Endgame Premises Archives: 11: Civilization is a culture of occupation

From the beginning, this culture—civilization—has been
a culture of occupation.

Visit the global 11: Civilization is a culture of occupation archives for posts from all DGR sites.

When the State Pushes Back

An interview with Kai Huschke, CELDF / Read the Dirt

An interview with Kai Huschke, CELDF / Read the Dirt

Editor’s Note: We speak with Kai Huschke, the NW and Hawai’i Organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund—working to pass Community Bills of Rights that elevate local law and rights above corporate rights. Local initiatives he advised have recently received state-level push-backs. The backlash in Washington State, for example, overturned over 100 years of Washington State legal precedent.

Simon Davis-Cohen: Over a hundred years of Washington State legal precedent has recently been overturned in response to local citizen initiatives you have played an advising role on. Never before had laws in Washington been subject to judicial review before they became law. Using this new tactic, opponents of Bellingham’s, and more recently Spokane’s, Community Bill of Rights have successfully blocked initiatives from appearing on local ballots. Why aren’t you surprised?

Kai Huschke: It is in these kinds of moments you see the system for what it is in full force, that it has been designed to protect commerce and property interests over rights. In the Bellingham and Spokane cases, the courts said that it is more important to defend corporate interests’ speculative claims of damages rather than uphold the right of the people to vote.

That sounds shocking, and it should be to folks, but why it’s not surprising is that the structure has been built to respond to peoples’ attempts to gain more say over what happens in their community. In Bellingham it was BNSF railroad saying you can’t say no to coal trains because it goes against the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. In Spokane it was the local Chamber of Commerce, Homebuilders Association, and developers arguing to the judge that you can’t expand rights to residents to decide what happens development-wise in their neighborhoods, institute greater protections for the Spokane River, or expand basic rights for workers, because the local government doesn’t have that authority.

It’s not surprising because the people supporting the Community Bill of Rights in Spokane have always understood that the right to self-government is a complete fantasy. That without taking down the structure we have today – programmed to ignore the rights of people and nature – we should expect more of these kinds of decisions that smash direct democracy.

SDC: In Oregon a similar backlash is taking place—against local efforts to ban genetically modified crops. Oregon’s Governor and State Legislature have taken steps (Senate Bill 863) to remove from localities all governing power over genetically modified crops. How does this illuminate the power structure that already exists in Oregon and other states?

KH: The Oregon Legislature just recently completed the dirty work on behalf of some of the largest corporate agricultural companies in the world by adopting a new law that chokes off any local control over seed for farming. This action shines a big fat light on the fact that a functioning, healthy right to self-government in Oregon communities does not exist. It is the same game that has played out in many other ways in Oregon’s ongoing history and is the way that things play out all over the country.

The corporate interests use the structure of government to drive in preemptive law that functions to crush any semblance of democracy at the community level. The system is very clear that it is about protecting—no matter the costs to people, communities, and the environment—decision making staying in the hands of a few over the best interest of the majority. The few are mainly large corporations that have been expanding this system of preemption as well as guarding against attacks from the people for the last 150 years.

SDC: Both tactics to prevent local bills of rights from being passed argue that certain issues are not within localities’ jurisdiction to govern. What are these issues and why do you think they are within local jurisdiction?

KH: There are a number of things at play around the question of authority. The two clearest elements are state preemption and Dillon’s Rule. State preemption says that some body at the state or possibly the local level (as defined by the state) has all power over certain issues. This means when residents want the right to decide how major development will proceed in their neighborhoods they are denied that right because another entity preempts them. The same scenario can be applied when talking about environmental protections or worker rights. The people and even local government are not allowed to exercise their right to expand rights protections against what the state has claimed it has the authority to regulate.

With Dillon’s Rule it is about the local government only being able to address issues that the state says it can. All power of the local government comes from the state. Powers can be given and powers can be taken away. Spokane, Bellingham, or whatever city you live in, your local government is basically a child to the parent that is the state. The child only can do what the parent allows.

Preemption and Dillon’s Rule fly directly in the face of what the Washington State Constitution says in Article 1, Section 1: “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”

The question has always been about (once you realize that what we’ve been told or taught about democracy, self-government, and protecting nature is false) what we are willing to do to change the structure in order to actually elevate and protect the rights of people, neighborhoods, workers, and nature over corporate pursuits.

SDC: In what ways are communities in Washington and Oregon alone? In what ways are they a part of something larger?

KH: Pennsylvania, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Washington, and Oregon have launched statewide community rights networks aimed at supporting local efforts to secure the right to self-government. These five states are also looking at making state constitutional change that would further recognize self-governmental power, eliminate corporate rights, and protect nature’s rights. Ohio will launch the next community rights network, with states like Colorado, Hawai’i, Maine, and Iowa considering doing the same.

Individually at the community level and collectively at the state and federal level, it is understood that we have a structural governmental problem that has to be corrected. Without doing so, the local level assaults by corporations and state governments will continue to escalate. The 160 communities who have passed new law that recognize community rights not corporate rights are the blue prints for what local government should look like as well as what state and federal constitutional change could look like.

In addition the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund has drafted both state and constitutional changes for a variety of states so a very real and very needed discussion can happen around shifting our energy away from issue fights within a rigged system and start to seriously build towards the structural change necessary to incorporate all the issues. More information can be found in the “State Law Center” section of the CELDF website. http://celdf.org/community-rights-state-law-center

SDC: Why is the right of local self-governance important for American grassroots movements?

KH: It is the essence of what American grassroots movements have been about. It was practiced all across the country at various times in our history. It was the major driving force behind the Revolutionaries, encapsulated in the Declaration of Independence and later attempted to be put into practice through the Articles of Confederation.

Rightfully so, the idea of self-governance is fronted as to what it means to be American. The community rights efforts of today are the grassroots to institute true self-government. They are built on the foundation of communities being empowered to elevate civil, political, economic, and environmental rights as they see fit.

Local self-government is the bedrock element. Partnered closely to it is the reality that corporate “rights” must be abolished and that nature’s rights must be recognized. This system change only happens if it comes from the bottom up, is built by the people, and the people move unapologetically forward to make this a reality.

The system we have today is not ours. It is not the legitimate system of the people. It is an unjust system. It is time that the people put in place a legitimate system of governance that protects the rights of people, communities, and nature first and foremost. That only happens when we actually start practicing local self-governance.

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Originally posted by ReadtheDirt.org here.

Earth At Risk: Thomas Linzey

Our planet is under serious threat from industrial civilization. Yet environmentalists have not considered strategies that might actually prevent the looming biotic collapse the Earth is facing. Until, Earth at Risk.

EARTH AT RISK was a conference convened by acclaimed author Derrick Jensen, featuring seven thinkers and activists who are willing to ask the hardest questions about the seriousness of our situation. Each of the speakers presents an impassioned critique of the dominant culture. Together they build an unassailable case that we need to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor, and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. They offer their ideas on what can be done to build a real resistance movement – one that can actually match the scale of the problem.

This film series will present the interviews of each of the seven thinkers, including Derrick Jensen, Stephanie McMillan, Lierre Keith, Arundhati Roy, Thomas Linzey, Aric McBay, and Waziyatawin, followed by an in-depth group discussion of each of the ideas presented.

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In our first installment, we welcome you to watch the interview with Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

CELDF has worked with hundreds of communities across the United States and the world facing unwanted corporate development projects such as chemical trespass, factory farms, gas drilling and fracking, mining, and sewage sludge. CELDF has now become the principal advisor to activists, community groups, and municipal governments struggling to transition from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over corporations.

In November 2010, CELDF worked with the City of Pittsburgh to become the first community in the nation to ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

In this interview, Thomas Linzey presents the CELDF model and discusses how communities can dismantle corporate “rights” by recognizing and asserting the rights of their community and the rights of nature.

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This event is free and open to the public. For space accommodation please be sure to RSVP. If you have any questions, need directions, or need any further information, please contact us at dgrnewyork@riseup.net

Monday, September 30th, 2013
7pm – 9 pm

Bellevue Hospital: Room A-342
462 1st Avenue
(between East 26th/28th)

Our Democracy?

By Robert Jensen / Dissident Voice

By Robert Jensen / Dissident Voice

An edited version of a presentation on the panel “Our Democracy in Crisis: The Rise of the Total Surveillance State and the War on a Free Press” organized by Chicago Area Peace Action at North Park University, Chicago, Thursday, August 29, 2013.

The issue-packed title of this event—“Our Democracy in Crisis: The Rise of the Total Surveillance State and the War on a Free Press”—offers a panelist a number of potential targets. Given the expertise of other panelists on the specifics of surveillance and journalism, I want to focus on what may seem like the least controversial part of the title, “Our Democracy,” to which I would add a question mark.

Our democracy? Really? Is the U.S. system a democracy, and if so, does it belong to us? This leads to uncomfortable questions: What do we mean by democracy, and who do we mean by us? My thesis tonight is that there is little consensus on these matters, and that left/progressive organizing requires blunt assessments of rather grim contemporary realities.

From grade school on, we are taught that the United States is a constitutional republic founded on democratic principles, and that over time the scope of this democracy has expanded. People once excluded from full citizenship have been included; even a formerly enslaved people have been fully enfranchised, albeit far too slowly.

There is much about the standard story that is true, but it leaves out one crucial element: No matter who votes in elections, powerful unelected forces—the captains of industry and finance—set the parameters of political action. Voting matters, but it matters far less than most people believe, or want to believe. This raises the impolite question of whether democracy and capitalism are compatible. Is political equality possible amid widening economic inequality? Can power be distributed when wealth is concentrated?

These questions remain unspeakable in mainstream political circles, even though the economic inequality continues to widen and the distorting effects of concentrated wealth are more evident than ever. The limited successes of the Occupy movement nudged this into view, but this impolite question must be central in our conversations, raised without sectarian rhetoric and with a clearer analysis of the foundational nature of the problem.

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Why Do Protesters Against Egregious Environmental and Financial Misconduct Get Arrested, But Not Corporate Perpetrators?

By Mark Karlin / Truth-Out

By Mark Karlin / Truth-Out

It’s sadly what we’ve come to expect: advocates for saving the planet — and present and future lives with it — and those who protest financial crimes and improprieties get arrested, charged, and often serve jail time, but those responsible among the corporate and financial elite go free.

In this case, the headline on mlive.com (as in Michigan) that came to our attention reads, “Four protesters arrested at Enbridge pipeline construction site charged with felony.” 

Enbridge is a massive intertnational oil and gas pipeline company (based in Canada) that, as noted in a study by the Polaris Institute, fesses up to large scale environmental damage:

Thousands of litres of dangerous fluids are released from the company ’s pipelines and holding tanks into the environment each year.

According to Enbridge’s own data, between 1999 and 2010 , across all of the company’s operations there were 804 spills that released 161,475 barrels of hydrocarbons into the environment.

This amounts to approximately half of the oil that spilled from the oil tanker the Exxon Valdez after it struck a rock in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1988.

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75% of the World’s Mining Companies are Based in Canada

By Dave Dean / VICE

By Dave Dean / VICE

While working on a piece I wrote last month about a Canadian gold mine being shut down by protesters in Kyrgyzstan, I came across a statistic that I thought must have been a mistake. With all of the noise and criticism both domestically and internationally of Alberta’s Tar Sands, it seemed to me shockingly underreported that 75% of the world’s mining companies are headquartered in Canada.

All over the world, companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and run out of lawyer’s offices on Bay Street or skyscrapers in downtown Vancouver (whose real financiers may live in Australia or Nevada) are handling the mining game at home, throughout parts of Asia, South America and surprisingly, even with all the talk of China’s investment in Africa, it turns out that it’s Canada, not China, who is quietly dominating and exploiting African mining. All told, almost 1,300 mining companies based out of Canada are investing hundreds of billions of dollars in over 100 countries around the world.

So the question is, why? What makes Canada such an attractive option for the ‘extractive sector’? Canadians don’t own all of these mining companies—but these organizations do plop their headquarters down here—what is it about this country that makes it such an industry haven?

I asked Jamie Kneen, research coordinator with Ottawa based MiningWatch Canada, a non-profit organization that describes itself as “a direct response to industry and government failures to protect the public and the environment from destructive mining practices and to deliver on their sustainability rhetoric.” Just why it is that Canada is the go-to place for mining companies to set up shop?

“There’s two sides to it,” he said. “One is that there is a concentration of expertise in mining finance and mining law, it does have a historical basis” He is of course referring to the various Canadian gold rushes, the nickel deposits in Sudbury, coal in Cape Breton, etc. “The other side is that Canada provides very favourable conditions. The listing requirements for the TSX are pretty lax, the disclosure requirements are pretty lax, you don’t have to have Canadian directories or Canadian shareholders to be a Canadian company… and the Canadian government doesn’t ask too many questions about whether you’re paying your taxes in other jurisdictions (i.e. foreign countries where the mines are operating).”

I was getting the impression that companies just pay taxes on their offices here and are sent on their merry way overseas to do whatever they want. I asked Jamie if there is any Canadian government oversight that’s keeping an eye on how these companies are operating—insofar as their relationships with the local populations, how they’re treating their employees, or the mine’s surrounding environments—and he responded: “In a word, no. There are really only two Canadian laws that apply internationally to mining practices, and one is against having sex with children. The other is against bribery and corruption. The RCMP has told us that there’s absolutely no way that they can control that at all. They’ve had a lot of resources thrown their way to try and make Canada look better as far as bribery and corruption activity abroad, but there’s way more than they can keep tabs on. It’s just kind of, cross your fingers and hope that they act responsibly.”

While the RCMP reportedly has trouble policing our overseas mining interests—and how could they not have trouble, when you think about it—there still have been some successful mining-bribery busts. Just this January, Griffiths Energy, based out of Calgary got booked offering a $2 million dollar bribe to the government of Chad on a resource deal. Try again, Griffiths.

While a Google search of something like “Canadian Mining Abuses” will turn up a plethora of stories that point to a systemic problem of conquistador and Avatar-esque narratives, here are a few examples from different regions that illustrate just how brutally these mining companies are acting while representing Canada overseas.

Barrick Gold Corporation is a name that comes up on a number of issues. Based out of the TD Canada Trust Tower at 161 Bay Street in Toronto, their gold mine in Papua New Guinea has been the site of fatal shootings as well as of hundreds of rapes, gang rapes, and beatings of indigenous women by the mine’s security forces. Barrick has acknowledged the problem by offering victims some compensation—on the agreement they sign away their rights to ever legally sue. I wasn’t able to find any evidence of Canadian government investigation or intervention in the matter.

In the Congo in 2005, Anvil Mining Ltd, based out of Quebec, allegedly provided logistical support and transportation to the Congolese militaryas it made its way to the port city of Kilwa where it massacred hundreds of people. A Canadian organization representing survivors of the massacre, the Canadian Association Against Impunity—whose mandate is to hold mining companies in Africa accountable for their actions—had their class-action suit thrown out by the Supreme Court of Canada, saying the complaint should be heard in the Congo (whose military the mine supported). This, again, reinforces my understanding that our mining companies can act with impunity overseas, without the threat of any legal repercussions in Canada.

Calgary based TVI Pacific has employed its own paramilitary force in a remote region of the Philippines to intimidate and remove the indigenous population from their ancestral lands so they can mine for gold. In one documented incident, members of TVI’s security force—all of which are employees of Canadian companies—entered the house of a local man, beat him with a hammer, smashed a small-scale piece of mining equipment that he owned – likely his only livelihood – then, just for good measure, slapped his pregnant wife, and shot at the feet of their teenage daughter.


A protest in Vancouver over our mining operations in Tibet. via Flickr.

The recklessness of Vancouver-based China Gold International left 83 Tibetan miners after a landslide in March—a natural disaster that many believe was caused by the environmental disruption that the mining industry has caused in the area. Apparently more than 5,000 Chinese troops were sent in to “serve as rescue efforts” but a Tibetan monk from the area, who lives in Canada, believes they were actually there to curb protests by the locals.

In Central and South America, Canada’s reputation is being dragged through the dirt to the point where in some countries, it’s apparently better for travelers to say they’re American than Canadian, and it’s not hard to see why. Vancouver-based Pacific Rim is suing the government of El Salvador, a country with a GDP of $23 Billion (Canada’s is $1.7 trillion) for $315 million dollars because they didn’t let them follow through with a mine that threatened to pollute the Lempa River—a watershed that accounts for 60% of the country’s clean water.

As if that’s not enough, a region of Guatemala was militarized last month—and the right to protest or form meetings has been suspended by the president—following clashes between local protesters who are concerned for their drinking water and employees of Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources inc.

While most companies probably do operate ethically and to the best of their ability—while maintaining healthy and sustainable relationships with local cultures and their environments—unfortunately these few stories really are the tip of the iceberg as far as Canada’s mining reputation that is beginning to be noticed as the worst in the world.

The basic Canadian government line on mining abroad, according to Jamie Kneen, is that “we expect Canadian companies to respect the law of whatever country they’re operating in and the fact is they may or may not. And that’s subject to whatever the law is in that country and their ability to enforce it.”

Despite the recent history of environmental abuses by our mining industry worldwide, we are still doing our best to keep up appearances with our global partners. Just a couple of months ago, Minister of International Cooperation (Everyone’s favourite Ex-Toronto Police Chief and former Chief of the Ontario Provincial Police) Julian Fantino was in Cape Town promoting Canada’s “responsible resource development in Africa.” Clearly, though, we are not as responsible as we should be.

Canada has a longstanding history of getting involved in foreign conflict under the banner of human rights—and we certainly enjoy maintaining the veneer of our role on the world stage as one of the good guys. But why aren’t we holding our mining companies to those same standards that we hold other guilty nations to? After learning about what’s happening with Canada’s extractive sector, it’s impossible to distinguish Canadian foreign policy from Canadian mining policy—and our hypocrisy is glaring.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @ddner

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Originally posted by VICE here.