Saturday, February 11, 2012

Capitalism's Titanic Iceburg: We've Seen This Movie Before

            (A version of this appears in the weekend version of Counterpunch online at:          
  I’ve always hated Superbowl Sunday: 
*the eating as anesthesia for the painful post- holiday spending spree; 
*the guilt-free mindless enjoyment of a gladiator match;
  *the circus-like way it distracts a dying empire’s masses from taking real action concerning the very real screwing they endure (apologies George Carlin). 
It reminds me of the big foundation-funded movements against (insert your pick of: war, fracking, anti-choice assaninity).  Lots of sound.  Lots of fury.  Lots of egos attacking everyone else’s efforts.  Lots of losses.  
So, it seemed fitting that Titanic was the entertainment offering for house-bound people trying to avoid the past weekend’s ritualized numbing.  Particularly since frack-threatened areas are busily rearranging the deck chairs while sending out push messages to contact this bribed legislator, that compromised official.   
Snobs go home.  James Cameron’s screenplay appealed to tweens and then some because it speaks the language of teetering capitalism’s truth:
“...RUTH: Will the lifeboats be seated according to class? I hope they're not too
ROSE: Oh, Mother shut up!
                      (Ruth freezes, mouth open)
ROSE: Don't you understand?  The water is freezing and there aren't enough
boats... not enough by half. Half the people on this ship are going to die.
CAL: Not the better half.
              PUSH IN ON ROSE'S FACE as it hits her like a thunderbolt....”

I’ve seen this movie before.  
New Orleans.  
For the ABC affiliate, I produced a mini-documentary series on oil-company engendered coastal erosion.  That year the New Orleans Sierra Club rewarded me with a tin cup award (shared with Ron Ridenour of the Indy weekly Gambit) for telling a story that the other corporate media had been too timid to tell.  I actually received a phone call from Garland Robinette telling me how brave I was.  That was like getting a call from New Orleans television royalty.  So, of course I spat at him, “You grew up here.  Why didn’t you do this?”  He stayed on the phone.   I like Garland.
Aside from garnering the negative attention of the oil thugs, and playing at the Worlds Fair on a kiosk at the Fish and Wildlife service area, nobody paid much attention.  Certainly not the policy makers.  Big Easy people who counted were busily planning all the arsons that would bring ATF crews down multiple times and fuel a new real estate boom around the former fair site.  While news crews focused on the crying, swearing old fire chief as each old warehouse burned, plans were afoot to recreate a new version of the warehouse district.  
Who knew the New Orleans media would stay as lazy and fearful as ever?  The dirty energy magnates did.  The nation’s newsrooms, funded as they were by advertising revenues instead of performance, winnowed out virtually any vestige of journalism.  So the cannibals looked northward after destroying the 50 + miles of marshland that could have absorbed 50 feet of flood surge.  All those ruined refineries.  All those jobs lost.  Guess they’ll have to rebuild Southeast Texas/Southwest Louisiana someplace north.  Hmmm.  No wonder they’re planting visions of plastics factories in farmland relatively unscathed by the last time industry romped this continent unbridled by unions and regulations.  No wonder they finance their malfeasance with an  ‘energy plan’ too good to be true.  
I’ve seen this movie before. 
Already, tony environmentalists in Ithaca are saying that if they can’t defeat fracking, it will mean that everyone has to pay an extra bill--for ‘safe’ water.   Water bills are a very political matter.  As Tulane University Political Science Professor Oliver Houk once explained, “If you live Uptown (wealthy area) you get Kentwood (bottled water).  If you live Downtown (poor area) you get cancer.”  Already it is looking as if Cooperstown (the same village that sold their lake water for use in fracking Pennsylvania a few years back) is not above cutting deals to protect its well-heeled residents.  
Why establish a land trust and then let anti-moratorium contributors disrupt meetings about such things?   Read how the man who snatched my video camera from me (thus preventing me from completing my post-meeting cutaways and interviews)blames me for ‘provoking’ his admitted crime.  Scroll down from the video on Shale Shock Media--and read his comments.  After admitting that he snatched a video camera out of a journalist's hands, he then brags about how his ridiculous wealth makes it all okay.  And watch a better version of that video that counts how the anti-moratorium thugs tried to bully their way in that meeting.  Most of those people don’t even live in my town.  But that didn’t keep the guy from filing what I consider retaliatory charges of harassment against me.  Let’s hope I won’t be singing any Anne Feeney songs anytime soon (love ya Anne!). 
Cooperstown (or Ithaca?) as New Orleans to the rest of the Southern Tier’s Chalmette, dawlin’?
It’s enough to make a less well-heeled Otsego County resident say, hmmm, well if they frack here, I say FRACK COOPERSTOWN FIRST!  (It’s not like the residents defended Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins’ rights anyway.)  
I’m joking.  Because people driven insane like to laugh.  And because there is a quiet mutiny underway among the grassroots environmentalists.  I saw hints of it during two activist excursions I videotaped this winter in Albany, and a White House protest I covered this Fall that culminated in the Tar Sands pipeline ‘victory’ when Obama delayed approval.
  Key members of the anti-fracking grassroots are not feeling listened to, respected, cherished for anything but numbers needed for the cover shots of top-down orchestrated actions.  
*The Albany OCCUPY people who felt they were disrespected by the more well-heeled arrivals on the busses as they stood in the ‘free speech zone’ for the prom queens to parade past the tame chants about fracking en route to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State (wide auction).   
*The failure to include other agricultural products (besides Ithaca area bread from area grains) in the attempted delivery of goods threatened by fracking to a foodbank of Emperor Exxon Frack Cuomo’s choosing.  
*The hard-fought place on the ‘lobbying day’ dias for fasting activist Patrick McElligott.  
*The failure to invite to the same dias "Frack Man" Abram Loeb, who was very instrumental in fighting the first ploy to turn central NY into a wasteland via the ‘Don’t WASTE NY’ campaign 3 decades ago.
*’s Bill McKibbens’ entreaty to Sierra Club types not to give the stink eye to OCCUPY DC (McPherson Square only--Freedom Plaza was noticably absent).  
*The strange looks from people wondering why I’m fundraising to start a CSA to promote the problems with fracking with each delivery I make to fracked or frack-threatened areas.  How dare I ‘compete’ for funding when there are plenty of disgruntled former NYPIRG workers hanging out the collection cups for their own anti-fracking groups?
I’ve seen this movie before.
After being fragged out of NOLA’s ABC affiliate for reorganizing the AFTRA chapter, I became PR Director at New Orleans City Park.  “Who’s your mama?” is not a friendly inquiry, I learned.  It’s a push back into your caste.   I could do the organizing for the fundraising, but it would be an oil executive’s wife who took the credit for saving the antique wooden carousel there.  I don’t mind obscurity so long as my goals are met.  But grassroots activists aren’t having their goals met.  And they’re watching the big enviros blow the chance they’ve sought for decades to make the conversion Cuba did off dirty energy.  
Cuba’s seen this movie, too.  
Only they learned its lesson.   Because, unlike former U.S. elected leaders,  Fidel Castro doesn’t kowtow to the dictums of the Powell memoranda that shackled free thought in U.S. higher learning.  
That is why Fidel (can I call him Fidel?)  bravely summarize the work of leading scholars at Duke and Cornell Universities honestly, directly, on January 4th in Granma:  
           "...These results bring into question the energy industry's reasoning that shale gas could replace coal in electricity generation 
                 and lower greenhouse gas emissions, to help mitigate climate change.  
               It is too premature and too risky a venture.
                 In April 2010 the U.S. Department of State set up the Global Shale Gas Initiative (GSGI) to help countries identify and 
                 develop their unconventional gas resources safely and economically, with a view to furthering U.S. economic and commercial 
                 interests, including those of U.S. multinational corporations.  I have inevitably been extensive; I didn’t have any other option. I 
                 am composing these lines for the Cubadebate website and Telesur, one of the most serious and honest broadcasters in our 
                 suffering world....”
Fidel’s pronouncement on hydrofracking was part of  a brilliant article entitled “Marching Toward the Abyss.”  He wrote it New Year’s Eve.  I can imagine that each New Year’s eve for him is an amazing moment.  This time, he realized this was the 50th anniversary year of the October Missile Crisis of 1962.   In two long sentences, he evoked the dignity of the revolutionary people of not just Cuba, but the grassroots people in various movements including OCCUPY.  Castro placing his article in contemporary context by honoring the grassroots players in a manner U.S. leaders of all sort should emulate: 
                               “My words would have no sense if their objective was to impute some of the blame on the American people, or those of     
                   any other country allied to the United States in this unprecedented adventure; they, like other peoples of the world, would be the            inevitable victims of the tragedy. Recent events in Europe and at other points demonstrate the mass indignation of those for  
                   whom unemployment, scarcity, income reduction, debts, discrimination, lies and politicking are leading to protests and brutal
                   repression by the guardians of the established order....”

Imagine if the big enviros would stop hemming and hawing about OCCUPY-like actions--stop qualifying their RIGHT to be part of any action?  It might happen.  Outside an election year.  If you ever get a chance to join the Cuba Caravan of Pastors for Peace, you’ll hear some variation of this phrase:  U.S. citizens will need to change the way they think before we can ever see human needs truly met.  
What a script that would be!
It hasn’t yet been written.  
But can’t you see it already?
If we’re really going to become a democratic country, we need to change the way we think.   The well-funded national environmental movement must change the way it thinks about such events.  Those planning functions and inviting us to gather round, listen, carry bread, signs, and help lead chants have to start expanding the discussion.  Don’t get me wrong, there were great strides made by all parts of the anti-fracking movement.  But, in the words of the late Dr. Mickie Edwardson, a U.F.  a graduate media professor relaying the results of her first test: “I love you all.  You need to do better.’ 
And the big enviros could do no better right now than to listen to seasoned, battle-scarred activists like Patrick McElligott and his friend Abram Loeb.  Patrick has some history with fighting big money interests who want to despoil New York ecology and culture.  Some fights he won.  Some he lost.  Both have developed a comedic sense for the absurd that is sorely missing from the earnestly organized pleading with politicians.   Patrick McElligott is used to having his cause ignored by the likes of the Cuomos--but not Robert F. Kennedy, Jr..                               
            In the 1980s, Governor Mario Cuomo’s administration might have sent NY State Police to block a local gravel company from stealing despoiling  an Indian mound in his home town of Sidney.  Agents associated with Clark Stone Products, a key player in the local Marcellus fracking play now, did this in the middle of a court trial over the legality of shredding ancient remains for spreading to cap a superfund site.  Obscene, right?  It gets worse.  The superfund site was created by Amphenol (nee Bendix--corporations are people, after all) , a weapons manufacturer.                                                                                                                                                        
          Back then, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was instrumental in getting a deleted page of a key report to McElligott.   Now, Kennedy seems to have signed off on letting the less capitalized areas of New York state be ‘test-fracked’.  It’s as if we haven’t learned what happened in the fracked areas Josh Fox’s GASLAND exposed--or read any newspaper attempting to cover the sell-out and devastation since in Bradford County, PA and elsewhere. 
           Let’s hope we won’t have to wait for a new movie before our Cuba-esque awakening.