Navarro River Redwoods

Catching trout and steelhead in the Navarro River are among my earliest memories. My family owns a small parcel of land near the town of Navarro, and I spent a lot of time up there as a kid. If you've never heard of the Navarro it's because it's a small river in the coastal range of California, backwoods redwood country. In my lifetime the runs of steelhead were enough to spot many fish in the deeper pools, enough to catch a meal with little work.

The last time I caught a steelhead in my river was 14 years ago. I can remember one year, it must have been the early or mid-1990s, when the timber company that owned the huge tracts of land surrounding the Navarro's north fork and main channel made devastating cuts far up the watershed. Mud poured downstream as the winter rains came and went. Gills choked with mud and the river scoured thoroughly by molten earth, few of the fish survived to spawn. Many of the river's trout were killed along with other wildlife. On the logged hillsides top soil that built up over thousands upon thousands of years was washed away just like that.

It was the Louisiana Pacific Corp. in one of their last liquidations of the redwoods that caused this disaster. The river is recovering slowly, as are the hillsides, but it takes time to heal a forest ecology. LP sold out its Mendocino holdings afterward to Mendocino Redwood Company, a corporation set up by the Fisher family (owners of the Gap clothing stores). Other timber giants sold out to other similarly set up companies like Humboldt Redwood Company, etc.

After the early 1990s the last of the big profitable timber was all but wiped out in California's coastal range, if it wasn't saved and protected in parks like Headwaters. Having destroyed the "resources" they were exploiting, and making a terrible name for themselves in the process, the corporate timber industry has been busy in recent years pursuing a new strategy to make the forests profitable again, and to rebuild a good name in the rural communities they trashed and abandoned.

The first part of the strategy is plain and simple greenwashing. Companies like Mendocino Redwood Company have gone to great lengths to portray themselves as stewards of the land, as though they were more interested in creating habitat for Oncorhynchus mykiss and Sequoia semperviren than filling their profit margins. Truth is MRC et al. are just as hungry to cut timber as a commodity and make profits for their corporate parents as the past bad-boys like Maxxam and Louisiana Pacific. The difference now is that there's not a major stand of profitable trees for them to destroy. Thus sitting on twenty, fifty, or one hundred year old trees and waiting for the magic decade down the line when they'll fetch a pretty penny isn't difficult. They're investing for a longer-term take here. Much of the forests can't be cut because they're so immature and filled with tan oak, madrone and other growth that is vital in mother nature's work to heal the land, but isn't economically worth anything to corporate landholders. So they'll wait.

The second part of the strategy has been to tie up foundation and public money and attention in this process. I'll be writing more about this kind of subsidization to the timber industry in the near future, so I won't go into here, but it has everything to do with public relations and getting capital besides their own to shoulder the process of healing the forests and regrowing mature redwoods, firs, and pines.

If you'd like to see a prime piece of pro-timber industry PR check out the October, 2009 National Geographic Magzine article "Redwoods, the Super Trees."

My buddy Will Parrish and I published a little letter to the editor a recent Anderson Valley Advertiser ("Ameirca's last newspaper!") to critique the article. We've got a lot more in store soon, so stay posted. In the meantime you can read our letter below.



Dear Friends,

Back in October super-adventurer Michael Fay arrived in Caspar for a talk about his recent transect (a fancy word for a hike) through the redwoods, from Oregon to Big Sur. His presentation coincided with National Geographic Magazine’s feature story written by John Bourne on the redwoods in that month’s issue.

As dwellers in some of the remaining stands of coastal temperate rain forest in Mendocino County, we found Bourne’s convivial portrayal of the Pacific Northwest timber industry in its present incarnation detestable. Whatever his good intentions may have been, Bourne scarcely could have provided more favorable coverage to the corporate chameleons who currently seek to maximize their profits at the expense of our local ecosystems. Fay’s advocacy of this corporate greenwashing campaign, portrayed throughout Bourne’s article, is equally disturbing. In Caspar this agenda was on full display.

The main thread of the story is Michael Fay’s politically misguided, essentially pro-industry line, which maintains that “better managed” forests can provide “high-quality lumber” while actually preserving forest ecosystems. Despite their newfangled paens to “sustainable forestry,” the timber industry’s goal in this area remains fundamentally unaltered, even under the green-washed auspices of companies like Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) and Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC): to turn forests into a commodity, so as to accumulate profits in their own coffers and those of distant banks. Altruistic notions of jobs for locals and clean rivers for fish factor in only to the extent that they benefit the company’s public images. Their PR operations have grown far more sophisticated under the direction of the Fisher Family than they were under the stupidly brazen Maxaam and Georgia Pacific multi-national timber firms in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The carefully crafted “green” image of HRC and MRC rests largely on the image they have cultivated with help from their chief forester, Mike Jani — a man invoked in Bourne’s piece as a model proponent of the new politics of sustainable forestry. Notably, Jani is known to many forest defenders in Santa Cruz as “The Butcher of Butano,” in connection with his role in the liquidation of the final 4,000-acre tract of unprotected residual old growth redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains while serving as chief forester of Big Creek Lumber Co. in the early to mid-nineties. Jani accomplished this feat in spite of Santa Cruz County’s logging regulations, which are perhaps the most stringent in the country. This sort of bureaucratic acumen makes Jani an ideal representative of a pair of firms that seek to maximize their profits while maintaining the appearance that they are complying with the loophole-ridden standards for “sustainable timber harvesting” set by the Forest Stewardship Council (of which Jani happens to be a director).

The massive swaths of ecosystem to which MRC has laid waste during its decade-plus “stewardship” of Mendocino County forestland provide the clearest testament to the dangers inherent in a greenwashed timber industry. As the Redwood Coast Watershed Alliance and other local activists have copiously documented, MRC has fragmented and eliminated thousands of acres of redwood and conifer forest via dozens of clear-cuts, including in sensitive (and now significantly more polluted) river ecosystems of the endangered coho salmon.

We find equally disturbing the complex schemes to financialize the redwoods and other forest ecosystems, whereby large swaths of wooded land are sold as “carbon offsets” to major polluters like the coal industry. These “carbon markets” do not meaningfully protect forests, nor do they transparently address the problem of global warming and industrial pollution. You’ll hear more about these carbon offsets in the near future as financial giants like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase are very excited about them, eager to press National Geographic’s staff in their service.

Michael Fay’s desire to provide jobs for timber workers at the same time that forest ecosystems are preserved is admirable. However, the corporate application of his ideas will invariably lead to the further destruction of what little is left of the vitally important remaining wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. After all, corporations are profit-generating machines by their very nature — never forget that their primary legal responsibility to their shareholders is to turn the largest profit possible, not to support local economies and healthy ecosystems.

Will Parrish / Darwin BondGraham
Laytonville / Navarro


The Copenhagen Accord: Suicide Pact?

The COP15 talks in Denmark are over now. The "accord" reached is nonbinding, asking states only to "take note" of its objectives.

What are its objectives? Drafted by the USA with input from major industrializing states whose CO2 emissions are rising fast —China, Brazil, India, South Africa— the "accord" aims to keep temperature increases only within 2 degrees C (3.6 F). It does not set any emissions targets for any nations to ensure meeting this global goal.

The accord vaguely describes a plan to spend $100 billion a year in "aid" money in those nations that are already feeling the effects of desertification, sea level rise, storm intensification, and other disruptions associated with GHG emissions. This $100 billion —a sum that is less than 1/6 of the USA's annual military budget— will furthermore not be available until 2020. Anyone who has researched the current and coming impacts of climate change on impoverished nations knows that $100 billion is very inadequate figure. Africa alone is expected to experience upwards of $195 billion in economic losses each year in the very near term due to changes in weather patterns.

Expedited funds have been proposed for the next few years, but like the $100 billion called for in 2020, impoverished nations are being asked to endorse the US drafted plan in order to receive "aid," a situation many have recognized as blackmail. The recognition of these "aid" packages as a climate debt owed to impoverished nations by wealthy industrial nations has been rejected by US and European heads of state, just as past calls for reparations for colonialism have been derided, just as the global movement for debt jubilee has been ignored.

For all that the accord doesn't do, it's worth noting what it does accomplish. It does prime the pump for the globalization of carbon markets, a goal lusted after by major western banks, financial corporations, and polluters like the coal and oil industries who seek ways to continue and expand their operations while making profits off the privatization of forests, soils, and indigenous lands (see the Indigenous Environmental Network for more info).

Unacknowledged in many news accounts of the Copenhagen Accord is the logic by which the deal was reached. It appears that the USA working principally with China has drafted a plan that more or less extends the global economic status quo far into the future. These two enormously interdependent economies (China as a global manufacturing base, the US a a consumer market and finance capitol) appear to have agreed on an accord that does not significantly alter either economy's growth rate, or the fundamentals of their relationship, which it should be noted is entirely based on the massive emissions of CO2 and other toxic industrial pollutants in both states.

Europe, Australia, Canada and other so-called "developed" nations appear to be going along with this deal as it protects their similarly parasitic relations with their former colonies in the global south. Rising powers like Brazil and India were instrumental in the deal, acting from a perspective similar to China.

The global south (i.e. the majority of the world's peoples), including nearly every African nation and dozens of states in Latin America, and Southeast Asia responded to the deal with condemnation and outrage. The negotiator of the G77, representing the world's 130 poorest nations said:

"[This accord] is asking Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact in order to maintain the economic dependence of a few countries. It's a solution based on values that funneled six million people in Europe into furnaces."

Wealthy states quickly condemned his comparison, but in terms of the scientific data available, a 2 degrees C increase in global temperature would objectively make much of Africa uninhabitable with water sources disappearing, rainfall ceasing, crops collapsing, and worse (see http://www.cicero.uio.no/fulltext/index.aspx?id=5249&lang=NO and http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090602204259.htm for just two brief summaries of some available data). Current geopolitical realities, immigration policies, and the paltry "aid" package proposed by the USA would in fact then seem to be condemning the peoples of Africa and beyond to a furnace.


Copenhagen as Farce

A Short Theatrical Performance
Scene: The State of Denmark
Belgian negotiator - "The planet is imperiled."

French negotiator - "Deserts of forests!"

Brazilian negotiator - "Bile of oceans!"

Al Gore - "Everyone look at this graph!"

German negotiator - "We must work together to avert catastrophic climate change."

Danish diplomat - "We must produce an agreement that limits greenhouse gas emissions, transitions the world toward sustainable forms of energy, and invest state and private capital in technologies and infrastructure that mitigates already occurring climactic disruptions. All while growing our economies, of course."

African negotiator of unidentified state - "I must say that...."

Australian negotiator - "Oh boy, looky there!"

[Barack Obama enters from stage left]

Obama - "Through the UN, and our sovereign governments, we leaders must choose policies that utilize the power and choice of the free market to cap CO2, sequester it, and develop alternatives fuels. Bla bla, hope, bladi bla change. Future of little children and changey hope stuff...."

[All gather round to ink a global agreement (binding or nonbinding, whatever), agreeing to reduce carbon emissions by X percent of such and such year's levels by such and such future date. The delegates sign on the dotted line. The markets for carbon get going. The world marches on, free markets, nation states and all. Lights
dim, Obama and all exit, stage right to triumphant music, perhaps this?]

Something's Rotten in the State of Denmark

A Critic Responds

A farce is a comedic form that emphasizes ludicrously improbable situations. Audiences are expected to recognize the improbability of the plot, the absurdity of characters, and the impossible resolutions reached, or not. When a people mistake themselves for an audience, and believe they are viewing a great drama upon the world stage, when in fact a farce is playing out before their eyes, these people become victims of an epic tragedy. This is us, and this is Copenhagen.

The Copenhagen climate talks aren't really about "climate change," or "global warming." That would be too narrow a view of what the core capitalist nations are attempting to justify, preserve, and expand through their proposals, including the Danish document that was leaked last week. Equally, it would ignore the way in which the "developing" peripheral nations of the capitalist world system are approaching things, the deals they're trying to cut with the core nations, many of which would sell their own people out in the name of national "progress" and "growth."

The Copenhagen proceedings are actually about the future of everything: planetary levels of economic activity, energy production and consumption, state and private capital investments, industrial organization, labor relations, the global financial system, state subsidization, regulatory powers, biopolitical interventions, trade regimes, and core-periphery relations. The list goes on and on.

What Copenhagen represents is an attempt by the international state system and the largest transnational titans of capital to produce a solution to a planetary ecological, social, and political crisis born out of capitalism's developmental telos. Destabilizing CO2 pollution in the atmosphere is only one of the many ecologically destructive aspects intrinsic to this developmental trajectory. It is, however, the most systemic and existentially threatening; it affects every corner of the planet and very likely will produce conditions leading to the collapse of agriculture, acidification of the oceans, loss of freshwater sources, and destruction or disappearance of habitable lands. Therefore CO2 pollution is the most politically and socially disruptive challenge facing the continued expansion of capital and state power.

What is farcical about this is that the expansion of capital and state power is the greatest impediment to the expansion of capital and state power, and yet we are watching heads of state and corporations propose vast expansions of their dominion over earth and sky as a solution to the problems born out of their already disastrous dominion over earth and sky. Absurd.

Capitalism and the international state system cannot solve this problem. This is the most important thing for us to recognize. The states and corporations cannot overcome the crisis, for they are the crisis. Therefore our demands must must be tempered to transcend them, building the new society within this old one that is dying. We've got to aim toward obsolescence of the state and capital. We've got to scream, "no!" and hold fast that their solutions are not ours. We've got to be honest with ourselves that this theater in Copenhagen is not a drama, but a farce, and we don't intend to be any mere audience.

It's All About Power, Physical and Political

CO2 and related toxic emissions is, was, and will remain, an inescapable product of the most efficient sources of energy. Carbon-based energies far surpass any other technology, be it wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal, in terms of the quantity and concentration of energy produced. The bang-for-your-buck gotten from coal, petroleum, and gas is impossible to surpass. Nuclear cannot compare to the cheapness of petroleum or coal. No amount of hopeful investment, be it through our emotions or dollars, in clean and green energy sources will negate this fact. This matters in a political sense because it constrains the field of action in which state agents and capitalist executors can think and act in response to the problems they have created.

The unrivaled efficiencies and quantities of hydrocarbon energy still readily available are deterministic facts within the context of global capitalism and the state system; there will be no transition to a clean/green economy through any kind of treaty or any combination of domestic policies and state subsidies. It doesn't matter if the UN produces a binding treaty, not that it will. It can't. It doesn't matter so much if the United States puts billions into "green jobs" or clean energy infrastructure. The USA, like other states, will never invest itself in these forms of energy to the extent that is necessary because it would mean more than a transition from one source to another. It would actually be more accurate to describe it as a transition from one level of energy to another, from an astronomically high level of giga-wattage required to carry out state-building and corporate growth, to an earthy level kilo-wattage, one that neither massive states nor earth straddling corporations can subsist and expand upon.

If you think that a state or any sector of capital will willingly reduce the amount of energy it produces and consumes within its borders or flows then you haven't been paying attention to the entire reason for the existence of the state and capital. The point is to produce more power, and to do it in a physical-chemical sense that is also deeply political.

There are Thantosian forces at work underneath the veneer of "democracy," and "diplomacy" in Copenhagen that will prevent any realistic plan to transition away from the toxic carbon basis of capitalist civilization. The key to understanding why Copenhagen is a farce has everything to do with the dynamic relationship of the state system to capitalism. Capitalism and the state system have a basis in violence and the forced imposition of an industrial-technological development logic, the ultimate aims of which are to produce social relations that create conditions for the ever more intense accumulation of capital. Violence and rabid economic competition between states, from war to sanctions, trade imbalances, debt predation, structural adjustment programs, espionage, sabotage, economic rivalry, assassination, embargoes, and so on, are central dynamics of the state system. These are not aberrations. They are normal state relations. The world of states and corporations really is a Hobbsian nightmare, and the terrible giants like the USA, Europe, Japan, and increasingly China and India use their economic and state/military power to expand their dominion. Economic and state/military power, lest we forget, are more or less equivalent to CO2 emissions, precisely because carbon energy produces vast amounts of the most efficient and available energy, most easily controlled by and utilized by corporations, war machines and bureaucracies.

The capitalist world system wasn't created via the voluntary adoption of conceptions such as private property, corporatism, labor-capital relations, etc. It was created through conquest, colonization, mass enslavement, genocide, and unthinkable forms of industrialized war making. From the very beginning the mercantilist states and their corporate adventurers sought the most potent fuels for their factories, ships, plantations, mines and cities.

Capitalism continues to rely on force for its operation and expansion. Full scale war between states, or war by another name, call it "free trade," or "immigration policy," remains integral to the capitalist world system. The use of state violence to pry open societies in order to incorporate their peoples and "resources" into the system is endemic. States and corporations with symbiotic alliances compete with one another to expand, to grow their own power, capitalize their own industries and cities, mechanize the countrysides under their guns, rationalize and make legible the labors of all who live within their borders.

It all runs on carbon energy, the most potent source of power, again in the physical-chemical sense that powers machinery, as well as in the political sense of powering the Mumfordian mega-machine. To think this system would willingly convert itself away from CO2 emitting forms of energy is roughly the same as thinking it would ban war. Carbon energy isn't going anywhere so long as capital and the state exist.

So carbon-based energy isn't the problem. The problem is the political and economic system. The problem is the nation state and capital. So long as both of these formations are hegemonic it's hard to imagine a transition away from the most potent and readily available forms of energy locked within hydrocarbon molecules. So long as the state and capital are the arbiters of our future, we are doomed.


Steven Seagal, Lawman, PR Flak for Racist Police Force

Steven Seagal has been a deputy with the Jefferson Parish Sheriffs Office for two decades. Now he's filming a reality show with A&E to put a spotlight on law enforcement in southern Louisiana. News outlets across the country have been reporting on this using a "gosh-isn't-that-neat" approach for months now, drumming up an audience for the show's debut.

Unfortunately the spotlight is being shone on JPSO's carefully crafted good guy image. An article in today's SF Chroncile quotes Seagal, acting now more as a PR man for the Sheriff than as a deputy;

"I believe it's important to show the nation all the positive work being accomplished here in Louisiana - to see the passion and commitment that comes from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office in this post-Katrina environment."

A few months ago I had a run-in with the Jeff. Parish cops. I'll preface this story by saying I'm a white man, college educated, from California, and I generally have all the socioeconomic privileges that keep me from being a target of police profiling. When these JPSO cops stopped me though, I feared for my safety. I was simply riding my bike along the River levee and decided to cruise through Kennar. Big mistake. The two JPSO deputies that followed me for three blocks and then pulled me over first physically threatened me when I asked, "is there a reason why you stopped me?" Then after searching me and running my ID, they informed me to leave the area or else: "this is a crack neighborhood." They said. "White people don't come back here." I was riding not four block off Kennar's main strip.

The message was, 'don't ride through black areas, white boy'; 'don't come into Jeff. Parish at all.' JPSO enforces segregation in order to further criminalize the black poor that live in Kennar and other parts of the mostly white Parish. I was outraged but powerless. Seeing Seagal playing police man to bolster JPSO's image upsets me deeply. That is a terribly troubled and violent police force that need a different kind of exposure.

But it upsets me even more given the draconian way JPSO treats black men and women. My run-in is tame by any comparison. Take the case of James Williams. James was riding in a car with a white woman, Pam Nath, when a Jeff. Parish cop pulled them over. Again, another JPSO deputy decided that whites and blacks together, in practically any context, cannot be tolerated and must involve criminal dealings, so he interrogated James and Pam, eventually ordering James from the vehicle, running his ID, and finally arresting him. According to James:

"I was the passenger in a car that was pulled over in Harahan for minor traffic violations. Apparently, I angered the officer by asking why he wanted my driver’s license rather than the driver of the car. Next, the officer ordered me out of the car in a visibly agitated manner and proceeded to both verbally and physically abuse me. He then arrested me without telling me – or the driver of the car – the reason. I was later charged with “Battery on a police officer” and “Resisting Arrest,” although I did not fight with or resist any officer on that night.”
Check out James Willaims' video on the arrest and his struggle to have the bogus charges dismissed.

And consider writing to A&E's producers if you're also upset with this show's focus. There's also an online forum on A&E's web site where complaints and criticisms can be logged.


California is a "Developing" Economy, and Guess Who's Developing It?, or Blum's Business with the Bechtels.

Past chair of the UC board of Regents, Richard Blum, has been an ongoing target of student and worker protests, and for good reason. Although he created a center at UC Berkeley for the study of global poverty, his policies as a UC Regent have been cited by workers as creating poverty in California by keeping pay at campuses low and making UC unaffordable to working families. Students have been equally upset with Blum's votes and opinions on increasing student fees. As chairman of the search committee, Blum literally hand-picked Mark Yudof to succeed Robert Dynes as UC President. All in all Blum has been a guiding force in privatizing the UC since his appointment 7 years ago. Just as he specializes in leveraged buyouts and privatization of publicly traded companies, Blum seems to be practicing his same basic business philosophy on the university.

Blum likes to portray himself as an enlightened liberal businessman. He's friends with the Dalai Lama. He sits on the boards of the Carter Center and the Wilderness Society. He gives tens of thousands of dollars to liberal Democratic causes and candidates. He backed Obama's campaign for the presidency (literally, he's wearing the blue scarf in this photo).

But at the same time this is a man who made windfall profits off the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by investing in companies like URS and Perini, two multi-billion dollar contractors. This is a man who has invested in companies owning high-tech maquiladoras on the US-Mexico border where military components are built for the DoD.

Blum's personal wealth is immense. Invested primarily through his equity group, Blum Capital, his dollars trace a complex web through a multitude of companies and funds.

Years ago when UC students were challenging the Regents as managers of the nation's two nuclear weapons development laboratories Blum became a target of protests yet again. His majority ownership stake and Vice President position at URS Corp. directly tied him, financially, to the nuclear weapons establishment. At the time URS was being paid by the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory for construction and engineering services. This blatantly clashed with his role as a UC Regent, supposedly overseeing weapons lab as a public servant and deliberating on the future of UC-Lab relationship in an objective manner. Students revealed Blum's for-profit interest in Los Alamos through this corporation and forced him to quietly sell off his stocks and resign his position at URS. Reporting on this link by Keay Davidson at the SF Chronicle was so embarrassing that UC's Counsel had to issue a statement denying that this was a conflict of interest.

In the end the UC partnered with the Bechtel Corporation to put in a bid for the two nuke labs (http://lanl.gov and http://www.llnl.gov), successfully winning new multi-billion dollar management contracts. Blum divested from URS and denied any personal stake in the nuclear weapons enterprise. But two years after the UC-Bechtel partnership took over at Los Alamos a funny thing happened. Blum's former company URS bought a smaller construction firm named Washington Group International. WGI just so happened to be a junior partner in the UC-Bechtel team running Los Alamos (http://www.lansllc.com/about.htm). Thus while Blum made a modest exist from URS, URS made a big entrance into the US nuclear weapons complex as a de-facto co-manager of Los Alamos Laboratory. Blum's friend and URS colleague Martin Koffel explained the purchase saying "[it] positions us strategically in markets we think have very aggressive long-term growth profiles. That includes power and a very important prospect is nuclear."


In opposition to these shady deals that were stacking up between 2003 and 2007, UC students dug deep into Blum's business dealings, as well as those of other UC Regents and UCOP executives. What we found deeply bothered us (here's just one example). We did this research and fought this battle not only because we oppose the militarism, environmental racism, and imperialism that is synonymous with the UC's weapons labs, but also because we firmly believed, and still believe, that UC's management of the weapons labs since 1943 has had a most toxic and corrosive effect on the UC's governance. It affects all aspects of UC, from decisions on student fees to research policies, to the bonding of grounds and buildings and the selection of Chancellors and UC Presidents.

We adopted a simple but disturbing thesis: because UC runs highly secretive weapons labs; because these two labs are in fact as large in budgetary, employment, and physical terms as the average UC campus; because of the profits, secrecy, and power that is invested in the Regents as managers of the political-economy of nuclear weapons spending; the UC as a whole, under the leadership of its Regents, and Office of the President, became as much like a massive arms manufacturing corporation as a university. What shared governance we ever thought we had was hollowly betrayed by the fact that a few men, appointed by the governor to twelve year terms, wielded so much power. A tight knit, self-selecting group of men who have always controlled the core committees of the UC Regents (finance, investments, long range planning, and DOE labs) have dominated the Board's overall agenda. In recent years men like Blum, Gerald Parsky, and now Russell Gould, have steered the UC down a path that has advocated privatization through fee increases and all kinds of fishy links with business corporations. Through their alter-egos as bankers, lawyers, and capitalists extraordinaire, they have worked to buffer the state's regressive tax and spending policies, and helped devise the very austerity measures currently being hoisted upon the people of California across all public sectors, not just within the university.


One of the Regents' most important partnerships with a corporation is their for-profit Limited Liability Company formed with the Bechtel Group. In 2005 UC and Bechtel bid for the Los Alamos Lab's management contract. Eventually another UC-Bechtel LLC was created to manage the Lawrence Livermore Lab, LANL's twin ~$2 billion nuke facility.

At the time the reasons why the Regents were so willing to team up with Bechtel were perfectly clear. Bechtel was a Bush administration favorite, and with unrivaled connections in the Departments of Energy, Defense, and State, Bechtel consistently gets lucrative contracts.

But the personal and financial links that made this partnership happen weren't so clear. Subsequent research showed that then UC Chair Gerald Parsky had close links to the inner circle at Bechtel, most obviously through his mentor, George P. Shultz, the former Bechtel president (and still senior adviser) who ran Reagan's State Dept. and Nixon's Treasury Dept. Parsky worked for Shultz in the Nixon and Ford White Houses and later was handed a job at a prestigious Los Angeles law firm, again with help from Shultz. Shultz has kept busy in recent years as a professor at Stanford, a Hoover Institute fellow, and a key player in the Schwarzenegger administration's economic planning, and an important proponent of the "war on terror." So Parsky had a major friend at Bechtel through Shultz.

Thus when former UC President Robert Dynes' calendar was acquired by this researcher last year it was little surprise to see that Shultz's former lieutenant Gerald Parsky made the personal introductions between Dynes and Riley Bechtel. Over coffee at 50 Beale Street, Bechtel's San Francisco headquarters, the partnership was born.


But now the story gets even more complex, the threads more difficult to follow, the information even more disturbing.

It appears that Richard Blum has been a for-profit business partner with the Bechtel family and its closest associates for many years now, giving the UC-Bechtel link even more coherence. This relationship seems to have gotten off the ground in 1997 when Blum Capital and the Fremont Group bought into a little known company called Kinetic Concepts to the tune of $875 million. Kinetic Concepts is a medical technologies manufacturing company now valued at $2.4 billion. Blum Capital purchased 26% of the company while Fremont got a 40% stake.

Fremont Group is the Bechtel family's capital investment vehicle.

Fremont Group's major shareholders include the Bechtels, but also George P. Shultz (and a roster of many unnamed, secretive investors including members of the Saudi elite). Not to be out buddied by Parsky's connections to the "Bechtelians," Blum is not only doing business with them, he also appointed Shultz to the board of his UC Berkeley Center for the Study of Developing Economies. In addition to pooling their money together, Blum also steers the "liberal" Brookings Institution with other Bechtel-connected executives like the Fremont Group's president and CEO Alan Dachs.

Blum and the Bechtels have millions riding on Kinetic Concepts. Last year the company made an interesting comment in its Annual Report about the possibility of healthcare reform legislation coming before the Congress:

"The demand for our products is highly dependent on the policies of third-party payers such as Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and managed care organizations that reimburse us for the sale and rental of our products. If coverage or payment policies of these third-party payers are revised in light of increased efforts to control healthcare spending or otherwise, the amount we may be reimbursed or the demand for our products may decrease."

Kinetic Concepts is actively lobbying the White House to shape healthcare reform legislation. A recent AP article reports that "Joel Johnson, a lobbyist with close ties to Rahm Emanuel, appears to have met with his friend one-on-one in May," and that "Johnson, a partner at the Glover Park Group, lobbies for several health interests including United Healthcare Services Inc. and Kinetic Concepts Inc., a medical products maker." Kinetic Concepts has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last two years on lobbying to ensure that reforms do not cut into their profits. You can browse their lobbying activity here.

Tom Daschle, Obama's first choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, the man who was supposed to drive healthcare reform through the Congress, was also briefly a business partner of Richard C. Blum's. They sat alongside one another on the board of the largest commercial real estate firm in the world, CB Richard Ellis for a stint after Daschle left the Senate. Daschle later resigned from CBRE in 2008 in connection with his troubles gaining confirmation as HHS Sec.

Blum still controls CBRE.

And like any good political power broker and friend, Blum did invite Daschle to be on the board of his Berkeley Developing Economies center. Healthcare reform legislation very much resembling a handout to the insurance industry is making its way through Congress. The UC Regents just increased student fees by 32%. "Developing economies," eh?


Today on Demcracy Now! Naomi Klein stated that although Copenhagen's climate talks are occurring 10 years after Seattle's trade talks, the point of the upcoming street protests is not to disrupt the delegates, as was achieved with the WTO ministerial meeting in 1999. She claims that activists instead want heads of state to make an agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

However, is it this simple? Is any agreement better than no agreement? Are there possible state-led solutions that would make the problem worse?

A Reuters report today quotes an unnamed "US official" saying that the United States team "will propose an emissions reduction target" complimentary to legislation currently making its way through the Congress. The House bill proposes a 17 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2020. The Senate bill calls for a 20 percent cut. Many believe these goals are far too conservative. And how will they be achieved?

The US Congress is working on establishing a cap and trade scheme that will create a financial market for pollution credits and offsets, supposedly using "the market" to solve the problem. Cap and trade has very little support from independent economic and scientific analyst who favor a straight carbon tax.

Cap and trade schemes, however, will create huge opportunities for profit; Large financial corporations, oil companies, coal companies, and other defenders of the status quo support the kind of legislation that is likely to be passed by the US Congress within the year.

Taking this approach to Copenhagen could prove disastrous for the world by setting up an ineffective mechanism to reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously creating a financial carbon bubble the economic and ecological consequences of which could be catastrophic.

Perhaps a complete disruption of the talks would be productive if states are set to approve a global carbon market? May the protesters in Copenhagen be discerning!


More on anti-nuclear imperialism: California's nuclear nexus

In the coming December issue of Z Magazine Will Parrish, Nick Robinson and I are publishing an in-depth article detailing the historic origins of anti-nuclear imperialism.

We locate this strategy's intellectual and political foundations within several California based-institutions which are themselves deeply embedded in the Golden State's nuclear and arms manufacturing industries - thus the "nuclear nexus." We hope this piece isn't read as a conspiracy theory, but rather as a sociological account of how nuclear policy is made, by whom, and for what ends. This is power structure research.

From the weapons laboratories at Los Alamos and Livermore to the University of California, Stanford and its Hoover Institute, and corporations like Bechtel, we trace personal and institutional linkages developed over many decades and refashioned during the post-Cold War/9-11 transition. The current fad among elites to speak about nuclear disarmament is, we claim, part of a coherent strategy to de-emphasize nuclear weapons in US military force projection, so as to actually strengthen the United States in global diplomatic and military confrontations. Many moderates and conservatives will probably ask, "isn't this a good thing?" We think not. We identify the US as an empire and believe that the healthiest outcome of its current crisis of legitimacy and power will be a controlled decline, including a numerical and qualitative reduction of its nuclear armaments.

Among our main goals in writing this article is an attempt to redirect the politics of the US antinuclear field. To date too many NGOs, academics, and grassroots activists have been far too eager and uncritical in their invocation of the Hoover Plan, now Obama's plan in gestation for "nuclear disarmament."

Specifically, too many opponents of nuclear weapons have given the weapons laboratories, military, and allied corporations far too much leeway in preempting any rational, democratic policy to downsize and disarm the arsenal. The nuclear complex has been modestly successful in recent years circumventing any possible democratic process by pursuing expensive, long-term infrastructural investments in the bombplex of the future. We hope that antinuclear forces will begin to care more about the concrete plans underway at LANL, LLNL, Sandia and other sites, and pay less attention to the simplistic and abstract musings of elder US imperialist-statesmen.


Debating US Nuclear Weapons Policy

It was mentioned to me a while back that the National College Debate topic for this year is:

"The United States Federal Government should substantially reduce the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal, and/or substantially reduce and restrict the role and/or missions of its nuclear weapons arsenal."

A few people asked me to expand on my ideas about "anti-nuclear nuclearism," which clearly complicates the issue of whether the US should reduce its arsenal, and why those elites in control of the White House right now think this is the best path forward.

Instead of expanding on my previous stuff I'm posting a link to a recent paper that treats the question very differently. I hope the debaters find it interesting, if not useful.

The “Nuclear Threat,” and Other Mystical Approaches of Arms Control
This paper critiques inconsistencies and examples of avoidance in arms control policies and policy scholarship by approaching them as examples of mystification. Mystification serves to prevent critical inquiries into inequalities and forms of exploitation made possible through nuclearism, both within a nation state, and across the international system. It also serves to legitimate current policies by referring to unquestioned truths and assumptions. Demystification reveals how ideals and abstractions impede the attainment of critical consciousness and are barriers to the politicization of an issue. A reorientation of nonproliferation scholarship away from the state and elite foreign policy foundations and academic centers is proposed as a means of diversifying the study of human security in the nuclear age and making it relevant to broader constituencies.


Social control II

It's funny, sometimes the odd things rich people choose to impose on their own neighborhoods are the very same things forced on poor peoples neighborhoods. Certain forms of over-policing, for example.

In the Iberville public housing development, and therefore technically across all of New Orleans' public housing, it is illegal for anyone to loiter or even walk or drive through the development's property unless they either (1) live there and are on a lease or, (2) are on their way to a friend's apartment, and their friend must be a lease-holder, and must have explicitly invited them and take responsibility for them. If you don't fulfill these requirements then you are trespassing and can be arrested and taken to Orleans Parish Prison to rot for a little while.

Across town in Audubon Place, the posh gated community where some of the city's oldest and most venerable families live in palatial gothic and Greek-revival mansions, pretty much the same rules apply; if you don't live there or haven't been invited by someone who does, you are trespassing and will be whisked away to OPP.

The differences should be obvious though. In the case of the Iberville these strictures are imposed by the NOPD and Housing Authority. At Audubon Place it's the homeowners who hire private security and instruct the NOPD to carry out policing of space. At Iberville its about over-policing people's relationships and militarizing the environment against “crime.” At Audubon it's about protecting the wealth and status of those families who live within.

A while back I was stopped in the Iberville while waiting on a friend to come home. Today I was stopped again, this time while chatting with my buddy Sam Jackson on a sidewalk bordering the development. It's worth noting that Sam is a black man who lives across town in the BW Cooper public housing development. We were flying for Sam's organization, a housing rights group called May Day. Here's how it went:

Sam - So Darwin, I'll me you tomorrow and we'll come back over here again and flyer before the meeting? What time should I pick you up?

Darwin - Say 4pm or so. We'll walk through here again and do more outreach. I think we could pull a lot of residents over to the meeting if we approach them a couple hours before.

[NOPD cruiser rolls up. The cops wait for us to see them, but we ignore them and keep talking. The officer in the driver's seat calls out and points.]

Officer Smothers - You! Come here.

Sam - Me?

Officer Smothers - You! Get over here.

Sam - Who?

[After a few seconds we both walk over to his window.]

Officer Smothers - What are you doing back here?

Sam - I'm just handing some flyers out, we out here organizing Iberville residents and....

Officers Smothers - Do you live back here?

Sam - ...Uh, no, but see we're doing outreach and talking with the people who live back here. This is one of our fliers, see...? [Sam hands him an 8X10 sheet.]

Darwin - We're housing rights organizers. We are with May Day New Orleans and we're working with residents to improve....

Officer Smothers [looking at Sam] - Do you have permission form HANO to be back here.

Sam - Well we're just flyering and walking around talking to people.....

Officer Smothers - It's a yes or no question. Yes or no?

Sam - Well no sir, but....

Officer Smothers - You're trespassing. Get out of here. You're on HANO property and you cannot be here.

Darwin - Sir, if I could just explain - see....

Officers Smothers [looking at me] - Did you hear what I said? You are trespassing. Do you have permission from HANO to be here?

Darwin - Sir, if I could just explain, we have friends back here, we work with them. They know we're here....

Officer Smothers - Who!? Where!?

Darwin and Sam at the same time - [so and so] and [so and so] at [##] Conti Street and [##] Basin Street. The know we're here. The invited us....

Officer Smothers - Well you're not with them right now. You're trespassing. Leave now.

At this point Officers Smothers' patience was about up and I could tell if Sam and I pressed him further he'd just as soon take us to jail to prove a point, so after I asked him for his name and Sam asked if it'd be okay to walk to his truck on the other side of the development, we took off.

What strikes me about this situation is that the urban predators in government and the real estate industry who lobby so hard to tear down public housing often use the argument that the “projects” are “cut off” architecturally and in a planning sense from the rest of the city, and that this separation engenders crime and “lack of opportunity.” The plans that developers usually parade about when they want to demolish and build anew over public housing usually involve “reintegrating” the sites into the street grids. (This is big deal in the redesign of the demolished Lafitte just blocks away on Claiborne Ave.)

The police presence, however, belies the claim that public housing is cut off from the city in an architectural sense. The police actively patrol the projects as though it were a reverse kind of prison. They keep out anyone who isn't a resident, or at least they say they do, and they do it in the name of public safety and crime fighting. Furthermore, the architectural enclosures that do exist were installed by the police and Housing Authority in the name of crime fighting: tall metal fences that close in blocks of buildings, eliminating what people used to call the “cuts.”

What makes this whole situation very complicated is that if you talk with many residents it indeed turns out that most of the violent crime perpetrated in the development is the result of outsiders coming in. In the process of trying to keep a close eye on outsiders coming in the police tend to stop any white person in and around the projects, or any black face they don't recognize. Over the years the Housing Authority was able to institute draconian trespassing laws making it illegal for anyone to go into the development except under the circumstances outlined at the outset of this piece. How this is constitutional is beyond me.

The result is that the Iberville and similar places have been made into fishbowls by the police and HANO: people can look in and lament the problems, usually by blaming the residents themselves, but they're banned from going in and doing anything about it. Organizing is banned in a de facto sense because outsiders have been made illegal. Any organizing that occurs must be carried out by those who live in the development. The truth is that there's a lot going on inside the development, but anyone who studies social movements knows that outsiders are always an integral part of any community organizing drive, usually playing a supporting role and providing resources otherwise unavailable within.

In effect HANO and the NOPD have made organizing very difficult, if not illegal in Iberville. They've also produced a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the name of fighting “crime” they close off the whole development, criminalize anyone within who cannot account for themselves, and provide fodder for the real estate sharks, politicians, and ideologically driven planners who say that busting down the bricks and re-integrating things in an architectural sense is the solution.


Water, Water Everywhere

The New York Times' comprehensive database of Clean Water Act violators reveals a few of New Orleans' major non-compliant polluters:

1. The City of New Orleans[!]
2. Entergy
3. Bollinger Algiers, LLC
4. Bollinger Gulf Repair, LLC
5. Delta Terminal Services, LLC

Many of the refineries and chemical companies in the metro area have recent effluent violations and fines. More than a few have gone unfined, a trend of goverment laxity that the Times' points out.

A major New Orleans metro area polluter is Rain CII Carbon, LLC of Chalmette. The company has a 2007 "effluent violation" meaning they were caught illegally dumping toxins into the Mississippi River or groundwater. Rain Carbon is an interesting case. The Times' reporter who led this major study chose to focus on Clean Water Act violations in West Virginia in the expose published yesterday. West Virginia's water woes have a lot to do with the same business activity that Rain Carbon is involved in: coal/coke.

But New Orleans' particular environmental woes differ a lot from West Virginia overall. Coal is not our burden. Our burden is petroleum, natural gas, and the plethora of chemical products and byproducts that can be refined and manufactured from them. And according to the Times' database, in sheer terms of compliance with the Clean Water Act New Orleans' biggest regulatory problems seem to be landfills and auto werckers. The top violaters in N.O. are Central Auto Repair and Storage (16 violations), the New Orleans East Bank STP (15 violations), Old Gentilly Auto and Storage (11 violations), American Enterprise (10 violations), Gulf South Auto (10 violations), and so on....

Others illegally dumping toxins in our reigion's water include:

1. American Sugar Refining Co. or Arabi
2. Chemtura Corp. of Gretna
3. Chalmette Refining, LLC of Chalmette (with 9 violations!)

Not surprisingly New Orleans East has a major cluster of polluters including junk yards, landfills, and Lockheed's NASA facility. Many of them to have been found in violation of the Clean Water Act in recent years.

According to the Times' database, Shell Chemical's Norco facility "has been out of regulatory compliance 9 of the past 12 quarters," and has been assessed upwards of $999,999 in fines for noncompliance and illegal dumping.

Dow Chemical's Hahnville plant which recently leaked massive amounts of ethyl acrylate into the environment seems to be identified as "Union Carbide" in the Times database, referring to the corporation Dow purchased for $11 billion in 1999. Dow's UC plant in Hahnville is said to have "been out of regulatory compliance 5 of the past 12 quarters." Four effluent violations are noted, 1 in 2005, 1 in 2005, and 2 in 2006. The facility's EPA report can be viewed online.


Anti-Nuclear Imperialism: The New Face of Nuclear Armed Empire is Quickly Taking Shape

Since the Cold War's end elite strategists have become increasingly divided over the question of nuclear weapons. A hard core of hawks in the Congress and military, the nuclear weapons laboratories, and academia have maintained that a large, continuously improved arsenal, and an aggressive “nuclear posture” remain necessary for the “security” of the United States: arms control treaties and diplomacy be damned. Meanwhile, a growing number of reformers has argued that nuclear weapons pose more of a problem than a solution for the maintenance of US hegemony. The solution, they claim, is for the US to lead an open-ended campaign of global arms control diplomacy, beginning with Russia, but extending to all nations. This exercise of soft power, they hope, will legitimate and facilitate the aggressive nonproliferation measures —including sanctions, and war— that they believe are ultimately necessary to prevent the emergence of new nuclear states, and the spread of fissile materials into the hands of “terrorists.” Like their hawkish counterparts, the chief concern among this new nuclearist school is to prevent developments that would inhibit the reach and continued expansion of US empire.

The 1990s was an era of failures and half-measures for US nuclear policy makers on all sides of this debate. While Bush I implemented a ban on full-scale nuclear testing (which continues to this day) and while the START I treaty proceeded to eliminate a significant portion of the rival superpower's vast nuclear overkill capacities, major transformations were deferred in favor of what the Clinton administration, under the leadership of defense secretary William Perry, called a “lead but hedge” strategy. The US would ostensibly “lead” in the overall de-emphasis of atomic weapons, hoping that this would trickle down and dissuade lesser nations from acquiring nuclear weapons. Contrarily, however, the US would also “hedge” by maintaining an unrivaled nuclear arsenal and strike capacity, to say nothing of its increasingly gross conventional superiority in arms.

More so, the Clinton administration bowed to the core demands of the US nuclear weapons establishment by fully funding a multi-billion dollar scheme called Stockpile Stewardship and Management, a highly euphemistic program that proclaimed to safeguard the aging stockpile, but that actually built a virtual nuclear weapons research, development and testing apparatus at the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons labs. In the words of the Western States Legal Foundation's executive director Jacqueline Cabasso, it was essentially an “anti-disarmament program.” The qualitative improvement of the US arsenal proceeded in spite of stern warnings from a minority of imperial strategists who warned that this would seriously undercut the long-term goal of nonproliferation. It would constrain the exercise of military force by opening the US to claims of hypocrisy in security matters. The 2003 invasion of Iraq represented the nadir of this confused and controversial imperial strategy.

Funding for nuclear weapons actually increased in the 1990s surpassing the Cold-War average. Even so, the US nuclear weapons complex sank into mismanagement, scandal, and a severe crisis involving the atrophy of both the facilities and institutional culture of the labs, both necessary to the nuclear enterprise. It has been a figurative meltdown, especially at Los Alamos Lab, the proverbial plutonium pit, or core, of the entire US nuclear establishment. Several high level commissions were chartered by the Department of Energy and Congress to address the crisis, all with the understanding that the continued possession of nuclear weapons and their fundamental role in military planning were not to change. These commissions, known variously as the Foster Panel and Chiles Commission (named for the men who chaired them) pushed hard to unleash the US weapons labs from the constraints imposed against aggressive development of new nuclear weapons and against testing by proposing reforms, and demanding ensured streams of funding and independence. Securing some of their demands, they ultimately failed to solve the underlying cause of the crisis facing the US nuclear weapons establishment. The scope of their reports fell short of questions pertaining to the geopolitical strategy of the US, and the role of nuclear weapons within it.

The United States nuclear weapons establishment has been torn between a contradiction in the needs of American empire. On the one hand, the empire has utilized nuclear weapons since the end of World War II to project overwhelming, unrivaled American power across the planet, securing for its titan corporations zones of exclusive exploitation, and safeguarding the consolidation of capitalist globalization. However, the contradiction built into nuclearized state power from the very beginning has been that the acquisition of just one nuclear weapon with an effective transcontinental delivery system, survivable and “secure” in the ways that US strategist mean when they talk about the “security” of their own missile topping fusion bombs, would provide a true deterrent force for lesser states against superpower aggression. Since the 1970s many “undeveloped” nations have acquired, in theory, the technical and bureaucratic capacity of produce a nuclear arsenal. Some, like Pakistan, have even gone nuclear. Since the fall of the USSR several more states have decided to proceed with building up their nuclear energy and weapons capacities as counter-forces against domination by the world's major powers, their own version of the “hedge” strategy.

Caught in this contradiction —the need to threaten other nations with its nuclear “deterrent,” but also to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, an eventuality ensured by its own possession of nuclear weapons— US strategist have scurried about in frustration to find a solution. About the only thing going for the US nuclear weapons establishment over the last two decades has been the demise of the anti-nuclear movement and the absence of any serious, mass-based opposition to atomic weapons and energy.

The eight long years of George W. Bush are widely seen as a wasted era even among the nuclear establishment's leaders. The administration's bellicose and unilateralist foreign policy, combined with the push to develop new, “more usable” weapons like the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator and the Reliable Replacement Warhead, is credited by many foreign policy elites and arms control advocates as having exacerbated the empire's proliferation crisis without having even successfully delivered these new arms. Furthermore, the Bush years failed to produce a solution to the crisis facing the nuclear weapons complex. After a round of privatization which put 96% of the US nuclear weapons complex under for-profit contracts with a cartel of nine variously partnering corporations, and an ambitious plan to “transform” the entire complex into a meaner and more flexible machine, the weapons labs continued to slide, skills and knowledge atrophied, morale plummeted.

As if in preparation for the more methodical and tempered Obama administration, four elder Cold Warriors penned a now famous essay for the Wall Street Journal in January of 2007. In it, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn called boldly for global nuclear disarmament. Portraying themselves as non-partisan leaders of a major coalition, these four have articulated a new nuclear strategy for the United States, one that is heavy on disarmament rhetoric and chock full of practical, aggressive steps to prevent the spread of weapons technologies and fissile materials. It is a blueprint for the survival and expansion of a nuclear-armed US empire far into the future. Their message has not only found wide support among the foreign policy elite, it has also swiftly outflanked the entire field of disarmament and arms control NGOs, many of whom have fallen over themselves to praise the Wall Street Journal manifesto and to join the metastasizing campaign these four men are leading in the name of “a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Shultz and Kissinger, Perry and Nunn, two former secretaries of state, a former defense secretary, and ex-senator, all have unparalleled experience in fitting nuclear weapons into the wider military and diplomatic policies of the United States.

Kissinger launched his career as a realist strategist by writing an influential book in 1957, the main argument of which was that nuclear weapons should be de-emphasized in US military strategy to provide a more free hand in the full exercise of US conventional military, economic and political power.

Shultz, a former president of Bechtel corporation, the largest nuclear weapons and energy contractor in the world, was Reagan's secretary of state and thoroughly involved in nuclear policy making through the 1980s.

Sam Nunn chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee and authored a highly influential bill aimed at dismantling much of the former Soviet Union's nuclear weapons and converting its fissile materials into commercial reactor fuel. Nunn is now chairman of the influential Nuclear Threat Initiative, a quasi-state agency NGO that works closely with the US on nonproliferation issues.

Perry, former secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, is a board member of the two for-profit corporations owned by the University of California and Bechtel which operate the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons labs. Most recently Perry chaired the Congressional Commission on America's Strategic Posture and co-chaired the Council on Foreign Relations' Task Force on US Nuclear Weapons Policy.

Both of these commissions released their final reports in May of this year, virtually coinciding with the release of the Obama administration's nuclear weapons budget. The two reports call for an extension of the “lead but hedge” strategy, albeit with a rhetorical and political emphasis on increasing the perception of US restraint and concrete steps toward disarmament. Perry and his fellow commissioners are unequivocal about the US keeping its nuclear arms well into the distant, imperceptible future, writing in the CFR report for example: “the geopolitical conditions that would permit the global elimination of nuclear weapons do not currently exist.” Obama's budget proposal concurs, more or less in numerical terms, funding work on nuclear warheads at the usual levels (about $6.4 billion).

A UN gathering to prepare for next year's review conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty recently concluded in New York, and a discussion has begun to grow around the prospects of US Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an arms control regime that was formally rejected by conservative Republican leaders in 1999. Steps toward US ratification are being promoted by new nuclearist thinkers as a means of strengthening the US position going into the NPT Review Conference. The desired result of CTBT ratification would be to create the perception of US restraint, thus enabling it and other nuclear armed nations to push their nonproliferation agenda over the much more popularly supported agenda of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The NAM has also called for general measures to stem the further spread of nuclear weapons, but has foregrounded far-reaching, verifiable, and immediate steps toward nuclear disarmament by the US and Russia and the other major nuclear powers. The NAM has gone further, calling for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, a goal that immediately calls for cessation of nuclear cooperation with Israel and non-transfer of nuclear weapons to Israel.

Many of the foreign policy elite, especially those who feel most adamantly that the Bush years were wasted and that they actually imperiled the imperial project, see many of these recent developments in the US as an immense possibility to turn the corner and implement a smart, far-reaching US nuclear strategy, one complimentary to the extension of US hegemony. While they're still being digested by politicians, military leaders, and weaponeers, it does appear that an emerging new majority is coalescing around what can only be described as a policy of anti-nuclear imperialism.

Anti-nuclear imperialism is a possible solution to the core contradiction of empire in the nuclear age: the need to maintain and threaten use of nuclear weapons (ultimate power), but the simultaneous and opposite need to prevent rivals from attaining parity, and lesser states from acquiring this form of power themselves, and finally to prevent the possibility of nuclear attack by a non-state agent, a terrifying asymmetrical threat. Anti-nuclear imperialism begins with the use of strong, moralizing disarmament rhetoric by leaders of the imperial power. Based on this, the imperial state then must take steps to create at least the perception among as many states as possible that it is restraining its own nuclear arsenal and working with the other great powers to dismantle weapons systems, all ostensibly moving toward disarmament. This in turn is meant to facilitate and legitimate any and all means to prevent most other states from acquiring nuclear weapons or even the capability to produce nuclear weapons. By de-emphasizing nuclear arms, these strategists hope to actually boost the overall military superiority of the US, far above and beyond its current powers, which ironically have become constrained in some ways by its continuing possession of these weapons in the post-Cold War era. The end goal is to maintain a balance of power under US hegemony and to tighten the ring of control around nuclear technologies and fissile materials.

This strategy is now in full effect against Iran. Dennis Ross, the Obama administration's “special adviser” for the Persian Gulf, has described the current posture toward Iran as “engagement with pressure,” where by US diplomatic entreaties are designed entirely to strengthen the hand of the US for future economic sanctions and eventual military action. At the center of Washington and Teran's disagreement is the geopolitical question of the region's immense petroleum reserves, who will control them, who will profit from them. Iran's steady acquisition of an independent uranium enrichment infrastructure with other developments such as the refinement of long range ballistic missiles has slowly turned the Islamic Republic into a virtual nuclear weapons state. “Engagement with pressure” has one simple addmitted goal. According to Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, two former national security council staffers who have spoken to Ross and other Obama administration officials at length about their Iran strategy the White House is hoping to legitimate aggressive military actions to maintain the nuclear status quo. As Ross explained to them recently: “if Iran continued to expand its nuclear fuel program, at some point in the next couple of years President Bush’s successor would need to order military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets. Citing past “diplomacy” would be necessary for that president to claim any military action was legitimate.”

Sam Nunn has laid these plans out clearly in various speeches, and through the George W. Bush years his NTI organization incubated the ideology and practice of anti-nuclear imperialism. The election of Obama portends the adoption of anti-nuclear imperialism as the official state policy. Nuclear disarmament, which Nunn identifies as a “distant mountaintop,” is the rhetorical goal that must be committed to by US leaders if intrusive and ultimately belligerent actions are to be justified under the pre-text of thwarting “nuclear threats” to “civilization.” The concrete and immediate steps that receive the bulk of attention and resources under this strategy will involve aggressive actions to prevent any game changing developments such as the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran which could challenge US and European control over the indispensable hydrocarbon reserves of the Persian Gulf region, to say nothing of the ongoing status quo in Palestine where a nuclear armed Israel, backed by the US, and with the complicity of most Arab monarchies, ignores the majority of world opinion with indifference.

William Perry, in his Chairman's Preface to the freshly printed Congressional Commission on America's Strategic Posture writes that;

“...the ultimate goal of global nuclear elimination would require a fundamental change in geopolitics. Indeed, if the vision of nuclear elimination is though of as the “top of the mountain,” it is clear that it cannot be seen at this time. But I believe that we should be heading up the mountain to a “base camp” that would be safer than where we are today. I also believe that getting the international political support necessary to move to this base cap will be greatly facilitated if the United States is seen as working for the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons [....] The base camp concept serves as an organizing principle for my own thinking about our strategic posture, since it allows the United States to both lead and hedge.”

If history is any guide, the “base camp” is the actual goal to be achieved by pursuing an anti-nuclear imperialist strategy, while the “distant mountaintop” might forever remain a perpetually receding dream. Steeling themselves for the hike to this base camp, Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn gathered with President Obama at the White House on May 19 where Obama aptly vouched their trusted responsibility saying “I don't think anybody would accuse these four gentlemen of being dreamers.” Obama praised them as “hard-headed, tough defenders of American interests and American security.” and credited them with helping to “inspire the policies” of his administration with respect to nuclear weapons. The men adjourned following an affirmation of elite unity from Schultz on the White House lawn. Schultz told the press, “we think the effort is of such and nature and such an importance that it kind of rises above what ought to be partisan in nature. There's plenty to argue about and plenty to study and work on, but let's do it on the merits of the subject, on a non-partisan basis.” After two decades of stumbling against a seemingly insurmountable contradiction in American empire, Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, Nunn, Obama, and many more seem to believe that they are forging a new majority around a new nuclear strategy. That they have been able to neutralize and even enjoin the support of many antinuclear organizations in this clever imperial strategy is all more reason they might succeed.

Only time through struggle will tell.


Watering the Tree of Authority

Back in the gloomy days before “hope” (Bush's first term), sometime after the invasion of Iraq, the president flew to California to give a speech on the state of the US economy. It was May of 2003, I think.

I remember some details of the day very well. (A colleague and I even wrote about it a few days afterward.) A carload of hippies, anarchos, punks, and commies (myself included in there somewhere) had driven to Santa Clara and attempted to march on W's event and hold a protest. Bush's people flew into the San Jose Airport and were whisked in an armored motorcade across closed Bay Area freeways at high speed. My friends and I walked with about a hundred other antiwar protesters toward the spot we knew he'd be: the United Defense plant, an arms manufacturer.

We got about two hundred yards from the entrance when we were met by Santa Clara's finest. The cops donned full body armor and carried not only the usual weaponry (handguns, mace and tazers) but also sleek black katana swords and three foot staffs made out of some indestructible polymer - beat down sticks. I remember a horse mounted officer plowing his animal into us. It whinnied and bit my friend's head. Bush's handlers parked a bus perpendicular in the street between us and the plant's entrance ensuring that we couldn't see the motorcade arrive, and Bush wouldn't see us.

I have similar memories of Bush motorcades speeding through the streets of post-Katrina New Orleans. I saw W's entourage on two separate occasions. The last time his black sedans and SUVs sped over the Industrial Canal and I think I caught a glimpse of Laura Bush gazing out a Chevy Suburban window. It was hard to tell from so far away.

Each time I remember the president's appearance being defined by a very militaristic police force, beating back the crowds that might gather and preventing us from getting within much distance. I never even tried getting into the carefully managed events his administration would hold from time to time - imitations of town hall meetings and listening sessions. With respect to that day in Santa Clara, getting into the weapons factory by posing as a right wing war supporter wasn't even and option. Security was always heavily armed and paranoid around president Bush. Looking back I can only imagine what would have happened had I toted any kind of weapon to a protest, let alone a firearm. I imagine the police and secret service would have found some excuse to arrest anyone armed with more than a protest sign or a pithy anti-Bush t-shirt.

This is why seeing so many men, mostly white men, across the nation bringing loaded weapons out to protest events where president Obama is scheduled to appear has thrown me for a serious loop. I attended a lot of antiwar rallies during the Bush presidency and I cannot remember a time when I saw any protestor carrying a firearm. I do remember in San Francisco seeing young black masked anarchists tossing newspaper machines through windows and otherwise getting rowdy, but the president wasn't within a thousand miles of that.

How is that it's suddenly okay for anti-government protesters to pack heat in the crowd? Would this have ever happened during the Bush years without the armed citizens being arrested or at least escorted far away from the event? Did it ever happen? I'm not sure I can recall one instance where a citizen brought a gun anywhere near a Bush event.

The confluence of the birthers, the rabid response to health care reform, ascendant right wing populism, this obsession with "socialism"... it seems we are seeing the violent patriarchal underbelly of America on display. I reckon though that we're only seeing a tiny fraction of what's out there. I often debate people about just how conservative and reactionary Americans really are. I think too many folks have taken the election of Obama as a sign that the nation has progressed, that young people and people of color represent the mainstream now, and that this mainstream is good and gentle and bends toward social justice. A lot of commentators are calling these gun-toting men examples of a "delusional" America. It's the same as all of those who laughed at the McCain-Palin campaign and chalked up its defeat to the irrational and backward attitudes of its supporters, who wer are told are a dying social breed. Perhaps they are, but might it not be true that liberals who think they're now in a majority are in fact the ones deluding themselves.

A prediction: as times get tougher (and they're only going to get tougher over the long-haul) we're going to see strong reactionary movements in the US. They will be violently xenophobic, racist and misogynistic. They will act like a toxin to divide the working class. They will be strongest among the white middle and working class. It will be peculiar kind of facism, one that claims to not trust the state, but which eminates from social groups who have controlled the state throughout American history and used it to prop up their privileges and feed their consumerist lifestyles. People are going to die. It will not be pretty. It's coming soon.


"They Can Have It"

I was standing in line for the next teller in the bank the other day when a familiar face walked right up behind me. I turned slowly and looked at her. Yup. “You're Rose Jefferson,” I half asked and half said.

“Uh-huh.” I could tell by the way she was looking at me that she was trying to place my face somewhere back in her memory.

“I'm Darwin. I helped you clean your apartment a couple years back. We put that generator on your neighbor's porch; Sam and I changed the locks and gave you all keys, and, well damn we lost didn't we? But we put up one hell of a fight.”

Rose was a resident of the CJ Peete (a.k.a. Magnolia) housing development, one of New Orleans' big four public housing neighborhoods that was demolished in 2008. She was the strongest and most stubborn of CJ Peete's tenants that I can remember. Rose and quite a few others resisted demolition of their homes almost till the very end. They had reoccupied their apartments on several occasions and cleaned them up with help from organizers like me. I remember her telling me she raised two kids in Magnolia. I can still see the bedrooms in her apartment with their big wooden bed frames fit tightly into little comfortable rooms. Her place, right on the development's south side fronting Washington Avenue, hadn't flooded in the storm. When we came by one day in 2006 to clean mold off the walls and floors we were wiping up small patches of rot that was pretty much entirely due to the fact that the Housing Authority had locked people like Rose out of her home.

Rose asked me, “what are you up to these days?” I told her I was doing the same old stuff, trying to help public housing residents fight for affordable housing in the city. She smiled and said “okay.” I couldn't tell if she thought I were foolish or headstrong. Perhaps both. She always seemed like a hard-headed realist to me. Rose fought for her home and for her community until she saw the writing on the wall. A lot of CJ Peete's residents did. But when the City Council vote ensured demolitions, Rose and others pulled back from the demonstrations, meetings, and direct actions. Life is a struggle and people constantly measure the risks they take against their chances of success. When the game is up, it's up. People know when to take a different path and pick new battles.

I asked Rose, “are you going to get one of those new apartments their building where Peete was?”

She growled, “oh no! I'm not trying to mess with that no more.”

“You still live over there though?”

“Yeah, I'm still back in the neighborhood [Central City around Washington and La Salle] but I don't want nothing to do with that new development. They can have it.”

Rose is like a lot of public housing residents, from the Desire to St. Bernard, who have been so abused and harmed by the Housing Authority and the developers that they have given up. The authorities and redevelopment corporations promised them happy, new “mixed-income” neighborhoods, but only after being locked out of their homes for years, followed by mass demolitions, several more years of planning and reconstruction; in the end the new developments will only take on a small fraction of the former residents. Many tenants will simply not qualify for a public housing apartment in the ridiculously named new urbanist villages companies like Columbia Residential are building.

Many more like Rose so distrust the Housing Authority, the developers, and the city at large that they have given up on believing in a democratic city. They've moved on to struggle quietly against the odds, for now.

[Note: "Rose Jefferson" is not her real name. A pseudonym is being used to respect her anonymity.]


"god" comes down to earth one night

“god” comes down to earth one night, surreptitiously. A man walking down the street approaches. “god” heard through the great eternal grapevine that the humans, some of them with airs, wrote book claiming “God” —some big benevolent and ass kicking white guy in the sky— made them in his image and did a bunch of other crazy and messed up things like kill his own son to teach the humans... okay, enough of that, you get the point, probably cause you're one of them whether you want to be or not. It's a crazy boat you're in, human. The ideological goop is so thick it sticks to you no matter if you try to shake it off.

So “god” is here to check out the results of what then has to be the most narcissistic culture ever produced. The only problem is that nature, the great eternal unwinding fantastical grapevine, has a lag time, of a couple thousand years at least. Humans are really good at telescoping things, speeding them up. so “god” don't know anymore which “God” to even look for.

god [now in the form of a human being, how's that for irony?] walks right on up to the man approaching and says, “hey, uh....” Well, yeah, what do you say? How do you begin a conversation about some really heavy stuff, your species being, the identity, and the future of “civilization,” on the street, at 10pm, while this poor guy is probably headed home? The stranger, a human being, does what any well-adjusted person of this culture, time, and place would; he looks slightly curious, annoyed, suspicious, pulls out some change and hands it to “god.”

“Here buddy.” He walks off.

Yes, curious, annoyed, suspicious, pulls out some change, and hands it to the stranger, who he doesn't know is “god,” by why should that matter anyhow?

god concludes that had she created this culture she'd sooner kill herself. Then again she just might be doing that. Thank god, or God, or whoever that culture isn't nature, it's man and woman made and unmade and changeable, and we really could get rid of money and all the other creepy spooky monsters holding us back from really good free living.


Social Control

Scene: me sitting on a stoop in a back alley parallel to Conti St., Iberville apartments, New Orleans, USA (the USA part is important).

Pigeons are pecking at the mud around the driveway while smaller birds dart among them. A young man washes his car a few doors down. Across from him a woman sits talking on her cellphone. It's bright and sunny. I'm leafing through a notebook waiting for a friend to arrive. My friend lives in Iberville, the city's last big traditional public housing development. We work together on housing rights and economic rights issues.

A police cruiser pulls up in front of me. The officer, slouched down comfortably in his seat removes his ray-ban glasses, looks out of the corner of his eyes and gives me a hand signal, his fingers barley curling back while his palm pulls toward his chin, like some Marlon Brando tough guy godfather beckoning "come here." I can hardly hear what he actually says, but it's something like "get over here."

"Good afternoon officer."

"What you doing back here?"

"Excuse me?"

"Where do you stay at? I don't recognize you. Why are you here?"

"I'm waiting on a friend."

"You're trespassing."

"Um, this is public property and I'm waiting on a friend. We have an appoint...."

"This is private property. You're trespassing. You have ID? Give it to me."

[I pull out my license and hand it to officer so-and-so who instantly begins running it.]

"You ever been to jail."


"For what? Drugs?"

"I don't do drugs. Do you do drugs?"

[Officer so-and-so don't like that one, he looks over at me square in the eyes.]

"You're trespassing. This is not public property. It's private property, HANO property. You understand that?"

"The Housing Authority is a public entity. This is federal land. I understand that there are restrictions, but I came back here to meet a friend who lives here. There's nothing illega...."

"You're trespassing. Look, I ain't ever seen you back here before. People who don't live back here only come back here for a few things, and they ain't good. How do you know this, er, your friend? What's their name?"

"We work together. Her name is _______"

[Officers so-and-so pulls down a big list from his sun visor and begins scanning it. Police who patrol New Orleans public housing developments have complete lists of the lease holders and other authorized residents. If you're not on the list or you don't know someone on the list, you'll be taken to jail for trespassing. He finds my friend's name and seems annoyed that I'm telling the truth, but still rolls the idea of arresting me over in his head a few times.]

"What do you mean you work together?"

"I'm an organizer. I work on housing rights issues. For example, last I checked this is the United States and we have a constitution, and it guarantees freedom of association. Some would say you riding around arbitrarily stopping people you don't recognize and running their IDs and telling them they're 'trespassing' is a violation of the freedom of association...."

"Look, you might have some fancy words for all this stuff, but you're trespassing and I don't arbitrarily enforce any rules. It applies all the same to everyone...."

"Okay, so do you cruise around Uptown pulling people over for being in certain neighborhoods, and do you ask them for ID and who they know who stays back there? Do your rules apply to people who live in those new fancy apartments they just built up off Tulane Ave.?"

"How'd you get here, you walk?"

"I rode my bike."

[His computer pops up my record which is clean as a whistle, thank goodness. He hands me back my ID.]

"I've been working back here twelve years. You have no idea the kind of stuff that happens back here. I see someone new, I'm going to stop them."

"I've been stopped by you all back here before. Each time it's the same. Maybe if there weren't so much energy put into making this place like a prison, and more put into keeping the grounds nice and providing good, affordable housing there'd be less crime, then you could take it easy...."

[Iberville swarms with police. The development is slated to have dozens of "crime cameras" installed soon. It's trespassing laws are only the tip of the iceberg so far as the social control mechanisms in place that make living it it very difficult. Other developments have even stricter rules banning music outside, drinking on your porch, banning guests after certain times, and holding residents responsible for litter on the grass in front of their buildings. My friend and I have actively campaigned for the repeal of these draconian laws. Residents can be evicted over things as simple as littler or a misdemeanor drug offense committed by a family member. Over in the Guste development I once met a woman who was afraid to change the head nozzle on her shower for fear that she would get in trouble during her inspection.]

"I don't know about that but it sounds like something you should fight in court. Out here the rules are the rules, the law is the law."

"I can imagine, that sounds fair enough. I appreciate you're concern and the work you do keeping residents safe from outsiders, but don't you think...."

"Look, watch yourself."

[Officer so-and-so drives off. Around the corner some young-dumb white boy with a scenesterish mustache is passed out shit-faced drunk in a gutter between two cars. He's wearing a tight fitting red dress, tennis shoes, and is drooling a mighty pool. Police cars and an ambulance are arriving to carry him off. Another tourist who wandered off Bourbon St. and across Rampart]