Pope Francis, Edward Snowden, and Our Threatened Democracy
In this week’s post, we search for virtue in our society, and find it exemplified in every organic farm and garden.
But make no mistake, the wolf is at the door.
American democracy is threatened by a full-blown, radically conservative, military-industrial-corporate-surveillance monster. This malignancy was born many decades ago, but fed hungrily on the fear generated by the 9/11 tragedy to bloat itself into positions of enormous power and control.
It used secret infusions of tax revenue and corporate profits to buy off Congress. Its secrecy makes a mockery of the idea that we are a country of laws, not men, because such secrecy and wholesale spying on American citizens is expressly forbidden by the Constitution. Its tentacles (the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, the DEA, Google, corporate espionage agencies, state and local police, and so on) reached not just for terrorists, but also for peaceful protestors of criminal banking practices, to name just one out-of-control institution too big to fail.
It used governmental agencies like the EPA and USDA to support the rapacious and destructive activities of Monsanto, Dow, and DuPont. It spread lies and disinformation to quell public dissent. It used police to smash, taser, and pepper spray dissenters. And there’s more—lots more.
For blowing the lid off this viper pit, we have Edward Snowden to thank. Right now, as you read this, there are buses running in Washington, DC, with large signs saying, “Thank you Edward Snowden.” And thank Chelsea Manning. And, I will add, Pope Francis, all of whom are risking everything for the beautiful truth that is beginning to shine through the smog of lies generated by this malignant monster. And by risking it all, I mean just that. Chelsea Manning is already in the clutches of the beast and has just begun experiencing the suffering it intends to mete out to him. Edward Snowden has forfeited his life as an American citizen for the cause of exposing the monster. And Pope Francis?
Well, Pope Francis. Don’t think that his recent Papal Exhortation excoriating rapacious capitalism, the personal greed of the plutocrats, and the diabolical glorification and worship of money haven’t been noticed. I’m paraphrasing, but he said, “I prefer a church that is dirty and bruised from having been out on the streets with the poor rather than closeted away in luxury.”
You know who would love these guys? Thomas Jefferson, who said that when a government fails the people, it’s time to change the government back to first principles. And Ben Franklin, too, who said that a people who would trade their liberty for safety deserve neither.
Look at our society today. It sure has an ugly side. This military-industrial-corporate-surveillance monster debases our American principles. But there is so much other ugliness. Ever watch television? Ever go to the movies? Ever play Grand Theft Auto or any of the war “games?” Did you like how Black Friday began to swallow the Thanksgiving holiday this year? They may all be for fun, but it’s butt-ugly fun.
Just as ugly is the National Rifle Association’s protection of and coddling of gun nuts. I understand that the criminally insane can perpetrate gun violence on innocent people out of derangement and hallucination, but I have no sympathy for those who cold-bloodedly demand the right to “open carry” weapons among a citizenry trying to relax and enjoy themselves. There’s an ugly, twisted logic that says that the way to prevent gun violence is by perpetually being ready to perpetrate it. Hello George Zimmerman.
So what is my point here, and what does it have to do with organic food?
My point is that our country, our society, seems to have let slip its handhold with true virtue. I’m not talking about individuals who may or may not be practicing virtues. I’m talking about institutionalized greed, deceit, law-breaking, spying, taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, robbing the poor, taking away overtime pay (as Eric Cantor has suggested by turning overtime into time off instead of time-and-a-half pay), doing away with habeus corpus—a legal principle that western civilization has had since the 13th Century—cutting benefits for those who can’t find jobs, cutting benefits for children, gutting food stamp programs that help feed the hungry, fomenting a war on women, trying to take away health care for all, shutting down abortion clinics, preventing women from getting contraceptives…and there’s so much more. Where is the virtue in any of this?
So the question becomes: what is virtue?
Virtue is a deity with many faces. First, virtue is kind—it does no unwarranted harm. Drone strikes may be virtuous in the sense that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were virtuous. The atomic bombs saved perhaps millions of lives—Japanese as well as American–by forcing Imperial Japan to surrender. But if you are a person trying to sleep with your children by your side and you hear American drones overhead, you know that at any moment you could be obliterated. That is a form of terrorism, and it is not virtuous. It may be necessary to kill a bad guy, but in no way is it virtuous to do it out of the blue sky by drones that cause “collateral damage,” as we so euphemistically call the murder of innocent civilians.
Virtue is caring. Is the attempt to bring more people under an umbrella of affordable health insurance virtuous? Yes. Is the attempt to disembowel the program virtuous? I can’t imagine how.
Virtue is just. When bankers who have destroyed a country’s economy walk free to enjoy their mega-millions without fear of prosecution, is that just? No—and it’s not virtuous either.
Virtue is fair. Is it fair when women make only three-quarters of what men make for the same work? No—and it’s not virtuous either. How about when fabulously wealthy big box store executives suggest that their impoverished employees get enough to eat by holding food drives? Give me a break.
Virtue is found individually among whistleblowers like Snowden and Manning; by the millions of people who try to care for each other amidst the cruelties of the malignant monster; and virtue is seen in that suddenly shining—and completely unexpected—light in Vatican City, Pope Francis.
But virtue can also be found in organic agriculture, in the people who practice it, and in the people who buy its products. Consider:
Is conventional agriculture virtuous, with its toxic chemicals, factory-made fertilizers, its genetically modified and disease-causing seeds, and its malign effects on men and women, fetuses, and the whole environment? With its exploited and injured farm workers? With its family farmers driven off their lands? With its soil erosion, polluted ground waters, eutrophied lakes and ponds, and dead zones in the oceans? With its fat-cat “farmers” hauling in government subsidies? No—I don’t think so.
But how about organic farmers, who abjure toxic chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, genetic alterations, and environmentally damaging practices? How about their compost that refreshes the soil and fills it with life and fertility—more fertility after a crop is sown, grown, and harvested than before the crops were sown? How about organic farmers’ respect for the nature of the animals they raise for food? How about their ties to natural systems and respect for natural laws? How about their attemp0ts to understand nature’s huge interwoven web of life and how to care for it properly? Is all that virtuous? You bet it is.
If we are to get through this difficult time in our political history with our democracy and liberties intact, then we will get there fueled by honest, virtuous organic food.
Is that really true? Will the rapacious, toxic, environmentally destructive food system we rely on really disappear? Could organic agriculture really feed the world? Put it this way: if anything in this world is virtuous, it’s Mother Nature. She sets the rules. When humans set the rules, we get short-sighted and toxic agriculture that produces the raw materials for processed food. When nature sets the rules and we follow them, we get organic agriculture.
When we get to the fair and just world that Pope Francis envisions, our food supply will be produced organically.
CORPORATE ESPIONAGE UNDERMINES DEMOCRACY
For the past month or so, I’ve been writing about the military-industrial complex and how the revelations of its spying here at home for political and military reasons works hand in hand with corporate America’s spying for economic reasons. Here’s a new and even more troubling wrinkle. Writing for Reuters news service, Ralph Nader recently had this to say:
“It’s not just the NSA that has been caught spying on Americans. Some of our nation’s largest corporations have been conducting espionage as well, against civic groups.
“For these big companies with pliable ethics, if they don’t win political conflicts with campaign donations or lobbying power, then they play dirty. Very dirty.
That’s the lesson of a new report on corporate espionage against nonprofit organizations by my colleagues at Essential Information. The title of the report is Spooky Business, and it is apt. Find it at: http://www.corporatepolicy.org/spookybusiness.pdf.
“The spy narratives in the report are lurid and gripping. Hiring investigators to pose as volunteers and journalists. Hacking. Wiretapping. Information warfare. Physical intrusion. Investigating the private lives of nonprofit leaders. Dumpster diving using an active duty police officer to gain access to trash receptacles. Electronic surveillance. On and on. What won’t corporations do in service of profit and power?
“Many different types of nonprofit civic organizations have been targeted by corporate spies: environmental, public interest, consumer, food safety, animal rights, pesticide reform, nursing home reform, gun control, and social justice.
“A diverse constellation of corporations has planned or executed corporate espionage against these nonprofit civic organizations. Food companies like Kraft, Coca-Cola, Burger King, McDonald’s and Monsanto. Oil companies like Shell, BP and Chevron. Chemical companies like Dow and Sasol. Also involved are the retailers (Wal-Mart), banks (Bank of America), and, of course, the nation’s most powerful trade association: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“Plenty of mercenary spooks have joined up to abet them, including former officials at the FBI, CIA, NSA, Secret Service and U.S. military. Sometimes even government contractors are part of the snooping.
“In effect, big corporations have been able to hire portions of the national security apparatus, and train their tools of spycraft on the citizens groups of our nation.
“This does not bode well for our democracy.
“Our democracy is only as strong as the civic groups that work to preserve and protect it every day. To function effectively, these groups must be able to keep their inner workings secure from the prying eyes and snooping noses of the spies-for-hire.
“Corporate espionage is a threat to individual privacy, too. As citizens, we do not relinquish our rights to privacy when we disagree with the ideas or actions of a corporation. It is especially galling that corporations should employ such unethical or illegal tactics to deprive Americans of their fundamental rights.
“Where is the Justice Department? In France, when Électricité de France was caught spying on Greenpeace, there was an investigation and prosecutions. In Britain, Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World newspaper was ensnared in a telephone hacking scandal involving British public officials and celebrities. The Guardian newspaper excavated the story relentlessly, government investigations followed, with prosecutions ongoing. Here in the United States, the Justice Department has been silent.
“How about Congress? Corporate espionage against nonprofits is an obvious topic for a congressional investigation and hearings. But, alas, Congress, too, has been somnolent.
“How much corporate espionage against nonprofits is taking place? Without investigations, subpoenas and hearings, no one really knows. But it is likely that there is more corporate espionage than we know about, because the snooping corporations and their private investigators toil mightily to hide their dirty tricks, which are designed to intimidate and deter people from speaking out and standing up against corporate crimes, frauds, and abuses. Is the little we know merely the tip of the iceberg?”
WE LOVE OUR POLICE, BUT DO OUR POLICE LOVE US?
Remember—if the malignant monster (MM for short) we’re describing in this post accomplishes its power grab, there will not be any organic farming. Our food supply will be totally controlled by corporations like Monsanto. If it wasn’t so dreadful, MM’s attempt to take over the world—like some mad scientist from a comic book–would be funny. But it’s not funny. “Political Blindspot” is a website that sounds warnings much like I’ve been doing here. The following is from its latest post:
“An International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia this past week discussed a plan to allow law enforcement to ‘keep anything deemed criminal off the Internet.’ This includes, among other things, stopping any form of protest deemed ‘illegal,’ including the sorts of marches and civil disobedience engaged in by Martin Luther King Jr.
“On hand was a Chicago Police Department official who told attendees that his department has been working directly with a ‘security chief at Facebook’ to block certain users from the social networking site if it is determined they have posted what is deemed ‘criminal content.’
“Kenneth Lipp, an independent journalist who attended the conference, reported that an unnamed CPD officer ‘said specifically that his agency was working with Facebook to block users by their individual account, IP address or device, such as a cell phone or computer.’
“Lipp noted that law enforcement agencies discussed technologies at ‘workshops held by and for top police executives from throughout the world (mostly US, Canada and the United Kingdom, with others like Nigeria among a total of 13,000 representatives of the law enforcement community in town for the event). These technologies, widely available from vendors, would ‘allow agencies to block content, users, and even devices, using Geofencing software that allows departments to block service to a specified device when the device leaves an established virtual geographic perimeter.
”The capability, Lipp explained, ‘is a basic function of advanced mobile technologies like smartphones, OnStar type features that link drivers to central assistance centers, and automated infrastructure and other hardware including unmanned aerial systems that must sense and respond.’
“A recent article in Governing magazine, in which it was reported that the Chicago Police Department is using ‘network analysis’ tools to identify persons of interest on social media, cited the statistic that ‘95.9 percent of law enforcement agencies use social media, 86.1 percent for investigative purposes,’ a statistic quoted from the head of the social media group for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.”
Secrecy, espionage, disinformation, deceit, and unaccountable corporate, banking, military, and police functions that muzzle free speech are antithetical to a free and open democracy. As John Adams said at the close of the Constitutional Convention 226 years ago, “We’ve given you a republic…if you can keep it.”