plan was spawned after the fall of the Soviet Union. Without the traditional threat to national security, Cheney, Powell and Wolfowitz knew that the military budget would dwindle without new enemies and threats. In an attempt to salvage defense funding, Cheney and company constructed a plan to fill the 'threat blank'. On August 2, 1990 President Bush called a press conference. He explained that the threat of global war had significantly receded, but in its wake a new danger arose. This unforeseen threat to national security could come from any angle and from any power.

Iraq, by a remarkable coincidence, invaded Northern Kuwait later the same day.

Cheney et al. were out of political power for the eight years of Clinton’s presidency. During this time the neo-conservatives founded the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). The most influential product of the PNAC was a report entitled Rebuilding America's Defense, which called for U.S. military dominance and control of global economic markets.

With the election of George W. Bush, the authors of the plan were returned to power: Cheney as vice president, Powell as Secretary of State, and Wolfowitz in the number two spot at the Pentagon. With the old Defense Planning Guidance as the skeleton, the three went back to the drawing board. When their new plan was complete, it included contributions from Wolfowitz's boss Donald Rumsfeld. The old 'preemptive' attacks have now become 'unwarned attacks.' The Powell-Cheney doctrine of military 'forward presence' has been replaced by 'forward deterrence.' The U.S. stands ready to invade any country deemed a possible threat to our economic interests.

Update by David Armstrong

Just days after this story appeared, the Bush administration unveiled its “new” National Security Strategy, which effectively validated the article’s main thesis. The NSS makes clear that the administration will pursue a policy of pre-emption and overwhelming military superiority aimed at ensuring US dominance. Since that time, the major media have generally come around to the point of view presented in the article. The New York Times, which originally rejected the article’s premise, now makes a virtual mantra of the notion that the current security strategy is little more than a warmed-over version of the policy drafted during the first Bush administration of preventing new rivals from rising up to challenge the US in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. The article circulated widely, particularly in the run up to the war in Iraq, and was entered into the Congressional Record. It also became a topic of discussion on such outlets as the BBC, NPR, MSNBC, various talk radio shows, and European newspapers. In the process, it has substantially helped shape the debate about the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

Update by Bob Dreyfuss

For months leading up to the war against Iraq, it was widely assumed among critics of the war that a hidden motive for military action was Iraq's oil, not terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. In fact, "No Blood for Oil" became perhaps the leading slogan and bumper sticker of the peace movement. Yet, there was very little examination in the media of the role of oil in American policy toward Iraq and the Persian Gulf, and what coverage did exist tended to pooh-pooh or debunk the idea that the war had anything to do with oil. So, I set out to place the war with Iraq in the context of a decades-long U.S. strategy of building up a military presence in the region, arguing that even before the war, the U.S. had turned the Gulf into a U.S. protectorate. Perhaps most importantly, I showed that a motive behind the war was oil as a national security issue, as a strategic commodity, not as a commercial one — and that, in fact, most of the oil industry itself was either opposed to or ambivalent about the idea of war against Saddam Hussein. Yet the neoconservatives in the Bush administration, whose forebears had proposed occupying the oil fields of the Gulf in the mid-1970s, sought control of the oil in the region as the cornerstone of American empire.

Since the end of this war, it has become clear that the United States (and the U.K.) have aggressively sought to maintain direct control over Iraq's oil industry. When looters devastated Baghdad, only the Ministry of Oil was unscathed, since U.S. marines protected it. Since then, handpicked Iraqi officials have been installed in the ministry, under the supervision of U.S. military and civilian officials, and there is movement toward privatization of Iraq's oil industry, a point that I emphasized in my writing on the topic before the war. Not only that, but it is increasingly clear that France, Russia, and China are likely to be excluded from either rebuilding the industry and securing contracts for future Iraqi oil delivery.

I can't say that the media followed up on my exposure of this issue, except that I appeared on a number of radio and television talk show programs as a result of my writing on Iraq, in both Mother Jones and The American Prospect, as well as C-Span, CNBC, and CBC-TV in Canada. I was also invited to make a presentation on "The Thirty-Year Itch" at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. According to Mother Jones, the article drew more traffic to its web site than any other article.

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Monday, March 29, 2004

Privatization of Our Lives

Concerned about corporate redesign of public spaces:


Luckily it was all a prank:

The Pranksters

But of course corporations rarely have a humorous side and Nike attempted to punish these fun-loving artists. Here is the latest report on Nike International attempts to silence this art project:

January 25th, 2004

Nike throws in the towel

...and withdraws case against European art project

In December there was still uncertainty about the final outcome of the lawsuit filed by Nike International against Public Netbase for producing 0100101110101101.ORG's art project "Nike Ground - Rethinking space". For several weeks, the fate of the renowned Vienna-based net culture platform hung in the balance, its continuing existence threatened by the court action. But we can now confirm that the sportswear company has yielded under the pressure of international public and media attention generated by the action.

"We won! - declares satisfied 0100101110101101.ORG spokesman Franco Birkut, - and our victory is proof of at least one thing: the famous "Swoosh" logo belongs to the people who actually wear it every day. These commercial giants think they can beat anyone who annoys them, and they're unable to distinguish an artistic or critical project from unfair competition or commercial fraud. Nike was not the target of our performance, they are just one amongst the many tools we use to make our point. We were not against them, but they reacted in such a hasty and unseemly way, with no style at all. In the end it was a pleasure to play with Nike: the bigger they are, the harder they fall!"

"It was worth the risk in order to insist on the right to free artistic expression in urban spaces - Public Netbase director Konrad Becker declares - The intimidation attempts of this company known for its sneaky marketing strategies have turned back against them". The worldwide interest generated by the project can also be explained by the fact that it emphasized the importance of a cutting-edge artistic practice that employs the real means of production of a society increasingly determined by the media and technology. Becker: "The project drew attention to important issues such as the globalized dominance of economic interests over cultural symbols and gave rise to controversial perspectives and contentious interpretations".

In mid September 2003, 0100101110101101.ORG started a surreal art project called Nike Ground ( ), a "hyper-real theatrical performance" built around a fake guerrilla marketing campaign: Nike was supposedly buying streets and squares in major world capitals, in order to rename them and insert giant monuments of their famous logo. A 13 tons hi-tech container was installed in Vienna, the first city to host a "Nike Square", as part of the action.

Nike wasted no time: "These actions have gone beyond a joke. This is not just a prank, it's a breach of our copyright and therefore Nike will take legal action against the instigators of this phoney campaign". On October 14th, Nike released a 20 page injunction requesting the immediate removal of any reference to copyrighted material, and that any activity related to Nike cease immediately. Failure to comply with this request would mean that Nike would claim 78,000 Euros for damages.

"When they started legal action against us - says Franco Birkut - they knew perfectly well that we were not a competitor and that they were dealing with an art project, but they continued legal proceedings in order to crush us and erase any trace of the work. We didn't allow them to intimidate us, we ignored their ultimatum and went on with the performance till the end of October, because this was our initial idea".

The international press reacted badly to Nike's legal action: "Regardless of the outcome of the trial - wrote Cathy Macherel in Le Courrier - their action will have been success: hasn't operation Nike Ground shown the public the other side of the "Swoosh" corporation advertisement? Far from being a free symbol integrated in the public sphere, here Nike reveals itself as a humorless multinational that has lost all sense of play as soon as someone touches its interests".

The Commercial Court has rejected Nike's plea for a provisional injunction on formal grounds. After this refusal Nike didn't take further legal action. The match is over: Nike threw in the towel.

We can now all breath easily that the corporate giants have been chastised, but wait here in the US they still dominate easily and re-write our public spaces and restrict (think of the tightening of blood vessels to such a point that it destroys the overall health of the body/corpus) the public sphere with impunity. What parts of your city have been re-named, restricted, and refashioned by corporate desires! What public discourses or public knowledge or public art in your region has been limited, restricted, or, even, threatened by corporate policies.

Its not that we should be anti-corporate or anti-business, instead the danger is the complete domination of corporate ethos/policies in our public sphere and public institutions. Where do we draw the line? Think of how many phrases are now copyrighted and restricted? In our nations schools/universities the privatization of our educational process is a direct result of a corporate ethos that views the bottom line and numbers as the 'only' answer.

Yet, we are suprised by the destruction and debasement of many communities due to a bottom-line policy... but who cares as long as it isn't in my backyard--right!!!! But as the student-filmakers Laura Dunn and Kyle Henry brilliantly realized it is the subtext of our education that is the problem. What do we teach our children and young adults, as long as we can grab our piece of the pie, everyone else can fuck off!

Why do we bury our heads in the sand and foolishly believe the complete privatization of our social institutions will benefit us (as in the 'people') the most? Have we completely forsaken the ideal of strong social institutions that will benefit our communities and educate our future citizens?

Ask questions!
Make connections!
Make your presence felt!
Resist the impulse to withdraw from society!
Being political is not a bad thing!

"The White House Has Disinvited the Poets" by Julia Alvarez

The always fascinating Melissa Purdue showed me this poem tonight (I had seen it about a year ago). It was written after the Bush's canceled a poetry reading at the white house because the poets were 'too' political... with Laura mumbling something about poetry and art not being political. Immediately when I heard Laura Bush's dismissal of these poets two artistic statements popped into my head:

"Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it."
---Bertolt Brecht

"I'm just looking for one divine hammer … I'll bang it all day long."
---Breeders "Divine Hammer" (1993).

Then still reflecting on about Laura Bush's own willfull ignorance I returned to two major statements by women authors, the first reminding us about the the politics of writing and the second of reading:

"Writing is [or can be] a transgression of boundaries, an exploration of new territory. It involves making public the events of our lives, wriggling free of the constraints of purely private and individual experiences. From a state of modest insignificance we enter a space in which we can take ourselves seriously. As an alternative to accepting everyday events mindlessly, we recall them in writing."
--Frigga Haug "Memory Work as Social Science Writing" 1987

"The disobedient reader as writer is no longer a shadow on the text, but rather makes the text a shadow of her own"
--Nancy Walker "The Disobedient Writer" 1995

Then I came across this poem ... I can't remember where, but I saw it in multiple places and it became a resounding questioning of the Bush's politics in ignoring these poets and their poetry dismissing them and their work as simply political, forgetting that all poetry is political:

"The White House Has Disinvited the Poets" by Julia Alvarez

The White House has disinvited the poets
to a cultural tea in honor of poetry
after the Secret Service got wind of a plot
to fill Mrs. Bush’s ears with anti-war verse.
Were they afraid the poets might persuade
a sensitive girl who always loved to read,
a librarian who stocked the shelves with Poe
and Dickinson? Or was she herself afraid
to be swayed by the cooing doves, and live at odds
with the screaming hawks in her family?

The Latina maids are putting away the cups
and the silver spoons, sad to be missing out
on música they seldom get to hear
in the hallowed halls. . . The valet sighs
as he rolls the carpets up and dusts the blinds.
Damn but a little Langston would be good
in this dreary mausoleum of a place!
Why does the White House have to be so white?
The chef from Baton Rouge is starved for verse
uncensored by Homeland Security.

Instead the rooms are vacuumed and set up
for closed-door meetings planning an attack
against the ones who always bear the brunt
of silencing: the poor, the powerless,
the ones who serve, those bearing poems, not arms.
So why be afraid of us, Mrs. Bush?
you’re married to a scarier fellow.
We bring you tidings of great joy—

For more poetry by Julia Alvarez

Thanks to Culture Cat for making the poem available...

Turning the Tide--Noam Chomsky

I've been in San Antonio the last four days attending the Conference on Collecge Communication and Composition. I gave a presentation on the University of Kentucky's new place-based writing program. Good to be back, but it was also fun exploring a new city!

(courtesy of SNAFU)

Turning the Tide

The official weblog of Noam Chomsky, including exclusive, original observations drawn from personal correspondence, ZNet

Turning the Tide

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Super Heros, Straussians, and Ideological Crossings

I posted Shadia Drury's negative review of the neo-conservative appropriation of Leo Strauss and then later associated him with Alan Watt's Trickster Guru figure... lo-and-behold it was linked at the Straussian site and Straussians started popping in at this site. So, I decided I would return the favor and visit them on their own turf at the Straussian News Blog to see if I could learn anything from them (hey learning from others, means everyone--right!)... and while I still disagree with the premises of Straussian thought (which I intend to learn more about) I must say that they are at least "thinking" and "discussing"... a little one-sided for my tastes, but then they probably think the same thing when they see my site. Anyways, I left some comments, seeking to disrupt the general monological tone of the site and I am very happy to say that the webmaster Jeff toook all in stride and we even got into a good discussion about the current need for literary super heros/heroines.

Here is the essay Jeff first pointed out: Superhero's Stories

and I in return included some of my favorite creators who I thought pushed the boundaries of two-dimensional fascist notion of super-herodom:

Alan Moore

From Hell


Neil Gaiman

Grant Morrison

Frank Miller interview

Anyways... I'm a firm believer that there must be dialogue between those with differing opinions and beliefs and experiences--thanks Jeff! Peace!

"The Maze" by Seamus Sweeney

"The Maze"
by Seamus Sweeney
Nth Position Book Reviews

Review of:
The Maze
Donovan Wylie
Granta, 2004

Prisons often have strangely poetic names. Think of Strangeways in Manchester or Parchman in Mississippi, think of Sing Sing or Spandau. Even Wormwood Scrubs has an evocative ring - the juxtaposition of the Book of Revelations book Wormwood and an image of the mundane labour of scrubbing. Some prisons display reverse nominative determination - Mountjoy in Dublin is anything but joyful. But no prison that I know of has as apt a name as The Maze near Belfast.

I had always assumed "The Maze" was so called because it was literally a maze, a medieval sounding fortress-prison. In fact, the townland on which the prison was built was known as "An Má" - the plain - as Gaeilge, which became "The Maze" over time. Yet the Maze is exactly that. Like something out of a Borges story, the building is deliberately designed to baffle and confuse. Entering the world of Donovan Wylie's photographs is to enter a world of "steriles" and "inertias" - open spaces, the former a stone surfaced space designed to immobilise the prisoners, the latter a void running immediately along the wall of the prison designed to detect any movements near the seventeen-foot high perimeter wall. It's a world of roads that are almost all cul-de-sacs, where any one point in the prison looks exactly the same as sundry other points.

The Maze, from the evidence of Wylie's photographs, was and is a prime example of a distinctive architecture those familiar with the Northern Ireland landscape will instantly recognise. The watchtowers, many now dismantled but many still present across the landscape, the courthouses and police stations surrounded by high walls and enmeshed in barbed wire - British Army Gothic, it could be called. For many who didn't have to actually live there (and, I suspect, not a few of those who did) the apparatus of militarisation gave driving through the North a certain frisson of excitement. It was part of what made Northern Ireland distinct, and for this Free Stater, part of the sense of the place not being the same as Galway or Cork. There was a certain heaviness in the air, palpable at the sight of one of these inscrutable structures. Margaret Thatcher's aphorism that Northern Ireland was as British as her constituency Finchley was widely ridiculed, but to call it as Irish as Spiddal or Mullingar betrays an even tinnier ear to the unique atmosphere of the Six Counties/Ulster/Northern Ireland.

As that last splurge of strokes indicates, it's almost impossible to write about the wider topic of Northern Ireland for any length without betraying yourself - I use the word "betraying" judiciously. One's allegiances are revealed in the very terms used to describe the Troubles/conflict/armed struggle/security situation. Even the attempt to be linguistically neutral will probably alienate both sides more than anything else.

Dr Louise Purbrick, Senior Lecturer in the History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton, provides a clear-sighted essay on the photographs that manages, on the whole, to avoid the partisan traps language sets for the unwary (although - here's the inevitable "although") her account of the start of the "Troubles" is a bit simplistic. Like a lot of penological literature, there's a strange void in Purbrick's essay - no mention of what the prisoners had actually done to end up in jail. One almost feels a deus ex machina has deposited them there.

Purbrick is strong on the history of the Maze, and the thinking in prison construction and design that underlay its conception. The Maze was built in 1976, beside the existing internment camp of Long Kesh. The paradox was that to enforce the end of special category status for paramilitary prisoners, a special prison had to be used. The Maze was unique in British prisons in that it was a complete maximum security institution - elsewhere in the UK, the policy of 'dispersal', incarcerating high security prisoners in Special Security Units scattered throughout the prison system, had been in place since the Sixties and continues to be. Housing prisoners in separate cells, as opposed to the dormitories of Long Kesh, was expected to break up group loyalties.

The H-blocks which became part of the iconography of the Troubles were prefabricated concrete units whose shape was dictated by economy rather than any aspiration to symbolise anything. The advent of prefabrication in prison architecture could even be seen as part of the International Modernist glorification of functionality over traditional ideals of form. If Le Corbusier felt a house was a machine for living in, prefabricated prisons were machines for incarcerating people in. Built by the Royal Engineers, the Maze is British Army Gothic Triumphant - Wylie describes how the walls initially appear entirely grey, such is the volume of barbed wire around them.

The Hunger Strikes of the early Eighties (there were two major ones, the second during which Bobby Sands and ten others died, and a less well known strike in 1980) and the dirty protests, as well as creating a potent Republican martyrology and searing the H-block into Irish consciousness, ultimately ended the debate on special status. Purbrick cites the Chief Inspector of Prisons during this later phase in the conflict that "there is no point in pretending that it is a normal prison."

Wylie's photographs both gain and lose something for being taken when the Maze was unoccupied. There's an eerie, JG Ballardian atmosphere to the photos of vast institutional structures now disused. There is little difference between the inertias and steriles, and indeed navigating the photographs becomes disorientating - have I been here before, one asks, even while turning the pages. This is a hint of the derealisation that the Maze itself must have provoked.

The pictures of now-empty cells, their flowery curtains the one hint of lively colour in the book, again strike one largely with their sameness. But how much of this is the sameness of institutional buildings - from hospitals to schools to barracks back to prisons - anywhere? How much of our reaction to these photos is their presumed context - was this cell wall covered in excrement, did a hunger striker lie on this bed? In these images, life is drained out- but is it because the prison is empty or because of the nature of the building itself?

The images are reminiscent of David Farrell's , Innocent Landcapes (published in book form in 2001). In 1999, after the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill was passed in the Commons declaring an amnesty to help the identification and location of the remains of those "disappeared" during the Troubles, six locations were identified where eight people had been buried after being murdered by the IRA. Their fate and the location of their bodies had been unknown to their families since the Seventies. Farrell's photographs were pastoral landscapes, with the unmistakable signs of a forensic search for a body discreetly in the middle distance, like a shepherd in a Poussin painting. Hannah Arendt's thinking on the banality of evil are often discussed, but Wylie and Farrell portray the banality of much else that we think of with fear and trembling - the banal reality of maximum security and of murder and hidden burial respectively. Wylie and Farrell complement each other in other ways - Wylie portrays the architectural embodiment of the state's forceful authority, while Farrell shows us the smiling hills where the IRA forcefully asserted its authority.

The Maze now lies empty, closed since October 2003. A public process of consultation is ongoing as to its fate - the interested can visit the site at New Future for the Maze. Predictably, there is a sectarian edge to the various proposals - museum, suburban centre, stadium - for its future. Wylie's photographs may be closest we will get to simply leaving the Maze intact, neither the burden of interpretative centres with a no doubt contentious interpretation nor the simple erasure of history, but simply leaving it as it is.

Review Link

The Rebirth of Edan, Kansas

"Sowing Art on the Kansas Prairie"
New York Times

EDAN, Kan. — Not long ago this isolated town nestled in the Flint Hills seemed about to blow off the map. The bank failed, farmers lost or sold their land, stores shut down, and people drifted away.

Now, however, life here is changing. Driven in part by the dream of Bill Kurtis, a Kansan and longtime television newscaster, Sedan is reinventing itself as a prairie art colony.

As word spreads, artists have begun arriving. Some are refugees from what they say are overcommercialized art scenes in places like Santa Fe, N.M. One, Stan Herd, a pioneer of environmental art, has built a monumental stone work called "Prairiehenge" on a hilltop outside town.

Mr. Herd lives in Lawrence, 180 miles north of Sedan, but spent much of 2003 here working on his installation. During last year he saw Sedan begin to flower. "This is a very unique spot for the evolving of an art that is about land and place," he said. Mr. Herd and several other artists are considering buying homes and relocating part time to Sedan. "As the place builds, we'll have weekend houses and then see where we go from there," he said.

Tourists are also finding their way to Sedan. Local merchants estimate that about 80,000 visited in 2003, and they expect substantially more this year. The visitors not only buy art but flit among new shops to scoop up antiques, quilts and homemade candy. To accommodate them, developers plan to renovate the town's only hotel, which has been closed since the 1970's.

Many troubled Midwestern towns are grasping for ways to fend off decline and, in some cases, extinction. People in Sedan, which has 1,200 residents and is in one of the poorest parts of Kansas, believe they have found what hundreds of communities are seeking: a formula that will lead them back toward prosperity.

"It's just mind-boggling to see what can happen," said Judy Tolbert, who grew up nearby, now owns a bed-and-breakfast here and is a former president of the town's chamber of commerce. "When I got back to Sedan four and a half years ago, there were 14 empty buildings on Main Street. Now there are two. The cultural aspect is the key. When people come to see renowned artists and galleries, that's a different clientele you're attracting." The town's first and so far only gallery, called Art of the Prairie, is the centerpiece of Mr. Kurtis's effort to make prairie art a signature Sedan product. "Western art has become very popular and expensive," he said. "Indian art is on the same track. This prairie art strikes those same chords of land and heritage."

The gallery is hung with paintings of the prairie, a landscape that generations of artists have shunned as featureless and uninteresting. "The prairie is so subtle that it's hard to get the atmosphere," said Judith Mackey, who since July has been an artist in residence at Art of the Prairie. "It doesn't have the grandeur of the mountains or canyons, but the beauty is there."

A prominent American Indian artist, the ceramic sculptor Barry Coffin, who lived in New Mexico for more than 20 years, recently moved back to his hometown, Lawrence, partly because he wanted to be close to Sedan. He said he planned to open a studio here this spring, and to teach workshops in ceramic art.

"I really like what's going on there, and I decided I'd like to be a part of it," Mr. Coffin said.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas visited Sedan in October and said afterward that she considered this "very much a model" for other struggling communities.

"It's not only art and culture, but the land itself," Ms. Sebelius said. "Ninety-five percent of the tallgrass prairie that remains in the world is here in Kansas. It's a terrain that needs to be seen and appreciated the same way people go down the Amazon River or into a rain forest."

Prairie grassland once covered much of North America's midsection. European settlers turned nearly all of it into farms and ranches, and today the prairie landscape survives mainly in isolated reserves. The area around Sedan, however, looks much as it did when Indians first roamed here. Its appeal is central to the town's revitalization.

"The idea is not just to introduce people to art from the prairie," Mr. Kurtis said. "We also want to help them experience this environment so they feel a closer connection to the art and to the landscape it represents."

Dick Jones, a real estate agent, said that in the 1950's Sedan was "a robust rural community." He recalled watching it decline into "a ghost town" by 1980. But he said that 33 homes have been built in the area during the last three years, compared with 11 during the previous three years. Real estate prices have risen by a total of 24 percent since 1998, he said.

Residents have initiated a handful of civic efforts since the late 1980's, including a successful campaign to save the local movie house. The big break came in 1999 when Mr. Kurtis, who had already bought land nearby, decided to make rescuing Sedan his personal project.

Mr. Kurtis, who is 63, grew up in Independence, Kan., 40 miles east of here. He built a reputation as a correspondent and news anchor for CBS (he was a co-anchor on the "Morning" program in the early 1980's) and now runs a company in Chicago that produces documentaries for cable television, including the History Channel and A&E.

During the last four years he has bought 14 buildings in Sedan, many along Main Street, and paid to renovate most of them. He has also assembled 10,000 acres west of town, on which he grazes about 1,000 head of cattle and 50 buffalo. By his own account he has invested about $1 million here. He said he hoped to turn a profit, although that is not his main goal.

"For me it was getting back in touch with the land, especially after 9/11," he said while driving over a frozen hillside on his ranch. "When towers fall, you reach out for some permanent anchor."

By renovating buildings on Main Street and renting them to shopkeepers for $1 a year, Mr. Kurtis fueled Sedan's rebirth. This has made him something of a local hero, but some people here fear that Sedan is losing its rural identity.

"We've seen a lot of hype, but not much for the average Joe," said Jeanette Myers, who works with disabled children at the nearby elementary school. "Bill did straighten up his buildings, which made other stores clean up and paint. If you talk to business people, they'll tell you business has really picked up. Yeah, he's helped, but everything he does also helps himself."

Larry Powell, a city council member, said he has heard that some older residents resent Mr. Kurtis and fear that his project will drive up property taxes. "But when you ask people directly, no one says anything really negative," Mr. Powell said. "How can they? This is the first time in many years that we've had something to look forward to."

The latest building Mr. Kurtis has bought here is an old lumber mill that he plans to turn into a residence and studio space for three artists.

Some people want to renovate the old 300-seat playhouse, where the last production was staged more than half a century ago. Others dream of mounting a clown festival or performance series, tied to Emmett Kelly, one of the most famous clowns of the 20th century and a Sedan native. Mr. Kurtis said he planned to open his ranch to tourists who want to relive the Old West experience.

"If there's a lesson here, it's that towns can regenerate themselves by doing something different," Mr. Kurtis said. "Imagination is the key."

Article link

"The Siege of the Sierra Club" by Rebecca Solnit

The Siege of the Sierra Club
Anti-immigration ideologues must not be allowed to hijack John Muir's vision.
by Rebecca Solnit
Mother Jones

Long, long ago, in a decade that now seems far away, terrorists were a non-issue and immigrants were the brown peril of choice, particularly in Pete Wilson's California. In 1994, Californians voted into law Proposition 187, a measure to deny basic healthcare and educational access to undocumented immigrants, and a whole host of demagogues ran around blaming various social and economic woes on immigrants, which degenerated into animosity to Latinos, whether they were immigrants or citizens whose ancestors beat the US to the area.

In 1998, anti-immigrant activists forced the Sierra Club to put a referendum on immigration on the annual membership ballot. Having been blamed for every other sin under the sun, immigrants were now to be scapegoated for our environmental problems as well. By the time the Club's membership had voted the measure down, a lot of participants were embittered, and the environmental movement was tarnished in the eyes of many onlookers. The 1990s saw the rise of the environmental justice movement, which did address environmental racism -- just who gets poisoned by dumps and incinerators, among other things -- but the mainstream environmental movement is not always so good at the racial politics that lurk within its own priorities and assumptions.

Still, this is a long way from the politics of the anti-immigration activists attempting an openly hostile takeover of the Club, with three candidates for the March board elections looking to form a majority with some of the more dubious current board members, and various outside organizations -- some clearly racist and white-supremacist -- encouraging their members to join the Club and sway the vote. "Without a doubt, the Sierra Club is the subject of a hostile takeover attempt by forces allied with ... a variety of right-wing extremists," said the Southern Poverty Law Center in a warning letter. "They hope to use the credibility of the Club as a cover to advance their own extremist views."

The three are Frank Morris, David Pimentel and Richard Lamm, all with links to the anti-immigration organization Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America. Former Colorado Governor Lamm is also a longtime board member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which receives funding from the pro-eugenics and "race betterment" Pioneer Fund. Lamm, who has talked about the elderly's "duty to die," has made statements such as, "[T]he rash of firebombings throughout the Southwest, and the three-month siege of downtown San Diego in 1998 were all led by second-generation Hispanics, the children of immigrants." (One wonders if he or any other anti-immigration activist remembers that the reason the Sierra Club's name is half-Spanish is because California used to be Mexican territory.)

The vision of a relatively homogenous place overrun by disruptive, destructive outsiders is a better picture of the Sierra Club under siege than the United States in relation to immigration. Outside groups such as the National Immigration Alert List encouraged their members to join the Club to force it to endorse an issue rejected six years before and so perhaps permanently warp its identity and image; further, most candidates for a seat on the Club's board are active longtime members, but these three outsiders seem to have become members specifically to stage the nonprofit equivalent of a hostile corporate takeover. That hostility is underscored by the fact that they filed, then petulantly dropped, a lawsuit against the Club and its current president, which sought an injunction that would prevent the club, the board, and other board candidates from commenting on their agenda. Current board president Larry Fahn writes that "the lawyer for Lamm, Morris and Pimentel had hired a high-powered corporate public relations firm (which also represents the American Chemical Council) to try their case in the media." Thirteen past presidents of the Club have come out in opposition to the coup; eleven of them issued a statement that included these remarks: "These outsiders' desire is to capture the majority of seats so as to move their personal agenda, without regard to the wishes or knowledge of the members and supporters of the Sierra Club, and to use the funds and other resources of the Club to those ends…. We believe that the crisis facing the Club is real and can well be fatal, destroying the vision of John Muir, and the work and contributions of hundreds of thousands of volunteer activists who have built this organization." (Of course Scottish immigrant Muir was a racist too -- he said some pretty astounding things about Native Americans-- but that's another story, and era.)

A lot of leftists have already written off the 112-year-old Sierra Club, and though I've occasionally thought its slogan should be Earth First's "No compromise in the defense of Mother Earth" without the No, it remains what it has been for so many decades: the flagship of the environmental movement dealing with everything from clear-cutting and global warming to endangered species and water pollution. If it is discredited and disempowered, so will be much of the movement. And it seems that the goal of these anti-immigration activists has little or nothing to do with the protection of the environment. After all the links between immigration and environmental trouble are sketchy at best.

During the 1990s, the border was always talked about as though it was a tangible landform, a divinely ordained difference. I grew up with a clear picture of the Iron Curtain too, since it was spoken of as though it were as coherent an artifact as the Berlin Wall. But the Berlin Wall was made out of concrete, while the Iron Curtain was not made out of metal, despite the vision of a continental cyclone fence I'd had. Like the US-Mexican border, it was a political idea enforced by a variety of structures, technologies, and people with guns. In 1998, I spent a couple of weeks on the border in Texas. There, the border is a river, the Rio Grande, and there I realized that in most senses it is also a fiction. As our raft floated downstream, Mexico was the stark expanse to the right, the United States the bleak expanse to the left, and crossing songbirds and cattle seemed indifferent to the idea that the Chihuahuan desert was really two countries. The toxins from American agriculture and Juarez maquilladoras mixed indiscriminately in the slow, brown river, even as plant and animal life clustered and bloomed on its banks. It was not a boundary but an oasis. Not quite a Berlin Wall, even if you're not a swallow or a cactus wren.

Borders don't exist in nature. I learned that a second time in northern Canada, up where British Columbia meets up with the Northwest Territories. I was traveling by raft again, and the ornithologist with us would get up at dawn to identify, band, and free the songbirds that she caught in her mist nets. She liked to point out that a lot of them wintered in the tropics of Central America and so conservation efforts needed to be transnational. Canada's remotest wilderness was not a place apart; it was intimately tied to the tropics.

Borders don't exist in nature, but they can be made. In San Diego and Tijuana shortly after last year's devastating October fires, friends pointed out to me how a single bioregion had sharply diverged because of distinct human practices. On the Baja side, the resources to put out fires never really existed; the fire cycle had never been seriously interrupted; and so the colossal fuel loads that would incinerate so much around San Diego had never accumulated. Besides Mexicans are less interested in moving into locations remote from their fellows. The upshot is not only that they didn't have such devastating fires but that they didn't have mansions in canyons and on mountaintops for which firefighters would have to risk their lives and the state squander its dwindling funds.

This is not the only place where the ecology is better preserved south of the border than north of it. Consider the case of the nearly extinct Sonoran pronghorn. About ten times as many survive on the Sonora side, while on the Arizona side, they're pretty much confined to the Barry Goldwater Bombing Range -- not the healthiest habitat for the last couple dozen of their kind in the U.S. I traveled there too, amid signs warning of live ordnance and the sound of distant bombing operations.

The takeover of the Sierra Club will only succeed if the invaders convince people to believe again that the border marks a coherent environmental divide and that the US is, or can be, a place apart. The official idea is, of course, that immigrants are bad for the environment, but you can reframe that a couple of dozen ways. One is to point out that we don't need help being bad for the environment. The US consumes the world's resources in huge disproportion to its percentage of the global population, and most of us work overtime to do our bit for global warming. (My mother got caught up in the same arguments the last time the immigration issue roiled the Sierra Club's waters and exclaimed to me, "But what if they come here and live like us?" to which the only possible reply was, "What if we stay here and live like us?") If you care about the environment, there are more relevant issues you might choose to take up before immigration. If you care about stopping immigration, on the other hand, the environment is a touchstone of conventional goodness, or at least of liberalism, you can hide behind.

The poor nonwhite immigrants who are the real targets of this campaign are generally building and cleaning those big houses in remote places and mowing the lawns and fueling up the snowmobiles, but they tend not to own them, or to make the decisions to de-list an endangered species, or defund the Superfund cleanup program, or lower emissions standards. (We elect people to do that, actually.) In fact, if sprawl and resource consumption are the immediate threat population growth poses, then the new immigrants who live frugally, densely, and rely on public transport are a rebuke to the suburbanite majority in the US.

The fantasy that the US can be sealed off from the world like a walled garden in a slum overlooks dozens of other inconvenient facts, like the role of our country, with tools such as agricultural dumping and the World Bank, in making those other nations slummier, or the fact that they too have their gardens and we too have our slums. Sometimes it's the destruction of their gardens that set them on the immigrants' path in the first place -- certainly that's the case with Mexican farmers bankrupted by NAFTA. But it's also dismaying because setting gardens apart is how the conservation movement began back at the turn of the twentieth century when it was far more closely affiliated with racist, nativist, and eugenicist movements. Behind the early national parks and wilderness areas was the idea of scenery segregation -- that it was enough to save the most beautiful and biotically lush places, a few dozen or hundred square miles at a time.

Setting one piece apart always implied that the rest of the environment was up for grabs, and into the 1960s the Sierra Club's basic strategy was doing exactly that. They fought a nuclear power plant in California's Nipomo Dunes but agreed it was okay to put one in Diablo Canyon instead; Club activists like David Brower came to bitterly regret that they had secured protection of Utah's Dinosaur National Monument from damming by letting Glen Canyon Dam go forward. Now most environmentalists are against big dams and nuclear power, so that the debates are about policy, not just geography.

Back then, Rachel Carson had only recently brought us the bad news about pesticides -- that they didn't stay put but moved through the environment into both wild places and into our own bodies, and with that it began to become clear that you couldn't just defend places. You had to address practices; you had to recognize systems; you had to understand that, in John Muir's famous aphorism, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." When he said that, of course, he wasn't imagining plastic detritus being ingested by seabirds in the center of the Pacific Ocean or polar bears far beyond the industrialized world becoming hermaphroditic from chemical contamination, but we can.

More and more things come under the purview of environmentalism these days, from what we eat to where our chemicals end up. Immigration, unless it's part of a larger conversation about consumption, birthrates, reproductive rights, agriculture, international economic policy and trade, sprawl, and dozens of other issues, isn't really one of them. It seems instead that environmentalism is a cloak of virtue in which anti-immigration activists are attempting to wrap themselves. But they're better looked at naked.

This commentary first appeared on TomDispatch, a web-log of The Nation Institute. A second-generation American, Rebecca Solnit is the author of several books, including the National Book Critics Circle award-winning River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West and Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West, which deals with the environmental movement's erasure of Native Americans from the American vision of nature.

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Monday, March 22, 2004

Fun Round Up!

Andie asked MediaSquatters this question... and I thought it was an important one:

"So in that spirit, how about a 'fun round-up'? What's the most fun youse all
have ever had?"
So I thought about it for a bit and here are the first ten things that came to my mind:

Getting launched out of a wave while body-surfing and quite literally flying for a few, brief, but fantastic seconds...
Staring at the stars out in the desert and realizing that we are but a tiny speck in the universe...
Traveling with Melissa...
Loving--spiritually and physically...
Camping with my family when I was a kid/teen ...
Those heady philosophical conversations with good friends right about the second beer when you really start to feel the ideas flow and everything clicks ...
Getting lost in a good book...
Parties with Melissa, Tim and Liz...
Walking/hiking in a stimulating environment...
Interacting with animals...


Votewatch is a citizen-based non-profit non-partisan organization that works to ensure that the voices of ordinary people are heard and can be acted upon within America's democratic process. Our democratic process requires constant vigilance on the part of our citizens, and we must employ the most effective and efficient technology available to ensure free, fair and unfettered elections nationwide. Through this combination of technology and the need for vigilance, Votewatch is creating the tools that will give all citizens the opportunity to participate in the oversight of our election process. Votewatch will strengthen each American's ability to uncover, document, analyze and report on electoral anomalies.


Bush's Leadership

Lazarus over at Ungodly Politics had this to say about the Bush campaign's focus on "leadership" as the defining quality of his current term. Lazarus does a great job of situating what this term means in a military sense.

Bush's reelection campaign is focused on his "leadership". His "leadership" in the War on Terror, his "leadership" on 9/11 and the days immediately after. Leadership, leadership, leadership.

I don't know how many of you have been in the military, but I was. Granted, I only did one enlistment, but that was enough to learn some lessons. My wife is a retired Navy Chief, plenty to learn a LOT of lessons; she and I had the same epiphany last night, watching Stephen Hadley talk about Bush's leadership on the War on Terror:

In the military, when you can't manage to come up with anything specific to say about someone, any actual accomplishments that someone has made, but you still want to give them a good write-up, you talk a lot about their "leadership". "This sailor demonstrated a great deal of leadership during the period in question." That's standard write-up talk for, "This sailor didn't do a damned thing, but I don't want to say it."

Leadership is an easy thing to talk about, because you don't have to talk about specifics. You don't have to mention jobs, just leadership on the economy; you don't have to mention actual terrorist acts prevented (or not, see: Madrid), just leadership on terrorism.

You don't have to show what you did. You don't have to have a record. You can just say you showed leadership. That's as fuzzy as it gets.

And it's a sign of incredible weakness. The Bush people are admitting they have no record to run on, in the War on Terror, foreign policy, or any other area they use "leadership" as a primary focus of the campaign. It's up to us to exploit it, by pointing out the lack of a record, by asking exactly what Bush has done that qualifies as "leadership."

Clarke started last night by sneeringly referring to Bush's "nice speech" a week after 9/11. Let's keep it up.

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Call for Photos/Art: In the Fray

If you have any art or photos that you've taken related to segregation
(however loosely or narrowly you'd like to define that) and think that we
might to be able to put them together for a visual essay for IMAGE, please
e-mail us at ASAP with your ideas and some samples
of your work (sent as jpegs). You can take a look at some previous IMAGE
pieces at Image Pieces.


Laura Nathan
Managing Editor
In the Fray

In Woomera, detainees weren't addressed by name, but by number.

“Every story-telling medium in the history of mankind has included violent themes, because we depend on stories to help us sort through our conflicting values and our mixed feelings about aggression…What is bad about a lot of games isn’t that they are violent but that they trivialize violence.”
– Henry Jenkins, director of comparative media studies, MIT

A videogame collective with an avowed mission to interject progressive/activist sensibilities into their designs/stories. This is their first project:


If you thought escaping from Castle Wolfenstein was hard, try Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre...

With a first person, 3D adventure game we invite gamers to assume the character of, and 'live' through the experiences of a modern day refugee. The effective media lock-out from immigration detention centres has meant that the whole truth about what goes on behind the razor-wire at Woomera, Baxter, Port Hedland, Maribyrnong and Villawood remains largely a mystery to the Australian public. We want to challenge this by offering the world a glimpse - more than that even: an interactive, immersive experience - of life within the most secretive and controversial places on the Australian political and geographical landscape. In this way, Escape From Woomera will be an engine for mobilising experiences and situations otherwise inaccessible to an nation of disempowered onlookers. It will provide both a portal and a toolkit for reworking and engaging with what is otherwise an entirely mediated current affair.

Why Escape From Woomera?

The videogame is the most rapidly evolving, exciting, subversive and feared cultural medium in the world today. It's akin to graffiti on the cultural landscape. As such it is ripe for an injection of interesting and progressive ideas that can effect social change. We are a team of game developers, digital artists and media professionals, committed to the videogame medium - not merely as a vehicle for conceptual new media art or profit-driven entertainment - but as a free, independent art form in its own right. The creation of Escape From Woomera is part of a larger goal: the rise of a counter-culture of developers and gamers who create and engage with game art outside the mainstream corporate industry.


Mapping the Media Giants

Mapping the Media Giants (click on the names):

Media Giants

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Another Ex-Bush Official Condemns the Bush Administration Handling of the Aftermath of 9/11

Former top anti-terrorism official, Richard Clarke, accuses the Bush administration of ignoring warnings of 9/11. The White House responds. CBS News' Joie Chen reports.

"I find it outrageous that the President is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it."
Richard Clarke

Read More and Watch Video Clips

Plastic Debit Cards as Paychecks

"From Paycheck to Plastic"
Caroline E. Mayer
Washington Post

This article reports on the growing use of payroll cards by employers, as an alternative to paychecks. The article notes that the switch saves money for employers, and can be more convenient for workers; however in some cases the cards impose significant fees on workers, which are deducted from their pay.

Read Article

Booknotes--On American Character: CSPAN Celebrates 25 Years!

One of my favorite stations C-SPAN is celebrating its 25th anniversary! NPR recently joined the celebration with an indepth interview of Brian Lamb, founder of CSPAN and host of Booknotes (15 years running, this is also one of my favorite shows on TV), on the origins of C-SPAN and its role in American culture.

Listen to the Audio Interveiws and read more

Bottled Water Wars

"Bottled Water Blues"
By Kari Lydersen

The residents of Mecosta County and the surrounding areas in central Michigan regard water as central to their identity. They fish for trout and watch ospreys and eagles feeding in the streams. They spend warm days by the ponds and small lakes that dot the woodlands. And of course the Great Lakes, which hold a fifth of the world's fresh water, are a constant presence. So when a huge multinational bottled water company decided to move in and start pumping over half a million gallons of water a day out of the springs that feed their lakes and streams, the residents took it personally.

To meet the exponentially growing demand for bottled water, in the late '90s Perrier subsidiary Great Spring Waters of America sought to open a major pumping and bottling operation in the Midwest. First the company tried to set up shop in Adams County, Wisconsin, but they were driven away by intense opposition from residents and local government.

So in 2001 Perrier, which has since been bought by Nestle Waters North America, was welcomed with open arms by then-Michigan Gov. John Engler, who allowed the company to open up a plant for a licensing fee of less than $100 per year and offered millions in tax breaks to boot.

Construction started on the plant even before all the necessary permits had been obtained. For the past year and a half, the plant has been pumping 100 to 300 gallons per minute out of an aquifer on a hunting preserve in Mecosta County and piping the water 11 miles away to a bottling plant in Stanwood, where it is prepared for shipping and sale around the Midwest as Nestle's Ice Mountain brand.

Shortly after the pumping plan was announced, a grassroots movement of local residents and activists coalesced to oppose the plan, on the grounds that not only would the pumping have harmful effects on the environment and quality of life for residents, but it would also set a chilling precedent in selling off the area's natural resources to a multinational company.

This coalition has used both legal and direct action approaches to raise awareness of the issue and try to stop the pumping plan. Among other things, the group Sweetwater Alliance, which has coordinated much of the grassroots opposition, staged a "canoe-in" along one of the streams fed by the spring.

In the fall of 2001 the group Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) along with four individual local residents filed a lawsuit in Mecosta County Circuit Court seeking to prevent the pumping, arguing that it was not a legally defined "reasonable use" of water and violated state and federal regulations regarding water rights. The case is currently being heard by Judge Lawrence Root, with an outcome expected by mid-June. The result will determine whether Nestle can keep pumping there or even increase its withdrawals from about 150 gallons a minute to as much as 800 gallons a minute. And even more than that, the case will set a precedent for Michigan and possibly other states in deciding whether and how companies are allowed to extract water for profit.

"This is a precedent-setting case about how our common law water rights will be defined and what folks can do with those rights," said Scott Howard, an attorney working on the case. "Can folks take that water, bottle it and sell it for profit?"

In Michigan there are few regulations relating to the use of groundwater; it is essentially seen as part of the property it is on. "Ice Mountain paid $75 to $85 to the state for a permit application fee and with that it can essentially gain billions by selling [the water]," Howard said. "There's no other industry that gets to do that – timber and mining industries don't get to do that."

Howard notes that under Michigan law, one can make "reasonable use" of water on the property they own, but the water can't be diverted. The suit argues that the pumping of water to sell all over the Midwest is clearly a diversion.

There is also a federal law, the Water Resources Development Act, prohibiting the diversion of water headed to the Great Lakes. Under this measure opposition from a governor of any of the other Great Lakes states could theoretically put a halt to the pumping. In court lead attorney Jim Olson argued that at the very least the pumping should be limited to 100 gallons per minute instead of 400 or more.

The lawsuit cites studies finding that pumping 400 gallons a minute will reduce the flow of water in lakes and streams fed by the spring; in Deadstream by a half inch during the summer and in Thompson Lake by two and a quarter inches. "That might not sound like a lot, but in reality that could be irreparable harm," said Rhonda Huff, vice president of MCWC. "Then you have to talk about erosion, invasive species that could come in if the water level drops, it sounds like you're throwing the whole ecosystem off."

"These streams support the wild iris that only grows in Michigan; the possum, raccoon, deer, owls and other birds that drink from them; the dragonflies and butterflies; the turtles, who are having a hard time already; and of course the fish," added Lois Hartzler, who notes that she lives in Coldwater Township about 25 miles from the plant, in a town called Lake. "All of these things depend on the wetlands."

Nestle Goes Trout Fishing

In its response to the suit Nestle argued that residents will "suffer no harm whatsoever from Nestle's groundwater pumping" and that the water reduction in Deadstream would actually be good for trout by lowering the overall water temperature.

But opponents of the pumping argue that even more than the actual effect of the pumping on the local environment is the larger issue of why Nestle should be allowed to extract billions of gallons of water a year from the area for profit without any remuneration to local citizens or even the state, beyond its permit fees and its lease with the private owner of the hunting preserve.

"At the gut level people believe water is for everybody," said Holly Wren Spaulding, a member of the Sweetwater Alliance, noting that the grassroots movement against the plant has included a wide coalition ranging from Native American tribes to Navy SEALS. "People think it's wrong for a transnational company to be allowed to come in and take water and profit from it." Huff, who is a resident of neighboring Osceola County, noted that Nestle also has two experimental wells operating in Osceola and hopes to open a plant there, though it is currently prohibited from doing so by a local ordinance that is in effect through August 2004.

"I equate the plant to an octopus with tentacles going out to various springs," she said.

"This will just open the floodgates," added Blaine Stevenson, a professor of sociology at Central Michigan University and a water rights activist. "There are these bottled water wars going on now, with Coke and Pepsi and the others battling it out. They're all going to want to come in here."

Opponents say they see this situation as even more unjust given that not far away in Detroit, about 8,000 low-income families are without running water at all because they are unable to pay their water bills or live in buildings with outstanding back bills.

"It's really frightening that our state would grant tax abatements to this plant while there are people in our cities who don't have drinking water," said Eartha Melzer, a journalist who has been documenting the whole struggle. "We're moving toward a third world model in this country."

A World-Wide Battle

Spaulding, who has traveled to Brazil, South Africa and other parts of the world for her work in the water rights movement, sees the issue as part of a world-wide battle against privatization of water and natural resources. The mass extraction of water is endangering environments around the world while at the same time a huge portion of the world's population – including people in the U.S. – have trouble accessing clean fresh water.

"This isn't just about the environment, this is about social justice," she said. "That's the part that has really riled people up." She notes that there is also a movement opposing a Nestle/Perrier bottling plant in Sao Lourenco in Brazil, where people blame the plant for drying up one of the country's historic sources of mineral water. The Serra da Mantiqueira region of Brazil is famous for its Circuito das Aguas, or "water circuits," with high mineral content and medicinal properties. Four small towns, including Sao Lourenco, were built up around these water circuits in the 19th century. Now people say the mineral content of the water is being reduced by over-pumping by Nestle/Perrier for its Pure Life brand. Non-governmental organizations were formed to oppose the pumping, and in 2001 the federal government launched an investigation into the company on the grounds it was violating constitutional prohibitions on demineralizing water.

"If it is pumped in quantities greater than nature can replace it, its mineral content will gradually decrease, bringing the change in taste that we were noticing," said Franklin Frederick, a member of the International Free Water Academy, in a recent interview with the journal Mountain Research and Development.

There is clearly a water crisis around the world, exacerbated by deforestation, drought, and lack of infrastructure in poor countries, that prevents even available water from reaching much of the population. But for the most part the U.S. remains blissfully unaware of the crisis, consuming an average 92 gallons of fresh water daily, compared to 44 gallons for Europeans and five gallons for Africans. The mushrooming popularity of bottled water in a country where tap water is safe to drink is symbolic of the drive to consume without thinking about the bigger picture. In the year 2000, according to the book "Blue Gold" by Maude Barlow, over eight billion gallons of water were bottled and traded globally, over 90 percent in non-renewable plastic.

Activists in Michigan see the battle against Ice Mountain as a way not only to protect their own streams and lakes but to bring the larger issues of water conservation and rights to the attention of the American public. "I think in the last year people in the state have become much more aware that privatization is a threat to our water," said Melzer. "It's only recently that people have realized water isn't a limitless resource, and that it is vulnerable to exploitation by corporations."

Kari Lydersen is a regular contributor to AlterNet. She writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago.

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