May 31, 2011

American Revolutionary Principles (1 of 3): Representation and Consent


“The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations…This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”
That’s implicit aristocrat John Adams himself admitting that 1788 has no inherent authority, but must be judged according to the Spirit of 1776. That’s typical of how the American Revolutionaries themselves, however far they later strayed from this original spirit once power became theirs, retained enough self-awareness and integrity to recall it. In my previous posts on the Federalist papers and other constitutional subjects I’ve argued that this primal American spirit is now the authority for positive democracy; that the American Revolution was an integral part of history’s ongoing democratic movement, and that today the ideas and logic of this revolution and of this movement give us the right and the mandate to push ahead to true economic and political democracy.
Today I want to sketch this out further by revisiting three core aspects of democratic philosophy as they developed during the first phase of the American Revolution: representation and consent, constitution, and sovereignty. I’ll again draw on Bernard Bailyn’s great book The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. (This post is a brief introduction to my argument.) Bailyn has done a great job of assembling in one place a compendium of revolutionary thought as it quickly evolved in the course of those pivotal years. The best thing about the book is how Bailyn smugly sets out to prove that the US system he knew in the post-war era was the Best of All Possible Worlds and the End of History (his later appendix on the 1788 “Fulfillment” proves this intent), but how he really proves the opposite – that nothing established under the 1788 regime has any intrinsic legitimacy, but must be judged according to the ideals and aspirations of the 60s and 70s. If we look at these institutions, we see how far short they fall of living up to this judgement. We see how the revolution’s task was only partially fulfilled and will not be complete until we have true democracy.
So what does this revolutionary logic say about representative government? Summary: “Virtual representation” has no authority, and nominal representation in Parliament doesn’t necessarily have authority. So there’s no necessary reason any representative form would be authoritative and legitimate. By the American ideology, representative government has no compelling principled logic. It stands or falls according to empirical observation, how well it works in practice.
I’d say we have enough evidence. This form has failed in practice. If it wasn’t enough that at best representative government was a never-ending ordeal of attrition versus corruption, abuse of power, and creeping economic tyranny, we now endure the agony of full-blown kleptocracy. I’d say a system should get only one chance to prevent the cancer of kleptocracy before we judge it a failure.
No one can seriously argue that this government is any more responsive or accountable than virtual representation was in the 1760s. Indeed, things are far worse now. As small as the pro-American opposition in Parliament was, it was still a recognizable, vocal group which forced its ideas into the mainstream British consciousness. Today, is there even a single discernable voice in Congress or anywhere in government on behalf of the people? Let alone a group which has to be reckoned with? On the contrary, this “representative” government presents a united front against the people. When we still see reformists, it boggles the mind how they propose to even start getting “better representatives”. It’s representation itself which has proven to be flawed. And as it turns out we also have the testimony of the 1788ers themselves on how they conceived the republican form as a subtle bulwark against the people and in favor of parasite rule. So if you don’t believe me on the inherent anti-democratic nature of representation, will you believe James Madison?
So that’s the summary of how representative government is not an American principle but only a practice; and how this practice is empirically observed to fail. Let’s go over the history.
In America, the transformation in thought occurred very quickly, over the course of two years in the mid-60s during the Stamp Act crisis. (We can look to this example with optimism, as we see how quickly these changes in thought can take place.) Historically the representatives to Parliament were originally delegates sent by localities to petition the King. These delegates, called “attorneys”, were tightly bound to represent only their specific constituencies, which placed restrictions on their authority.
By the 17th century the House of Commons underwent an ideological shift. It now claimed to represent the general interest, with each member representing the empire as a whole. The intent of this was to abrogate accountability and disenfranchise ever greater numbers of people. As democratic ideas spread and the population of the empire increased, Parliament wanted a way to prevent the interests of people and their ideas from getting access to the legislative body. One answer was to deny that representatives actually represent anyone in particular. Speaker Onslow’s proclamation that “Instructions, therefore, from particular constituents to their own Members are or can be only of information, advice, and recommendation…but not absolutely binding upon the votes and actings and conscience in Parliament” was typical of the Parliamentary thought of the era. This was soon elaborated into the ideology of virtual representation. Now even the act of nominally voting for a representative who nominally came from a constituency became incidental. Since each member of Parliament “represented” the entire empire, no one in particular needed to even have a nominal representative. This justified the lack of nominal representation for subjects beyond the home island such as the American colonists.
This shift to unaccountable government in Britain was one of the wellsprings of the American Revolution, as the colonists reacted to this travesty. The colonists “drifted backward” (Bailyn) to more responsive concepts, toward political localization. They considered “virtual representation” top be philosophically offensive. They also developed a rationalistic theory for how closer, more tightly bound representation is better than a far-flung, centralized system. They saw how a faraway central government was more likely to be a taker from than a giver to what was logically an autonomous region. There we have precedents for our own rational assessment of the Washington system (let alone bodies like the WTO to which Washington wants to abdicate). A typical response was the way the Boston town meeting would write detailed instructions for Boston’s delegates to the colonial assembly and demand that these delegates adhere to these instructions.
So the colonists always rejected virtual representation as absurd. A typical reaction was Daniel Dulany’s judgement that it was “of facts not true and conclusions inadmissible.” Their contrary rallying call was, “No Taxation Without Representation.” But this slogan quickly became a bluff, because as soon as the colonists became embroiled in the Stamp Act crisis, they also rejected the prospect of receiving nominal representation in Parliament. They rejected this on the grounds that England was too far away for constituencies to remain in effectual communication with delegates, and because the colonial delegation would always be heavily outvoted. So nominal colonial representation would merely give the British a propaganda victory but change none of the substantive political facts. When Grenville interrogated Franklin and the other colonial agents on whether or not the colonists really wanted Parliamentary representation, the agents admitted that this was a slogan but not a practical demand.
So according to the American Revolution, not only is virtual representation unacceptable, but nominal voting rights and representation also isn’t sufficient to legitimize government. If there’s anything which renders representative government legitimate, it’s not the act of voting. (BTW, let’s remember that the 1788 Constitution doesn’t guarantee any right to vote at all. It only says that to the extent states grant the privilege of voting, they can’t discriminate on the basis of race, gender, and a few other categories.)
In fact, the Americans had no principle of representation, but a purely practical view: Does it protect freedom against the encroachments of power or not. They asked practical questions like, Is there an identity of interests between representatives and people? Some colonists started out conceding that even virtual representation may make sense within Britain itself but could make not sense given the interposition of an ocean. But the consensus quickly moved to calling this absurd, and that representative accountability ought to be the practice everywhere including in Britain.
Arthur Lee called British theories of representation “witchcraft” and scoffed, “Our privileges are all virtual, our sufferings are real.” We should therefore offer up only “virtual obedience”. This sounds topical today. The American position was summed up well by John Joachim Zubly:

every representative in Parliament is not a representative for the whole nation, but only for the particular place for which he hath been chosen. If any are chosen for a plurality of places, they can make their election only for one of them…no member can represent any but those by whom he hath been elected; if not elected, he cannot represent them, and of course not consent to anything on their behalf…representation arises entirely from the free election of the people.

[So how do all our representatives end up representing corporations? And what does this imply about “elections” with extremely low turnout? These both refute the alleged legitimacy of our “representatives”.]
This refutes today’s Senate, at the least. Given the facts of class conflict, it refutes the House and all other centralized legislatures as well. Here we can again consider how well any representative system has worked in practice. We’ve seen little but the endless war of attrition as economic rackets gather power, encroach on liberty and democracy, cause economic chaos, reform wins some victories, and then the racketeers creep back. Reformists and diehard believers in representation want to doom us forever to this permanent war of attrition. Can we call this worthy of human beings? On the contrary, it’s demeaning beyond tolerability. And when we consider that the reformists advocate this endless suffering solely out of solicitude for the continued existence of these criminal rackets, we can see the fundamental evil of it. The historically proven attrition, the Rule of Rackets, examples like Madison’s admission of the structural scam: This all sends us back to the revolutionary principle of concentrated power as the existential enemy of liberty. According to this principle, and according to the historical record, we have the proof that representative government is at least a failure, and usually a scam.
The power/liberty dichotomy itself contained a half-baked notion which was superseded by the development of the revolutionary consciousness. This was the theory of separation, that power was the concern of elected representatives, liberty that of the represented. This was contradicted even then by the consensus demand for representatives to be tightly bound by their constituencies. Today we know that this separation is unnecessary and illegitimate. It’s neither logical nor practical. The people can and must exercise both power and liberty. There’s no longer to be a distinction between the “representative” and the “represented”.
Similarly, the theory of the “balance of powers” had its basis in the allegedly god-given roles of monarchy and aristocracy, their right to exist and the natural balance between them. The American Revolution definitively rejected king and nobility (the French Revolution went on to call being a king a capital crime), but 1788 retained the Constitutional derivatives of these. President and Congress are the residue of king and nobility. This is really an anachronism. This secularized version of king and nobility has no greater validity, legitimacy, or necessity than the religiously-based king and nobility.
Getting back to our chronology, the colonists moved rapidly from uncertainty over binding their representatives with instructions to assertive affirmation. Arthur Lee declared that only “corruption” denies that representatives are to be bound and must be “trustees for their constituents”. William Wyndham found that this close binding of delegate to community “must have begun with the [primal sovereign] constitution…an ancient and unalienable right of the people”. Constituents have “an inherent right to give instructions to their representatives”. Even future hardcore 1788er and “Federalist” James Wilson said in 1774 that representatives are mere “creatures” who must be held “accountable”.
If we accept this, then logically we have to accept more tightly bound and recallable delegates, if the empirical evidence is that these will be more accountable, while “representatives” are unaccountable. Just as the Americans rejected king and aristocracy, so we must reject their 1788 derivatives and move on to the final stage of democratic evolution, positive democracy. Meanwhile, we have to see a kleptocracy controlled by corporations and the rich as only the most threadbare nominal “representation”. In reality, it might as well be the resurrection of virtual representation as doctrine and practice.
[I’ll add an idea here but leave the development for some other time. As a creature, a representative is an artificial, contingent thing just like a corporation. The responsibility (not right), accountability (not independence) of each is the same and must be enforced, or else the artificial program must be discontinued.]
So it followed that the assembly must reflect those who voted for it, and must change as they change, for example as population rose. Here’s another example of the anti-democratic design of the Senate and bad faith of the 1788ers. In drawing up the scheme for the Senate they were repeating the King’s old refusal to increase the size of the colonial assemblies with population growth. Jefferson and others had considered this a major grievance.
Through all this the American Revolution arrived at a new theory of consent. Locke had said consent only needed to be given on election day (Rousseau scoffed at this), and at the supreme crisis moments of rebellion. But the Americans were working toward a more direct, participatory democracy on a permanent basis. The implicit principle is that direct consent is needed at all times, not just special times. This dovetails well with the power/liberty tension, since the necessary citizen vigilance against power can be maintained only through everyday democratic participation.
The first phase of the Revolution didn’t follow through on these implications, but settled on a concept of representation more accountable than the British concept, but still maintaining it as a “substitute for legislation by direct action of the people”. This implicitly admitted that direct democracy is the ideal, and merely claimed that accountable representation could function better in practice. Therefore representative government is legitimate only if it truly and effectively provides such a substitute. If it is unable or unwilling to do this, it dissolves itself, and we must move on to true, direct council democracy.
Representation was never anything more than democracy’s regent, meant to nurture ever-expanding democracy until this could fully flourish on its own. Today we the people are ready to take the full democratic responsibility upon ourselves, while the regent has abdicated and degenerated into a usurper. For both these reasons, we have and want no other choice but to walk the path of positive freedom and democracy.

May 30, 2011

Farm Bill Preview


It’s that time again. Farm Bill season is upon us! It’ll actually be an agonizing, protracted process; the unlamented previous House Agriculture chairman Colin Peterson had wanted to get much of the work done in 2011; new and unwanted chairman Frank Lucas says there’s no hurry. The thing probably won’t be done before the election, and maybe never.
At any rate, we’re off to a stuttering, smoky start with the first official hearing in the Senate committee last Thursday. Ag Secretary Vilsack promised or threatened that the next Farm Bill will be “smaller”. This echoes the previously congealed conventional wisdom. Although most of the rhetoric has focused on cutting the direct payment program, we know that favorite targets will also be the crumbs for relocalization, small farmers, organic production, sustainable practices, and other things which got some modest support in the 2008 Farm Bill. These are already being targeted by the crafters of the Appropriations Bill. Since the price tag for these is negligible compared to Big Ag subsidies, which so far remain sacrosanct even in budget-cutting rhetoric, we can assume that here as usual the deficit terrorists are lying. Once again they’re using deficit fear-mongering as the pretext to gut miniscule programs which could possibly help rivals to corporatism, while this gutting is then portrayed as real action on the deficit. But the real corporate welfare gravy train continues unabated.
We went through this same palaver about cutting subsidies in 2007. The reason direct payments (first instituted in the 1996 bill as a “temporary measure”) are the whipping boy right now is because whereas some subsidies adjust inversely with the market price of crops, direct payments are fixed regardless of the recipient’s prosperity. So even as prices soared, recipients continued to receive fat welfare checks.
Nor are these welfare barons necessarily farmers. Especially where it comes to wheat, rice, sorghum, and cotton, many or most of the payments are rents going to absentee landowners, not farmers.
Cotton brings up another issue likely to be the subject of lots of sound and fury. In 2009 the WTO issued a judgement against US cotton subsidies on behalf of Brazilian cotton interests. What was the US response to this? Pure corporatist Tower of Babel. To preserve the cotton subsidy, the US government bribed the Brazilian interests with a $147.3 million annual payment. (Yes, decline-and-fall-of-empire watchers, they’re paying tribute.) This tribute is also funneled through the provisions of the Farm Bill.
In general, trying to keep maximal subsidies while still maintaining the structural integrity of globalization will be a juggling act for the Farm Bill crafters, just as it was in 2007-08. (Indeed, Bush claimed his veto was over this very issue. The real reason remains mysterious; it’s hard to believe Bush sincerely wanted to cut corporate welfare.)
Meanwhile the administration gives no reason to think that “smaller” will mean better or is even true. In practically the same breath Vilsack again talked up ethanol. And an earlier USDA “fact sheet” said the administration wanted to transition from land baron direct payments to helping them develop “the emerging market for environmental services”. We already know to reach for our revolvers when we hear that Orwellian term, and sure enough here they specifically mention the carbon sequestration scam and corporate wind. Imagine what kind of welfare will be made available for these boondoggles!
(Actually, corporate wind farms could be a good infrastructure to build if we the people have any reasonable plan for eventually socializing them and converting them to local/regional power provision. Since they’ll be built with public money, we’ll own them right from the start. So is that part of the strategy, and in that case do we abstain from commenting on wind corporatism, or even support it?)
One other issue is the baseline spending for the myriad programs. The stupid Democrats spent 2010 assuming they’d reached consensus on a baseline for the Farm Bill. For some incomprehensible reason they thought they’d keep the House, even after how viciously they assaulted their own voters. Now the Republicans will want to cut more. This is the wrangle that may push the bill beyond 2012.
One thing both Reps and Dems agree upon is cutting the miniscule but worthwhile Farm Bill programs. As usual, they’re equally malevolent in principle, but the Dems are more timid in practice, wanting to gradually chip away while the Reps want sweeping cuts.
So there’s the basic lay of the land as we enter the Farm Bill process.
I’m ambivalent about the whole thing. My default is to think we should have nothing to do with big federal legislation. But at the same time, I figure that the legislative consensus on maintaining the corporatism of farm policy will either stand or not, regardless of what happens with the small pro-democratic (organic, sustainability, relocalization) programs. The funding for these is very small, yet it still provides real help for real people engaging in real projects. We try to do a little every day. And as the funding is small yet the feel-good propaganda potential is high, advocates like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) are able to make decent progress in getting these programs into the bill.
So the Farm Bill isn’t exactly like the sham finance bill, which was pure propaganda, or the health racket bailout, which was a reactionary assault whose alleged “reforms” would obviously never be enforced. With the Farm Bill we have the corporatist status quo which will either continue or fall apart on its own (no citizen advocacy will ever persuade Congress against its inclination to vote down corporate ag welfare), while we also have a large number of small but real benefits.
Well, that’s my way of saying I haven’t made up my mind ahead of time. It looks like we’ll have a long time before we have to.

May 29, 2011

Corporate Welfare, Austerity, and Public Sector Unions

Filed under: Disaster Capitalism, Neo-feudalism — Tags: — Russ @ 5:39 am


Since I put some thought into this intended comment at Naked Capitalism and it got eaten, I’ll post it here instead. It’s about the right viewpoint on public sector unions. Anarchists want to get rid of government, so it follows that we also want public sector employment and its unions to wither away. The jobs which are potentially real should become citizen jobs, those which aren’t should cease to exist. All unionism should be anarcho-syndicalist.
But that doesn’t mean getting on the austerity bandwagon. On the contrary, we who really want to shrink government must focus our counterattacks on corporate welfare and welfare for the rich. The state employee bloat is peripheral. Indeed, for tactical reasons we need to stick up for any non-rich group, statist or not, who is in a death struggle with the kleptocracy.
So here’s the comment I was replying to:

The comments here have become totally lunatic. Of course these people are not going to attack Greece.

The underlying issue here is how to run an economy from a fiscal point of view. The conventional wisdom is that what you need to do is balance the budget across the business cycle, that is, deficit in recession, surplus in boom.

There’s a lunatic chorus here which seems to think that all you have to do is get your own central bank and print as much money as you feel like.

Well, its been tried. It always ends in tears. The problem with Greece is not membership of the euro. The fiscal policies Greece was following would have ended in a crash regardless of whether it were in the euro. You simply cannot have a public sector with the salary and pension arrangements they had, and finance it from borrowing as they did. It is not sustainable, and what cannot be sustained will not continue.

What was going on in Greece was looting. Of course what went on in the US prior to the recent crisis was also looting. Looting is not the sole province of the banks. Any group that has a chance will loot. They will use the government to do it at every opportunity.

Whether Greece is inside the euro or not, makes no difference. The country cannot afford that public sector or that level of spending, so it will come to a stop. They may have the finest revolutionary tradition in the world, its going to stop. Their problem is too small an economy to finance what they would like to be their lifestyle.

[The part about “attacking Greece” refers to the possibility of an actual military attack. While that may be an outlier idea, given our historical circumstances it’s certainly not “lunatic” to consider the possibility, even if only to quickly reject it.]
“The underlying issue here is how to run an economy from a fiscal point of view.”
Yes indeed. So what do the system’s actions prove?
“The conventional wisdom is that what you need to do is balance the budget across the business cycle, that is, deficit in recession, surplus in boom.”
Uh huh. And who does any part of this in practice? It was deficit in boom, and that really confuses cause and effect since the financialized “boom” was simply a criminal spree subsidized by the government. There hasn’t been any actual economic growth in decades, just the bloating of debt and bubbles.
Meanwhile, we still have an ever-escalating deficit binge in the incipient depression. It’s just that this government bingeing is nothing but looting the real economy and handing over the loot to organized crime. So the real economic effect of the deficit spending is to starve, certainly not the beast, i.e. the parasite, but the host, the people and the real economy themselves.
It’s the worst of both worlds: A counter-stimulus debt binge. That’s because it’s aggressive wealth and income redistribution from those who produce to worthless parasites.
Which leads us to this:
“The fiscal policies Greece was following would have ended in a crash regardless of whether it were in the euro. You simply cannot have a public sector with the salary and pension arrangements they had, and finance it from borrowing as they did. It is not sustainable, and what cannot be sustained will not continue.”
Certainly the public sector unions comprise a power structure patronage base. All this government bloat is parasitic as well. (Although I don’t know why a statist like yourself would complain about that.)
So now the elites want to liquidate this portion of their base (just like they’re liquidating all others; doesn’t seem very strategically sound to me). But they’re not proposing to reduce government spending the way deficit fear-mongers claim to want. Any money “saved” by liquidating the public sector unions isn’t going to be restituted to the taxpayer. It’s merely going to be redistributed upward to the gangsters. The Wisconsin budget isn’t trying to cut spending, but redistribute it from public workers to corporate welfare. It’s the same in Washington and everywhere else.
The morality of this is clear enough – government workers do at least some kind of work, while corporate elites are purely destructive parasites. So if a tax dollar has to be extracted and spent at all, morally better on teachers than on banksters.
In addition anyone who cares about that “conventional wisdom” you adduced above would recognize that government spending on worker salaries and benefits will circulate into the economy vastly more readily than handing over the loot to rich parasites who will just hoard it. So as a practical matter, anyone who believes in this system and who cares about “the fiscal point of view” would have to agree that if that tax dollar is going to be extracted at all, it’ll go to far better use being spent on public sector employees than on corporate welfare.
As for government spending being reduced in an absolute sense, the record proves that almost no one who claims to want that really wants it, since anyone who really wanted that would start with the bailouts, the wars, weapons spending, Big Ag subsidies, and the rest of corporate welfare and welfare for the rich. Only once all corporate welfare had been eradicated would one then turn to the relatively miniscule spending which can actually help people.
The fact is, citizen advocates against corporatism like myself are the only people who truly want to shrink government. For example, wanting the abolition of corporations (artificial, high-maintenance extensions of the government) as such is a litmus test for one’s position on Big Government.
“It always ends in tears.”
What could possibly bring more and worse tears than the ones already being inflicted by the criminal status quo?

May 27, 2011

Toward A Sustainable and Democratic Agriculture


What’s the real nature of our agricultural system? As this paper argues, “Agriculture was not designed to be sustainable.” It was designed to support colonial and later corporate empires. This is why it has always emphasized maximum commodity production.
That’s why this is true: 

But those seeking to ensure food production in a post-oil future must first explicitly acknowledge that agriculture was never designed to be sustainable – not ecologically, not economically, and not socially sustainable, at least for primary producers. It would be a coincidence of miraculous proportions if agriculture would be sustainable, simply because it was designed to do things which are incompatible with sustainability. Thus, efforts to adjust, refine, or otherwise tweak contemporary agriculture to sustain productivity are starting from a flawed design. 

Once again we see that reformism cannot work, because the problems we have are not the result of “abuses” of an otherwise sound system. We’d be trying to reform something which is structurally flawed. To promote on a large scale the kind of agriculture which does not, for example, export massive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus generating hideous environmental problems, is to promote not a reform but a revolutionary transformation.
You can’t render something sustainable which was designed to be unsustainable. As steady-state economy guru Herman Daly puts it, if something’s designed to be an airplane, you’re not going to be able to retrofit it as a helicopter in midflight. As they say, “You can’t get there from here.”
For agriculture, the goal is a transformation to post-oil production. It will have to be relocalized and decentralized. Food markets have to return to their natural local/regional basis. We’ll be unwinding much of the processing infrastructure. Organic production will be necessary but not sufficient, as not just farming inputs but the entire system of farming need to transform. We have tremendous work to do. Even basic research and education is in a parlous state. (Compare how Cuba was able to swiftly take advantage of longstanding research into organic production with minimal fossil fuel and other imported inputs when the collapse of the USSR cut off its oil subsidy. This was a perfect example of the right ideas already laying around, ready to be picked up. But from what I gather few outside Cuba have bothered to study what they’ve accomplished in the last 20 years.) And farmers will need to survive the entire revolutionary process.
This leads to the political implications of the transformation. Agronomy has proven that small and mid-size organic production is comparable to corporate monoculture under normal circumstances. Under conditions of adverse weather (which will become the norm as climate change progresses) organic outproduces corporate. And organic is in a far better position to maintain caloric output in the absence of cheap fossil fuels, while corporate production would immediately suffer catastrophic failure. So this establishes that we need tens of millions of small and midsize organic farms. But this cannot happen under the existing political and economic dispensation. Therefore, even if one is ideologically willing to buy into land propertarianism, on a practical level we can no longer afford such a luxury. If we want to continue eating post-oil, we have to move to a land dispensation based on food production stewardship. You will the end, you will the means.
I add that under such a dispensation, where anyone willing to work has access to the necessary land, we’ll achieve, for the first time in history, a society of fully employed autonomous and cooperative workers, all enjoying full control and use of what they produce. This economic democracy will in turn offer the most healthy environment for true political democracy to also finally come into its own.
Today’s agriculture is dependent upon the basic subsidies of cheap oil and environmental externalizations, as well as how the economically unviable farmers, really terminal sharecroppers, are carried by taxpayer subsidies. If any of these props fails, and they’ll all soon fail, the corporate system collapses.
Meanwhile, organic farmers receive almost nothing in return for the environmental (and sociopolitical) services they provide. On the contrary, they’re expected to fend for themselves amid the hostile depravity of the massively subsidized commodity system. 

if every farmer had had to absorb all of the costs routinely externalized on farms today, many common practices would be unimaginable because they would be prohibitively expensive;

and if farmers were paid for all the downstream benefits society receives from ecologically sound management, such as clean air and water, robust and functional biodiversity, and food free of pharmaceuticals, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and human pathogens, many practices common on organic farms would be ubiquitous on conventional farms as well…..

Why Will Organic Become Mainstream? Organic will predominate in the future because:

Rising energy costs will preclude continued reliance upon energy-dependent inputs. Synthetic N alone currently accounts for about 40% of the energy budget of grain crops, encouraging a shift toward biological N fixation, but also toward less extreme levels of labile N.

The rising costs of ‘fixing symptoms’ created by ecologically dysfunctional production systems will demand less intrusive, more ecologically sound approaches. For example, the weeds promoted by simple crop rotations will be viewed as a symptom of an unsound system, rather than as a problem. The solution then is not just to kill the weeds which will just reappear next year, but to strategically design rotations and other practices to narrow the weed niche.
Organic practices are designed to internalize costs of production, reducing or eliminating the off-farm impacts objectionable to society.

To illustrate the concept of internalizing costs, stockless organic horticultural farmers surveyed by Clark and Maitland (2004) actually marketed hort crops from a given field just 4 years in 10.

In effect, they sacrificed hort crop income to grow hay, grain, or other service crops to add or scavenge N, suppress weeds and pests, and improve the soil. Organic practices are designed to internalize costs which are routinely externalized by conventional farming. Organic farmers do not ask society to absorb the cost of antibiotic resistant bacteria entering the food chain (Martinez, 2009) or endocrine-disruptor impacts on stream organisms (Orlando et al., 2009) or birth defects deriving from biocide use (Winchester et al., 2009).

As reviewed by MacRae et al. (2004), EU nations subsidize ecologically sound management exactly for this reason – to pay farmers for the extra costs incurred in order to internalize costs of production. Farmers are paid for societal services beyond the market-driven premium paid by individuals. Thus, ecologically sound management will be advantaged when input costs become prohibitive, and when society rejects the costs externalized by contemporary farming. 

In addition to the practical truth of that, there’s another moral argument for the Land Recourse. Farmers, and particularly organic (or would-be organic) farmers have not been paid for their services. They’ve been robbed by the assaults and coercions of corporate agriculture. Therefore, farmers as a group are owed a vast reparation. The corporatized and otherwise enclosed land should square it. (This applies to every other kind of bankster and corporate crime; and it applies not just to practicing farmers but to all of us, insofar as we become the farmers/growers/relocalists civilization must produce.)
The wide adoption of organic production won’t depress yields even under today’s conditions, as the science has proven over and over: 

When studied systematically, however, organic yields can be quite comparable to conventional yields, particularly after the 3-5 year transition interval. In MD, USDA researchers (Cavigelli et al. 2008) reported 6-year yields in corn, soy, and wheat under conventional (no-till and chisel plow) and organic management (2, 3, and 4 (+)-year rotations). Organic corn yield in the longest rotation was 24% lower than from conventional yield, an effect which was attributed largely to insufficient N and weed control issues (73 and 23% of yield reduction, respectively). Organic soy yield was 16% lower than conventional, but wheat yield did not differ between systems.

After the transition interval, Pimentel et al. (2005) found no difference in corn yield or in soy yield between conventional and organic systems in a 21-year trial conducted in PA. Similarly, over a 9 year interval in Iowa, Delate et al. (2008) showed no significant difference in yield for corn, for soy, or for wheat yields when grown in conventional versus organic systems.

Clearly, organic management is able to provide on-farm N and pest control comparable to what is purchased off-farm in conventional systems. However, it must be noted that the longer rotations typical of organic management mean corn may be grown once in 5 or 7 years, compared to in alternate years in a typical corn-soy rotation.

Thus, total corn production in 10 years time will be much less in an organic system….

Furthermore, organic and low-input yields reportedly already surpass conventional yields in the Third World (Badgley et al. 2007). According to the UNEP-UNCTAD (2008), the issue in the third world is not ‘how to feed people’, but rather, ‘how to end poverty and hunger’. Organic farming is viewed there as an enabling or empowering vehicle for social change and development, not just a way of producing food. How you frame the question predetermines the range of possible answers. The answers to ‘how to end poverty and hunger’ are quite different from ‘how to feed the world’. 

The lower corn production is a feature of greater overall food production, as most corn isn’t grown for human food, but goes into gas tanks, to sweeten junk food, and to provide feedstock for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Replacing this complete waste of calories with sound farming methods will result in a greater net production of food for people. More on that below.
Like I said, all that referred to today’s circumstance of still relatively cheap oil and phosphorus, as well as the temporary zombification of the depleted soil with synthetic fertilizers. But none of these conditions will hold for long. We’re on Peak Oil’s “bumpy plateau” of production, but within the next few years the production decline will begin in earnest. Peak Phosphorus also looms. And the soil cannot long withstand being constantly jolted into productivity with ever-increasing applications of synthfert. (The same dynamic prevails with pesticides and herbicides, both also rapidly hitting the wall of diminishing returns, both also dependent upon cheap fossil fuels.)
The answer to questions about feeding the world is clearly that corporate agriculture will soon be unable to do so, while only relocalized organic and defossilized agriculture will be physically able to do so. As said in the final sentences of the quote I gave above, the real question isn’t physical but political. Will Food Sovereignty win its political struggle? This will decide whether or not the world will continue to eat. Food Sovereignty is physically capable of feeding the world, and nothing else is. (And as always we should remember that if Food Sovereignty wins out, we’ll be putting vast amounts of arable but unproductively hoarded land into production.)
So only decentralized organic production can be sustainable. And what is sustainability? As the paper laments, the term hasn’t received a clear definition, and has been eroded and often denuded. (See here for Walmart’s “sustainability” scam, a typical example.)
For a rigorous definition, we can start with physical facts: A sustainable system will not be dependent upon fossil fuels or global distribution networks. Nor can it be dependent upon any other input which depends upon either of these. And while so far we’ve gotten away with trashing the environment, nature’s payback is gathering force, and we won’t skate much longer. Agriculture has to exist within nature. Therefore no agricultural system is sustainable if it flouts the ways of nature, let alone assails them. But our corporate agriculture does nothing but flout and assault. So corporate agriculture is unsustainable.
I’ll go further to say that since corporate agriculture is the result of inherent corporate logic, it follows that any agriculture within a corporatist context will be unsustainable. So corporations in themselves and any economic system based upon their logic cannot coexist with our continued ability to eat.
Therefore, while it’s not clear that the moral imperative of economic democracy is part of the definition of sustainability, we reach the same conclusion by the practical route. The physical sustenance of civilization depends upon the establishment of economic democracy, including the abolition of corporations.
(I’ll add that even if that weren’t true, even if practical sustainability could in theory coexist with economic tyranny, it would have no legitimacy unless it sought accord with the goal of destroying this tyranny. Nothing is legitimate other than within this moral context. I’d say any definition of anything which isn’t subsumed in the framework of seeking democracy becomes moot, since it would then be objectively pro-criminal and unworthy of humanity.)
So we have the basic definition and facts. But the picture isn’t yet complete, since organic inputs in themselves aren’t sufficient for the transformation we need. I mentioned above how it was irrelevant that organic would produce less corn over a ten year period, because we’ll need to transform much of our cereal based agriculture to something radically different anyway.
Today’s organic agriculture is still largely based on production for the global system, often on commodity crops, and therefore is part of the metabolic rift between the land and where the waste goes (and the fact that such “waste” exists at all). It’s not even remotely as bad as corporate agriculture, but it’s still in significant ways “agriculture” as we know it. It’s not sustainable.
To complete the vision of how to feed the world, we need to apply the principle that agriculture must cooperate with nature, not fight it. In North America especially, this means moving away from large-seeded annuals like cereal commodity crops, and toward grassy perennials. This will be integrated into a system of rotating crops and pasturage. 

[E]cologically sound agriculture – including organic agriculture – will necessarily rely less on annuals and more on perennials – with a central role for grass-fed livestock. And let me re-affirm that this does not mean less vegetables, as these account for barely 2% of arable land in ON. The problem is the predominance of large-seeded annual grains, which currently occupy over half of the arable land in ON, grown largely although not solely for livestock feed to enable the confinement industry. 

Growing commodity annuals aggravates all the problems of soil nutrition, erosion, environmental toxicity, and the waste crises of the metabolic rift. Growing grasses where nature intends them to be grown will restore the natural balances and rebuild the soil. The grasses will be transformed into food for people through livestock grazing. This will more than make up for the foregone calories of cereal production, since the vast majority of what will be replaced wasn’t going to human food anyway. And since production of vegetable annuals takes up such a small portion of the land as it is, we’ll be able to maintain and increase fruit and vegetable production through sound crop rotation as part of the overall grass-based system.
So there’s a basic outline of where we need to go if we want to grow enough food to feed ourselves and if we want to establish democracy. The dual goal: We need to feed ourselves; and we need to feed ourselves. Nothing less will suffice, nothing less will be sustainable, for us physically as hominids, and for us politically as citizens and human beings. 

May 25, 2011

Where Farming Needs to Go

Filed under: Food and Farms, Land Reform, Peak Oil — Tags: , — Russ @ 6:35 am


It’s important that non-farmers understand agricultural policy and nature-based principles of farming. Corporate agriculture – shackled to global commodification; dependent upon cheap, plentiful fossil fuels; dependent upon farmer subsidies; engaging in monoculture practices which are extremely unresilient and vulnerable to even the slightest jolt to the structure – is not sustainable. It will lead to disaster, in the form of crop failure (as some superweed, superbug, or hitherto unsuspected natural correction lays waste to the fragile GMO-based system) or system collapse on account of rising oil price and constrained oil supply. (Picture the Depression spectacle of farmers having to destroy vast amounts of crops and livestock while millions go hungry, but picture a far worse version of this because the oil isn’t there to keep producing and distributing the food.)
Our industrial agriculture is one big hothouse flower.
Clearly a rational, resilient growing system will be decentralized, diversified, and in accord with the rules of nature. For it to be applied on the necessary scale will require a revolution. America needs tens of millions of small and midsize farmers, and it needs hundreds of millions of Victory Gardens. Other countries need the same. We won’t achieve them under the corporate structure.
But even now, there exist what smug bureaucrats and academics call “experiments”. One example is the Stieglemeier farm in South Dakota. Amid a sea of commodity corn, the sixth-generation Stiegelmeiers run an organic farm and pasture. 

The Stiegelmeiers diversified into organic spring and winter wheat, flax, rye, barley, and buckwheat and relied on age-old ways to fight weeds and fertilize the soil. They certified their pastures as organic and grew alfalfa to feed a herd of registered British White beef cattle. Dan­elle started a small herd of sheep. 

Their initial impetus for becoming organic back in the 70s was practical (they were becoming sick from the pesticides) and moral: “I don’t see how you can be a Christian and put poison on food.” But they’ve also proudly proven that it can work even in such a harsh socioeconomic environment. Imagine how such farms would fare in a favorable environment?
This basic system – growing grass and grassy perennials both for pasturage and for crops – is well-suited to the Great Plains, an arid grassland. Meanwhile corn can be grown here only with massive application of irrigated water, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizer (all of these paid for by the taxpayer).
That example is the relatively extreme one of the Plains, but the same principle applies everywhere. The keystone of self-sustaining agriculture is growing perennials as crops, to feed naturally grass-grazing animals which are moved from pasture to pasture (as Joel Salatin says in “Fresh”, herbivore herds are natually nomadic), and to rebuild the soil. This remains the basic practice applicable to all farming above the gardening level. It is geared to the Earth and to natural markets, which for food are predominantly local/regional and for local/regional consumption.
Our corporate system does the opposite. It grows annual monocrops on zombified soil. The soil is dead but receives the constant shock treatment of synthetic fertilizer. The plants are slathered in proprietary poisons which by design try to stay just ahead in a biological arms race with weeds and insects. The monocrops aren’t primarily for human food, but to feed cars (ethanol, also a totally subsidized parasite), to produce cheap food-like products (corn syrup-based junk food), and to zombify the concentrated eating mass in the factory farms. Here another biological arms race goes on. The animals, hideously concentrated and fed an unnatural diet of corn and cannibalism (their own by-products are ground into the feed), are all permanently sick. None could grow, produce eggs or milk, or survive long at all unless they were on permanent antibiotic maintenance. This is contrary to all medical sanity (but our doctors don’t seem to mind). Here the antibiotic regime struggles desperately to stay ahead of the superbugs it intentionally creates. Someday it will create a microbe suited to cause a lethal pandemic among humans. When (not if) that happens, all corporate agriculture executives, major shareholders, and their political, media, and academic flunkeys will be guilty of mass murder. They’re planning that murder as we speak. (The same will be true for crop failures and other disasters caused by GMOs.)
So there’s the basic farming practice we need. That doesn’t mean we need to grow less fruits and vegetables – these are grown on a small fraction of the agricultural land. It means converting the bulk of grain and corn land to perennials and pasturage. Salatin offers one formula: Currently 70% of our grain production goes to cattle feed, and only 30% to people, pigs, and poultry. Take that 70% and convert it to pasturage.
And we’ll also be putting far more land into production, as we redeem the vast amounts of arable land currently being imprisoned in stagnation by the criminal system.

May 23, 2011

Basic Movement Strategy

I want to continue combining ideas toward the development of a basic strategy. Here’s some suggestions for the arrangement of many of the things we’ve discussed at this blog. I place them within the strategic framework laid out in this post. The emphasis throughout is on action, on things we can do.
1. ***Engage in “apolitical” economic relocalization as much as possible.***
For food relocalization, this includes setting up farmers’ markets, community gardens, regional food distribution networks, seed libraries, trying to close energy and waste loops, develop localized biodiesel generation for use on-site and for local distribution; on an individual level, encourage the Victory Garden and Freedom Seed movement. Set up Garden Share programs, tool banks, anything else which can assist people whose spirit is willing but wallet or schedule is weak.
Those are food examples, and the same principle can be extended to many other sectors – energy, transportation, education, health care. In all sectors we should be trying to exchange skills and in general learning as much as we can about living without fossil fuels and without centralized government (and perhaps facing the hostility of the latter).
Time banking and other alternative currency schemes can help coordinate these. Just yesterday I added an offer to help with seed saving as part of my profile on our new Time Bank.
Alternative currency programs are also part of our effort to free ourselves of the tyranny of the dollar. The banks and government want to use taxation to forcibly keep us within the dollar economy, while at the same time they want to abolish physical cash and force all our dollar transactions through electronic toll booths. All this is taking place within the context of the ongoing liquidation of the real economy, where it will be more and more difficult to earn dollars at all. This is the debt indenture trap they’ve laid for us. The way to escape is to escape the dollar itself as much as possible.
So relocalization has to mean organization of the informal economy. Cooperatives, gift exchanges, some kinds of alternative currencies, time banks – all these can help. Barter itself is in theory taxable, and we can expect the kleptocracy to seek out any attempts to organize it. So at least legally the key to the position is organizing, not barter, but reciprocal gifting.
But the political battlefield, not the legal, which is the real battlefield.
2. ***Among committed citizens, form a nucleus for political relocalization. Systematic political education goes on among this group. This group must also formulate a politically and spiritually inspiring philosophy and mindset to accompany the toolkit of actions.***
This nucleus will develop the political philosophy of the economic relocalization. It will also contribute to developing a general philosophy for the entire movement.
Some aspects will be to articulate the necessity for Food Sovereignty, as a physical (Peak Oil) and political imperative; the basic nature of the kleptocracy; develop something like the Bridge strategy; develop political declarations (like No Taxes on the Non-Rich; Total Austerity for the Criminals, Not One Cent More From the People); the philosophy of positive freedom and direct democracy; an American Revolutionary mythology.
We’ll develop a full awareness of the Land Scandal.
We’ll articulate the real nature of money and how to Take Back Our Money.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, we should each take responsibility for reporting on a topic.

In the meantime, we communicate information about the state of our polity and economy. Here I think we could fruitfully divide our labor if we had a significant number of blogs dedicated to similar transformational goals. These blogs could confederate under a “brand name”, link to one another, and delegate among themselves responsibility for regular reporting on particular topics.

Here’s some examples of what I think are the most important subjects: The state of the Bailout, failure of bank reform, corporate welfare, unemployment (and the phoniness of “job creation”), inequality of wealth and income, the SCOTUS and courts, globalization, the state of the money supply (including MMT), energy issues, the Permanent War, civil liberties, the Land Scandal, the health racket bailout, net neutrality and other Internet issues, intellectual property, corporatist ideology, and Food Sovereignty (farm issues, biofuels, GMOs, the Food Control structure).

That list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but those are the things that immediately came to mind.

And then there’s the many affirmative topics of agroecology and sustainable food production, distributed and decentralized energy, alternatives to money, land redemption, tallying protest actions, home schooling toward a goal of better citizenship, alternative medicine, non-fossil fuel crafts, every kind of decentralized and/or non-capitalist production, every kind of community-building endeavor, democratic ideology. Again, those are just some examples.

So for example if we had fifty bloggers, each could agree to take special responsibility for one or two of those and to regularly report on it. Of course everyone would also be free to write on anything else as well.

Some commenters weren’t so thrilled at this idea when it sounded like the same old discussion of corporate and government crimes. So how about a more practical emphasis: We should, where it comes to each and every issue, compile a log of what people are doing about it. We should strive to be aware of all actions, what’s working and what fails, and why. And we should report on what we personally are doing, and how well it’s working.
This nucleus also should assiduously practice political skills of polemical writing, public speaking, debate, etc. Last year I offered a suggestion for how to organize this.

Here’s one possibility for idea coordination, which could also have many other benefits. Are readers familiar with Toastmasters? It’s an organization for the practice of public speaking. I’ve never been to a meeting myself (the times I checked there was no chapter within a convenient distance), but I’ve read about it. I guess the members are mostly careerists looking to hone their business and backslapping skills. But we could use these skills as well.

So my idea was that people who share a dedication to a political cause could form their own such groups. Nominally it would be a public speaking/book discussion group. But it could also serve as the vehicle for coordination of ideas and messaging, including people taking on particular tasks.

The way I just described that involves meeting in real life, wherever there were enough people within driving distance of one another. But something similar (of course without the public speaking component) could be done online as well. FireDogLake has its regular book salons, to give one example.

This could either be one way for the nucleus to organize its activities. Or conversely, forming a public speaking/book club could be the initial form which then evolves into a political nucleus.  
3. ***To whatever extent possible, this nucleus becomes involved in local politics. But this may not be an initial priority everywhere.***
One conventional activity which is being embraced by communities is the passage of model ordinances on subjects like local food sovereignty and rejection of corporate personhood. These are not only vigorous declarations of local power, but they’re great exercises in participatory democracy. We should always be seeking to initiate actions which are worthwhile in themselves and which extend this political participation.
There’s also getting worthwhile initiatives on local ballots, and running for office where feasible. There’s also the ways in which politically conscious relocalizers can get the word out to the community at large.
One example is the kind of community lecturing program I described for the Land Scandal.
Another is the idea of placing all this political consciousness-raising within the framework of a new Constitutional Convention. Or, we could declare ourselves an alternative community council, Continental Congress, Citizen Congress.
One promising development is the recently passed Local Community Radio Act. (I’m still not sure how this got passed, given how atypical it is. I know somebody who’s gung-ho about it, so I asked him. He said it was the result of years of citizen pressure. I hope that’s true, although that kind of pressure doesn’t seem to work in other places these days.) Where possible we have to get on the local radio.
4. ***To whatever extent government and corporate power hinder the activities of (1), the political activists take any opportunity for broader political education of various producers and perhaps the public.***
Government and corporate oppressions will provide opportunities to use the occasion to publicize the full philosophy and program.
We also need to figure out how to organize civil disobedience, both open (preferred, where willingness and/or a critical mass makes this desirable) and covert. One example is refusal to purchase the health racket Stamp. Another, even more critical, will be resisting any attempts to deploy the new powers granted by the Food Control bill in totalitarian ways.
We should also think about how to fight back, at the local governmental and if necessary at the street level, against private thugs.
5. ***Wherever necessary and possible, the locally involved political activists take on responsibilities of local and regional government, gradually achieving objective legitimacy. But actual assertion of authority against parasitic “official” structures would have to wait for later.***
Many community volunteering efforts already take up the slack where, according to the civics textbooks, government should be doing its job. This will only accelerate as the Depression sets in, need increases, and governments are further starved of the federal funds they’ve come to rely upon.
While economic relocalizers may go about their business unaware of, or complacent about, the way they’re performing quasi-governmental functions, our political nucleus should always be looking for ways to increase recognition of these functions by the community. As we become acclaimed as reliable service providers and political educators, the goal becomes to gradually become an alternative government which would then be in a position to make policy and where necessary challenge the abdicated authority of the de jure government.
6. ***To whatever extent possible, these organizations, at whatever level of development, would come together to consult in a kind of federation. To whatever extent possible, they could coordinate and assist one another.***
Here’s where online organizing can help with all the things I just described. All the physical localities, no matter how geographically far-flung, can become neighbors online. They can share information and results, confederate their local councils and Conventions, function as Committees of Correspondence.
One particular need is coordination among rural, suburban, and urban regions. Some of the problems here were described well in this thread.
The goal would eventually be a federated movement encompassing all of America and becoming international as well. 
7. ***This structure would then gradually make its presence known to the public, mostly through “apolitical” education about the economy and relocalization, but also political education, wherever it seems that would be fruitful.***
In the same way that each local nucleus works to build political awareness in its own region, so the confederation tries to do the same thing on a broader level. These processes may be simultaneous, and on particular issues progress is likely to be faster on some fronts (some regions advance faster than others; some regions advance faster than the national consciousness which is faster than other regions).
8. ***Then, once the next, terminal crash comes, and/or the general deterioration into permanent depression accelerates, the movement will be prepared to offer a home, a means of self-help, and a realm of action, to any size mass of people ardent and desperate for a solution.***
Every advocate of an alternative to a powerful, entrenched status quo seeks to make the people as a whole conscious of this alternative. We want to get the ideas out there. Then, as the saying goes, when the crisis comes, people grab something from the ideas which are laying around. Our goal is to get the people to grab our idea. If we skillfully and aggressively argue our case and provide exemplary instruction in the way we live our lives and carry out our actions, we have an excellent chance.
Because our ideas are the right ones.

Tomato Update (Cutworms)

Filed under: Food and Farms — Tags: — Russ @ 5:43 am


The other day I asked for some help with a tomato plant dying from its injuries after a cutworm assault. Since then I had another plant attacked, sustaining even worse damage.
As of right now, both plants are alive. The first, while not looking great, still looks better than it did. The second seems fine, even after having had its stem almost completely severed.
So I wanted to describe what I did and some conclusions I take from it.
First the facts. I had all my tomatoes partially protected by cardboard cuffs around the stems. The cuffs didn’t reach all the way around. I got back from camping on a cool, rainy Wednesday afternoon at the perfect time to catch the cutworm gnawing at one of my Purple Cherokees. The stem was still upright, but there were two big gouges out of the stem. I killed the worm, piled soil up around the stem to cover the wounds, and left it. On Thursday morning (still cool and rainy), the plant looked OK.
Over the course of Thursday it warmed up and the sun came out for awhile. The soil was still wet. I found the plant badly wilting, although the stem was still upright. I asked for advice here at this blog. Based on the advice I pruned off some of the suckers (although it’s just a seedling) and kept watering it even though the soil was moist. That night it cooled off and rained more, and the weather has stayed mostly wet, overcast, and cool since then. By Saturday morning the first plant, what was left of it, had perked up.
Meanwhile I found the second plant (a Black Krim) almost destroyed. The stem was mostly severed and had toppled over. If it hadn’t fallen on the cardboard cuff, it would’ve been laid out on the ground. I killed the worm, piled up soil, staked the plant to a pencil. Even though rain has continued off and on, I’ve also been watering it. It’s been over 48 hours, and the plant has looked fine throughout.
In the meantime I got more cardboard and completed the circuits of the stems.
So the two conclusions this seems to imply are:
1. If the cuffs work, they’re only reliable if they completely encircle the stem. A 90% circumscription (the extent of the piece of cardboard I was using; I was simply too lazy to go look for a bigger piece, or to find more to supplement the first piece) isn’t good enough.
2. Cooler temperatures and clouds seem better for a plant injured this way. I would’ve expected the opposite, but the evidence here is what it is.
So there’s some new stuff I learned. Hopefully the problem is solved now, the two hurt plants will recover, and there won’t be anymore cutworm unpleasantness.
(Unless they also go after squash and cucumber. But I never heard that before and never had it happen before, so I left those unprotected. Anyone think that’s wrong?) 

May 20, 2011

Foreclosuregate E-mail Draft

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Land Reform — Tags: — Russ @ 5:10 am
Although I’ve written extensively about the Land Scandal, up till now I haven’t had the occasion to tell someone I know personally about it. But just last night I learned that a friend is facing foreclosure. I don’t know anything about her situation – whether she was trying to get a mod, whether she’s been the victim of servicer abuses, etc. I have no idea if she knows anything about Foreclosuregate. So I figured I’d drop her a line with a brief rundown, just in case it could be worthwhile to her to know about it and maybe look into whether or not it could help her situation. But I haven’t written about this for novices before, so I figured I’d throw a draft out there and ask what people think of it. Is it a clear enough introduction? Too many links? Does anyone know of better introductory links? (I’ve been lax in keeping my archive orderly, so by now I have >200 Land Scandal links, and I don’t recall which were the best ones. I just selected a few I do remember as being clear to me.)
This is perhaps a worthwhile exercise for all of us, as we should all be ready to be educators on this subject, at least being able to steer others in the right direction.
So here’s the draft. I left out the personal details which will go into the customized version:
I’m writing just to toss something out there. I don’t know if it would interest you or not, but it’s something I’ve read a lot about. Have you heard about the legal problems the banks are having with the foreclosure process? Namely, in their convoluted process of bundling together millions of mortgages to create mortgage-backed securities (MBS), the banks systematically flouted the strict requirements of age-old real estate law where it comes to such basics as keeping the note and lien together, properly recording every change of owner the note goes through, and so on.
Especially where it comes to any mortgage written over the last 10-12 years, and especially those which have anything to do with a registry called MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registry Systems), it’s possible that in the case of any foreclosure, the foreclosing entity may not in fact have legal standing to foreclose. In addition, most foreclosures which are looked at by a knowledgeable attorney display forgery and fraud in the bank documents, for example the illicit use of so-called “robo-signers”, which are servicer employees who fraudulently sign vast numbers of “lost-note affidavits”, in each case illegally claiming personal knowledge of the previous disposition of a now allegedly lost note. (Why the notes weren’t properly conveyed in the first place is another story.)
Many foreclosure victims who have demanded that the foreclosing entity produce the note in order to prove that it has the legal standing to foreclose have been able to delay the proceedings, often indefinitely, as it’s discovered that the alleged owner of the loan cannot prove this ownership, where the note has disappeared and the documents the bank provides to vouch for its ownership of this lost note are riddled with irregularities.
This has been written about extensively in the blogosphere, and has gotten some coverage even in the corporate media. Here’s just a few pieces which have been written on the subject. The blog Naked Capitalism has most extensively documented the whole saga, but the corporate NYT has also written about it.
http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/03/many-foreclosures-in-oregon-halted-due-to-decisions-against-mers.html (This is just one example from one state among many similar examples.)
Specific to NJ, last winter a state supreme court justice ordered a review of all foreclosures in the state by the main entities: OneWest; Ally Financial, formerly GMAC; BAC Home Loan Servicing, a subsidiary of Bank of America; JP Morgan Chase’s Chase Home Finance; Wells Fargo Financial New Jersey and CitiResidential Living, a subsidiary of Citibank.
If their answers to the inquiry Rabner set in motion had been insufficient, the court might have imposed a statewide foreclosure moratorium. So far, however, the banks have been succeeding in derailing this inquiry by getting postponement after postponement. Here’s the most recent development, so far as I can see:
I don’t know anything about your situation, whether or not you feel victimized by servicer abuses, whether a modification could help you, and so on. And if these are true, I also don’t know if you’d have any interest in looking into this stuff and maybe trying to act upon it. But the fact is that homeowners facing foreclosure  who have fought back demanding that the foreclosing entity produce the note have often succeeded in delaying the foreclosure for an indefinite period. Often this tactic convinces the bank to work with them on a modification (which is generally more in the ostensible note-holder’s interest than foreclosing; only the perverse incentives of the way the system is currently set up gives the servicer an incentive to foreclose even though that’s against the interests of everyone else involved). Here’s one example of that:
Well, I don’t know if any of this is relevant to your situation, but I thought I’d let you know about it in case you hadn’t heard of it before. Some people do force the banks to give them mods by gumming up the works with demands to see the proper documentation, demands the banks often cannot meet. So that’s why I sent you this, for whatever it’s worth. I’m no practical expert on it, but here’s some sites to learn more.

May 17, 2011

Some Movement Basics


Let’s combine some of the ground we’ve been covering. I’ll start by going back over the basic framework and chronology of movement-building as I described it last month, adding some commentary. Then I’ll go back over the Food Sovereignty principles and a few others, suggesting how the stages of movement-building may apply to each.
First the movement: 

1. Engages in “apolitical” economic relocalization as much as possible. 

This is the basic stuff about strengthening the local economy. Local governments and service organizations themselves often still engage in this at least semi-seriously. More important for our purposes is the newer relocalization movement which is concerned with economic issues as well as the imperatives imposed by energy and environmental issues.
Here we find a panoply of actions – farmers’ markets, community gardens, a new interest in personal gardening (this is becoming a movement in itself), reskilling (everything from learning basic fix-it skills to learning whole non-fossil fuel based skill sets), time banks and alternative currencies, alternative transportation schemes, homeschooling, and many others – which don’t necessarily have a direct political content nor are necessarily conducted within the context of a broad political consciousness. At any rate, groups dedicated to these seem prone to want to be a apolitical as possible, in order to broaden their appeal and make their ideas as accessible as possible. This is often sound tactics. 

2. Among committed citizens, also forms a nucleus for political relocalization. Systematic political education goes on among this group. This group must also formulate a politically and spiritually inspiring philosophy and mindset to accompany the toolkit of actions. 

Here’s a parallel action to build this political consciousness. Perhaps some members of the economic relocalization groups start a book club or public speaking club or something. Here these self-selected members may be joined by other politically interested people who weren’t initially as interested in the purely economic relocalization actions. Together these work to formulate a democratic political philosophy and to build a democratic political consciousness. This philosophy and the mode of expressing it through words and actions must combine the critique of kleptocracy with an affirmative vision of how democracy can establish freedom and broad prosperity. The joys of community action, the sense of togetherness it brings, can be part of this. All this dovetails with the economic relocalization actions. 

3. To what ever extent possible, this nucleus becomes involved in local politics. But this may not be an initial priority everywhere. 

A possibility for starters is liaison and coordination with “the authorities” where services are being cut. (As discussed in #5 below, this way of seemingly letting government use us is really a strategic maneuver.) The local movement could take over services with the imprimatur of the government in return for the use of facilities and other non-cash reciprocities. We could organize around specific statutes enshrining democratic principles, for example local food sovereignty law and anti-corporate personhood law. As the public profile and volunteer activism of the movement increases so that the need for paid PR decreases, activists could also run for office within the existing electoral structure and seek to take over local government that way. 

4. To whatever extent government and corporate power hinder the activities of (1), the political activists take any opportunity for broader political education of various producers and perhaps the public. 

This will be one of the major tasks of the political nucleus. It must educate a populace about the ways in which centralized and corporate power, both totally alien to a region, are afflicting and draining that region of its vitality and freedom. This education must also include the broader picture of how the kleptocracy is destroying the real economy of America (or any other country) as a whole. 

5. Wherever necessary and possible, the locally involved political activists take on responsibilities of local and regional government, gradually achieving objective legitimacy. But actual assertion of authority against parasitic “official” structures would have to wait for later. 

While the movement is absolving government of its obligation to provide various social services, it’s also confirming the abdication of legitimacy on the part of government. The political education must spread awareness of this fact. At the same time, through its actions the movement appeals to the public as a parallel quasi-government structure, seeking acclaim and legitimacy that way. Eventually, the movement must be ready for various power showdowns with the “constituted authorities”. As we know, we shall embody the true constitution. 

6. To whatever extent possible, these organizations, at whatever level of development, would come together to consult in a kind of federation. To whatever extent possible, they could coordinate and assist one another. 

We’re already doing this in embryo, even if so far we’re only speaking for ourselves. If we’re already involved in groups, we can at least start by describing what our groups are doing even if we’re not yet able to speak for the group. In my case, my group is still very much in the apolitical stage, and I’m still being circumspect about keeping my online and community volunteering actions separate. But I’m looking for an opportunity to start the political nucleus somewhere. 

7. This structure would then gradually make its presence known to the public, mostly through “apolitical” education about the economy and relocalization, but also political education, wherever it seems that would be fruitful. 

Perhaps for the time being, this “national” network could be more proactive in political expression than many of the individual rhizomes. The ideas developed here could then be adapted to all sorts of local conditions.
The online organizing we discussed can function both to help organize the local groups and to develop this network. 

8. Then, once the next, terminal crash comes, and/or the general deterioration into permanent depression accelerates, the movement will be prepared to offer a home, a means of self-help, and a realm of action, to any size mass of people ardent and desperate for a solution. 

The goal is to prepare to receive the refugees from the system. This may always remain a relatively small number, or it may explode into a mass movement. Anything is possible.
To continue with my using Food Sovereignty as a primary element of democracy, lets go back over Via Campesina’s Seven Principles, with some suggestions on how the framework described above can further them. The numbers cited in my comments here refer to 1-8 above. 

1. Food: A Basic Human Right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right. 

This is a primary subject for political education – #s 2, 4, 7. 

2. Agrarian Reform. A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it. 

We can draft a model policy (2, 4, 7). In practice we must call for the redemption of all corporatized land and land which has been condemned to idleness by the parasitic rich. All REO (real-estate owned) bankster land is already the property of the people.
There are several possible levels of direct action, from guerilla gardening to organized squatting and adverse possession. These can be justified politically (3, 5) and have local political cover sought for them (like with the local laws linked above).
The greatest efflorescence would be our own version of Latin America’s Landless Workers’ Movement. This would need to be part of a broader movement encompassing the unemployed and the homeless. 

3. Protecting Natural Resources. Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals. 

Here’s another job for the political education (2, 4, 7), with a special emphasis on the environmental and energy necessity for food relocalization (a broader context for looking at #1). 

4. Reorganizing Food Trade. Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.

5. Ending the Globalization of Hunger. Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs is therefore needed. 

More for the political education. 

6. Social Peace. Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated. 

The prescription here is the same as that for the second principle. 

7. Democratic control. Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decision-making on food and rural issues. 

This is what we’re striving for with 3 and 5. The education toward it is part of 2, 4, and 7.
To mention another example, if we look again at this anti-corporate constitutional agenda: 

* The enshrinement of Food Sovereignty as a basic right. (This would certainly have been the First Amendment if anyone in 1788 could have contemplated a day when the federal government would explicitly deny we have a right to grow and eat the foods of our choice. But even the opponents of the centralized government who demanded the inclusion of a Bill of Rights, as suspicious as they were, never contemplated such an obscene assault on our liberty and dignity.)

* Corporations are not persons and have no constitutional rights. Only humans have rights.

* If corporations are to exist at all, an amendment could explicitly limit them to the purposes and constraints which would have been familiar in the 1780s.

* The Full Faith and Credit clause shall not be construed to include corporate charters. All corporate activity shall be subject to the chartering laws of the state, except as restricted by one or both of the two previous amendments.

The point of these would be to prevent races to the bottom (since e.g. Delaware’s not all that big a market, and outside Delaware a corporation chartered in Delaware would be subject to the provisions of those other states, not those of Delaware)

* The federal government power shall be strictly construed according to the explicit letter of the Articles.

* “Interstate commerce” is only commerce which within a discrete transaction crosses a state line.

* Some way to declare that globalization “treaties”, i.e. contracts of adhesion, are most definitely not “the Law of the Land”, overriding federal, state, and local law.

* Clarify Article 1, section 8, to specify that the government may not alienate the sovereign power to coin Money. That is, the Fed and all private bank money is unconstitutional and to be abolished. 

We see how some of these could start with inertial facts on the ground (1), while political consciousness could be propagated through both the local political nucleus (2, 4) and from the broad network (7), and through the course of local politics (3, 5).
So that’s a few more suggestions in the course of working out my thoughts on this. We’ll need to flesh everything in with as many practical examples (already demonstrated/deployed as well as prospective) as possible. We can brainstorm lists of relevant actions, for example, and then arrange these into a possible coherent strategy.
That’s it for now. I’m going to be in the woods and off the Internet (and probably quite wet, if these rainy weather reports hold true) till Wednesday afternoon. I’ll respond to comments when I get back.

May 15, 2011

Constitutionalism and Positive Democracy

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Land Reform, Law, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: — Russ @ 2:09 am


Before proceeding, a few words about constitutionalism in general. A sovereign constitution is the basic form of the people’s sovereignty. This comprises the principles and practices which define a society, its true character and aspiration. A written constitution is then supposed to be an adequate expression of this sovereign constitution, and from there written laws are supposed to adequately supplement the written constitution in expressing the sovereign. (The distinction between such documents isn’t always clear. Is the Code of Hammurabi a constitution or a list of statues? The Ten Commandments? The Draconian and Solonic Codes? The Codes of Theodosius and Justinian? The synod which compiled the “official” Bible?)
As I’ve written before, by now we know that the only appropriate form of our sovereignty is positive democracy. We’ve learned how politicians, alleged experts and “elites” paid to rule us, are rationally and morally incompetent for this job. We’ve learned how in practice they’ll never do anything but aid and abet our anti-social enemies and commit crimes themselves. We know that the first proper attitude toward politics is to be antipolitician. (That’s a formulation I picked up from a blog post somewhere which I’d link if I could remember where it came form. It’s recommended as a good all-purpose answer to anyone in any situation who asks, “What do you politically believe/want?” To open up with, “For starters, I’m against politicians. Not just the current crop of crooks, but politicians period”, will often bring on agreement from others, which can be a good lead-in to more difficult topics.)
Most of all, we know about all political and economic elites that we don’t need them. We can rule ourselves. That’s the basic imperative of positive democracy: In the modern era, often called the democratic era, humanity has come of age. That is, we’ve achieved our age of majority and ought to be getting out of our parents’ house and into the wide world to find out who we are and what we can do.
But that means the democratic ideology and movement must evolve. We cannot stand still. To remain mired in belief in representatives and republics is really to regress. Belief in these was once a widening of the horizons of political thought, but that has long ceased to be the case. We now know that these are unworthy of us as democratic citizens and human beings, and that they don’t work anyway if the definition of work is that they make permanent progress toward expanding real political participation and broad-based economic prosperity. In the same way that capitalism has been proven to be a lie, since wherever its profit rate began to naturally decline it resorted to feudalist measures to prop it up, so representative government has renounced its role as a regent toward ever-expanding democracy, but instead sought to reinstate age-old authoritarian rule, albeit maintaining the sham trappings of elections, etc.
So we must now establish positive democracy. We owe it to ourselves, to our families and communities, to humanity, to history.
A democratic community may or may not choose to draw up a statement of principles. It would be more like the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man than like the main articles of the 1788 Constitution.
Why do it? If we draw up a New Compact here in cyberspace, it’s really a statement of principles for a new movement, and a proclamation that this movement is continuing the long-neglected work of the original American Revolution (here in America) and a similar democratic revolutionary work elsewhere. (I hope I don’t sound too Amero-centric to non-American readers and participants. I think these principles of democracy are applicable the same way everywhere which has been integrated into globalization. Certainly many of the cultural details will greatly vary, but not the basic anti-elitist imperative.) Even if you don’t personally care about such a statement, it may be a necessary stage of developing the movement consciousness and an enticement (to potential participants) along the road of movement-building.
What are the basic principles/practices? (In positive democracy, there’s never a clear division between principle and practice. There’s no citizenship other than through citizen action. The measure of one’s capacity for freedom is that one acts as a free citizen, as much as possible, and is always seeking to expand the bounds of freedom’s possibility.) Direct democracy, political freedom (meaning the opportunity to meaningfully participate), political participation itself, all of these on an equal basis. Material equality (defined as the absence of class stratification and wealth concentrations) is the prerequisite for equality of political opportunity (remember that anytime you see pseudo-democrats and fetishists of sham “process” rights like Greenwald and the ACLU, who support corporate “rights”, corporate speech, and therefore the total domination of politics by wealth). Food Sovereignty as a political and practical imperative. Land and natural resources are things of nature, and can therefore be the property only of sovereignty itself; Western political theory always recognized in principle with the labor theory of property that to gain a possession right on the land one must productively work the land. The things we call rights and enshrine in Bills of Rights. All of this arising from the people’s sovereignty and therefore the province of human beings only, while by definition other entities can only be servants with responsibilities, never persons with rights.
From there, we can discuss and seek consensus on provisions. The only rule is that every idea has to be pro-democratic and/or anti-authoritarian. Every proposal must head in this direction. The preferred tactic in dealing with all malignities is not to use power to affirmatively destroy them (unless this is absolutely necessary in self-defense), but to negatively destroy them through refusal to recognize or enforce their fraudulent “rights” and prerogatives. To give a clear example, we must declare that corporations are not persons, have no constitutional rights, and that if they’re to be allowed to exist at all, it’s only on what the democracy judges to be good behavior. Charters, just like federative delegates, must be subject to instant recall at all times. (I’m aware that by the time it’s politically possible to enact this as policy, it’ll be possible to simply declare corporations nonexistent, which is what I recommend. But a constitutional provision like this is a good example of the kind of statement of intent which can advertise the movement. At the same time it’ll be clear that the movement has room for more rigorous proposals. The written constitutional aspiration is a floor, not a ceiling.)
Here’s another example of how we seek to dissolve illegitimate power through non-recognition of it, this one not from constitutionalism but from law (but it’s the same kind of concept). I don’t say “criminalize” derivatives in the sense of arresting people and so on; I say outlaw them in the sense that they’re declared to be uncontracts, unenforceable in any court or by any police.
The same process of breaking corporate power and the power of concentrated wealth (and shrinking government in the process) can be applied to most or all things. For example with landed property: The democratic community can defend its own right to be on the land which it productively works. It would refuse to enforce any nonexistent property right on the part of an absentee landowner, who it would recognize as a thief. The community would not prevent itself from putting that land into production on its own, for its own well-being.
Anything which extends government and corporatism is bad. Anything which, explicitly or implicitly, merely wants to maintain these is probably bad, and at any rate is unlikely to be helpful. Every idea and act must have the goal of expanding democracy and shrinking elitist authoritarianism.
So to write a constitution is to perform the act of democracy in the grand sense, and gives a sense of what the democratic movement is about. In its details this can also clarify for ourselves and describe clearly to others exactly what we want to accomplish. This in turn should help clarify strategy and tactics.
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