Sunday, January 13, 2019

Congress is Finally Doing its Job!

Stewart M. Brandborg (1925-2017)
Iconic Environmentalist
Executive Director, The Wilderness Society, 1964-1976
Founder, Friends of the Bitterroot, Bitterrooters For Planning
and much, much more

I couldn’t help noticing that there’s been a lot of talk these last three weeks of this latest government shutdown about congressional dysfunction, which is mystifying to me. I was all of twelve years old when the Wilderness Law was passed through that body and, barring a few insignificant little blips here and there that was the last era I can think of in my lifetime that Congress was actually interested in doing its job and now, by standing up to the orange, lying, racist bloviator and his minions they are acting like they’re interested in doing it again.

They wouldn’t have been interested in 1964 if it hadn’t been for uncompromising believers in Democracy like Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg (whom I had the honor of knowing) and so many others whom I didn’t know, who gave everything they had for what they believed was right and, if you’ve ever appreciated the wildlands they unequivocally saved from the blade and the saw with the passage of the Wilderness Law, you’ll have to admit that they were right. Brandy often advised those striving for a better, saner world to not hesitate to do the right thing, which was to keep pouring the hot oil of public opinion down the bastards’ necks until they gave in. 

I would pass on the same advice to those who seem to be vacillating on whether Congress’ continuing, effective opposition to a racist, immoral wall cutting untold wildlands in two and doing maximum damage to our national pschye as well as our dear Land is such a good idea. I’d say “get a grip”. Place blame here: 
and keep pouring hot oil down your representatives’ necks while remembering to thank them (at least the ones still standing firm) for earning their government health benefits.

What's Bigger Than the Land?


Guy Brandborg's 1913 Grazing Manual

“I always tried to envision getting good people to make democracy work. I didn’t want to confine myself with wilderness.”
                                                      Stewart M. Brandborg
                                                      Executive Director, Wilderness Society, 1964-1976

Stewart Brandborg, the last true activist to lead The Wilderness Society[i], maybe the oldest activist still fighting the Wild West’s crazy resource wars, maybe the last old-time activist left in America, was sitting in his motorized wheelchair, telling a story.
One time his friend, Olaus Murie, had come to Washington D.C. on a Greyhound bus from his cabin in Moose, Wyoming to testify before Congress on behalf of some critical conservation issue or other. Olaus was president of a small organization (The Wilderness Society) on the cusp of blooming into its name, and this was the late fifties, the golden age of massive federal projects that were by design and definition bigger and more durable than the pyramids of ancient Egypt. It was the golden age of dams.
Congress, like ancient Egypt, is one of those rarified clubs that attracts vulnerable people who, as often happens, accumulate more power than they can handle and become prone to the suffering of pharaohs. This is a diagnosable disease, a timeless itch that has everlastingly tanked societies grown too top-heavy. It’s the itch of would-be gods who worship themselves and the big and durable things they could command to be built in their names and then have those big things named after them. So, although Brandy couldn’t recall the exact nature of his friend’s visit when he picked him up at the bus station that day, it was probably a dam that Olaus had come to town to school the pharaohs about. 
A long trip on a bus back then took some wind out of your sails even if you were young, but especially when you were in your sixties and dealing with health issues, as Olaus was. So when the bus pulled into the station, this man who had logged thousands of miles on foot and dogsled in the mountains of Alaska and Wyoming took a walk around the block to stretch his legs while waiting for his ride. 
Olaus and Brandy had a lot in common. Both were westerners, uncomfortable in cities and physically-acclimated to living outdoors. Both were wildlife biologists with extensive experience “in the field”. Finally, and maybe most importantly, both came from that pioneer strain of Scandinavian stock that still populates the North-Central Minnesota plains, the people who came immediately after those plains were seized from the Dakota people during the tense, uncertain early years of America’s Civil War. It’s ironic that these lands were taken during the watch of no less a politician than Abe Lincoln, who would seek to secure the blessings of liberty for immigrants fleeing tyrants in Europe and for people from Africa whom those Europeans enslaved, but couldn’t seek the same courtesies for the original inhabitants of the Land. True, there were sentimentalists among the abolitionists who elevated him to the presidency, who yearned to “save” the “savage” with “Christianity”, none of which were words used by the Dakota people to describe themselves or their predicament. Lincoln reciprocated, and didn’t use other words alien to the Dakota people, like “wilderness”, to describe what his administration took from them. He used the word “frontier”, and, given the radical strain of Swedes and Norwegians that ended up springing from that virgin sod of the Dakota peoples’ plains turned upside-down, that’s a pretty fair definition of irony. What, for instance, could late-19thcentury Scandinavian farmers fleeing decrepit monarchies in search of personal freedoms have known about what the Dakota People thought of their dear Land? 
Not much really, and so the Scandanavian farmers didn’t think about it much, at least not at first, and that’s how it was when Olaus was born in 1889 along the Red River that defines the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota, to Norwegian immigrants and, four years later, when Brandy’s father, Guy (also known as “Brandy” throughout his lifetime) was born in Ottertail County, the next one over from the Muries, to Swedish stock. 
By the mid-1950s, Guy’s son, Stewart, and Olaus were fellow Wilderness Society board members. Brandy’s day-job was Project Director for the National Wildlife Federation, whose director, George Callison, saw potential in bringing “westerners” into the simmering national conservation stewpot, westerners who liked to fight dams, for instance, which Brandy was doing in central Idaho when Callison became aware of him. It was a novel idea, this seeking out of those who lived in the “field” and who could speak in eloquent counter-arguments to nominally-elected potentates openly pining for their own monogramed Eighth Wonder. Brandy had been a lookout and a smoke chaser for the Forest Service in his teens and had studied mountain goats for several years during and after college. He was a wildlife biologist, a conservation activist, the son of an already-iconic “social forester” of the Gifford Pinchot mold, and a westerner. He also came with an impressive political juggling act under his belt: working for Idaho’s Fish and Game Department while simultaneously fighting two massive federal dam projects proposed to drown out Central Idaho’s wilderness. Here, then, was a young man whom Callison wanted to talk to and he set his sights on enticing Stewart Brandborg to come to town. And so he did.
It wasn’t long after the Brandborgs, Stewart, AnnaVee and their baby, Becky, had settled into the rhythms of D.C. that Howard Zahnizer, executive director of The Wilderness Society, saw similar potential in this big, young, talkative westerner. “Zahnie” took Brandy under his wing, drove him around Washington D.C. in his Cadillac Convertible (which is why Cadillac Convertibles ever-after impressed Brandy as “the bee’s knees”[ii]) and tapped him to serve as a board member of the Wilderness Society, as a protégé and also as a taxi-driver for fellow conservationists needing rides to and from bus stations. On this occasion, Brandy showed up and found Olaus holding a leaf. 
“It’s amazing,” he recalled Olaus saying. “How fine-veined they are, how they blow down the sidewalk in the wind as they do. How perfectly designed for their purpose they are.” 
AnnaVee was listening to this story from their open kitchen. She had been tolerating Brandy’s telling of it until he came to the part about the leaf. Then she quietly sidled up, which was how they split the duties of lifelong activism all those years in D.C. and then in Montana--evenly. She was Brandy’s fact-checker, Brandy taking up the airspace, AnnaVee underlying his narrative with the critical combination of introspection and accurate memory. 
“There are some things that you should know about Olaus, Sigurd Olson[iii]and Zahniser” she advised me in her quiet voice that was every bit as earnest as Brandy’s louder one. 
“Zahnie was somebody that you just immediately loved. You just felt good in his presence. The same was true for Sig. You were glad to be there, and glad to have him with you. Olaus was a little different sort of person. To me, sitting with him was like sitting next to Christ.” 
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This book, “What’s Bigger Than the Land?”, was started--and partly takes place--in Stewart and AnnaVee Brandborg’s livingroom, just south of the small western-Montana town of Hamilton. Brandy was not only the last surviving architect of the 1964 Wilderness Act, he’s also been an instigator and touchstone for much of the considerable environmental activism which has occurred in Western Montana since he and AnnaVee packed it up and moved back home from the Beltway in 1986. Countless strategy meetings have occurred in this house, leading to significant victories—or at least stallings--against the local adherents of the extractive status quo, which in turn led to his and his family’s vilification by those local adherents. They’re both native Montanans with deep roots and, since the Bitterroot Valley is still rural and relatively small, at least one of the villifiers was someone who attended their wedding in 1949. There have also been those people who just moved up from some urban dystopia with the intent of surrounding themselves with others who look like them (Montana is almost 90% white) and think like them (Trump won in Ravalli County by almost 70%). Just people, in other words, the usual problem, but no matter. Brandy and AnnaVee never gave an inch, let alone gave up. They were of that vanishing species of gracious, determined fighters who listened to everybody and then did what they knew had to be done. Liberals in the old-time sense of the word, which is to say “socialists” in the old-time sense of that abused word (at least Brandy and his dad were although they rarely described themselves as such), rare beasts in our current, troubled times. 
The topic of our first discussions were several vintage cardboard boxes of personal files from Brandy’s days as Executive Director of The Wilderness Society. The story of the boxes, in a nutshell, is about how Howard Zahniser—Brandy’s friend and mentor—unexpectedly died four months before his eight-year battle to pass a Wilderness Bill was finished. Brandy took over as head of the Society for the last push and, when Lyndon B. Johnson finally signed it into law on September 3, 1964, Brandy missed it. Characteristically, he was “out west”.
“I was the guy,” Brandy put it, “that had worked his butt off following Zahniser’s passing in May, and I didn’t even get to the signing. I regretted that but here I was with four kids and a raccoon…”[iv]
This was a pattern, repeated throughout Brandy's long life. In the summer of 1945, for instance, he was surveying lodgepole out of Bozeman, two feet in diameter and straight as pillars holding up the roof in the sky. He had been classified 4-F by the draft board a couple years before, and his aunt had given him a Model T. Big doings were happening half a world a way, the atomic age yawned awake on August 6 and 9 with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and on VJ Day, Brandy found himself  in Bozeman, celebrating with a girl he liked. Big events would roar in the distance, and he wasn’t even sure whether Johnson knew a wilderness from a cow pasture. But he admitted that Johnson was a superb politician, and that’s what mattered as far as signings go. Brandy didn't think they needed him there, and that was one of the biggest gifts Brandy brought to the Wilderness Law and, more importantly to the implementing of it. Someone dedicating their life to the preservation of America’s remaining intact ecosystems needed to know the Land enough to be humbled by it, and so it was that so long as there was still some open country left to roam in, Brandy would roam in it[v]and would encourage others to do so. 
 Brandy led the Society for the next twelve years after the signing, until 1976 when he was fired by the board. This occurred because he fought an oil pipeline, in Alaska, and had alienated some industry-funded foundations such as the Mellon Foundation (Gulf Oil) that some newer board members were interested in soliciting grant money from. Brandy wasn’t being “professional” enough, these board members surmised, and so they hired a business consulting firm[vi]to find fault in Brandy’s “professionalism”, which the consulting firm dutifully did. Brandy’s firing, in turn, created an uproar throughout the environmental community, and even today to say out loud what was widely-thought back then, that The Wilderness Society fired Brandy because he spearheaded an almost-successful fight against the Alaskan Pipeline is a statement incredible on its face and still unbelievable to many within the movement. Controversial, in other words, just like every other aspect of Brandy's lifelong, uncompromising activism. But that’s what probably went down in early January of 1976 , when he and two of his top staff staff, Ernest Dickerman and Virginia (Peeps) Carney (both of whom would resign from the organization soon after), cleaned out his office. They stuffed a couple dozen boxes full of Wilderness Society records covering the periods 1955 to 1977 that Brandy wanted saved—which were most of them--and walked them out through an unused back door onto the asphalt roof of the People’s Drugstore, which their offices sat above and which, coincidentally, was within sight of the White House. They didn’t use the front door because the new interim-director, Clif Merrit, a long-time colleague of theirs, was sitting at the front desk, supposedly monitoring what Brandy was taking out of his office. The whole thing was embarrassing: for them, for the new interim-director, for everyone involved in the whole embarrassing affair. 
They carried the boxes across the roof and down the fire-escape ladder, where the Brandborg family’s station wagon was parked on the street below. They loaded them up, and Brandy drove the boxes home to Turkey Foot Road in Maryland just north of the Washington metropolitan area, and that where they stayed until the Brandborgs headed west for good.
The Wilderness Society entered into a period of turmoil from this event that became one of the major debacles in America’s post-Nixon world, when the “left” seemed to be finally finding its feet, and then stumbled on them. It’s still a fierce debate that rages within the nationwide environmental community: how beholden should progressive non-profits be to corporate donors. Brandy, who was in on the cusp of so many watershed victories for the environmental movement, was also in on the cusp of that same movement’s watershed setback from which it has never fully recovered. Nixon, who would have been in the last year of his presidency in 1976 if he hadn’t been forced to resign, could rightly claim that he had signed more environmental legislation into law than any other president. But Nixon’s green tint was almost wholly the result of the democratic pushing and shoving from below that Brandy and his colleagues were so adept at. Maybe Nixon could be excused if he snickered a bit at the whole affair because, in the end, he did get his pipeline. 
When the Brandborgs moved back to the Bitterroot Valley, the Wilderness Society files came with them. Still tucked in their original cardboard boxes, they were stored in the various basements, garages and sheds where papers that are dear to the possessors invariably end up, and in those vintage boxes they remained, relatively unmolested for the next thirty years. 
It wasn’t a complete set anymore. Some had already made their way down to the University of Montana archives in Missoula. An unspecified few had been lost in a still-unexplained house fire when the Brandborgs were living in the hills above the small logging town of Darby twenty miles south of Hamilton, a town which still held both him and his dad personally responsible for “shutting down the mills” decades ago, the very mills both Brandborgs had repeatedly warned were overcutting their own selves out of existence—which is what they did. But through all that about a dozen boxes still remained, mostly in the garage, a few out in the garden shed. They contained dog-eared documents from the environmental movement’s budding days, those heady days of the sixties and seventies, of Howard Zahniser, Olaus and Margaret (Mardie) Murie, Sigurd (Sig) Olson and, of course, Stewart Brandborg and his dad, Guy (Big Brandy as his family still refers to him). 
There was a whole box, for example, marked “Timber Supply Act”, an existential threat to the budding power of an unpredicted environmental movement that was by fits and starts blooming and booming by the late sixties. If it had passed, it would have congressionally-mandated unsustainable levels of timber harvest on national forests into perpetuity, making moot most of the improvements in forest management that came before and after it. The remaining forests of the Rockies, indeed the remaining forests throughout the nation, would have been stripped for quick cash, as so many had already been. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, when college kids and their professors were widely circulating such notions as “ecology”, “wildlife corridors” and “population explosions”, notions that industrialists felt had no place in serious talk about forest management, let alone about anything else. It was pure communism to them, or at least so they said. But Brandy had grown up with his feet in the dirt, and he called their bluff and made it stick, which was another of his strengths. It was his saddle-seasoned dad, after all, who was raising hell about overcutting the Bitterroot National Forest, in what came to be known as the “Clearcut Crisis”[vii]at this very historical second when these industrial “anti-communists”, who may have never seen a mule up close let alone settled their butt on one for a month, were advocating for armed soldiers on college campuses as the solution to this dirt-based “problem” of the sixties. The Clearcut Crisis in the Bitterroot was exactly what the sponsors of the Timber Supply Act had in mind to counter with their no-nonsense, get-the-cut-out legislation. They even gave the Brandborgs an off-hand compliment by re-naming their legislation the “National Forest Timber Conservation and Management Act” which, of course, was not about conservation at all. Brandy and his dad took those Pharoahs down in flames, paving the way for the National Forest Management Act of 1976, and Brandy still claims this as one of his proudest moments, a largely-forgotten one now that had a significant mouse nest in it, possibly multi-generational. Clearly something needed to be done.
Personal miracles exist in almost anyone’s garage. Letters from great-aunts who moved to Los Angeles to be movie stars, pictures of ancestors on Ellis Island, that $96 hospital bill that paid for your birth, the sort of documentary detritus that doesn’t want to be thrown out but transforms into clutter after a few decades of hanging around in linen closets. That’s when a time-honored trajectory is applied to them with the rationale that, if you can’t fit it neatly on a bookshelf, turn it into furniture or actually throw it out, away it goes into the true archive of American history since at least World War Two—the garage. In the Brandborg’s case, this accumulated detritus ran deep into a largely-forgotten history or, worse, a misinterpreted one, of an environmental awakening that hadn’t happened in this country before, and, sadly, hasn’t happened since. It was exciting, overwhelming and personal. Foolishly, then, I dug in.
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The wording in this book attributed to Brandy are either in quotes as his own, or paraphrased from his own. They can be found within the excellent series of taped interviews conducted by Dick Ellis in 2003, in several other interviews and videos now archived at the University of Montana’s K. Ross Tool Archives within the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library or within the tapes and notes of my own conversations with him (also archived). I tried to stay faithful to his meaning and intent, while not generally citing or footnoting them overmuch along the way because I decided it would distract from the narrative which I was ultimately after in the boxes—and what I believed Brandy was after, too. Not just the facts within (which, in the interest of full disclosure I admit that, due to their voluminous nature compared to my own, laid-back one, I merely cherry-picked) but the dust they kicked up. Brandy’s especially but a little of my own as well. After all, it’s been my luck to choose a drop-dead-gorgeous country like the Bitterroot to live in during such interesting times. I’ve been working and playing here for decades, in the same wild country that Brandy and his colleagues saved for future generations--including my own--to have the opportunity to live, work and play in at all, and I have something to say about how they are being defined and defiled by those who simply may not know the history of their temporary salvation well enough. There’s something here in the Northern Rockies, I think, this home-sweet-home of the Nimi’ipuu (the Nez Perce People), that speaks to the existential pickle we’re in. Call it a power, a trance, radon poisoning. What I know after all these years is this: that whatever it is, it exists, like Jesus and Coyote, neither of which you can really justify your belief in other than to say that most beliefs are valid if they’re honest, and that some are even true. They’re squishy things, beliefs, and necessarily so if they’re to have any value to the believer. Everyone believes something, but whatever belief you chose to bake to that golden brown that makes them edible, shouldn’t they at least be leavened with some mere observations? They're compromises, after all, ones that societies make with their natural environments in order to illuminate the rules of survival so a member of that society can see the rules for what they are. Fom the primary urge to survive comes the necessary reverence to do the right thing,not vice-versa. Any parent can understand this, that at their best, beliefs are just raw facts under the warming shadow of rainclouds in northern winter skies that help us to survive, no matter whose God you choose to worship. Real beliefs, the useful ones, are at their core land-based.
Brandy literally grew up organically from this Land, something fewer and fewer activists of any cause today have the opportunity to do. He and his colleagues successfully convinced millions that they simply could not live without those last wild places from which those activists sprang, which is true. More important to us now is that in applying this tree-based philosophy of “making Democracy work” to modern politics, they literally stumbled on one possible recipe to do just that, which could in fact save us, if we so chose. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign comes to mind, and although I didn’t hear Bernie speak overmuch of trees I did hear in his presidential bid the latest example of what this old-time nuts-and-bolts activism—good-government if you need a phrase or socialism if you just need a word--is capable of, even when we don’t so choose.
I have allowed myself to become convinced that within the political template created by the early conservationists and the various other progressives to meld their depthless love of wild places with political realities, to get people to see the essential value of a mere word—Wilderness!--and to fight for it, are the same nuggets that could save the Land, and possibly us, from our accumulated foolishness. These stories and insights may be centered around the Northern Rockies, but it seems to me that the extreme and even violent politics we have seen here in Montana as well as throughout most of America’s rural landscapes for the last thirty years or so (the militia movement, the “Tea Party” phenomenon, the current Trump presidency) is as good a metaphor as the next for the illness that plagues us if you have the inclination to look. Old-time activism, the kind practiced in the mid-twentieth century by Big Brandy and his son, is a pretty good recipe for fighting despair (our real enemy it seems to me) and maybe better than most given what we’re left to work with. It’s grounded and doesn’t put Jesus to sleep. 
We tend to kill our prophets, don't we? Or if they’re lucky just ignore them, along with the core truth that burns at the heart of any prophet’s misinterpreted reveries, the one about humility, the one that's now about us being frogs in this slowly boiling pot of Climate Change resulting in our misinterpreting that simple lesson. If you believe that, which I do, you beg our own, very modern questions which are not modern at all. Is it really about what the environment can do for us, or about how pretty we think things are, or if some of us believe that sunsets are the eyes of God shining down to enlighten our path, or if others believe that coal is the gift of that other god, the Old Testament one with the warped sense of humor? Is it even about belief at all? Is our task merely Science, then? To measure “ecosystem services” so that they can be more easily parsed up and dealt out between the various human “stakeholders” at the negotiation “tables” so we can "go forward"? Might there be a missing ingredient in our land-based debates we’re having these days? Might it be that humankind needs as much wild country (and its evolving, resident democracies) as we can possibly nurture for the simple sake of our continued survival on this planet? Might we need to save what’s left of our remaining wilderness not as a matter of sentimentality, belief, or “ecosystem services”, but as a matter of fact? 
 “Wilderness!” you hear them say, more and more with a roll of a condescending eye about a thing within which their lives are less and less entwined, even those who now claim the mantle of Environmentalist . “That’s so Sixties!” 
Well, it is just a word after all, and an expeditious one at that. But how about “democracy”? That’s just a word, too. But it describes a living organism, a land-based one, and wherever you find the Land you’ll find a different species of democracy native to that place. Here in North America, there was a vibrant form residing in human populations long before the Atlantic Ocean washed an equally-vibrant (albeit predatory) Greco-Roman form upon its shores, where they crossbred. We tend to forget that our cherished American democracy is a hybrid, a mix of the native and the non-native, a cut-bow trout swimming in the ever-more-sacred waters of an industrialized world on the very verge of polluting those waters to the last drop and then privatizing the toxic result. And then there will be no trout, no water, no democracy at all. We tend to forget that, far from being democracy’s creator, we are merely its host species, and that we neglect this symbiotic relationship at our peril. 
Our times are nothing new, and it’s never been too hard to see the mountains past the hype. Either by intent or ignorance, most of us tend to miss the forest and the trees, and if you’ll indulge me a bit further I’ll re-iterate that what is usually lacking in our armchair discussions about the Land is that democracy, the main ingredient in any solution of epic human concern, needs vast swaths of relatively intact ecosystems to burn in and to rejuvenate, to evolve in and to survive, and that democracy is what is lacking in the Land.
It’s something to think about, anyway. That’s our scheme.

[i]Mark Dowry, “Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth     Century, MIT    Press, 1995
[ii]Beki Brandborg
[iii]Author, conservationist, Wilderness Society president from 1963-71
[iv]Interview with the author, 11/19/13
[v]7-10-04 Dick Ellis Interview
[vi]James M. Kittleman and Associates
[vii]Burke, Dale A., “The Clearcut Crisis: Controversy in the Bitterroot”, Jursnick Printing, January 1, 1970

Friday, November 9, 2018

Anti-Orange-Bloviator Rally in Hamilton, Montana. Nov. 9, 2018

No-to-the-Orange-Bloviator Rally, Hamilton, MT     11-9-18

I never thought I'd want to have a Twitter account for several reasons, the biggest one of which is that the trumpster uses it to "govern" and the tepid press seems to let him do it.

That said, I tried to get on it today to add another 25+ more protesters from little ol' Hamilton, Montana to the  #ProtectMueller tally of the 1000+ rallies that happened last night. Sadly, I couldn't do it for some of the several reasons I never wanted to in the first place, so here's a shout-out to someone to do it for us, please. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It’s election day, and I’m having a hard time looking at the news. It's pretty simple, really. I just can’t stand watching (or reading) the bloviators from the right and middle covering tragedy as though it’s a ball game, with false-equivelencies euphemistically labelled “background”, and then laughing at this general misfortune we seem to insist on plaguing the world—and ourselves--with.

So I took a walk up the nearest mountain, which almost made me feel worse. You see, I’ve spent a lot of my adult life watching birds through cheap binoculars, learning their names, their habits and habitats, and their schedules. I never became an expert, but I loved to watch them and, in doing so for so long, I learned a thing or two, about the Land and about how to live here. Over the last five years, though, I've noted the dwindling in the numbers and types of birds that used to be so prevalent a mere decade ago, especially the migrating ones like the little warblers, and this walk was no different. I saw a couple of house sparrows, a crow and a magpie, and that was it. So I came back home thinking I might as well check in on the horse race. But I haven’t yet. Better to sit and write a few words for the ether first, get it off my chest. Maybe it'll make a difference in a hundred years or so when it's just background, and we're all seen as "quaint" like cowboys. 

So here it is, coming from the empty part of myself where such losses resonate, off my chest and out into your internet ether: 

How. The. Fuck. Can we, the people, who share this fragile planet with so much and so many, not only not see this pure tragedy happening before our eyes for what it is, but watch instead some coiffed and buffed entertainer on T.V. (or whatever--pick your poison) laugh, and then laugh with them as if it's all some rich joke? Are we that easily entertained? Is that all there is that’s left of us?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

On Fake News, Immigrants, Terrorists and Bombs

"Well I got my windshield so filled up with flags I couldn't see
so I ran my car up the side of a curb and smack into a tree.
By the time they got the doctor down I was already dead
and I can't understand why the man standin' there at the Pearly Gates said:

"Your flag decal won't get you into Heaven anymore.
We're already overcrowded from your dirty little wars.
Y'know Jesus don't like killin' no matter what the reason's for
and your flag decal won't get you into Heaven anymore."
                                                                      John Prine

Terrorists. Immigrants. Bombs (how could we have forgotten about the bombs.) What do these words have to do with "fake news"?
Not to worry. I've activated my magic Foxlandia decoder ring I ordered from a Breitbart-sponsored mega-church, deployed my handy screenshot feature on my Mac, inserted the images below into the decoder ring (because we're all so image-centric these days, aren't we?)  and I came up with the following hologram.

This is the guy who was arrested this morning for mailing pipe bombs to elected officials (including two former presidents) and at least ten other prominent American citizens who have criticized our dear fascist "leader" (in the interest of remaining on trump's enemies list, I will insist on referring to him factually. I hope this interest is widespread by now, because what are you going to say to your grandchildren if you aren't?). He is white (the Seminole Tribe has no record of anyone like him being a tribal member or anything related to the tribe he invoked). Got it? OK, now scroll down.

Here's another picture of the van the white guy was arrested with. It has sick, violent stickers all over it. You can see public figures and and elected officials with red crosshairs aimed at their vital organs. Trump stickers, in other words. The NRA, of course, is responsible for the crosshairs subculture, and is the reason this guy wasn't arrested just for driving down the streets with such blatant threats of violence to the public. They have this power because they're a terrorist organization with Russian connections, but that's another blog I. For our purposes, it's only necessary to look at the van. It's white. I admit it takes a bit of forensic fortunetelling to see this clearly, but, fortunately I don't need science. I have my Foxlandia decoder ring that gives me a ringside seat (so to speak) into trumpworld and Voila! This white van, owned by a white guy caught engaging in a white terrorist act that would have had him shot in a New York minute if he wasn't...y'know...white, is "fake news." Got it? OK. Scroll down.

This is Gregory Bush. He's the guy who entered a grocery store in Jeffersontown, Ky, last week and shot two black people, one fatally, after first trying to enter an African-American church nearby. Gregory Bush, as you can see, is white. Fake news, says my decoder ring. Got it? OK, scroll down.

This is Robert Bowers. He just walked into a synagogue with an assault weapon in Pittsburg (Today! While I was writing this up!!!) and shot 17 people, killing 11. He was able to do this because of such lax gun laws in this country that just about anybody can walk into a sporting goods store and buy an assault weapon with the multi-round-clip accessory package. Just about anybody can do this because of the NRA, who accepted $30 million plus from Russian operatives and gifted it to trump so that he could be our president. But Robert Bowers isn't "just about anybody". He's not an African-American, nor a hispanic, nor a middle-eastern terrorist (note: my magic decoder ring tells me that everyone with family ties to the Middle East are terrorists), nor (and you really need the magic decoder ring to see this) a hippy. Robert Bowers, as you can plainly see, is white. Fake news....oh wait. Here's an interesting tidbit just in: he walked into the synagogue shouting "All Jews must die!" OK. Got it. Scroll down.

Here's a couple pictures of white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville last year. You'll notice that, apart from them being white, their mouths are open. As they brightened our world with their tiki torches--and just before a young woman was run over and killed by one of them--they participated in some good ol' summer-camp-quality chants. One of the chants was "Jews will not replace us!" Maybe these pictures were taken while they were chanting this. Who knows? Anyways, according to my Foxnewslandia decoder ring, these are "really good people". Any other interpretation, of course, is fake news. Got it? OK, scroll down.

Here are some of the people in the migrant caravan currently making their way up from (mostly) Honduras, through Mexico on their way to the U.S. border, where they hope they will be treated with more kindness than the thugs running that little client-state of ours (Honduras.) Right away you can see the difference, can't you? These people are not white, not white at all! Therefore they are rapists and criminals and middle-eastern terrorists, everything, in other words, our dear fascist "leader" says they are without a shred of evidence other than...y'know...wink, wink...they're not white. My Foxlandia decoder ring lights up with warm and fuzzy red, white and blue strobes even as I write these words. Yes, it tells me. You got it right: Be afraid of these people, because they are indeed not white, and this is real news, got it? Be very afraid, OK? Real news. 
Scroll down.

This is your neighbor. Feel warm and fuzzy about him, because he's surrounded by American flags. In fact he's holding one, so he's clearly a good guy. He was photographed at a trump rally just before the election in 2016. He's giving trump the Nazi salute. Feel good about that, my decoder ring tells me, because he's white. Feel good about it, or get over it, or go f... yourself, my decoder ring tells me. My decoder ring really doesn't care which.

I know this analysis is full of holes, but everything is happening so fast, it's the best I can do right now. I want to post it right away, though, even in its garbled state, and send it into Facebook Ether, or wherever pieces like these go these days, because, after all, the mail bombs and the synagogue massacre are so fresh, and news cycles are turned around so quickly now, I feel compelled to put something out there before it all gets cycled out and re-rinsed and forgotten...again...just like the last bombshell from a week ago that we also aren't talking about anymore:

Can we start calling this fascist takeover for what it is? While we still can? 

Both sides of the story, NPR? Not the time to "politicize" acts of homegrown white fascist terrorism?

It's not nice to call people a fascist? 



Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Horns of the Dilemma

Lots of folks back east they say
leavin' home most every day
hittin' that hard ol' dusty trail to the California line
across the desert sands they roll
gettin' out of that ol' dust bowl
think they're going' to the sugar bowl
here's what they find.
The police at the port of entry say
you're number 14,000 for today

If you ain't got the do-re-mi girls
if you ain't got the do-re-me
well you better go back to beautiful Texas
Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee
California's a garden of eden
it's paradise to live in or be
but believe it or not you won't find it so hot
if you ain't got the do-re-mi.
                                       Woody Guthrie

Facebook is probably evil, but it's no use. I'm addicted to it now, and it's all Standing Rock's fault. Before I went there I never used Facebook, didn't know how it worked and couldn't have cared less. But Facebook was where all the vital information was being shared by activists, for keeping out of trouble, for getting into it, and for everything else. People will chatter, you know. It's endemic to our species. We can't shut up, and I guess we figure if we chatter enough we will occasionally "share" something useful. It's no surprise, then, that Facebook fits our shotgun approach to inter-personal communication like the glove it was craftily designed to be. Apparently I was no different than anyone else. Clearly, I couldn't escape. So in the interest of due-diligence, I started in, learned my way around (sort of) and now I can't quit. Another well-meaning activity gone awry, like the opioid crisis...

...but never mind. Here's the thing: I occasionally see posts on Facebook from a distant cousin of mine (B.), like the one below. They're usually from the same far-right website called "Conservative Nation". I must be a "friend" of hers (or something.) I get them about once-twice a week, I see them, and am appropriately-appalled. "How could anyone..." I start to think, and then I know, or think I do, become more appalled, and scroll down and away from the ugliness that lurks so close to every dark heart closely related to ours. I know, I could "unfriend" her, but I "secretly" find it fascinating, really, seeing what some people actually believe and then doing mental gymnastics trying to figure out how they could possibly and then, scrolling away, away, as far as I can, and then repeat. That's the goddam thing about Facebook. It's as much an exercise in self-awareness as anything, which is unsettling.

And that's why I saved this one. The backstory is that my distant cousin, B., is the offspring of our original "Okie" cousins, my mom's actual cousins who literally ran away from starvation during the Dust Bowl with the clothes on their backs, some family heirlooms, and a pretty nice car compared to some of the Dorthea Lange jalopies that have been burnt into our national memory about those years.

As Woody Guthrie alluded to in one of his famous songs (above), the Okies were not met with kindness at the border where Route 66 threaded into the California desert at Needles. The governor had set up roadblocks at all such ports-of-entries, illegally siccing the state cops on them, cynically giving them a number and telling them that they had choices, just like anyone else. They could either camp in the hot desert with their families and starve some more, or go home. Our Okie cousins somehow got through, probably because they could give the address of family already living in the state, and landed on my grandparents' ranch in Central California. They were given work and a place to live by my grandparents and great-grandparents who had been in California for decades by then, and this has been part of our family narrative for the next 80 years. "Okie" was a dirty word then, a fightin' word, but our family, who had been in California longer than many of the bigots of the day who insisted on such distinctions between "us" and "them", ignored the bigotries of the day. Because of their kindness, in other words, and humanity, our cousins (mostly) survived and eventually thrived enough to produce my distant cousin who now finds it necessary to post far-right screeds like the below. This is the family-history I grew up with. Naively, I thought it was hers, too. 

We've all been buffaloed, once again. I wish Woody Guthrie were still around to nail it, but I guess we'll have to settle for Taylor Swift-style coming-of-age spectacles instead. Anyways, I worried on it a little bit, then, since I had some pictures in my files to do the visual, I thought I'd make up this (I hope) funny little collage.

Note to angry people: Watch your mouth. Someone may take a picture of it.

Philadelphia, Mississippi

In August of 1980, a former California governor did an odd thing. Before he was a governor, he’d been an actor, in Grade-B Westerns portraying men with easy access to guns working out Civil War-era post-traumatic stress disorder in a white man’s world, all of which helped him in pulling off the odd thing. He was telegenic, he knew his part, and the rich loved him.
The odd thing he did was this: He showed up in Philadelphia, Mississippi on August third to give his first speech after the Republican Convention in Detroit where he had just been anointed their official candidate for president. As with other such campaign speeches coming from presidential candidates right out of the box from their party’s convention, it was a calculated one, carefully crafted to set the tone for the candidate’s trajectory into history, or its dustbin. Just as in real estate and armed conflict, location was important, and so it is was in 1980 presidential politics.
Not many Americans can point out Iraq or Afganistan on a wordless map, nor can they attach meaningful words to Philadelphia, Mississippi today. But the following are a few words I would attach to the place if it were a blank spot on that blank map which (I guess) most Americans use these days for navigating around painful issues. Philadelphia, Mississippi was the town where three civil rights workers--James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner--were murdered by the Klan only sixteen years earlier, in 1964, the same year Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. In fact, the murders of the three young men during the civil rights action known as Freedom Summer was one of the big last straws that finally broke Jim Crow’s back in Mississippi and the South, and compelled the nation’s politicians into finally passing a civil rights bill. 
Freedom Summer was organized by a lot of groups, but the main one was the now-legendary Students’ Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC was a group of young practitioners of that rare discipline among activists in any age: profound courage. They believed in doing things that were seen as presumptuous and threatening to the powerful and were therefore, upon doing them, more powerful than the powerful. Things that would get them jailed, beaten up, killed. All for that silly cause: human dignity. Sit-ins, freedom rides, the 1963 March on Washington. Very, very presumptuous things to do in the eyes of the powerful, the status quo, and therefore, by definition, threatening to them. One of SNCC’s presidents, Stokely Carmichael, later popularized the term “Black Power”, a phrase the defeated segregationists in the South found presumptuous at best. And what was the presumptuous goal the murdered men were pursuing that summer in Philadelphia, Mississippi? Registering eligible voters. Politicians were embarrassed, a civil rights bill was passed, and Jim Crow waited a bit for the next turn of the screw.
Jim knew, of course, that he wouldn’t have to wait too long. Ronald Reagan chose Philadelphia, Mississippi out of four million square miles of United States territory to aim his trajectory into history, which he did, and he did not mince his words. In an open ploy to woo working-class Americans away from paying attention to their own best interests, Reagan declared that “states’ rights” and truncated interpretations of the U.S. Constitution that would shrink the government’s power to regulate those who felt entitled to unregulated wealth, bigotry or both would be his central themes. Of course these were the same themes the South had used a century earlier to defend their “peculiar institution” and to forever justify their rebellion and then, after they lost that war, to justify Jim Crow. Reagan didn’t quite go as far as to call for a rebirth of the Confederacy, but he did a good job of acting like he did, and the rich loved him. 
Five months later Ronald Reagan was sworn in as America’s 40thpresident. Simultaneously, fifty-two American hostages were released in Iran, where they had been lanquishing for 444 days. The Hostage Crisis, as it was popularly known, had become an audacious, unthinkable assault on American Exceptionalism and had become the screaming subtext of the entire presidential contest. An upstart Islamist country had insulted the United States by imprisoning its citizens and for 444 days there seemed to be nothing the benighted Carter Administration could do about it, no resolution that could be offered to assuage the People, who decided to give the actor a chance. 
Then, as if by a lovely magic of such quality that no one really took much notice at the time, Reagan’s Puritanical inauguration speech laced with American Exceptionalism, seemed to instantly release the hostages into the air, delivering them from Evil, as promised. Reagan, of course, didn’t resolve anything, but he did a good job of acting like he did, which  was his job. Modern-day Republicans still have this event burned into their memories which, by the way, is a medical procedure that takes up a lot of space and accounts for John Bolton. And what is it that's burned into their memories? That Reagan delivered. 
Money can’t buy happiness, but the rich and powerful who supported Reagan certainly could have bought a grandstand event such as the end of the Hostage Crisis for their candidate, who promised and ultimately delivered vast, temporal wealth to a tiny percentage of the human population at the expense of the entire rest of the human race, including America’s once-vaunted middle-class. You don’t have to subscribe to any “October Surprise” conspiracy theory, though, to look at the thing, scratch your head and--if you were alive and aware in those times--remember the sounds from your T.V. set’s tiny, inadequate speaker, as Reagan inaugural words about “a city on a hill” (American Exceptionalism) were interspersed with the tinny sounds of a roaring jet leaving the Tehran tarmac. As we say today about a worldwide cabal of oligarchs play a president like casino chip, WTF?
One thing is beyond question: The dark wells of conscious political powerbroking were most certainly tapped when Reagan visited Philadelphia, Mississippi and, as always, there’s plenty of evidence laced within our current events that speak to the fact that it’s never been dealt with, even superficially. We wonder, these days, where Trump came from. Well, we often wonder the same thing about cancer and, after it shows up, a good few of us practice the all-too-human traits of procrastination and denial on it, hoping it will "just go away". 
           With that in mind, I'd posit that cancer has this in common with fascism: Once you know you have it, you either deal with it early or it get worse.
            The proof's in the pudding.