Raed Nerian - Items filtered by date: January 2019
Friday, 18 January 2019 21:23

Why I am Cascadian

Why I am a Cascadian

I was born an American, and like my father and grandfather before me, I served in the United States military during a time of war.

I used to feel pride in being an American. But I don’t anymore.

The fact of the matter is that the United States of America is a colonial empire no better than the British Empire that spawned it. After winning independence, the elites who have always run the show actively pursued wars of aggression, committed genocide against the indigenous inhabitants, and eventually seized colonies in Latin America and Asia to become a formal empire itself – a path that led the US directly into the atrocities of the Second World War. A conflict that culminated in the first-ever human use of atomic weaponry to murder a quarter of a million civilians at a point when the war in the Pacific was already a foregone conclusion.

And of course, they didn’t stop there. Hell, they built a few tens of thousands more, and thousands still sit, lurking, waiting to take a few hundreds of millions of lives.

The United States of America has, since the Second World War, directly caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It has indirectly caused the deaths of millions more. The War on Terror has simply continued a long, bloody history of slaughter. The bombs have never stopped falling for long, and although the citizens of the United States have two broad oceans protecting them from invasion, more than 50% of every single dollar paid in federal income taxes by all American taxpayers flow into a Pentagon bureaucracy so bloated and mismanaged that it cannot even be accurately audited.

This ongoing theft of our dollars by the Pentagon, and their ultimate destination in the pockets of a few privileged actors in the defense industry, directly connects each and every American taxpayer to an unending stream of atrocities. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – they never end, no matter which of the two major parties is in power or what personality occupies the Oval Office. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump – no President in my lifetime has failed to kill less than a few thousand innocent people around the world, and some (Clinton, Bush II) have killed far more. Neither party makes ending the nonstop violence a core component of its platform, and the US media doesn’t seem to care.

“American” is an identity that no longer contains the slightest shred of pride for me. The facts of history reveal that the United States of America is a vicious global empire, no less worth defeating than any that has come before. To put in Tolkienian terms: We are all Orcs. Sauron is our master. Barad-Dur belches wickedness into our skies. And Washington DC is the Ring of Power.

But all empires, due to contradictions in their internal structure and the detachment of their elites from the persistent degradation of material conditions experienced by the majority of the population, eventually fall. Leaving those of us stuck living in the aftermath with the difficult task of figuring out what to do next.

But, as the British say, sometimes you just have to get stuck in.

I believe that the time has come to recognize that we desperately need new principles of political organization to deal with the growing complexities of 21st century life. I believe the time has come to adopt the idea of the Bioregion as a natural and workable foundation for a nation held together by the vital task of collectively managing our common environment.

We in the Pacific Northwest, present-day Americans, Canadians, and First Peoples, live where we do because this land calls to us. Whether our ancestors came here millenia or decades ago, this place sustains our life, gives us air and water and food, and offers a soul the chance to experience some of the few remaining places on this Earth not entirely spoiled by industrial society.

In truth, our political, economic, and social systems are all bound to the bioregion and those things we need and value that can be sourced from it. Common management of collective resources is, as Nobel-winning scholars have persuasively argued, one of the fundamental reasons why a recognizable human society exists in the first place. And in an age of global economic turmoil and global climate change, comprehending this link is absolutely essential to our long term prosperity.

So starting with the idea of the Bioregion, I collected some basic data and used my moderate GIS skills to put together this map, which is a Version 1.0 style presentation containing the broadest outline of my professional sense, as someone with graduate level training in policy and resource management of what an autonomous or independent Cascadia established along bioregional lines could – and I’d argue, should, look like:

Cascadia Map V1

This Democratic Federation of Cascadia would have a combined population of about 17 million people as of the mid 2010s, and it will likely reach 18 million in the mid 2020s. The total Gross Domestic Product would be almost $1.1 Trillion today, a bit larger than the Netherlands or Indonesia, a bit smaller than Australia or Spain.

Depending on whether Cascadia maintains the US level of per-person military spending (over $2,000 even before the most recent increases, taking it close to $2,500) or drops it to the NATO-standard 2% of GDP, Cascadia’s Defense Forces (Mandates: protection of residents from aggression, and disaster relief), it would spend about as much as South Korea ($35 billion per year) or Canada ($20 billion per year) on defense.

Most of the population would reside in Rainier (5.20 million), Willamette (2.80 million), and Fraser/Okanogan (4.40 million together – not certain where the best BC split might be). Once split out, Okanogan would likely be the smallest state by population (Again sorry for the US focus, readers in Canada), followed by Klamath (.80 million), Missoula (.80 million), Teton (1.20 million), and Columbia (1.80 million).

The population distribution into these states is particularly important – in fact, I’d call it vital to the entire concept. One of the biggest issues with contemporary discussions of Cascadia is lack of a clear solution to what will always be the most fundamental challenge in uniting 17 million people across such a large, rugged area: political cultures.

The media-sustained narrative of the US having two ideological poles – left/liberal and right/conservative – with a pool of moderates in the middle, is complete and utter pseudoscience. It is endlessly-repeated nonsense with no basis in anything other than convenience. You simply cannot usefully describe a population, in statistical or functional terms, using a single-dimension metric. Politics in any place or time will always be about more complex than that. Politics is a human activity, rooted in human social and economic interactions. As such, it is subject to the same tribalism as any other aspect of our world. People vote based on how they perceive a candidate or issue is related to their people – whoever they are.

Where people live, the environment they’ve known – social, economic, and/or natural – in their lives, is a crucial component of their self and group identities, which are the ultimate drivers of politics in the real world. The paramount divide within Cascadia exists as a gap between two cultures, rural and urban, each of which is characterized by quite different patterns of existence, which produce different ways of looking at the world.

Cascadia, to function as a political entity, will have to be structured to take these fundamental differences in worldview into account. There is a strain of thinking about Cascadia and Bioregionalism more broadly, that more or less follows the lines of the Ecotopia ideal. The problem with this idea, from a political perspective, is that rural people very rarely see their Ecotopia as being quite the same as urban people. Those who grow up living and working in nature have a definite tendency to see it in different practical and moral terms than someone who has primarily experienced it through vacation trips to national parks. As a result, there is a strong urban bias inherent in the Ecotopia idea, that has absorbed a certain ideology about nature’s relationship with humans rooted in what amounts, to most rural folks, to an argument for their exclusion from the nature they’ve always known.

Anyway, my main point is this: the right-left divide in America is not a “natural” aspect of our society, but in Cascadia, this divide happens to follow geographic lines. And there is only one real solution to the problem of correlated political culture and geography: Federalism.

Cascadia will have to reconcile the differences in how local people want to see the environment managed, by maintaining a strict separation of political powers held by the state governments, and by the Cascadia Federal Government. The Cascadia map above draws on recent American voting records (British Columbia’s are more complex, but the broader urban-rural divide follows the same lines) to identify eight states where one of the two major parties – used here as a proxy for the urban-rural divide – scored a minimum 20-point margin over the other in the 2016 Presidential election (margins are closer in 2012, but the overall pattern is identical).

In other terms, in each of these states, either the democratic or republican candidate received a maximum of 36% of the total vote. Which basically means that this party, in this area, mostly because of its ties to national politics, is functionally non-competitive. You could have – as was the case in California’s most recent senate race – two candidates from the same party competing in a general election, without immediately losing to a solo candidate from the other ideological pole.

This is partly the case now, where it wasn’t 20 or 30 years ago, due to shifts in the values of the American electorate, which you can read more about in any of the awesome Pew Reports available. But now it is the case, and strongly implies that the two-party system simply no longer functions in American society.

This is why I argue for Cascadia to be organized as a Democratic Federation. Like the United States, it will preserve separation of powers between state and federal, and between the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches within each state. It will have a national legislature comprised of a 200-member multi-party Parliament and 10% of seats reserved for members of First Nations, as well as a Senate with a fixed number of Senators from each state - as few as 3 (24 total) or as many as you'd like - depends on how small you want an individual senator's constituency to be. It will have a Presidency, however this office will be restricted to supervising the federal bureaucracy, which will be tasked with carrying out the will of the Legislature. And, naturally, it will have a Supreme Court, with members selected by the President – who will be elected by direct popular vote.

To be clear on one point in particular: Cascadia should not be seen as a secession movement, but a reform movement. The Constitution of the United States can be legally Amended by a convention called at the behest of a sufficient number of state legislatures. I believe the simplest and best way forward out of the present political crisis for all Americans is to pass the necessary identical legislation in the necessary number of states, calling for a convention to enact the following Amendment (or an equivalent variation, if advised by legal scholars):

***

Any contiguous group of counties may demand, via public referendum, full and permanent devolution of all powers and responsibilities presently held by the Federal Government of the United States of America, including the right to Amend the inherited Constitution, save the right to declare war on any part of the United States or its allies.

***

This will allow for any American region to go its own way, without anyone seceding or sparking some massive Constitutional Crisis – or in the worst case, a Second Civil War. California (Calexit!), Texas (Texit?), independent Alaska, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, Vermont, Deseret (couldn’t keep constructing exit puns) – if the people want it, it should be allowed to happen, under the authority of the Amended Constitution.

Ideally, all the Post-America successor regions would maintain the existing customs and currency union, and citizens of one would remain a citizen of all. It could even retain parts of the existing DC infrastructure to handle big things like management of the nuclear arsenal and continental defense affairs and the space program that all regions could agree should still be managed at the DC-level. But there are no guarantees in America anymore, so Cascadia would need to be prepared to go it alone.

This same model could work for Canada, too, opening up other opportunities for Cascadia if a customs union and free movement could be established/maintained. In my ideal world, devolving federal powers from Ottawa and DC to more rationally organized successor entities would actually be a more sustainable governing solution for everyone in the long run, and would let all of North America perhaps move towards an EU-like arrangement (though with far less bureaucracy). People can still be American or Canadian if they like, but the identity can become less political, and more social – as it should be.

As for Cascadia, my goal is to make the shift to a regional federal government as smooth as possible, hence wording my Amendment such that it simply devolves powers, allowing successor regions time to work out the details to minimize disruptions. Once established, Cascadia would then need to take the inherited US Constitution (and for British Columbia, all their fun legal stuff) and amend it locally to produce the specific structure we as Cascadians decide we want.

Well! Since this is running long, I’ll leave it at that rather than dive into ridiculous details, like I instinctively want to (but who would want to read?). My goal for this essay was to articulate the political structure I think is necessary to make Cascadia a reality. I hope it is a useful discussion piece, and I’ll send it to some forums (fora?) and folks to see if it interests anyone. I have a book project in mind based on this concept, but that’ll probably have to wait until 2020 or so, when I’ll have Bringing Ragnarok done.

But the bottom line, to conclude, is that I believe the Democratic Federation of Cascadia represents the best way forward for residents of the Pacific Northwest who want to live in a country that doesn’t function as an engine of death, transforming your labor to tax revenues to bombs that never seem to stop being dropped. I don’t want to be an American, and rather than accept the bullshit "then get out" argument, I take a different approach: I deny the legitimate right of the United States federal government to continue to lay claim lands it originally stole through deliberate genocide.

So to hell with the blood-drenched stars and stripes I once proudly wore. That symbol no longer deserves our honor or affection. It is too stained with the blood of innocents, and its nature is so manifestly pernicious that it cannot be allowed to continue. The time has come to throw the Ring of Power into the flame, and move on to build the world that-should-be.

I am Cascadian.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 12 January 2019 06:00

2017 and 1933: Watching A Nation Crumble

What a somber 4th of July. It is difficult to enjoy what should be a celebration of freedom when the country is pretty clearly falling apart. As crazy as I know it sounds, the more I read and study and research, the more convinced I am that we're facing an unprecedented crisis. I'm fairly certain I'm not the only American who thinks there is a very real possibility that the USA won't make it through the next decade in one piece.

It is difficult to feel proud of something that is in the process of disintegrating. Beyond that, though, this 4th is reminding me the degree to which our collective desire to have pride in our country gets used to justify the terrible acts that our leaders commit, year in and year out. Pride in your nation should be a result of that nation living up to its promises, which, in America's case, I think best boil down to: everyone has a reasonably equal chance to experience a life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, more or less however they personally define those things. 

So it is very hard to feel like a proud American when more than 50% of our federal income taxes go to the Pentagon to pay for more jets and bombs and nuclear weapons, while our actual national security diminishes as countries that feel threatened by our power build their own power to counter ours (um, classic security dilemma, anyone?).

It is hard to feel like a proud American when the color of your skin is a major factor in someone's risk of being killed by a police officer and even if they survive an encounter unscathed, they are more likely to be charged with a crime, which exposing them to being permanently barred from voting and subject to lifelong discrimination when trying to get a job.

It is hard to feel like a proud American when that ridiculous archaism that is the electoral college has yet again produced a fundamentally non-democratic outcome, when the electoral process itself has been compromised by foreign interference and widespread, racially-motivated domestic voter suppression, or the fact that the creature now occupying the Oval Office (when not on Twitter) was even allowed to stand for election after threatening the integrity of the outcome if it didn't go his way (how can such an act, a direct and unprecedented threat against the integrity of the Constitution, not constitute treason, by the way?).

Look, America, like any country is a land full of myths, something both good and bad. Good, because myths like the American Dream (making it in this country has never been just a matter of working hard enough) bring amazing immigrants who have, generation after generation, have fought to make it a better place. But the myths can go bad, and our collective national inability or unwillingness to hold our political and economic leaders accountable for their abuses has, generation after generation, enabled them to justify killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

From the genocide of the Indian Wars to the brutal occupation of the Philippines and right through the indiscriminate bombing campaigns our leadership waged against Germany (particularly Hamburg and Dresden), Japan (even with nukes), Korea, and Vietnam, to their 'precision' counterparts Iraq, Afghanistan, and wherever else we've started bombing between the time I hit 'publish' and you read this (hm, maybe I should start inscribing my rants on stone tablets? Hard copy, and survivable!). Actions that are as morally dubious as they are military ineffective. The United States has been on a roaring rampage of revenge for more than fifteen years now. We have tried to occupy and/or bomb more than half a dozen countries. Killing tens of thousands of civilians. Innocent women and children mostly caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. People our ideals (and basic human decency) tell us we are morally obligated to protect. And is there an end in sight? At least in World War II the thing had an end. One can almost accept the 'war is hell' argument if there's a definite end point to look forward to. Eventually, the refrain 'collatoral damage' or even 'we killed x more terrorists/insurgents' starts to look like bureaucratic self-justification for continuing to do the same pointless thing year after year after year.

That the United States of America is now seen as one of the greatest threats to world peace even by our allies is largely down to the fact that decade after decade America's military is deployed to annihilate one city or country after another. Our tax money at work, I guess, but I invite you to take a look at your W-2, and divide the amount withheld for federal income taxes by 2. That's your regular share of the 'security' budget. I hope you feel it well-spent! If not, I can tell you exactly how to reduce your tax bill by up to 25%, instantly...

This isn't down to the Trumpists alone, though. This is the result of at least 75 years of a country led by people who govern through manipulation of myths, yet despite their sophistication in that sense for some reason can't seem to get it through their thick skulls that annihilating Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hanoi, Fallujah, and most recently Mosul and Raqqah have in the end served mostly to annihilate the United States' claim to any kind of moral high ground. Every American president since Reagan has promised some variation of 'Morning in America'. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, and now 'Drumpf'. All of them. And all of them use that gap between our collectively saying 'alright, the last guy failed, so it's your turn now' and realizing that we've been betrayed yet again, to make their buddies richer and the rest of us poorer, while taking action after action that back in the days of the Nuremburg trials would have probably seen them convicted of War Crimes - hence, perhaps, why the US refuses to join the International Criminal Court.

Trumpism - the perverse ideology (reducing in the end to a cult-of-personality) shared by the 10-20% of Americans who actually believe in Trump, and not just people who voted for him because they feared a(nother) Clinton presidency - is a manifestation of very old, very dangerous currents in American society. A continuation of the old anti-immigration Know Nothings of the late 19th century, the McCarthy and Goldwater outbreaks of the mid 20th, and the pseudo-Libertarian Tea Partiers of the early 21st. A group of people who appear to truly believe that there is a 'correct' way to be 'American', and that some people either can't or don't deserve to be treated equally in society.

It is a poisonous ideology, a rejection of humanity that anyone who has studied early 20th Century European history should be familiar with, deeply informed by social darwinism and a cancerous social growtn that comprised the basic foundation of Nazi ideology. Fortunately, while it is fair to say that every society will harbor some groups who adopt this kind of poisonous ethical position, only rarely do any of these groups get in a position to actually control anything. Even though conservatives like the Bushes and Reagans naturally tapped into this ideology for their purposes, they never let it run anything too important.

Because when they do, things have a tendency to go very bad, very quickly.

The Trump = Hitler comparison has of course been (keeps getting) made, but as is so typical of the American media, it generally uses a completely mythological version of Hitler as touchstone. Seventy years after Adolf met with his well-deserved, sadly belated fate, we remember him as an odd mix of demon and clown. Where in reality he was more a mix of insane clown (that video shows a very accurate depiction of Hitler on one of his breakdowns towards the end of the war) and charismatic, narcisstic sociopath (it is likely that Hitler used his breakdowns strategically, when his usual methods of gaining compliance had failed). A complete opportunist whose actual positions would swing wildly depending on who he was talking to, who surrounded himself with incompetent subordinates and focused their energy on building little bureaucratic empires, using access to him as a means of controlling their power. 

If that sounds eerily familiar to 2017, it should. Because the Trumpists, as a pseudo-revolutionary minority interest, have been forced to follow a similar, particular path in order to gain power. Most people today don't realize that Hitler and the Nazis never won a majority in a free election, and were losing support when Hitler gained power. While they were the individually largest party in 1933 (in a country with several other major parties, almost as large), they were so viscerally hated by the majority of Germans that the leftist parties of the time, had they been able to unite, would have been in a position to launch a series of national strikes that would have crippled Hitler's government - something the Nazis were desperately afraid of. Hence, immediately after Hitler getting formal power, a campaign of repression was unleashed to bias the electoral process, culminating in a rigged election. And subsequently make the legislature vote itself out of any sort of meaningful existence.

That Hitler was given the powerful position of Chancellor - subordinate to the President, until his death in 1934 - was almost entirely down to a series of backroom political deals made between major players in the powerful German conservative parties, who thought they could control him. They completely underestimated his ruthlessness, and in a rapid period of power consolidation the Nazis simply spread into the fabric of the bureaucracy and essentially stole German society. Subsequent elections were rigged, a terrorist attack was used to grant the Chancellor emergency powers, and when the President died of old age a year later Hitler simply merged the offices of Chancellor and President.

We look back at 1933, and we tend to see Hitler's rise as inevitable, a fact of history. When in fact it was an accident, a confluence of different forces, that conspired to give a dedicated opportunist like Adolf a chance to translate that opportunity into power. Which he was able to do, in tragic fashion, by delivering the German people economic recovery via massive military spending, then solidifying his hold over their loyalty by a long bout of 'winning', in other words, achieving victories in foreign policy that let Germans feel like their nation was 'great' again... until the 6th Army died at Stalingrad in 1942, sending the Nazis down their long slide to total defeat.

Most observers thought it would be a short-lived thing, Hitler's Germany. And by all rights it should have been - Nazism didn't offer anything of long-term substance, it offered no realistic path for resolving the long-term geopolitical and economic problem of a powerful united German nation in the middle of Europe, and Hitler was in fact quite nearly overthworn multiple times by the Army, which was painfully aware that another Great War would mean the destruction of Germany. Most observers of the time seem to have expected that the thing would eventually collapse under the weight of its own illogic and dysfunction.

Turned out that Hitler, mad as he was, had a plan. And the capability to carry it forward through a deadly combination of willingness to topple any existing structure or institution that got into his way (there's a narcissistic sociopath for you!) and the rabid support of a minority interest within German society.

Both Trumpism and Nazism stem from the same basic misunderstanding of society: that it is a Darwinian struggle for survival, that only the fittest people (peoples) should lead, or even live if resources get too scarce. The Nazis were able to tap into the deepest fears of many Germans, rooted in their long history of playing host to other people's devastating wars, and merge them into more pressing contemporary fears of economic and political deprivation at the hands of foreigners. Once in formal power, there was nothing to stop them from carrying their ridiculous visions forward.

And much like 1933, while the international intellectual and political left is speaking the language of resistance, while seeming completely incapable of mounting an effective challenge to the threat. Reading the history of the German resistance from 1933-1945 is starkly illustrative: a resistance has to actually do something, actually defeat the ruling regime in some public way that matters - the quicker the better. Else the regime will use its position of power to reshape the terms of the game.

By matters, I mean something more meaningful and impactful than leading yet another protest or rally. Look at the behavior and words of America's leaders on the 'left' since November 2016, and one thing is clear: they have no intention of actually doing anything to stop the Trumpists, unless the 2018 midterm elections somehow go massively their way (but in all reality probably won't, given how badly gerrymandered Congress is), then we have a 'free and fair' presidential election in 2020 (and is that even a guarantee anymore?) where some people are already talking about Joe Biden, of all people, running against Trump. American liberals seem absolutely wedded to this idea that if they hope and believe hard enough, change will magically happen.

But that's all part and parcel of the sham American politics have become. We functionally have about as much 'representation' with respect to our collective taxation as the Founders did in 1776 (for those of us on the West Coast, DC. is about as far away as London, to boot). No matter who is in formal power, the average American loses. The country seems adrift for a reason: all of us bound to a federal system that is almost entirely dedicated to hoovering up tax dollars to benefit the military-industrial and bureaucratic-regulatory complexes. The national economy is in the midst of something akin to a metabolic crisis (was Marx on to something when he wrote about capitalism and metabolic rift?), with the growth in some sectors (like tech) masking the collapse of other sectors (like manufacturing), and if black or native people hold a protest about being murdered by the authorities or their land being poisoned it gets called a riot, but if white people armed with assault rifles hijack a federal wildlife refuge...

As Standing Rock and Ferguson demonstrate, violent political repression is a fact of modern American life, but it thankfully still remains implemented in an ad-hoc fashion. While the federal government has made it abundantly clear that it will do little to nothing to combat the epidemic of violence being directed at non-whites by agents of the state, and that it won't worry too much about their right to vote, still we haven't seen large-scale, organized violence in the mold of pogroms. No secret police units deployed against, to paraphrase that old bit of wisdom, first the communists, then the socialists, then the trade unionists, and so on down the line.

In part, because unlike Germany in 1933, the United States is a far larger, far more diverse, continent-spanning republic. The Trumpists are in power because they exploited our quirky electoral system, and because the powers-that-be in D.C. are so caught up in their own agendas that they are finding it easier to collude than counterattack. The Nazis needed a highly organized industrial society to work under their direction to accomplish their objectives, which was to culminate in Germany colonizing Russia exactly like the United States colonized the Indian Territories - this objective and logic were both explicitly articulated in Nazi ideology. They needed labor to build and power their machine of conquest. But the Trumpists have inherited the world's best-funded and increasingly automated war machine. They don't need our cooperation to build or deploy it. They can simply choose to blow up whatever (real or metaphorical) institutions wherever they wish.

And eventually, to accomplish their nutty objectives, they'll have to. The Trumpists want us to believe that they can roll us back to the mythical good old days of the 1950s when prosperity was the birthright of all hard-working (white, male) Americans. But to think that you can turn back the clock like that is a myth in and of itself.

In the age of the internet and cheap information, where the lies are so much harder to sustain, myths are already crumbling. It is doubtful that myths alone can sustain us through the turbulent decade or two that are ahead of us. The majority of Americans (particularly those of us under the age of 50, because we're the ones living it while trying to make lives for ourselves) are fully aware of how bad things are. And, given the inevitability of the Boomer generation passing on, we will be the ones ultimately be tasked with repairing the damage. But at present we collectively lack the means to engage in the meaningful, national-scale, moral resistance to oppression required to get started doing our part to surmount the challenges ahead. This isn't even a political position, in truth: we're beyond mere 'politics' now that it is empirically so clear that so many lives are at stake, that our leaders' claim to the moral legitimacy that is needed to hold this country together is so pitifully tenous, given what they do with it year after year.

Are we in a full-on redux of the 1930s? Very possibly. Certainly, at home and abroad, it is looking like history is at least rhyming in a very nasty way. If we ever start to see formal organized violence directed at political opposition, that will be a very sign that thing is on an inevitable slide to... who can say, for certain? Revolution, maybe, but revolutions are fraught with the risk of Counter-revolution and The Terror. Full-on Animal Farm style dystopic nonsense.

More likely, I suspect, is that things just drift, and drift, and get more tense, until the world system throws a crisis that an administration 'led' by a Twitter-addicted, 70-something buffon can't handle. Not a good thing, when that someone (plus a buddy) can literally decide to end the world as we know it in any given hour. (obligatory REM reference). Which probably would never happen.....probably. But even short of a nuclear catastrophe, there are many, many ways Trump can - and appears to be trying to - permanently destroy what remains of the United States of America.

Perhaps we'll just muddle through, and things will take a better turn without the regime flailing around until it finally breaks something too big to put back together (Vlad Putin, hi! Can you please remember we on the Pacific Coast didn't agree to any of this when you are targeting your many Mnogo nukes? Kthanx). At the conclusion of the Bush years, it looked like we would, despite how badly things went for America between 2000 and 2008. But the Obama-era promise of hope and change, which won him the support of people then under 40 and so the election (a voting group Clinton failed to turn out in as high of numbers, a big part of her failure in 2016), has run into a brick wall. And the world is roiling under the weight of so many compounding crisis that it seems doubtful that we have four years to watch the democrats screw up their task of resistance yet again - without missing some major opportunities to move forward as a society, even as the rest of the world moves on without us.

Because that is probably the one thing we can be sure about: like the Nazis, the Trumpists live in a world of ideological fantasy, and insist on doubling or tripling-down on already-crumbling national myths in order to justify what boils down to their attempt to take their metaphorical ball and run home - or, in political-economic terms, re-writing the rules of society to benefit their narrow vision of what it should look like. Which, given the fact that they are disproportionately older and white than the average American, will every passing year be more at odds with the vision of society held by the rest of us. The one, which kids from the 80s through the 00s are familiar with, where we all freaking get along. Not waste all our time fighting endless ideological struggles, shouting back at the talking heads on Fox and CNN.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that we're gonna need to recruit a lot of Sim City and Civilization players to figure out how to rebuild things once the nutters are finally gone. The trick is to try and collectively figure out, those of us who care, what we can salvage from the collapse and use to build something better out of the wreckage.

The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945, by Peter Hoffmann

  • Doesn't pay much attention to the more social and refusenik sorts of resistance, but it doesn't claim to be that kind of history. It focuses on documentary evidence and testimony of people who conspired to launch a coup against the Nazi regime, particularly certain cliques in the Naval Intelligence (Abwehr) and Army (Heer) communities, and culminates in a close look at the events surrounding July 20th, 1944, when Hitler was almost killed by a resistance bomb.

Hitler's Thirty Days to Power: January 1933, by Henry Ashby Turner

  • Comprehensive history, sets blame at the feet of those in a position to actually obstruct Hitler and the Nazis, that is, members of the bureaucratic-political elite, in proportion to their power to do so. And demonstrate the tangled knot of intrigue that led to Hitler's actual accession to the Chancellorship, and from there to Fuhrer.

The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945, by Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman

  • Chilling look inside a genocidal regime inspired by a truly warped ideology. A reminder that logic applied without morality is as dangerous as justice applied without mercy.

Inside Nazi Germany: Conformity, Opposition, and Racism in Everyday Life, by Detlev Peukert (translated by Richard Deveson)

  • A fascinating (to me) insight into life in what must have been a crazy time to be alive. A good reminder at how human these people our grandfathers were sent to fight really were. How distant most of them were from the centers of power, and how many did in fact resist even in small ways. Just because they didn't (couldn't) win by small acts alone, doesn't negate the spirit of their rebellion. They were as much allies in the fight as the slave laborers who sabotaged up to 40% of German military production (in other words, guns that didn't get to be used against our grandfathers).

A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn

  • Classic. And under-read, because it isn't a mythological version of American history.

Published in Blog

Developing a "Federation of Pacific States"

It is a strange feeling, writing what amounts to a strategic plan for building a new country. But I can't shake the sense that unless something significant changes in the way the USA does politics, and probably only if the change comes soon, the country is on an inexorable slide towards a set of generally unpleasant outcomes.

So I write, in hopes of contributing to the discourse surrounding what is probably the most pressing question in America for the next 4-8 years: How do we fix this incredible mess we've inherited?

I want to be absolutely clear, up front, on several points:

This work is not:

 - An ideological manifesto, arguing for some narrow form of material or cultural revolution.
 - A conspiracy theory, laying sole blame for America's problems at any one group's feet.
 - Political diatribe, advancing the agenda of some special interest group or another.

If you are reading this in the hope of getting yet another short burst of dopamine from hearing someone confirm yet again your personal social, economic, or political bias, you should stop here. I'm setting aside most of my own political preferences in order to create this argument, so do the courtesy of reciprocating in-kind.

What this work is, at heart, is an attempt to articulate a comprehensive, viable solution for our present national crisis. It argues that the US states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington should politically unite under to a centrist, non-partisan, regional consensus platform, and create a shadow state with the express purpose of demonstrating to the rest of the United States and the global community that the Pacific States exist as a coherent political entity, a nation-in-waiting with the capability and moral right to demand and defend full devolution of the powers held by the federal government in Washington, D.C to a new federal capitol serving those states that wish to join. This would follow the model of the Scottish National Party's success in achieving significant delegation of powers from the UK federal government to a now nearly-independent Scottish government.

To achieve this, we will have to build a new, centrist political party - much as Macron's supporters recently accomplished in France - tasked with advancing our collective interest in D.C. by pressing for the adoption of a new Amendment to the Constitution, allowing 2 or more states the right to demand full devolution of federal authority.

While we will remain united as Americans, each region will have the right to form and sustain a federal government operating under its own version of the Constitution, holding full sovereignty to interpret it according to the preferences of citizens within their jurisdiction - save, naturally, the power to declare war or restrict citizens' right of free movement.

This is not a task that we ought to take on lightly. It is being forced upon us by the fact that the 2016 election represented a historic moment in American history, where foreign interference, widespread voter suppression, one candidate's threat to the integrity of the democratic process, and the undemocratic artifact of the 18th century that is the electoral college conspired to produce a fundamental threat to America's democratic system of government, and ultimately the Constitution that legitimizes it. It is now apparent that broad swathes of the American public can no longer agree on a common interpretation of the Constitution. 2016 demonstrated that the two major ideological poles cannot coexist in the same system of government. Separation is the only long-term solution that does not depend on a radical restructuring of the entrenched political power of the national democratic and republican parties, whose mutual dysfunction across multiple decades has largely produced the present crisis.

The disastrous election of 2016 has now given way to an even-more disastrous Trump presidency. Since taking office, this administration has committed one act after another that any objective observer must grant directly threaten the political, economic, and social future of the United States of America, and will particularly harm those living in the Pacific States:

Collectively, the states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington contain (as of 2010) 52 million Americans. 21 million voted in the 2016 election out of approximately 30 million who were eligible. Nearly 14 million - 2/3 - voted against Donald Trump. Almost as many voters stayed home in the Pacific States as voted for Trump and Pence. Therefore, it is fair to assert that a Constitutional Majority of Pacific Americans reject as immoral and counterproductive virtually the entirety of the Trump agenda. Collectively, we already subsidize the federal budget to the tune of about 30 billion dollars annually - almost $600 for every one of our citizens is sent to other parts of the United States. A tolerable subsidy when used to benefit Americans as a whole. However, because virtually all power is now in the hands of one party in D.C., we are functionally without representation for the near future due to the long term concentration of power in the hands of the US federal government, which is rapidly being restructured to represent the interests of a narrow interest group.

Worse, because of the Trumpists continued attacks against the integrity of the electoral process, it has now become thinkable that subsequent federal elections will not be held under truly free and fair conditions, representing a Constitutional Crisis of the highest order. Even if the Constitution and sanctity of the electoral process holds through 2020, the damage the Trumpists will certainly do to America's national interest at what is clearly a crucial moment in global history is absolutlely appalling. The economic rise of China, India, and the rest of the developing world, increasing scarcity of cheap energy, and global efforts to mitigate environmental impacts are all pressing challenges requiring global cooperation. At the same time the world needs the United States to lead, Trump and his administration have declared their intent to wall us off from our neighbors.

We in the Pacific will be the worst harmed by this effort, because we more than any other part of the United States are integrated into the broader Pacific economy. Our ports link North America to factories in China and Southeast Asia. Our companies collaborate every day with partners in India, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. Hundreds of thousands of people cross our borders to do business, visit family, and spend money in our towns. Our wealth and capacity for long-term economic growth depends completely on our ability to trade with the Pacific. Worse, the Trump administration's provocations against North Korea and China, and its apparent adherence to a worldview that sees the West locked into a Clash of Civilizations, threaten to spark a war that will be waged on our doorstep, by people who in times of peace are our neighbors. And looming beyond that is the dark spectre of a future nuclear conflict, the nightmare of which would fall most heavily on our homes, given that we host most of the military infrastructure necessary to prosecute a war with China or North Korea.

The threat to our long-term survival is so stark, that we in the Pacific States are being forced to band together as a matter of simple political and economic self-defense. But we have morality on our side, as well. Because the Trump Administration has made it clear that its vision of America is one of social regression, a re-institution of a mythical golden era in America's past. A time before the Civil Rights movements, when America was a formal apartheid state. A generation fought and bled in hopes that the American Dream, so long proscribed to so many Americans based on the color of their skin or their gender, would one day be fully extend to all Americans regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

It is impossible to turn back time, and foolish to try. But America only truly began to live up to the original, noble promise of its Constitution when it, finally, materially embraced the reality that political legitimacy is conferred by the people, in order to preserve the common welfare. It is not privilege bestowed by heredity or wealth, but earned by fulfilling the expectations of the democratic community of citizens.

If Washington D.C. is incapable of fulfilling its moral role under the Constitution, then a new solution must be found. If the Trump Administration or a spiritual successor seeks to abrogate this role, then it must be considered to have abandoned its authority under the Constitution.

We of the Pacific States must therefore unite as one, and prepare to act as a de-facto or de-jure state, advocating for a Constitutional Amendment allowing us - or any other regional grouping of states, to do the same. We will inherit the Constitution and its legacy, and carry on America's global message of peace, prosperity, democracy, and tolerance in our own way.

I do not write this happily. Much the opposite. But to stop America's decline, someone must lead. If D.C. can't, then the Pacific States deserve the right to pursue an independent path. And to update Thomas Jefferson's (still unequalled) summarization in the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self evident: that all people are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. To secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever a form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its power in such form as to them seem most likely to effect these inherent rights."

Outline of the Argument

Conflicting Constitutions

  • Strong majority of Americans agree that the Constitution is awesome.
  • But an equally large majority agree that they can not collectively agree on how to interpret the thing to deal with the modern world.
  • We can no longer reconcile the differences in interpretation within the same system of governance.
  • This results in the two major ideological poles both escalating efforts to 'win' the game - ultimately, the right to 'rig' it to guarantee their interests are protected.
  • To avoid disaster, some means of deconflicting the two sides is necessary, or we risk a spiral into total and long-lasting political-economic dysfunction (metabolic crisis).

Regional Federal Governments

  • To minimize the negative impacts (uncertainty, confusion) of systemic reform on people's lives, a solution/treatment must be structural, starting from the top.
  • Given the peculiarities of our political system, the best long-term solution is a Constitutional Amendment allowing for full devolution of federal authority (save declaration of war).
  • Because the differences between ideological poles strongly correlates with geography, this enables natural regional divisions to be drawn, mimicking existing federal architecture.
  • Citizens would experience the shift as a change in location of the federal capitol (tax revenue destination) and participation in electing representatives/adopting constitutional reforms.
  • Increased federal-local proximity should make resulting system more responsive to democratic control.
  • Devolution should be accompanied by restructuring of state boundaries to reflect modern political and economic realities within the states.

Getting it Done

  • Achieving the conditions for such an amendment to be adopted at the federal level will require the ability to control seats in the legislature and electoral college votes.
  • This requires formation and growth of a new, centrist political party capable of successfully contesting seats throughout the Pacific States.
  • This party will need a digital platform capable of creating a new kind of political discourse, identifying viable candidates and platforms, and running a comprehensive slate of candidates by 2020.
  • Funding this effort will require coordination between public, private, non-profit, and citizen groups, who can commit to providing meaningful funding without requiring political concessions in return.
  • Return on this investment will accrue from a return of more than 30 billion dollars paid annually to D.C. to subsidize poorer regions of the US and politicians endless wrangling over 'pork' projects.

Author's Statement

I am writing this because my country is in obvious crisis, and I do not see the powers-that-be articulating a better (viable) non-partisan solution. This work represents my best argument for a different way forward, that operates within the bounds set by the Constitution to de-conflict our now-geographic division and end the long disaster that Washington D.C. has become.

My hope is that this will spark a debate among people in a better position than myself to actually effect this program. What I present here is at best a first draft, a rough sketch, rooted in data and history but also fundamentally incomplete. No one mind can conceive of the totality of the solution we require. All I can hope to do is provide an outline of a way forward, a path to systemic reform that I hope will offer us all a chance at a better future.

The first half (after this introductory diatribe) is an attempt to envision a viable scenario where in 2020 our electoral dysfunction forces a crisis that causes the Federation of Pacific States to follow a new Constitutional Amendment and establish an independent federal state under the authority of the Constitution. The second half contains a number of essays where I apply a systems-theoretic approach to, in broad terms, diagnose our collective dysfunction, put it in context with respect to events around the world, and defend a proposed plan of treatment.

I feel it important to stress that this work does not reflect an ideological or utopian vision of my own personal dream-state. Nor is it an intentionally political work. My own politics tend towards a left-libertarian view equally skeptical of market and state power. In my utopia, states and countries need not even exist, as we have all evolved into a community of communities.

Rather, this work is inspired by that of the Founders, who sought to produce a temporal document - our Constitution - which I, my father, and my grandfather all took an oath to uphold and defend, and which was intended to create conditions under which we could grow and develop more or less as we all independently pleased.

That the greatest threat to the integrity of the Constitution is now our own political elites' ongoing inability to collectively agree on a bipartisan interpretation of the document is something long foreseen, but that we all hoped wouldn't come to pass in our time. Well, it has. And we all have the choice of whether we adapt to the new situation, or declare the breach for what it is and take bold steps towards a new solution.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 12 January 2019 06:00

Building the Pacific National Party (1.0)

NOTE: This falls into the category of 'ideas I wish I had the time/money to chase down'. While I'd like to spend time making this happen, it ain't gonna happen unless someone with deep pockets happens to want to fund the thing. Or someone with a hell of a lot of ambition and time decides to take this on.

A couple weeks ago, I published an article laying out my vision for a new party - a Pacific National Party. capable of, you know, actually doing something to take America back. A non-partisan, centrist movement inspired by Macron's recent victory, that kept France out of the hands of its own set of petty-fascists, and the Scottish National Party's long-term success in forcing the UK national government in London to give the Scots a significant degree of autonomy to manage their own affairs.

Structure of the Pacific National Party

Objective: Build and sustain a movement capable of, in 2020, taking control of enough electoral votes and state congressional delegations to prevent any partisan political candidate from winning the 2020 election outright. By holding enough electoral votes in the right states and enough state of delegations in the House of Representatives, we can make sure that the Presidency can only go to a candidate who is willing to champion an Amendment to the Constitution that fundamentally restructures our federal government to permanently bypass the gridlock and partisan madness of Washington D.C.

Basically, under the reasonable assumption that the republican party can, by hook or crook, hold on to the states won in 2016, we need to be in a position to make this map happen:

The core of the Pacific National Party is the Executive Council. Four individuals from diverse backgrounds, each with responsibility for running (being, in the start-up phase) one of the four major departments. In diagram form:

LeadershipOrgan

The four departments function collectively as a sort-of organism, a "Leadership Organ". Information flows between departments in a perpetual loop, that John Boyd called OOD: Observe-Orient-Decide (There IS an A many people use, but I find it redundant. Decision must produce action, or what's the point?). In essence, the organization as a whole knows what it needs to accomplish in order to survive/thrive, but to manage that process day-to-day requires a constant rhythm of experiencing the "environment" and/or "landscape" (either metaphor works), evaluating opportunities and threats, then structuring and taking action on the environment, which itself alters the environment subsequently experienced, re-starting the cycle.

Each department has total autonomy within its own sphere, with a responsibility to apply resources given to it however they can achieve the maximum effect in pursuit of the organization's formal objectives. Departments inevitably step on one another's turf, the 4-member Executive Council is responsible for de-conflicting their efforts, however that is best done in the moment. This system is modeled after the German military doctrine known as 'leading by mission', which places a tremendous emphasis on individuals, whatever their functional role, taking the initiative wherever possible to take advantage of (all-too-often) fleeting opportunities.

I want to stress that when I say this organization will reflect the diversity of the Pacific States, I mean it. If the "reach" funding threshold is met I will write in a small, paid, part-time role for myself as a "research consultant", but regardless my primary role will be to manage the hiring process to make sure capable people are doing the job. I will look for women, immigrants, and veterans in particular. People who have demonstrated by some combination of education and experience that they can take the initiative and make things happen.

 

Phase 1: Start-Up (2018)

Necessary Funds:   $1,490,000   [$1.49 Million]

Core Tasks:

  • Obtain necessary funding committment and seek additional support if available
  • Identify and hire the four members of the Executive Council, who reflect the diversity of background and belief in the Pacific States
  • Publish White Paper outlining formal plan of action for achieving 2019 and 2020 objectives
  • Develop a network of supporters, allies, and donors in pursuit of Phase 2 funding requirements
  • Establish a presence on the web and the media to begin to make our voices heard

Department Tasks:

Signals - Public outreach and recruitment - find out what people are worried about and how we can focus our platform to address their concerns. Develop the web and media presence necessary to reach people. Identify potential partners and allies. Act as the conscience, making sure the party's actions are in accord with its ideals. Be the Gadfly to counter Groupthink, as needed.

Research - Map and understand the "Environment" and "Landscape" of the Pacific States political system and institutions. Develop strategic objectives and potential courses of action. Identify opportunities and threats. Be the Big-Picture-Thinker, the navigator, always trying to plot the best course that will achieve the collective objectives.

Logistics - Develop and maintain the institutional architecture that keeps the organization running. Convert evaluation and strategy into concrete objectives and plans of action. Monitors and manages technology and finances. Be the detail-oriented "Staff Officer" who works to determine what is feasible and what is not.

Operations - Engages potential allies and supporters, winning them over to our cause. Actively solicit involvement and assistance from public, private, and charitable sources. Goes out and meets people to represent the Pacific National Party and its mission. Be the face of the organization, the one who gets things done.

Budget [$1.49 Million]:

  • 4 Staff, 3 year contracts, $60,000 in base salary and 50% of that again in taxes and benefits: $1,080,000
  • Technology, basic supplies, office space (as-needed basis), administrative support: $210,000
  • Contingency Fund: $100,000
  • Fees to Crowsource platform and payment processor: $100,000

Reach Goal: $328,000(+)

  • "Research consultant" (me) for 3 years at ~1/2-time: $108,000
  • Technical consultant to help design/prototype digital app (for Phase 2): $120,000
  • Early outreach/media efforts via consultants (for Phase 2): $100,000-200,000

 

Phase 2: Expansion (2019)

*Phase 2 is inherently more of a ballpark estimate compared to Phase 1, as success or failure in Phase 1 will largely structure the course of Phase 2. However, Phase 1 will be conducted with Phase 2 always in mind, because that is where the PNP makes the jump from four people in an office to a fast-growing start-up in its own right. It is also important to note that the transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2 will depend heavily on when the organization can obtain the necessary funding committments.

Necessary Funds:   $9,700,000   [$9.7 Million]

Core Tasks:

  • Hire 12 additional staff, 3 in each department, allowing intensification and acceleration of all efforts
  • Contract for the development of an app, a digital platform for political engagement, a mashup of Duolingo, Politifact, and StackExchange (among others)
  • Pursue further funding partnerships with large donors to augment the crowdsourcing effort, to lay the groundwork for Phase 3
  • Develop a slate of candidates, new or established - but willing to make a binding agreement with respect to our main objectives, to run in the West 2020
  • Support the start of a compatible regional party in the Intermountain West, who will be needed as allies to control the outcome of the 2020 election
  • Publish widely in multiple media outlets to continue growing our support base and spreading the word of our alternative for America

Department Tasks:

  • Essentially the same functions, with added capacity. Original Executive Council remains, with members serving as liasion between department and council
  • A centrally-managed budget will be established and assets allocated to departments as needed to pursue opportunities

Budget: [$9.7 Million]

  • 12 Staff, 2 year contracts, $60,000 in base salary and 50% of that again in taxes and benefits: $2,160,000
  • Physical office space and administrative support for 2 years: $840,000
  • Operations budget/common resource pool for 2 years: $2,000,000
  • App development (contracted out to best bid): $3,000,000
  • Contingency budget: (10% of total): $800,000
  • Fees and Taxes (assume 10% of total): $900,000

Additional funds over and beyond this amount will either roll over to Phase 3 or be used to enhance Phase 2 efforts.

 

Phase 3: The Battle of 2020

* Phase 3 goes from ballpark to best guess. As with the Phase 1 to Phase 2 transition, Phase 3 will require an intensification of effort and an order of magnitude more cash on hand. Since raising $100 Million via crowdfunding would set a record, it is likely that to succeed in 2020 the Pacific National Party will need to secure significant funding support from public, private, or foundation sources to achieve our objectives in 2020. However, given the presence of numerous multi-billionaires and thousands of millionaires in the Pacific States, most of whom are as dismayed by what is happening in D.C. by the rest of us, all it really takes is one or two patrons willing to do their civic duty and help get this done, without trying to control the process.

Necessary Funds: $120,000,000 (for campaign offices and supporting infrastructure)

Needed Funds: Up to (and perhaps over) $1 Billion in fundraising from all sources to support candidates and compete in the presidential contest everywhere west of the Mississippi.

Core Tasks:

  • Establish offices in 80-100 counties throughout the Pacific States, each with 5 paid staff and a $1 Million dollar budget to work with
  • Coordinate outreach, fundraising, and turnout efforts by offering guidance and additional resources where needed
  • Maintain oversight and continuity with respect to message and platform, but allow local staffs maximum autonomy in achieving results
  • Run or endorse (in exchange for binding agreement of support) a comprehensive slate of candidates for all federal offices
  • Support the establishment of a formal party infrastructure eligible for public funding and the donor base necessary to support our candidates in the future
  • Pursue any and all opportunities to develop a coalition in 2020 capable of keeping any partisan candidate from winning the presidency

Budget: [$120 Million]

  • 80-100 offices totaling 400-500 staff on 9-month contracts at $50,000 total compensation each: $25,000,000
  • Operating budget for offices to recruit volunteers, purchase media time, and remain stocked up on supplied: $75,000,000
  • Common resource pool for operations, contingencies, and other additional expenses: $20,000,000

Again, this is $ spent solely on salary for staff and operations for the campaign we have to fight between 2017 and 2021. Any additional funds will be placed in a trust that will be managed by an independent foundation to provide a skeleton staff and structure on into the future, capable of providing a base for mobilizing subsequent efforts as needed. The size of this trust will depend on donor relations. But ideally, we could place $10-$20 Million in the trust, using the 3%-5% earned on annual interest to fund a reserve supporting infrastructure independent of whatever formal party governance model is ultimately chosen for the party going forward. That would be enough to support 4-8 staff dedicated to outreach, education, and advocacy.

 

Conclusion

It feels entirely silly to be proposing such a thing. But over the course of the past year, I have watched my country fall to fascism. It was always bad enough to look at my W-2, and know that half of the Federal Income Tax I pay ends up buying bombs that get dropped on literally thousands of innocent people, year after year. And now all that power is in the hands of people who continue to make it clear that they govern in the interest of a privileged, wealthy, white minority.

So I put this out there, in hopes that I can somehow, in some way, help to make a difference.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 12 January 2019 06:00

Home

Welcome!

"Raed Nerian" is derived from old English words that mean (broadly) 'counsel' and 'protect'. Together, I intend them to mean simply "counsel to protect". Works as a pseudo 'mission statement' for my life as well as anything else I've ever come up with. Raed Nerian serves as my personal website/blog/outlet for random writing and odd ideas, with the common theme being discussion of ideas that I think are interesting, and want other people to think about too. Especially, ideas about how to better understand and fix our strange, broken world.

I am an avowed minimalist, and tend to see Wikipedia as the pinnacle of what 'good' web content looks like, so you will never see ads or their like on the site. Just some thinkpieces and other similar bloggy content I like to put out because... I like to. (No law against circular reasoning on websites!).

DISCLAIMER: Stuff you see here isn't approved or reviewed by anyone but myself. And I like to poke at taboos and play with controversial topics, so odds are if you regularly read/follow you'll be offended/irritated/terrified at some point.

Sort of a Biography

Like one of my inspirations, J.R.R. Tolkien, I am more or less a Hobbit. A day working in my library, a night relaxing with the family, good food and good sleep. These things I like. Attention, not so much. Being on the autism spectrum likely plays a key role.

My main gig is writing science fiction. If you'd like to read a cyberpunk war epic told in the Saga mode, where a group of friends are split across time by a Norse god bent on destroying reality, check out Bringing Ragnarok.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 12 January 2019 06:00

Black Lives Still Matter

I probably shouldn't write anything about the state of Black Lives Matter as it currently stands. For several reasons:

1. My heritage pretty much boils down to WASP. I am a beneficiary of white privilege, and I can only ever (at best) half-understand what it is like to be 'other' in America.*

2. I am absolutely furious about how much violence American society deploys against black people, at home and abroad.

3. The voices we need right now are those of the people who live this violent reality, not coddled and ultimately safe people like myself.

*Sure, I have my own set of socially constructed vulnerabilities, but because they aren't intrinsic to how much melanin is present in my skin, so I can usually hide them. CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE.

That being said, I can't justify remaining totally silent, when our society is morphing to actively exclude (such exclusion usually resulting in violent repression of one form or another) black people from political and economic opportunity (again). Probably the most fundamental principle that we, all of us - particularly those of us who are safer in this society due to our inherited melanin deficiency - must both accept and live:

No one gets to use violence, under any circumstance, except to defend self or others from it

That's pretty much the most basic rule of any society. Or should be, I think the vast majority of living human beings would agree. It is purely functional: a society where anyone is consistently afraid for their safety is a society where no one can be truly safe, because if either "I am afraid of you" or "You are afraid of me" is true, we both exist in a state of fear. If society has any point at all, it is to create a situation where, at least in some spaces and times (but ideally everywhere, all the time), we can all co-exist without having to worry about our safety.

Black Americans do not live in a society that accepts the universal validity of this rule. They are forced to exist in a grey area, where we elevate the irrational fears of a few white people (we are all biased, but most humans are capable of setting bias aside in order to get along) into a different social rule, where misbegotten anxieties about black people and violence (that stem largely from racist ideas dating back a couple hundred years) is used to justify objectively ridiculous behaviors (like justifying and or minimizing the harmful actions of bad officers and departments) by people in positions of authority.

Consider the video, there in unedited, horrifying pixels, in which Philando Castile is killed by a police officer, while following that officers instructions. As Trevor Noah points out, this means that there is literally nothing a black man can do to guarantee he won't be killed by a police officer, if he happens to have been stopped by an officer who decided that suburban America is basically an expy for Baghdad circa 2006.

Yes, Baghdad. To anyone with decent military training, the stupidity of the entire scenario that led to Castile's killing (differentiated from murder solely by lack of pre-meditation) should be apparent. A police officer stopping a strange vehicle is in an objectively dangerous situation, and has to solve a problem similar to what soldiers have to solve when performing occupation duties abroad: do his job, while not getting killed. Because an officer or soldier can't see everything inside a vehicle, there is always the danger of a hidden gun or bomb to consider. This produces an extremely stressful situation, and in moments of stress people will often do stupid things.

Which is why checkpoints in a military occupation are one of the most horrifying places for both soldiers and civilians, and are basically a magnet for mistakes. Soldiers are scared that this is the car that will contain a bomb or suicidal gunman. Civilians are terrified that this soldier will be the one to misperceive the situation and start shooting. Many of the deaths at checkpoints in Iraq during the occupation happened because of a civilian panicking or simply misunderstanding a soldier, who then also panicked and unloaded a magazine full of bullets into the vehicle. Because violence of this sort, when people are separated by a hard power divide, is a result of mutual fear.

This is not meant to justify, in any way, these officers' actions. All I'm trying to do is point out that the situation as a whole is so tense as it is, that it is easy to see how these sorts of stops are now a major front line for the repression black Americans experience in what is supposed to be their country too, a place where they should be able to expect to be free from having to be afraid of the police.

When I see the video of Philando Castile's death, I don't see any sort of 'America' where anyone should live: I see a brutal military occupation. Resulting in real, devastating consequences that are traumatizing an entire population within America. I don't know how anyone can see this video, and fail to accept that things are very, very bad, and need to change.

In our society, the police simply do not experience the same level of threat as black Americans. Hell, they are rarely even convicted of a crime when they have done something objectively wrong. But - and this is the crucial part - we have to recognize this endless (and accumulating) stream of video evidence indicates that many of them perceive themselves to be in a situation equivalent to that of a military occupation. And here is where rests a major component of the 'fault' for the violence American society directs against black people: a militarized, paranoid, increasingly dysfunctional culture of fear pervading our police departments.

This is not to say that officers are not individually responsible for pulling the trigger (again, and again, and again), just like the officials who decided that the poisoning of Flint Michigan's water supply were guilty of criminal neglect, and the officials who were put in charge of Detroit due to its financial crisis and then decided that if people couldn't pay for water, they didn't deserve to have it (access to clean water is now considered by most of the world a basic human right, by the way) were guilty of similar criminal neglect. But it is essential to recognize the institutional racism that still permeates our society, and the degree that it pre-figures the level of danger inherent in black-police interactions.

Institutional racism is what keeps this system, which the past ten years have shown disproportionately harms black and native Americans (though consider that we're only just now, as a society, becoming aware how how bad it probably has always been in black majority communities), rolling along. And institutional racism isn't ever fixed quickly, or without major reforms.

The truth is, America has always contained shades of apartheid society, and has always struggled to guarantee equal rights to all our citizens regardless of birth circumstances. We've suppressed our awareness of our nation's ongoing moral failings under a culture of individualistic, can-do-ism, that faults people for failing to transcend their circumstances. That we now seem to have slid into a formal apartheid society, where  our legal system functionally divides Americans into white/non-white, rich/not-rich, and metes out 'justice' accordingly. In South Africa, apartheid was formally ended after years of international sanctions that helped internal anti-racist elements come to power. How it gets ended in the United States of America, I don't know.

I'm not sure anyone has come up with a good solution. But given that black Americans keep dying at the hands of the police, something has to change. Given that one of the most common elements appears to be traffic stops, maybe there needs to be a total moratorium on them. Cars get treated like homes - unless the thing is on fire, everyone else is required to stay out. Police chiefs won't like it, because I'm sure they justify half their budgets by citing how many routine traffic stops and tickets officers give out. But maybe, given how stretched police budgets are, they should focus their efforts on something other than, of all things, traffic stops. Though this might have the unanticipated side effect of putting half of Los Angeles news teams out of business no more high speed chases :( -  but it is an imperfect world...

A more radical effort might enshrine the principle that the police force must reflect the full diversity of the neighborhoods where they operate. And that if a department starts to do stuff like, oh, I don't know, run a black site for interrogations or treat a protest like an armed rebellion, it gets put under some kind of receivership or other form of more stringent oversight, until the 'bad apples' are weeded out.

And by that I mean all the cops who like the militarization of the force. The ones who look forward to donning the over-used SWAT gear and kicking down doors. Let them join Seal Team 6 - if they've got the moxy.

But whatever the solution, it is my firm belief that everyone must be on the same page in realizing that America's systematic refusal to confront its racist treatment of its black citizens has to stop, if we believe that 'America' means anything at all. Despite our Founders' standard-grade 18th century white racism, they at least enshrined in our formal institutions the idea that denying one American fundamental rights threatens all Americans' enjoyment of their own.

And if, as a society, we can't get this right, then maybe we need to go back to the old idea of giving black communities total political autonomy, like Malcolm X once considered.

In the meantime, I'm starting to like the world DJ Khaled seems to inhabit. Maybe when reality starts to suck badly enough, retreat to the land of unicorns and ride-able cheetahs is our best bet.

Published in Blog
Monday, 07 January 2019 21:27

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 10

Bringing Ragnarok – Dev Diary 10

Well, the New Year has begun, and so the time has come for me to start work on Book 3 of Bringing Ragnarok.

I am rather pleased that I was able to write, edit, and publish Book 2 between July and December of 2018 – just as I’d planned. But plans are one thing, and reality quite another. 2018 has to have been one of the worst two years in my memory. It was a year of things breaking. We lost two of our founding Broken Wagon Farm members, one cat and one dog. Illnesses struck us both and other family members, and while the lass of the house spent a summer working, in effect, three jobs, the lad - me - finally realized that the logic of pursuing an academic career was coming to an end.

So! I am quite pleased that I was able to get the job done, and with a manuscript that ended up a full third longer than I’d originally intended. And with 2019 looking – at least in our household – to be a more stable time, I am confident that I’ll be able to get Book 3 up and published by the July 2019 – and then on to Book 4.

Completing Book 2 was also a relief for another reason – insofar as the narrative goes, Books 1 and 2 complete the first of three “movements” in the Saga. The first movement, First of Fimbulwinter, is about the Six Friends transition into their new world, and coming to grips with the reality of what being in war really means.

As a result, Book 1 has (I hope) a bit of a jarring feel, with a bit of whimsy, while Book 2 is more of a descent down the other side of a rollercoaster – it starts off slow, a bit like the late-middle of Book 1, and then accelerates into a torrent of action. Book 2 also ends on a much darker note, as I believe it has to, in order to serve its role in the Saga.

Book 3, by contrast, begins a new movement, one more focused on exploration and problem-solving. There’s still action, but it is spaced out again, and the Six Friends won’t always be quite so close to the center of the battles. I hope to continue taking the readers on a whirlwhind tour of three periods of human history, while working in as much detail on the crucial question of how the world got so dystopian in the first place.

Which means more about America’s collapse (the news continues to make this both easy and salient), more about Germany’s descent into madness, and more about the dark future the Neoliberals have in store for us all (though unless they get to work on rejuvenation pharmaceuticals soon, those of us reading this in the 21st century won’t live to see that particular dystopia rise).

Also, while I’m using musical metaphors...

*Brief aside: as this sentence was being typed, a cat just leaped onto my lap and then over to the couch. One of my primary functions in life is serving as a cat highway/parkour installation*

...As I was saying – musical metaphors. I make no secret of the fact that I love music. In fact, most of the backstory and plotting that swirled around for a couple years before I actually sat down to write the Saga came together whilst I relaxed on the couch, listening to Amon Amarth.

For some reason, back in about 2015 I got back into listening to music after a long period of, well, not doing much of anything new. Working on my PhD was starting to get... well, I was starting to get burned out, I now realize. Academia is a right hell-disaster, as I’ll get around to talking about on my blog one of these days. Racism, sexism, a culture of bullying – anything you can imagine experiencing in a cubicle in corporate America, you can find it in Academia, too. And there’s only so much self-congratulating hypocrisy from old white men with no clue about how the world actually works one can take in a lifetime.

Well, in any event, while I was starting my three-year journey to total burnout, I was listening to Pandora whilst poring over some statistical data (like ya do) when a song came on – “Runes to my Memory” that just totally blew me away. I’ve always been a huge Tolkien fan, and I knew there was a Swedish melodic death metal band named Amon Amarth, which is the Sindarin (One variety of Elf-speech) word for Mount Doom – the fiery chasm whence the One Ring was thrown, freeing us all from the dominion of Sauron, forever. (others have moved in to fill the void since, sadly).

So when I heard this song and checked the Pandora feed to grok the band name, I knew I had to find more of their stuff. I’ll save the full review, analysis, and impressions of the full Amon Amarth discography for another day, but suffice to say that I acquired all ten of their studio albums and listen to each pretty much once or twice a week, every week. Often, while putting together plotlines and lore for Bringing Ragnarok.

So I think it is fair to say that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Amon Amarth. In fact, there are scenes, even entire chapters, that are directly inspired by certain songs. I quote AA both as Part epigraphs and in the voice of a character, Sandra Chavez of the Missoula Regiment, who (like I suspect I would if I were a 20+ year veteran of the aftermath of the collapse and breakup of the USA) has incorporated certain lyrics as part of her life ethic and enjoys transmitting them via radio as part of psychological operations against her enemies.

It actually strikes me, as I type this, that perhaps I should reach out to the Amon Amarth fan community and see if I can score some readership. In past blogposts, I’ve wondered who my fans are – and I still am not entirely certain of the answer. But I suspect that it is safe to say that someone who likes reading stories about badass women who fight against the odds to change the world, who also enjoys swedish melodeath, and who is super into sci-fi and fantasy books, is probably someone who would like Bringing Ragnarok. So perhaps, I need to think of a way to chase down that particular idea Thread...

In any event, Amon Amarth also deserves credit for getting me into reading Sagas in the first place, which is what allowed me to pull two decades of ideas together into a coherent, epic, metaphysical storyline. Wanting to learn more about the Norse gods Johan Hegg growls about, I read the Eddas (Prose and Poetic). Then I went and read every Saga I could find on Amazon. Ragnar Lodbrok, the Volsungs, Sagas of the Icelanders, Heimskringla – most sit proudly on my shelf.

And it was that spree, tied to my own disillusionment with Academia, that provided crucial impetus for getting me (finally) writing the kind of tale I’ve always wanted to write. Something that blends genres, draws on the critical and postcolonial scholarship that I think is so important for people to encounter, and takes the reader on a familiar sort of journey, while reaching what I hope will be a rather unexpected (if, in point of fact, foreseeable if you’ve gotten obsessed with sagas and mythology) endgame and conclusion come Books 5 and 6...

But first, there’s the fun of Books 3 and 4 to get through. Which I guess I’d better get to writing.

Published in Blog