Progressive Calendar 07.25.12 /2
From: David Shove (
Date: Wed, 25 Jul 2012 15:26:45 -0700 (PDT)
* P R O G R E S S IV E   C A L E N D A R   07.25.12*

1. Utopia             7.25 7pm
2. Green petition  7.25 7pm

3. Noam Chomsky - The absolute state and the Star Chamber are back
4. ed                      - Bumpersticker

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FromJeff Mincey jmincey [at]
Utopia 7.25 7pm

At Mayday Books, 301 Cedar Ave S, Minneapolis, MN, on Wednesday,    July
25, 2012, 7:00 p.m., Building Utopia presents...
The Utopian Vision: The Transactionless Society

    An ever increasing number of people are beginning to recognize the
 futility of reforming patriarchy to become more benevolent. They
 recognize that the challenge before us consists less in resolving
 problems within patriarchy than in the founding premise of    patriarchy
itself and its institutions. But what system do we put in    its place? In
a new vision for society, what are the founding    values? To be sure, we
would want a society of justice and equality    for all; but what would
motivate and govern human endeavor?

    Heretofore, all human endeavor has been founded on the transaction.
 We have come to know it by many names — trade, barter,    reciprocation,
and give and take among them. But whatever its name,    common to all
economic theory is the exchange of value between    parties for products
and services. And each of us has been taught to    believe that absent this
exchange, people will have no motivation to    work and that civilization
could not but then collapse.

    But in this session of Building Utopia, we re-examine this
 assumption and consider whether a transactionless society would not    be
more just, equitable, and sustainable.

    Jeff Mincey, of Building Utopia, presents and facilitates.

    For more info...
    Email: jmincey [at]
    Web site:

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Amber Garlan agarlan [at]
Green petition 7.25 7pm

There is a Jill Stein/Cheri Honkala signature party at The Amsterdam Bar
this Wednesday 7/25/12 from 7:00 to 9:00!

Come eat appetizers, order a drink, socialize and make democracy happen!

I know you are saying “but Amber I already signed the Jill Stein petition.”
 If you signed the Jill Stein petition before 7/14/12 you signed the Jill
Stein/Howie Hawkins petition.  On 7/14/12 at the Green Party convention in
Baltimore Cheri Honkala was declared the official Green Party Vice
Presidential nominee.

Cheri Honkala is fromMinnesota and works with the Poor People’s Economic
Human Rights Coalition.  Cheri Honkala has been arrested over 80 times for
moving homeless families into vacant federal buildings.  Cheri Honkala
rocks!  We want Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala on the ballot in Minnesota so
much, that we decided to start all over again gathering 2,000 signatures.

So let’s get these great Green women on the ballot inMinnesota!  We can do

The Amsterdam Bar is at6 W. 6th Street inSt. Paul, on the corner of Wabasha
and6th Street, the zip code is 55102.  The street parking is free after
4:30 and there is a parking ramp next door to The Amsterdam Bar.  You enter
the parking ramp on5th Street between St. Peter and Wabasha.

There will be appetizers!  Don’t let me eat all the appetizers all by

Order a drink, eat appetizers, socialize and sign a petition to get two
great Green women on the ballot inMinnesota!

See everybody at The Amsterdam Bar Wednesday night, 7/25/12, from 7:00 to

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The Absolute State and the Star Chamber Are Back
By Noam Chomsky
Informed Comment
23 July 12

down the road only a few generations, the millennium of Magna Carta, one of
the great events in the establishment of civil and human rights, will
arrive. Whether it will be celebrated, mourned, or ignored is not at all

That should be a matter of serious immediate concern. What we do right now,
or fail to do, will determine what kind of world will greet that event. It
is not an attractive prospect if present tendencies persist - not least,
because the Great Charter is being shredded before our eyes.

The first scholarly edition of Magna Carta was published by the eminent
jurist William Blackstone. It was not an easy task. There was no good text
available. As he wrote, "the body of the charter has been unfortunately
gnawn by rats" - a comment that carries grim symbolism today, as we take up
the task the rats left unfinished.

Blackstone's edition actually includes two charters. It was entitled The
Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest. The first, the Charter of
Liberties, is widely recognized to be the foundation of the fundamental
rights of the English-speaking peoples - or as Winston Churchill put it
more expansively, "the charter of every self-respecting man at any time in
any land." Churchill was referring specifically to the reaffirmation of the
Charter by Parliament in the Petition of Right, imploring King Charles to
recognize that the law is sovereign, not the King. Charles agreed briefly,
but soon violated his pledge, setting the stage for the murderous Civil War.

After a bitter conflict between King and Parliament, the power of royalty
in the person of Charles II was restored. In defeat, Magna Carta was not
forgotten. One of the leaders of Parliament, Henry Vane, was beheaded. On
the scaffold, he tried to read a speech denouncing the sentence as a
violation of Magna Carta, but was drowned out by trumpets to ensure that
such scandalous words would not be heard by the cheering crowds. His major
crime had been to draft a petition calling the people "the original of all
just power" in civil society - not the King, not even God. That was the
position that had been strongly advocated by Roger Williams, the founder of
the first free society in what is now the state of Rhode Island. His
heretical views influenced Milton and Locke, though Williams went much
farther, founding the modern doctrine of separation of church and state,
still much contested even in the liberal democracies.

As often is the case, apparent defeat nevertheless carried the struggle for
freedom and rights forward. Shortly after Vane's execution, King Charles
granted a Royal Charter to the Rhode Island plantations, declaring that
"the form of government is Democratical," and furthermore that the
government could affirm freedom of conscience for Papists, atheists, Jews,
Turks - even Quakers, one of the most feared and brutalized of the many
sects that were appearing in those turbulent days. All of this was
astonishing in the climate of the times.

A few years later, the Charter of Liberties was enriched by the Habeas
Corpus Act of 1679, formally entitled "an Act for the better securing the
liberty of the subject, and for prevention of imprisonment beyond the
seas." The U.S. Constitution, borrowing from English common law, affirms
that "the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended" except in case of
rebellion or invasion. In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held
that the rights guaranteed by this Act were "[c]onsidered by the Founders
[of the American Republic] as the highest safeguard of liberty." All of
these words should resonate today.

The Second Charter and the Commons

The significance of the companion charter, the Charter of the Forest, is no
less profound and perhaps even more pertinent today - as explored in depth
by Peter Linebaugh in his richly documented and stimulating history of
Magna Carta and its later trajectory. The Charter of the Forest demanded
protection of the commons from external power. The commons were the source
of sustenance for the general population: their fuel, their food, their
construction materials, whatever was essential for life. The forest was no
primitive wilderness. It had been carefully developed over generations,
maintained in common, its riches available to all, and preserved for future
generations - practices found today primarily in traditional societies that
are under threat throughout the world.

The Charter of the Forest imposed limits to privatization. The Robin Hood
myths capture the essence of its concerns (and it is not too surprising
that the popular TV series of the 1950s, "The Adventures of Robin Hood,"
was written anonymously by Hollywood screenwriters blacklisted for leftist
convictions). By the seventeenth century, however, this Charter had fallen
victim to the rise of the commodity economy and capitalist practice and

With the commons no longer protected for cooperative nurturing and use, the
rights of the common people were restricted to what could not be
privatized, a category that continues to shrink to virtual invisibility. In
Bolivia, the attempt to privatize water was, in the end, beaten back by an
uprising that brought the indigenous majority to power for the first time
in history. The World Bank has just ruled that the mining multinational
Pacific Rim can proceed with a case against El Salvador for trying to
preserve lands and communities from highly destructive gold mining.
Environmental constraints threaten to deprive the company of future
profits, a crime that can be punished under the rules of the
investor-rights regime mislabeled as "free trade." And this is only a tiny
sample of struggles underway over much of the world, some involving extreme
violence, as in the Eastern Congo, where millions have been killed in
recent years to ensure an ample supply of minerals for cell phones and
other uses, and of course ample profits.

The rise of capitalist practice and morality brought with it a radical
revision of how the commons are treated, and also of how they are
conceived. The prevailing view today is captured by Garrett Hardin's
influential argument that "freedom in a commons brings ruin to us all," the
famous "tragedy of the commons": what is not owned will be destroyed by
individual avarice.

An international counterpart was the concept of terra nullius, employed to
justify the expulsion of indigenous populations in the settler-colonial
societies of the Anglosphere, or their "extermination," as the founding
fathers of the American Republic described what they were doing, sometimes
with remorse, after the fact. According to this useful doctrine, the
Indians had no property rights since they were just wanderers in an untamed
wilderness. And the hard-working colonists could create value where there
was none by turning that same wilderness to commercial use.

In reality, the colonists knew better and there were elaborate procedures
of purchase and ratification by crown and parliament, later annulled by
force when the evil creatures resisted extermination. The doctrine is often
attributed to John Locke, but that is dubious. As a colonial administrator,
he understood what was happening, and there is no basis for the attribution
in his writings, as contemporary scholarship has shown convincingly,
notably the work of the Australian scholar Paul Corcoran. (It was in
Australia, in fact, that the doctrine has been most brutally employed.)

The grim forecasts of the tragedy of the commons are not without challenge.
The late Elinor Olstrom won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 for her
work showing the superiority of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods,
lakes, and groundwater basins. But the conventional doctrine has force if
we accept its unstated premise: that humans are blindly driven by what
American workers, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, bitterly called
"the New Spirit of the Age, Gain Wealth forgetting all but Self."

Like peasants and workers in England before them, American workers
denounced this New Spirit, which was being imposed upon them, regarding it
as demeaning and destructive, an assault on the very nature of free men and
women. And I stress women; among those most active and vocal in condemning
the destruction of the rights and dignity of free people by the capitalist
industrial system were the "factory girls," young women from the farms.
They, too, were driven into the regime of supervised and controlled wage
labor, which was regarded at the time as different from chattel slavery
only in that it was temporary. That stand was considered so natural that it
became a slogan of the Republican Party, and a banner under which northern
workers carried arms during the American Civil War.

Controlling the Desire for Democracy

That was 150 years ago - in England earlier. Huge efforts have been devoted
since to inculcating the New Spirit of the Age. Major industries are
devoted to the task: public relations, advertising, marketing generally,
all of which add up to a very large component of the Gross Domestic
Product. They are dedicated to what the great political economist Thorstein
Veblen called "fabricating wants." In the words of business leaders
themselves, the task is to direct people to "the superficial things" of
life, like "fashionable consumption." That way people can be atomized,
separated from one another, seeking personal gain alone, diverted from
dangerous efforts to think for themselves and challenge authority.

The process of shaping opinion, attitudes, and perceptions was termed the
"engineering of consent" by one of the founders of the modern public
relations industry, Edward Bernays. He was a respected
Wilson-Roosevelt-Kennedy progressive, much like his contemporary,
journalist Walter Lippmann, the most prominent public intellectual of
twentieth century America, who praised "the manufacture of consent" as a
"new art" in the practice of democracy.

Both recognized that the public must be "put in its place," marginalized
and controlled - for their own interests of course. They were too "stupid
and ignorant" to be allowed to run their own affairs. That task was to be
left to the "intelligent minority," who must be protected from "the
trampling and the roar of [the] bewildered herd," the "ignorant and
meddlesome outsiders" - the "rascal multitude" as they were termed by their
seventeenth century predecessors. The role of the general population was to
be "spectators," not "participants in action," in a properly functioning
democratic society.

And the spectators must not be allowed to see too much. President Obama has
set new standards in safeguarding this principle. He has, in fact, punished
more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined, a real
achievement for an administration that came to office promising
transparency. WikiLeaks is only the most famous case, with British

Among the many topics that are not the business of the bewildered herd is
foreign affairs. Anyone who has studied declassified secret documents will
have discovered that, to a large extent, their classification was meant to
protect public officials from public scrutiny. Domestically, the rabble
should not hear the advice given by the courts to major corporations: that
they should devote some highly visible efforts to good works, so that an
"aroused public" will not discover the enormous benefits provided to them
by the nanny state. More generally the U.S. public should not learn that
"state policies are overwhelmingly regressive, thus reinforcing and
expanding social inequality," though designed in ways that lead "people to
think that the government helps only the undeserving poor, allowing
politicians to mobilize and exploit anti-government rhetoric and values
even as they continue to funnel support to their better-off constituents" -
I'm quoting from the main establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, not from
some radical rag.

Over time, as societies became freer and the resort to state violence more
constrained, the urge to devise sophisticated methods of control of
attitudes and opinion has only grown. It is natural that the immense PR
industry should have been created in the most free of societies, the United
States and Great Britain. The first modern propaganda agency was the
British Ministry of Information a century ago, which secretly defined its
task as "to direct the thought of most of the world" - primarily
progressive American intellectuals, who had to be mobilized to come to the
aid of Britain during World War I.

Its U.S. counterpart, the Committee on Public Information, was formed by
Woodrow Wilson to drive a pacifist population to violent hatred of all
things German - with remarkable success. American commercial advertising
deeply impressed others. Goebbels admired it and adapted it to Nazi
propaganda, all too successfully. The Bolshevik leaders tried as well, but
their efforts were clumsy and ineffective.

A primary domestic task has always been "to keep [the public] from our
throats," as essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson described the concerns of
political leaders when the threat of democracy was becoming harder to
suppress in the mid-nineteenth century. More recently, the activism of the
1960s elicited elite concerns about "excessive democracy," and calls for
measures to impose "more moderation" in democracy.

One particular concern was to introduce better controls over the
institutions "responsible for the indoctrination of the young": the
schools, the universities, the churches, which were seen as failing that
essential task. I'm quoting reactions from the left-liberal end of the
mainstream spectrum, the liberal internationalists who later staffed the
Carter administration, and their counterparts in other industrial
societies. The right wing was much harsher. One of many manifestations of
this urge has been the sharp rise in college tuition, not on economic
grounds, as is easily shown. The device does, however, trap and control
young people by debt, often for the rest of their lives, thus contributing
to more effective indoctrination.

The Three-Fifths People

Pursuing these important topics further, we see that the destruction of the
Charter of the Forest, and its obliteration from memory, relates rather
closely to the continuing efforts to constrain the promise of the Charter
of Liberties. The "New Spirit of the Age" cannot tolerate the
pre-capitalist conception of the Forest as the shared endowment of the
community at large, cared for communally for its own use and for future
generations, protected from privatization, from transfer to the hands of
private power for service to wealth, not needs. Inculcating the New Spirit
is an essential prerequisite for achieving this end, and for preventing the
Charter of Liberties from being misused to enable free citizens to
determine their own fate.

Popular struggles to bring about a freer and more just society have been
resisted by violence and repression, and massive efforts to control opinion
and attitudes. Over time, however, they have met with considerable success,
even though there is a long way to go and there is often regression. Right
now, in fact.

The most famous part of the Charter of Liberties is Article 39, which
declares that "no free man" shall be punished in any way, "nor will We
proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his
peers and by the law of the land."

Through many years of struggle, the principle has come to hold more
broadly. The U.S. Constitution provides that no "person [shall] be deprived
of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law [and] a speedy
and public trial" by peers. The basic principle is "presumption of
innocence" - what legal historians describe as "the seed of contemporary
Anglo-American freedom," referring to Article 39; and with the Nuremberg
Tribunal in mind, a "particularly American brand of legalism: punishment
only for those who could be proved to be guilty through a fair trial with a
panoply of procedural protections" - even if their guilt for some of the
worst crimes in history is not in doubt.

The founders of course did not intend the term "person" to apply to all
persons. Native Americans were not persons. Their rights were virtually
nil. Women were scarcely persons. Wives were understood to be "covered"
under the civil identity of their husbands in much the same way as children
were subject to their parents. Blackstone's principles held that "the very
being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or
at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under
whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing." Women are
thus the property of their fathers or husbands. These principles remain up
to very recent years. Until a Supreme Court decision of 1975, women did not
even have a legal right to serve on juries. They were not peers. Just two
weeks ago, Republican opposition blocked the Fairness Paycheck Act
guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work. And it goes far beyond.

Slaves, of course, were not persons. They were in fact three-fifths human
under the Constitution, so as to grant their owners greater voting power.
Protection of slavery was no slight concern to the founders: it was one
factor leading to the American revolution. In the 1772 Somerset case, Lord
Mansfield determined that slavery is so "odious" that it cannot be
tolerated in England, though it continued in British possessions for many
years. American slave-owners could see the handwriting on the wall if the
colonies remained under British rule. And it should be recalled that the
slave states, including Virginia, had the greatest power and influence in
the colonies. One can easily appreciate Dr. Johnson's famous quip that "we
hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes."

Post-Civil War amendments extended the concept person to African-Americans,
ending slavery. In theory, at least. After about a decade of relative
freedom, a condition akin to slavery was reintroduced by a North-South
compact permitting the effective criminalization of black life. A black
male standing on a street corner could be arrested for vagrancy, or for
attempted rape if accused of looking at a white woman the wrong way. And
once imprisoned he had few chances of ever escaping the system of "slavery
by another name," the term used by then-Wall Street Journal bureau chief
Douglas Blackmon in an arresting study.

This new version of the "peculiar institution" provided much of the basis
for the American industrial revolution, with a perfect work force for the
steel industry and mining, along with agricultural production in the famous
chain gangs: docile, obedient, no strikes, and no need for employers even
to sustain their workers, an improvement over slavery. The system lasted in
large measure until World War II, when free labor was needed for war

The postwar boom offered employment. A black man could get a job in a
unionized auto plant, earn a decent salary, buy a house, and maybe send his
children to college. That lasted for about 20 years, until the 1970s, when
the economy was radically redesigned on newly dominant neoliberal
principles, with rapid growth of financialization and the offshoring of
production. The black population, now largely superfluous, has been

Until Ronald Reagan's presidency, incarceration in the U.S. was within the
spectrum of industrial societies. By now it is far beyond others. It
targets primarily black males, increasingly also black women and Hispanics,
largely guilty of victimless crimes under the fraudulent "drug wars."
Meanwhile, the wealth of African-American families has been virtually
obliterated by the latest financial crisis, in no small measure thanks to
criminal behavior of financial institutions, with impunity for the
perpetrators, now richer than ever.

Looking over the history of African-Americans from the first arrival of
slaves almost 500 years ago to the present, they have enjoyed the status of
authentic persons for only a few decades. There is a long way to go to
realize the promise of Magna Carta.

Sacred Persons and Undone Process

The post-Civil War fourteenth amendment granted the rights of persons to
former slaves, though mostly in theory. At the same time, it created a new
category of persons with rights: corporations. In fact, almost all the
cases brought to the courts under the fourteenth amendment had to do with
corporate rights, and by a century ago, they had determined that these
collectivist legal fictions, established and sustained by state power, had
the full rights of persons of flesh and blood; in fact, far greater rights,
thanks to their scale, immortality, and protections of limited liability.
Their rights by now far transcend those of mere humans. Under the "free
trade agreements," Pacific Rim can, for example, sue El Salvador for
seeking to protect the environment; individuals cannot do the same. General
Motors can claim national rights in Mexico. There is no need to dwell on
what would happen if a Mexican demanded national rights in the United

Domestically, recent Supreme Court rulings greatly enhance the already
enormous political power of corporations and the super-rich, striking
further blows against the tottering relics of functioning political

Meanwhile Magna Carta is under more direct assault. Recall the Habeas
Corpus Act of 1679, which barred "imprisonment beyond the seas," and
certainly the far more vicious procedure of imprisonment abroad for the
purpose of torture - what is now more politely called "rendition," as when
Tony Blair rendered Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj, now a leader of
the rebellion, to the mercies of Qaddafi; or when U.S. authorities deported
Canadian citizen Maher Arar to his native Syria, for imprisonment and
torture, only later conceding that there was never any case against him.
And many others, often through Shannon Airport, leading to courageous
protests in Ireland.

The concept of due process has been extended under the Obama
administration's international assassination campaign in a way that renders
this core element of the Charter of Liberties (and the Constitution) null
and void. The Justice Department explained that the constitutional
guarantee of due process, tracing to Magna Carta, is now satisfied by
internal deliberations in the executive branch alone. The constitutional
lawyer in the White House agreed. King John might have nodded with

The issue arose after the presidentially ordered assassination-by-drone of
Anwar al-Awlaki, accused of inciting jihad in speech, writing, and
unspecified actions. A headline in the New York Times captured the general
elite reaction when he was murdered in a drone attack, along with the usual
collateral damage. It read: "The West celebrates a cleric's death." Some
eyebrows were lifted, however, because he was an American citizen, which
raised questions about due process - considered irrelevant when
non-citizens are murdered at the whim of the chief executive. And
irrelevant for citizens, too, under Obama administration due-process legal

Presumption of innocence has also been given a new and useful
interpretation. As the New York Times reported, "Mr. Obama embraced a
disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him
in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as
combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is
explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent." So
post-assassination determination of innocence maintains the sacred
principle of presumption of innocence.

It would be ungracious to recall the Geneva Conventions, the foundation of
modern humanitarian law: they bar "the carrying out of executions without
previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording
all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by
civilized peoples."

The most famous recent case of executive assassination was Osama bin Laden,
murdered after he was apprehended by 79 Navy seals, defenseless,
accompanied only by his wife, his body reportedly dumped at sea without
autopsy. Whatever one thinks of him, he was a suspect and nothing more than
that. Even the FBI agreed.

Celebration in this case was overwhelming, but there were a few questions
raised about the bland rejection of the principle of presumption of
innocence, particularly when trial was hardly impossible. These were met
with harsh condemnations. The most interesting was by a respected
left-liberal political commentator, Matthew Yglesias, who explained that
"one of the main functions of the international institutional order is
precisely to legitimate the use of deadly military force by western
powers," so it is "amazingly naïve" to suggest that the U.S. should obey
international law or other conditions that we righteously demand of the

Only tactical objections can be raised to aggression, assassination,
cyberwar, or other actions that the Holy State undertakes in the service of
mankind. If the traditional victims see matters somewhat differently, that
merely reveals their moral and intellectual backwardness. And the
occasional Western critic who fails to comprehend these fundamental truths
can be dismissed as "silly," Yglesias explains - incidentally, referring
specifically to me, and I cheerfully confess my guilt.

Executive Terrorist Lists

Perhaps the most striking assault on the foundations of traditional
liberties is a little-known case brought to the Supreme Court by the Obama
administration, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. The Project was
condemned for providing "material assistance" to the guerrilla organization
PKK, which has fought for Kurdish rights in Turkey for many years and is
listed as a terrorist group by the state executive. The "material
assistance" was legal advice. The wording of the ruling would appear to
apply quite broadly, for example, to discussions and research inquiry, even
advice to the PKK to keep to nonviolent means. Again, there was a marginal
fringe of criticism, but even those accepted the legitimacy of the state
terrorist list - arbitrary decisions by the executive, with no recourse.

The record of the terrorist list is of some interest. For example, in 1988
the Reagan administration declared Nelson Mandela's African National
Congress to be one of the world's "more notorious terrorist groups," so
that Reagan could continue his support for the Apartheid regime and its
murderous depredations in South Africa and in neighboring countries, as
part of his "war on terror." Twenty years later Mandela was finally removed
from the terrorist list, and can now travel to the U.S. without a special

Another interesting case is Saddam Hussein, removed from the terrorist list
in 1982 so that the Reagan administration could provide him with support
for his invasion of Iran. The support continued well after the war ended.
In 1989, President Bush I even invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the U.S.
for advanced training in weapons production - more information that must be
kept from the eyes of the "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders."

One of the ugliest examples of the use of the terrorist list has to do with
the tortured people of Somalia. Immediately after September 11th, the
United States closed down the Somali charitable network Al-Barakaat on
grounds that it was financing terror. This achievement was hailed one of
the great successes of the "war on terror." In contrast, Washington's
withdrawal of its charges as without merit a year later aroused little

Al-Barakaat was responsible for about half the $500 million in remittances
to Somalia, "more than it earns from any other economic sector and 10 times
the amount of foreign aid [Somalia] receives" a U.N. review determined. The
charity also ran major businesses in Somalia, all destroyed. The leading
academic scholar of Bush's "financial war on terror," Ibrahim Warde,
concludes that apart from devastating the economy, this frivolous attack on
a very fragile society "may have played a role in the rise… of Islamic
fundamentalists," another familiar consequence of the "war on terror."

The very idea that the state should have the authority to make such
judgments is a serious offense against the Charter of Liberties, as is the
fact that it is considered uncontentious. If the Charter's fall from grace
continues on the path of the past few years, the future of rights and
liberties looks dim.

Who Will Have the Last Laugh?

A few final words on the fate of the Charter of the Forest. Its goal was to
protect the source of sustenance for the population, the commons, from
external power - in the early days, royalty; over the years, enclosures and
other forms of privatization by predatory corporations and the state
authorities who cooperate with them, have only accelerated and are properly
rewarded. The damage is very broad.

If we listen to voices from the South today we can learn that "the
conversion of public goods into private property through the privatization
of our otherwise commonly held natural environment is one way neoliberal
institutions remove the fragile threads that hold African nations together.
Politics today has been reduced to a lucrative venture where one looks out
mainly for returns on investment rather than on what one can contribute to
rebuild highly degraded environments, communities, and a nation. This is
one of the benefits that structural adjustment programmes inflicted on the
continent - the enthronement of corruption." I'm quoting Nigerian poet and
activist Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, in his
searing expose of the ravaging of Africa's wealth, To Cook a Continent, the
latest phase of the Western torture of Africa.

Torture that has always been planned at the highest level, it should be
recognized. At the end of World War II, the U.S. held a position of
unprecedented global power. Not surprisingly, careful and sophisticated
plans were developed about how to organize the world. Each region was
assigned its "function" by State Department planners, headed by the
distinguished diplomat George Kennan. He determined that the U.S. had no
special interest in Africa, so it should be handed over to Europe to
"exploit" - his word - for its reconstruction. In the light of history, one
might have imagined a different relation between Europe and Africa, but
there is no indication that that was ever considered.

More recently, the U.S. has recognized that it, too, must join the game of
exploiting Africa, along with new entries like China, which is busily at
work compiling one of the worst records in destruction of the environment
and oppression of the hapless victims.

It should be unnecessary to dwell on the extreme dangers posed by one
central element of the predatory obsessions that are producing calamities
all over the world: the reliance on fossil fuels, which courts global
disaster, perhaps in the not-too-distant future. Details may be debated,
but there is little serious doubt that the problems are serious, if not
awesome, and that the longer we delay in addressing them, the more awful
will be the legacy left to generations to come. There are some efforts to
face reality, but they are far too minimal. The recent Rio+20 Conference
opened with meager aspirations and derisory outcomes.

Meanwhile, power concentrations are charging in the opposite direction, led
by the richest and most powerful country in world history. Congressional
Republicans are dismantling the limited environmental protections initiated
by Richard Nixon, who would be something of a dangerous radical in today's
political scene. The major business lobbies openly announce their
propaganda campaigns to convince the public that there is no need for undue
concern - with some effect, as polls show.

The media cooperate by not even reporting the increasingly dire forecasts
of international agencies and even the U.S. Department of Energy. The
standard presentation is a debate between alarmists and skeptics: on one
side virtually all qualified scientists, on the other a few holdouts. Not
part of the debate are a very large number of experts, including the
climate change program at MIT among others, who criticize the scientific
consensus because it is too conservative and cautious, arguing that the
truth when it comes to climate change is far more dire. Not surprisingly,
the public is confused.

In his State of the Union speech in January, President Obama hailed the
bright prospects of a century of energy self-sufficiency, thanks to new
technologies that permit extraction of hydrocarbons from Canadian tar
sands, shale, and other previously inaccessible sources. Others agree. The
Financial Times forecasts a century of energy independence for the U.S. The
report does mention the destructive local impact of the new methods.
Unasked in these optimistic forecasts is the question what kind of a world
will survive the rapacious onslaught.

In the lead in confronting the crisis throughout the world are indigenous
communities, those who have always upheld the Charter of the Forests. The
strongest stand has been taken by the one country they govern, Bolivia, the
poorest country in South America and for centuries a victim of western
destruction of the rich resources of one of the most advanced of the
developed societies in the hemisphere, pre-Columbus.

After the ignominious collapse of the Copenhagen global climate change
summit in 2009, Bolivia organized a People's Summit with 35,000
participants from 140 countries - not just representatives of governments,
but also civil society and activists. It produced a People's Agreement,
which called for very sharp reduction in emissions, and a Universal
Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. That is a key demand of
indigenous communities all over the world. It is ridiculed by sophisticated
westerners, but unless we can acquire some of their sensibility, they are
likely to have the last laugh - a laugh of grim despair.

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