Back To The Good Ol’ Days In The Great State of Tennessee

It’s not often you get to board a time machine and travel back to say . . . 1925.  Unless you live in Tennessee. 

I knew I was living in crazy-land when the citizens of this state gave Rick Santorum the GOP win on Super Tuesday.  But they’ve broken the mold with the passage of HB 368, affectionately referred to as “The Monkey Bill.”  Why the cute nickname?  Because we’re back to the days of the Butler Act, where the Tennessee legislature actually made it unlawful to teach the subject of evolution in the state’s public school curriculum.  Only the Biblical version would do, thank you very much!

So, here we are in the 21st century with mind-boggling advances in science and technology, medical advances, which would have been deemed science fiction a few short years ago.  And how does Tennessee react?  A fast dive into superstition and magical thinking.  Back to the Scopes trial and Inherit the Wind.

To add to the madness, these pygmies have tried to sell this legislation as a move forward for ‘academic freedom’ and to protect teachers, who wish to present ‘alternative theories’ on evolution and climate change.

What alternative theories?  Like this?

I am forever grateful that I did not educate my own kids in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains.  But I pity the children of others.  We’re in a high-tech world with abundant competition around the globe; competitors would love to cut the US off at the knees.  And Tennessee is going to be teaching creationism as a credible substitute to evolution, claiming it will improve critical thinking.  As for climate change?  I’ve never bought into the instant doomsday scenario. Nor do I think cap and trade is the right way to go. But . . . unless you’re living in an underground bunker, the climate is having a mega-personality crisis.   We cannot pretend the changes around the world aren’t happening—glaciers melting, ice shelves breaking apart, bizarre storms, droughts, etc.   Nor can we afford resorting to childish positions–God would never let us to destroy ourselves, so let’s party down and pollute everything in sight.

Inherit the Wind

I swear, I do not know what it’s going to take.  Some horrific super-cell storm wreaking death and destruction of such proportions that even the Bible thumpers accept reality?  Does California have to fall into the Pacific before the scales fall from the eyes of the blind?

The idea that any school would replace science with pseudo-science for political/religious purposes is beyond outrageous.  This really is a race for the bottom when politicians are applauded for supporting bills designed to leave children uninformed and ignorant.  Did I mention that the Tennessee Senate vote was 24-8? [the House version of this stinker passed last April] Only eight Tennessee Senators had the guts to vote for science.  The vast majority hopped on the make-believe train.

The Huffington Post had a piece on this legislative monstrosity.  There’s a video at the site that I encourage you to watch—watch until the end.  There’s a young man [who unfortunately I believe is for real], questioning the validity of evolution.  This is what ignorance sounds like.

The one saving note on this embarrassment is that the 2005 Dover, Pa. case [several school board members had approved intelligent design introduced to the science/biology curriculum] was overturned using Federal precedent.  I’d be amazed if this nonsense [assuming Republican Governor Haslam signs the bill] isn’t challenged very quickly.  The Tennessee Science Teachers Association opposes the bill, as well as the National Center for Science Education and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As for Tennessee?  It has made itself and its residents a laughing stock.  Again.  Just to be clear.  Though I now live in Smoky Mountain land?  I’m a New Jersey native. Even Chris Christie—the Big Guy–believes in evolution and climate change.

I never cease to be amazed at the slide into stupidity we’re watching.  But this?  This deserves a stupid award.

Occupy 2.0

Until this past weekend, the Occupy Movement was flying under the radar, percolating beyond public view.  But members returned to Zucotti Park on St. Pat’s Day to celebrate the Movement’s six-month anniversary.  From on the ground reports, the demonstration was peaceful.  Until the NYPD arrived.  Then there was trouble—a number of arrests and one woman reportedly had a seizure after she was thrown to the ground and handcuffed.  Several participants said it took 17 minutes for the police to react, after which an ambulance was called.

For naysayers, the Occupy Wall St. Movement [OWS], their members and reasons for being were summarily dismissed before they began.  Who is the leader of this motley group? journalists and pundits asked repeatedly.  What do these people want?

Surprisingly, there is a leader or so I’ve read, someone well known to Occupy organizers but deliberately kept out of public view.  As far as what they want?  The answer seemed perfectly clear to me at the start because I think it’s what most Americans want or if they don’t want it, they expect it: an end to the gross inequality in the country, for which Wall St. and Government collusion holds the lion’s share of responsibility and an end to ‘bought’ elections, where the 1% and corporate interests routinely choose our leaders, shape policy and control the message, known in polite circles as ‘perception management.’

All of this transcends parties, btw.  We’re talking Republican and Democratic parties alike, regardless of how many times we enter the ‘lesser than two evils’ spin.

You don’t need to be a psychic to ‘get’ the OWS message.  You don’t even need to be a member of Occupy.  All that’s needed is a modicum of alertness, a shaking-off of the trance-inducing distraction and deflection of pundits, media hounds and political operators.

So, what has OWS managed to accomplish, thus far?   According to the critics—not a damn thing.  But is that really the case?

Last summer, the headlines were ripe with talk of deficits, crushing debt and woe is me.  We need a Grand Bargain, wisemen crooned [translation: we need to cut public services].  Somehow, we always have money for foreign adventures, national security, weapons and surveillance equipment.  For instance, how many drones will be in American skies by 2020?  Hummm.  Try 30,000.  That’s the Federal Aviation Administration’s rough estimate.  The ever popular ‘shop ‘til you drop’ hee-haw isn’t working either, even with the news that ‘average’ Americans are flocking back to restaurant dining. Despite a stumbling economy there is money for weapons and drones and assorted homeland security gear.  When it comes to education, infrastructure, home mortgage write downs, decent healthcare, aide to our poor, disabled and elderly?  We’re just stone-broke and need to be put on an austerity diet. See Paul Ryan’s reiteration on social program slashes and numbers that don’t add up.  It’s a nice set piece that will contrast with the soon-to-come kinder and gentler Democratic version.

One could call the dialogue change a bizarre coincidence but public conversation pivoted after Occupy came on the scene.  We went from Oooooo, we need to slash Medicare, Medicaid and refigure Social Security to why is Wall St. getting bailed out on the backs of the taxpayer?  Why do we have a system where the profits go to the top income bracket, while risk is carried by Main Street?  Why have the wages of middle-class workers[if they’re fortunate enough to still have a job] barely kept pace with inflation, while the top 1% has had a 275% increase in income?

Uncomfortable questions, the sort that make politicians squirm.

OWS has also focused attention on home foreclosures, working with foreclosed families to save their homes.  The Movement rallied the public in a Change Your Bank Day strategy that is estimated to cost TBTFs a $185 billion in transfers to community banks and credit unions.  Religious organizations have joined the effort.  According to Think Progress, The New Bottom Line, a coalition of faith groups has pledged to remove $1 billion from the major banks this year alone.  OWS also pushed against the ATM fee-increase proposal; the banks pulled back.  In late February, Occupy the SEC submitted a 300+ page document, urging regulators to resist the financial sector’s desire to water down the Volker Rule, part of the Dodd-Frank Wall St. reform.  The group that put the document together was comprised of former Wall St. workers.  OWS members also stood with private landowners, Tea Party members and environmentalists protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that the President has expressed a new-found love for.

Not too shabby for six months activism.  Yet still the critics howl.  Where is the direction, what are the goals?

The Movement is young and still developing but you cannot fault it for sitting on its hands.  More importantly, the Occupy spirit is global in nature because many activists are ‘graduates without a future’—young, educated and fed up.  Paul Mason documented this facet of the worldwide

Arundhati Roy

social/political movements in his book, “Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere,”  and Arundhati Roy wrote this in a recent essay: “Capitalism, A Ghost Story”:

As Gush-Up concentrates wealth on to the tip of a shining pin on which our billionaires pirouette, tidal waves of money crash through the institutions of democracy—the courts, Parliament as well as the media, seriously compromising their ability to function in the ways they are meant to. The noisier the carnival around elections, the less sure we are that democracy really exists.

Sound familiar?  The neoliberal model, the gross inequality that rewards the few at the expense of the many has circled the globe, creating universal discontent and misery.

So, what’s coming up for 2012?  What will Occupy 2.0 look like?

I’d suggest checking the OWS page here for an updated list of scheduled actions.  OWS plans to be in Chicago in mid-May to protest the NATO Summit although the city is throwing up barriers to prevent demonstrations.  Somehow, I don’t think the protest will be stopped.

May 1 will be a National Action, the day traditionally known as International Worker’s Day.  This year OWS is calling for a General Strike across the country.  From the Occupy site:

We are calling on everyone who supports the cause of economic justice and true democracy to take part: No Work, No School, No Housework, No Shopping, No Banking – and most importantly, TAKE THE STREETS!

This Saturday, March 24, a Disrupt Dirty Power protest has been called in NYC to jumpstart a month-long action until Earth Day, April 22.  More information here.

Sunday, March 25, Occupy Town Square IV will focus on public parks and other public spaces in NYC.  More info here.

If you’re interested in local actions in particular states, towns, cities or countries, info can be found at the Occupy Together site here.

And if you want to eliminate the idea of ‘a failed movement’ from your brain. Check out the participation map here.  The scope is massive.

The essay I mentioned by Arundhati Roy is well worth a read—highly informative, even shocking about vulture capitalism’s impact on India.  Be prepared, it’s long.  As Roy moves into her concluding paragraphs, she writes this:

Capitalism is in crisis. Trickledown failed. Now Gush-Up is in trouble too. The international financial meltdown is closing in. India’s growth rate has plummeted to 6.9 per cent. Foreign investment is pulling out. Major international corporations are sitting on huge piles of money, not sure where to invest it, not sure how the financial crisis will play out. This is a major, structural crack in the juggernaut of global capital.

Capitalism’s real “grave-diggers” may end up being its own delusional Cardinals, who have turned ideology into faith. Despite their strategic brilliance, they seem to have trouble grasping a simple fact: Capitalism is destroying the planet. The two old tricks that dug it out of past crises—War and Shopping—simply will not work.

Disaster capitalism has certainly lived up to its name, be it continuous war, environmental degradation or exploding poverty.  What is Occupy about?  Speaking for myself, Occupy is about a break of faith with a global economic system that serves no one but an elite minority, where infinite money and power is the only morality.  The movement is a massive rejection of the ongoing mantra: there’s no other way.  Occupy challenges that static position, calls on us to envision something else, something better than the consensus mind.  It dares us to shake off the old and embrace a sense of possibility.  It demands we wake up, now.

What The Irish Can Teach Us

Now that we’ve all been Irish for a day–donning the green, marching or watching parades and downing those pints at the local bar, we might ask ourselves [whether we’re from Irish American backgrounds or not]: Is there anything more the Irish can teach us?

Running across an essay by Barbara Ehrenreich on American poverty, specifically the lingering, depressing notion of the ‘culture of poverty’ and

Dublin's Famine Memorial

having listened to Charles Murray on Book TV discuss his recent book,  “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2012,” I think the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’

As Ehrenreich reminds us, the idea that poor people are inherently different than the affluent and in fact, need to be changed, corrected, put right has been an enduring theme of the conservative right.  The inequality between the poor and the rich is not a matter of jobs or opportunity, education or money, so the theory goes.  It’s about the poor being substantially flawed.  They lack core values: ambition, get-up-and-go, faith, and the ability to plan for the future.  The poor are impulsive, promiscuous, prone to addiction and crime and, as Ehrenreich points out, theorists all contend that the poor ‘certainly cannot be trusted with money.’

Charles Murray’s presentation picks up on the ‘culture of poverty’ theory and runs with it like a champion of reason and rightness.  The American Project, Murray contends, the continuation of a civil society is threatened because the working class and upper-middle class are of a different kind altogether. The unraveling of America has nothing to do with the inequality of income but the inequality of culture.

Murray uses two ‘symbolic’ communities to illustrate his thesis: Belmont and Fishtown though both communities actually exist—Belmont, an affluent neighborhood outside Boston and Fishtown, a working class neighborhood of Philadelphia.  Murray goes on to compare the two communities in four main areas: marriage, industriousness, honesty, and religiosity.  And surprise, surprise.  Fishtown gets a failing grade on all scores.

What does this have to do with the Irish?  I suggest a quick trip back in time, say to the mid-19th century during what became known as the Great Hunger.

Ireland was heavily populated with subsistence/tenant farmers, generally in debt to their English landlords.  Most have heard of the ‘great potato blight’ of 1845-1849 when over 1 million Irish died of starvation.  What many may not know is that the the affluent English landlords were exporting an abundance of grain, meat and dairy for profit as the Irish poor starved.  And the conservative government response?  Their policy was one of laissez faire, leave well enough alone.  As the Assistant Secretary of Ireland reportedly said at the time: to give the people something for nothing, ‘would have the country on us for an indefinite time.’  The fear of dependency was greater than watching the population starve. Free market policies and workhouses became popular.  But still people died.  In droves.  The fields of once blighted potatoes became graveyards.

How were the Irish viewed by ‘polite’ English society?  The Irish were considered brutish, lazy, devious, promiscuous, prone to crime and heavy drinking.  Worse yet—they were Catholic.

The point is that this warped view on poverty is not new.  Nor are the political responses.  Even when a population was starving to death en masse, the response in Ireland was an ideological one: people had to work to be fed, even when they were too weak and sick to stand upright.

The Irish know this. They remembered it well and passed the bleak stories down to their descendants.  The impoverished Irish immigrants, those who came to America [if they survived the ocean crossing], found the same weary stereotypes waiting on another shore.  Anyone with Irish American grandparents or other family oldsters have likely heard the tales of blatant bigotry while growing up—the ‘no dogs or Irish’ signs in shop windows.

Still I found it amazing that Murray could say the main problem threatening the Nation today is not income inequality but cultural inequality.  Minx wrote a very effective piece last week on the growing poverty in the US.   Cited in her post was a statement by Tavis Smiley, who is pushing to have the issue of exploding poverty included in the 2012 election:

Women are much more likely to be poor than men, and more than a million children have fallen into poverty, and more than 500,000 have fallen into extreme poverty” — that is, living on less than $2 a day — “since 2010.”
Recent census data shows that the number of children who live in extreme poverty has doubled from 1996 to 2011, from 1.4 million to 2.8 million.

And yet, as Minx pointed out a number of states: Kansas, Utah and Nebraska have initiated policies to cut food stamps to needy children.

Well here’s a factoid that turns the whole cultural argument on its head: the fastest growing segment of the newly poor are in suburban neighborhoods.

Warrensville Heights, Cleveland suburb, photo:dustin franz,NYT

Some of this is due to changing demographics but the larger percentage has to do with long-term unemployment, stagnate wages, off-shoring, the housing debacle, etc., etc.  Here’s a chilling study from the same link:

Mark Rank, a social welfare professor at Washington University in St. Louis, has written extensively about shifts in U.S. poverty since the 1960s, and finds that Americans today are more likely to face poverty than in the past. According to Rank’s data, 24 percent of people who were in their 20s in the 1970s were likely to experience poverty at some point in their lives. That number rose to 31 percent in the 1980s and 37 percent in the 1990s. Today a majority of Americans-51.4 percent, according to the Urban Institute-will experience poverty by the time they’re 65.

Are we to believe that this sudden shift to poverty or expectation of poverty is all about lost moral/cultural compasses?   Charles Murray would say, ‘yes.’  He suggests that the upper-middle class reach out, reintegrate and reeducate the working classes in the four pillars of civil society: marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity.  Note that Murray’s study just happens to begin at the soon-to-be turbulent 1960s.  Ahhh, if only we could go back to those Father Knows Best days.

In contrast, Barbara Ehrenreich pointedly says:

. . . a new discovery of poverty is long overdue. This time, we’ll have to take account not only of stereotypical Skid Row residents and Appalachians, but of foreclosed-upon suburbanites, laid-off tech workers, and America’s ever-growing army of the “working poor.” And if we look closely enough, we’ll have to conclude that poverty is not, after all, a cultural aberration or a character flaw. Poverty is a shortage of money.

My suggestion?  Find yourself an Irish grandmother, the older the better.  She’ll give you an earful. Generational memory is a powerful thing!

The Remarkable Revisionism Of Maureen Dowd

I stopped reading Maureen Dowd’s columns after the 2008 election season.  Dowd’s attacks on Hillary Clinton, her drift into pseudo-literary allusions and her love affair with all things Barack Obama was too much to bear.

Life is short, I reasoned.   So little time, so much to read. Why waste precious moments on mind-numbing crapola?

But yesterday morning, I found a deadly twofer in the Op-Ed section of the NYT.  Thomas Freidman [a man I rarely agree with], waxed eloquent on the future of capitalism, now that the shine on globalization has dulled.  Not to be outdone, Dowd led with the Tea Party’s warrior cry: ‘Don’t Tread On Us.’   Her tagline?

For the Republican uncivil war on women, we’ll need a take-no-prisoners Democratic general.

We’ll need?   As in Maureen Dowd and moi?  As in gender solidarity within the Democratic Party now has meaning?

Oh yes, I’m well aware of the Republican assault on all things female, particularly our sexual parts, our inability to make right-minded decisions when it comes to reproduction or contraception. Women are obviously so clueless it’s a wonder we can tie our shoes. Just to be sure we understand what pregnancy is, what it truly means, women in a number of states will be required to have an ultrasound before terminating a pregnancy, otherwise known as a legal abortion.  The forward-thinking Great State of Arizona has suggested legislation where an employer can fire you for using birth control.  Amazing!

I’m waiting for someone to suggest arranged marriages.  Or foot binding.

That being said, Dowd piqued my curiosity, seduced me to break my no-read vow. I was fascinated with her head-spinning reversal:

Hillary Clinton has fought for women’s rights around the world. But who would have dreamed that she would have to fight for them at home?

And then goes on to say:

. . . Republicans could drive women into Democratic arms. . . .And whose arms would be more welcoming to the sisters than Hillary’s?

This is too rich.  Hillary Clinton has spent her entire professional life fighting for the rights of women and girls, here and abroad.  But in 2008, none of that mattered.  Shortly before the New Hampshire primary, Hillary Clinton spoke to supporters.  Her eyes welled up.  Maureen Dowd’s reaction?  In her Op-ed entitled, ‘Can Hillary Cry Her Way Back To the Whitehouse?’ she wrote:

But there was a whiff of Nixonian self-pity about her choking up. What was moving her so deeply was her recognition that the country was failing to grasp how much it needs her. In a weirdly narcissistic way, she was crying for us. But it was grimly typical of her that what finally made her break down was the prospect of losing.

And to further skewer:

She became emotional because she feared that she had reached her political midnight, when she would suddenly revert to the school girl with geeky glasses and frizzy hair, smart but not the favorite. All those years in the shadow of one Natural, only to face the prospect of being eclipsed by another Natural?

Yup, that’s what I call a strong dose of sisterly love!  A sharp knife right between the ribs.  Get the angle right, there’s barely any blood.  And the campaign against Hillary was death by a thousand tiny cuts.

But Dowd was not a one-trick pony.  She kept it up.  In the piece ‘Wilting Over Waffles’:

Now that Hillary has won Pennsylvania, it will take a village to help Obama escape from the suffocating embrace of his rival. Certainly Howard Dean will be of no use steering her to the exit. It’s like Micronesia telling Russia to denuke.

“You know, some people counted me out and said to drop out,” said a glowing Hillary at her Philadelphia victory party, with Bill and Chelsea by her side. “Well, the American people don’t quit. And they deserve a president who doesn’t quit, either.”

The Democrats are growing ever more desperate about the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Another warm and fuzzy descriptive: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.  What’s not to love?

Dowd whipped it right to the finish line.  In a piece entitled: ‘Yes, She Can’:

Hillary’s orchestrating a play within the play in Denver. Just as Hamlet used the device to show that his stepfather murdered his father, Hillary will try to show the Democrats they chose the wrong savior.


Obama also allowed Hillary supporters to insert an absurd statement into the platform suggesting that media sexism spurred her loss and that “demeaning portrayals of women … dampen the dreams of our daughters.” This, even though postmortems, including the new raft of campaign memos leaked by Clintonistas to The Atlantic — another move that undercuts Obama — finger Hillary’s horrendous management skills.

Besides the crashing egos and screeching factions working at cross purposes, Joshua Green writes in the magazine, Hillary’s “hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.”

It would have been better to put this language in the platform: “A woman who wildly mismanages and bankrupts a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar campaign operation, and then blames sexism in society, will dampen the dreams of our daughters.”

Dampen the dreams of our daughters???

I’d like to dampen Maureen Dowd’s head, a few dunks in the toilet.  But to be fair, Maureen Dowd is not the only one revising past barbs and now hyping the Hillary Clinton train for 2016.  I’m hearing the pundit echo machine repeat the refrain that Hillary has reached a pinnacle of respect, equal to . . . Al Gore and John Kerry.


Hillary Clinton reached that pinnacle long before these born-again cheerleaders took note.  Despite the minimizing of her accomplishments–the 80+ countries she visited as First Lady, her participation in Vital Voices during the peace agreement sought in Ireland and her remarkable speech in Beijing—there were many of us who recognized Hillary Clinton as one of the most talented and dedicated political figures of her generation.

The question is . . . why now?  Why the sudden gush of Hillary love after years of pot shots?

Well, riddle me this: who desperately needs the women’s vote in 2012?  Sure, the Republicans have gone out of their way to play the Grand Inquisitor of the 21st century, but until recently President Obama specifically and Democrats in general were watching the female vote slip into tight-lipped resentment.  But then, who can draw genuine excitement in the female electorate [leaving the dwindling Palinistas out of the equation for the moment]?

None other than Hill, who has been voted as the most admired woman for the last 16 years.  With good reason.

Hillary Clinton has stated her role as Secretary of State is likely to be her last public position. I’ve resigned myself to that fact though I’d be thrilled if she were to run again.  But the possibility of a future Clinton candidacy has not cast mass amnesia, erased what we witnessed and heard–the flurry of demeaning articles, suggestions that Hillary was ‘pimping’ Chelsea on the campaign trail, that someone should drag Hillary into a broom closet where only the aggressor comes out, that her nagging voice was like everyone’s ex-wife, etc., etc., etc.

Or this:

If Maureen Dowd and her colleagues have had a genuine change of heart about Hillary Clinton’s extraordinary career, her achievements and leadership qualities, I’m glad for that.  But you’ll have to forgive me.  I’m more than a little suspicious of rah-rah revisionism when the ‘Change We Can Believe In’ mantra has grown old and stale.

You’re not fooling anyone, Ms. Dowd. We have not forgotten.

How to Fight Corporate Greed And Actually Make A Difference

Yesterday I posted the rather dismal news about Pennsylvania’s Act 13, a corporate-driven piece of legislation that bows on bended knee to the gas and oil industry at the expense of citizen and community civil rights.  All for the love of fracking, natural gas and profits.  Did I mention there’s a glut of natural gas on the market right now?  The price has dropped like a stone due to oversupply and the incredibly mild winter we’ve had in the States.  Prices, however, are much higher elsewhere.  Asia and Europe, for instance.  And energy companies are pushing for permits to build LNG [liquid natural gas] terminals for that very purpose.  According to Forbes magazine:

A thousand cubic feet of natural gas currently costs $14 to $15 in Asia, $8 to $9 in Europe, and $4 in North America, down 9 percent from what it was at the outset of 2011.

That could make corporate CEO’s and investors very grumpy.

It could also make Pennsylvania residents grumpy.  It’s bad enough to compromise the environment, jeopardize water supplies and threaten the health of American citizens but then the product is exported elsewhere for increased profits?  I can hear heads exploding.

The Forbes article indicates the high investment cost on LGN terminals could easily make this scheme impractical.  But the scale of these problems and the power that large corporations wield seem depressingly insurmountable. With energy solutions, the problems are magnified.  We need energy to keep on, keeping on.  The question is finding a balance between getting the energy we need and what we’re willing to accept as ‘collateral damage.’  It can make your head hurt.

Karma must have led me to an article by Jim Schultz, the executive director of the Democracy Center, an organization that works globally to educate citizens on effective advocacy for environmental and social issues.  His article, ‘Three Ways to Beat Corporate Giants’ improved my mood immensely.

Make It Personal

The example Schultz provides is the Bolivian Water Revolt against Bechtel and the World Bank’s meddling.  I’d heard about the 2000 revolt previously, the privatization of the public water supply in Bolivia’s third largest city, Cochabamba.  Within weeks of taking over, Bechtel raised water prices by nearly 50%.  The poor were literally forced to choose between food or water.  Massive protests resulted in the city as rural people joined the pushback.  The president, Hugo Banzer, tried repressing the opposition but protests continued unabated.  A resulting 4-day workers’ strike brought the strife to an end–Banzer cancelled the Bechtel contract.

However, what I didn’t know [or didn’t remember] was that Bechtel attempted to sue the citizens of Cochabamba for $50 million, though their investment was reportedly less than $1 million.  Activists then made the fight personal.  Their goal?  Make the life of CEO Riley Bechtel and his top management team miserable. They flooded their personal accounts with email.  They derided their names and actions at every opportunity in the media.  They protested in front of the company’s headquarters and the officer’s private residences.  Ultimately, the protest prevailed.  Bechtel settled for a token payment of 30 cents.

Add Humor To Your Protests

The plan to replace a coal-fired station is featured, a project in southwest England to be built by a German energy company.  Environmentalists and grassroot activists used protests, petitions and civil disobedience—standard fare.  But they also added a twist.  Since the new station was advertised as ‘clean coal,’ protestors showed up to publicly scrub coal in front of the German company’s office [E. On Energy] and then sent a Santa brigade to deliver the coal to ‘naughty’ executives. This action caught the attention and favor of the public.  Ultimately, the protest worked—the energy company withdrew its plans and the UK government pledged not to approve any other coal-fired stations without carbon capture and storage capabilities [a technology yet to be fully developed].

Concentrate On Shareholders

The successful campaign against Occidental Oil Co. and their plans to drill in the Columbian ‘cloud forest,’ focused on the primary investors of the oil field development plan.  The region, which is the tribal home to the indigenous U’wa people, the environmental threat to the bio-diversity of the area and the fear of armed violence from the country’s FARC rebels fueled massive protests on Fidelity Investments, a primary shareholder of Occidental.  It was through the protests and the exposure of the U’wa people’s way of life—their spiritual connection to the forest, what they stood to lose–that convinced [maybe shamed] the business world to withdraw support and funding for the project. Another win.

In the end, our national and global problems look insurmountable and corporate power certainly appears invincible at first glance.  It’s a good refresher to realize that there have been victories and there are citizens, here and abroad, willing to put it on the line and speak out against the rise of corporate greed and bullying.  Activists may not win all the battles. But they’ve won some and continue to pushback.  For that, I salute them. It’s also a reminder as one Occupy sign shouted out:

And then, I stumbled across this video.  It made me laugh and laughing is good for the soul.  I’d file this under category #2 in Jim Schultz’s guidebook.  Sometimes humor can make a statement of its own.