My wife and I live on a 2.3-acre plot of forested land in a pre-Revolutionary house with a run-down old barn. When we first moved here, there was a rather large set of grassy areas, one in front of the house, another behind the kitchen, a large field in the back, behind the barn, a smaller lawn in front of the barn, and a hidden glen, as well as an island of grass in the middle of a circular gravel driveway.
It used to take me all day to mow all that grass, but over the years, because of my workload — particularly several books that were very time-consuming both to write and to promote — and the challenge of raising two kids, I allowed nature to reclaim much of it. Now I can mow what’s left in two hours. The glen is filled with brush, and the other lawns have shrunken dramatically as the forest has encroached in on them from all directions.
Now suddenly, I have to at least temporarily push back this march of nature, because my daughter’s getting married and she and her boyfriend have decided they’d like to have their secular jewish/hindu wedding at our place. This means that besides making the place look less derelect, I need to enlarge the big lawn out back to a size that could hold a large tent, in the event of rain, capable of accomodating 80-plus guests.
I have been struck as I set to work today by the astonishing amount of new growth that there has been this year already. Leaves on plants like the ubiquitous poison ivy and chokeberries are huge, and the asiatic bittersweet is growing so fast you can actually see its tendrils advancing out into the air as you watch them in the sun. Something frightening is clearly happening. Plants didn’t grow at this prodigious pace when we first moved here. That something, of course, is the increased CO₂ in the atmosphere, now approaching 400 ppm, a level not seen on earth in nearly a million years (and that is 14% higher than it was back in 1988, when it was at just 350 ppm).
Now, I’m not normally a guy given to apocalyptic visions, but as I was hacking away at the jungle-like growth that has overtaken the remaining open spaces on our property, I can see clearly that the greed of our capitalist elite, the subservient inaction of our political class, and the shortsightedness and wilfull ignorance of the general population have pushed this planet of ours past its abilty to recover. We are now entering an era of runaway heating of the planet and these plants are the harbingers of what is to come. There will be rapid growth of plant life for a time, but before too long, the seas will rise high enough to make a reef of my stone house, despite its being twenty miles from Chesapeake Bay, and searing heat and drought conditions will destroy most of the new greenery that isn’t either drowned or killed off by salt water infiltrating the aquifer.
I’m not going to catalogue of all the catastrophes that are in store for us as the self-correcting mechanisms of Gaia turn instead into self-reinforcing trends, as when the rapid warming of the arctic, already underway, starts releasing huge quantities of the super heat-trapping methane gas long trapped in the permafrost. Suffice to say that my eyes have been opened by my yardwork, and I can see it all coming.
But I see other things coming even sooner, caused by the same ruling elite’s insatiable greed and lust for power, and by the same political system’s actions in support of their goals.
First there is the accelerating march towards a police state, which began in earnest during the first year of the Bush/Cheney administration with the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the passage of the cynically named USA PATRIOT Act, and the launching of the so-called War on Terror, but which has been carried forward to a place I could never have imagined by Bush’s successor, Nobel Peacenik Barack Obama. Today, with the encouragement of Obama’s Homeland Security Department and Justice Department, police in America ride around with fully automatic M-16s in their squad cars and SUVs, routinely taser people, including children, the elderly and the disabled, for minor offenses, and when confronted with a peaceful and permitted political demonstration, respond in full military SWAT gear, complete with guns, pepper spray, clubs, tear gas, and with undercover agents who deliberately try to incite violence.
Just a few days ago, Chicago Police, working in league with the FBI and Homeland Security officials, infiltrated, provoked, enabled and then arrested three young activists in Chicago charging them with terrorism under a terrorism law passed in the wake of 9-11, in a case that appears to have been based upon not just entrapment, but planted evidence. It’s the latest in a long string of alleged terror threats busted “just in the nick of time” that share one thing in common — they were all conceived, organized and enabled by government agents and informants.
And then there’s the case of long-time Latino activist Carlos Montes. Just a year ago, the 64-year-old Montes was arrested in Los Angeles during a joint LAPD/FBI SWAT-team midnight raid on his house. The charge: possessing illegal weapons. But Montes possessed only licensed guns in his home, and hadn’t done anything to prompt the raid. The catch was, the FBI, which was clearly after Montes, a retired Xerox salesman, for political reasons, had conveniently told local police that he was not allowed to register firearms because of a (get this!) 1969 felony conviction for allegedly throwing a coke can at a cop (Montes says he never threw such a can and says anyhow the charge, based on a cop’s word against his, was a misdemeanor, not a felony). Note that the police knew all about that conviction when Montes first registered his guns (and probably would have blocked registration if he actually had a felony on his record). He has not been in trouble with the law since then. Clearly he could have simply been informed that his gun registrations were invalid, if they in fact are, and the guns could have been voluntarily surrendered. Why Montes, who has remained politically active and a critic of the government, was really arrested in this Gestapo-like manner became clear when an FBI agent hopped into the police car with him right after he was picked up, and said, “I am from the FBI and I want to talk to you about the Freedom Road Socialist Organisation.” Montes is now facing a possible 22 years in jail for possessing properly registered guns that the LAPD had known for years that he kept in his home, and that nobody ever cared about before. (I had to learn about all this from the British newspaper the Guardian. The corporate media in America have ignored or covered up this outrageous political bust.)
America these days is crawling with paramilitary cops (many of them war vets with PTSD issues), and with secret police–local, state and federal. They’re all connected too, through 72 so-called Fusion Centers that receive federal funds, but remain insulated from any kind of public oversight. Our phones and our internet communications are monitored automatically by National Security Agency super-computers that look for key words like “airport, exercise, flu, blizzard, bridge, or fundamentalism,” any of which prompt closer attention to what we are saying or writing. It would be nice to at least be able to think the Montes case is just a matter of all these SWAT cops and spies having nothing better to do, but I think it’s more serious than that. Going after Montes is just another case of trying to terrify everyone who stands up. It’s the same reason for the fake terror bust in Chicago, which was clearly aimed at scaring actvists away from participating in the anti-NATO protests.
Meanwhile, the president has claimed the right to detain–in secret, without charge–any American he deems to be a threat, and to hold such people indefinitely, without any recourse to lawyer or trial. He is even claiming the right to execute such captives. So much for the Fourth Amendment, as well as the First, Second, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth!
While I don’t think we live in a police state yet (having lived in China for two years, and visited there as a journalist over four other years, I know what a real one looks and feels like), but all the elements for one have been put in place and await only the throwing of a switch.
In the vision I clearly have, I feel strongly that someone, whether Obama or Romney, or whoever follows them, will throw that switch. When power is available to political leaders, they inevitably avail themselves of it. It’s just a question of time.
But there is another vision I have too. It has to do with America’s increasing international lawlessness and bellicosity. As the nation turns increasingly to technology for its aggressive imperial purposes, through the use of armed robotic drones, and through internet attacks on purported “enemies,” it not only opens the door to others to do the same to us; it virtually assures that we will be attacked ourselves in like manner to what we are doing.
It was one thing to be the world’s superpower when being a superpower meant having the biggest ICBMs and the most nuclear warheads — weapons that required an enormous military budget and a massive industrial base. Drone technology and internet “weapons” are something else altogether. As Israel has demonstrated with its Stuxnet virus, a very small nation can easily construct a weapon of tremendous destructive power. And thanks to the right-wing assault on education, the smart engineers and scientists these days aren’t American. They’re Chinese, Korean, Iranian, Iraqi, Egyptian, Indian, Pakistani, Indonesian and Brazilian, and a host of other nationalities. Iran demonstrated its own capability in that area by using domestic computer savvy to take control of a sophisticated US surveillance drone flying over its airspace, actually stealing it electronically, landing it, and now, apparently, back-engineering it. And remotely-piloted drones are not particularly complex technologically. Basic ones capable of carrying not just spyware but significant explosive payloads can be purchased off the shelf in any hobby shop. Some are even jet powered and all of them, made of plastic, are inherently stealth craft, and would be very hard to spot on radar.
How long will it be before foreign predator drones begin flying over US airspace, taking out targets here without leaving any clue as to who was the attacker? How long before other countries begin destroying American power systems, industrial sites or military command centers using internet-based computer viruses?
This is a game that many people can play, and I predict that it will not be long before we Americans will rue the day this country began playing it.
Meanwhile, I’m clearing out my lawns for a wedding. If the FBI or some hyper-ventillating local red-squad cops want to monitor my actions, they can fly a spy drone over my house and check it out, or they can come on by with a SWAT-issue weed-whacker or some SWAT-issue brush clippers, and offer to help.