Saturday, May 31, 2008
Howard Zinn: Anarchism Shouldn't Be a Dirty Word
By Ziga Vodovnik, CounterPunch. Posted on May 17, 2008
Howard Zinn, 85, is a Professor Emeritus of political science at Boston University. He was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1922 to a poor immigrant family. He realized early in his youth that the promise of the "American Dream", that will come true to all hard-working and diligent people, is just that -- a promise and a dream. During World War II he joined US Air Force and served as a bombardier in the "European Theatre." This proved to be a formative experience that only strengthened his convictions that there is no such thing as a just war. It also revealed, once again, the real face of the socio-economic order, where the suffering and sacrifice of the ordinary people is always used only to higher the profits of the privileged few.
Although Zinn spent his youthful years helping his parents support the family by working in the shipyards, he started with studies at Columbia University after WWII, where he successfully defended his doctoral dissertation in 1958. Later he was appointed as a chairman of the department of history and social sciences at Spelman College, an all-black women's college in Atlanta, GA, where he actively participated in the Civil Rights Movement.
From the onset of the Vietnam War he was active within the emerging anti-war movement, and in the following years only stepped up his involvement in movements aspiring towards another, better world. Zinn is the author of more than 20 books, including A People's History of the United States that is "a brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those who have been exploited politically and economically and whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories" (Library Journal).
Zinn's most recent book is entitled A Power Governments Cannot Suppress, and is a fascinating collection of essays that Zinn wrote in the last couple of years. Beloved radical historian is still lecturing across the US and around the world, and is, with active participation and support of various progressive social movements continuing his struggle for free and just society.
Ziga Vodovnik: From the 1980s onwards we are witnessing the process of economic globalization getting stronger day after day. Many on the Left are now caught between a "dilemma" -- either to work to reinforce the sovereignty of nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control of foreign and global capital; or to strive towards a non-national alternative to the present form of globalization and that is equally global. What's your opinion about this?
Howard Zinn: I am an anarchist, and according to anarchist principles nation states become obstacles to a true humanistic globalization. In a certain sense the movement towards globalization where capitalists are trying to leap over nation state barriers, creates a kind of opportunity for movement to ignore national barriers, and to bring people together globally, across national lines in opposition to globalization of capital, to create globalization of people, opposed to traditional notion of globalization. In other words to use globalization -- it is nothing wrong with idea of globalization -- in a way that bypasses national boundaries and of course that there is not involved corporate control of the economic decisions that are made about people all over the world.
Ziga Vodovnik: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once wrote that: "Freedom is the mother, not the daughter of order." Where do you see life after or beyond (nation) states?
Howard Zinn: Beyond the nation states? (laughter) I think what lies beyond the nation states is a world without national boundaries, but also with people organized. But not organized as nations, but people organized as groups, as collectives, without national and any kind of boundaries. Without any kind of borders, passports, visas. None of that! Of collectives of different sizes, depending on the function of the collective, having contacts with one another. You cannot have self-sufficient little collectives, because these collectives have different resources available to them. This is something anarchist theory has not worked out and maybe cannot possibly work out in advance, because it would have to work itself out in practice.
Ziga Vodovnik: Do you think that a change can be achieved through institutionalized party politics, or only through alternative means -- with disobedience, building parallel frameworks, establishing alternative media, etc.
Howard Zinn: If you work through the existing structures you are going to be corrupted. By working through political system that poisons the atmosphere, even the progressive organizations, you can see it even now in the US, where people on the "Left" are all caught in the electoral campaign and get into fierce arguments about should we support this third party candidate or that third party candidate. This is a sort of little piece of evidence that suggests that when you get into working through electoral politics you begin to corrupt your ideals. So I think a way to behave is to think not in terms of representative government, not in terms of voting, not in terms of electoral politics, but thinking in terms of organizing social movements, organizing in the work place, organizing in the neighborhood, organizing collectives that can become strong enough to eventually take over -- first to become strong enough to resist what has been done to them by authority, and second, later, to become strong enough to actually take over the institutions.
Ziga Vodovnik: One personal question. Do you go to the polls? Do you vote?
Howard Zinn: I do. Sometimes, not always. It depends. But I believe that it is preferable sometimes to have one candidate rather another candidate, while you understand that that is not the solution. Sometimes the lesser evil is not so lesser, so you want to ignore that, and you either do not vote or vote for third party as a protest against the party system. Sometimes the difference between two candidates is an important one in the immediate sense, and then I believe trying to get somebody into office, who is a little better, who is less dangerous, is understandable. But never forgetting that no matter who gets into office, the crucial question is not who is in office, but what kind of social movement do you have. Because we have seen historically that if you have a powerful social movement, it doesn't matter who is in office. Whoever is in office, they could be Republican or Democrat, if you have a powerful social movement, the person in office will have to yield, will have to in some ways respect the power of social movements.
We saw this in the 1960s. Richard Nixon was not the lesser evil, he was the greater evil, but in his administration the war was finally brought to an end, because he had to deal with the power of the anti-war movement as well as the power of the Vietnamese movement. I will vote, but always with a caution that voting is not crucial, and organizing is the important thing.
When some people ask me about voting, they would say will you support this candidate or that candidate? I say: "I will support this candidate for one minute that I am in the voting booth. At that moment I will support A versus B, but before I am going to the voting booth, and after I leave the voting booth, I am going to concentrate on organizing people and not organizing electoral campaign."
Ziga Vodovnik: Anarchism is in this respect rightly opposing representative democracy since it is still form of tyranny -- tyranny of majority. They object to the notion of majority vote, noting that the views of the majority do not always coincide with the morally right one. Thoreau once wrote that we have an obligation to act according to the dictates of our conscience, even if the latter goes against the majority opinion or the laws of the society. Do you agree with this?
Howard Zinn: Absolutely. Rousseau once said, if I am part of a group of 100 people, do 99 people have the right to sentence me to death, just because they are majority? No, majorities can be wrong, majorities can overrule rights of minorities. If majorities ruled, we could still have slavery. 80% of the population once enslaved 20% of the population. While run by majority rule that is OK. That is very flawed notion of what democracy is. Democracy has to take into account several things -- proportionate requirements of people, not just needs of the majority, but also needs of the minority. And also has to take into account that majority, especially in societies where the media manipulates public opinion, can be totally wrong and evil. So yes, people have to act according to conscience and not by majority vote.
Ziga Vodovnik: Where do you see the historical origins of anarchism in the United States?
Howard Zinn: One of the problems with dealing with anarchism is that there are many people whose ideas are anarchist, but who do not necessarily call themselves anarchists. The word was first used by Proudhon in the middle of the 19th century, but actually there were anarchist ideas that proceeded Proudhon, those in Europe and also in the United States. For instance, there are some ideas of Thomas Paine, who was not an anarchist, who would not call himself an anarchist, but he was suspicious of government. Also Henry David Thoreau. He does not know the word anarchism, and does not use the word anarchism, but Thoreau's ideas are very close to anarchism. He is very hostile to all forms of government. If we trace origins of anarchism in the United States, then probably Thoreau is the closest you can come to an early American anarchist. You do not really encounter anarchism until after the Civil War, when you have European anarchists, especially German anarchists, coming to the United States. They actually begin to organize. The first time that anarchism has an organized force and becomes publicly known in the United States is in Chicago at the time of Haymarket Affair.
Ziga Vodovnik: Where do you see the main inspiration of contemporary anarchism in the United States? What is your opinion about the Transcendentalism -- i.e., Henry D. Thoreau, Ralph W. Emerson, Walt Whitman, Margaret Fuller, et al. -- as an inspiration in this perspective?
Howard Zinn: Well, the Transcendentalism is, we might say, an early form of anarchism. The Transcendentalists also did not call themselves anarchists, but there are anarchist ideas in their thinking and in their literature. In many ways Herman Melville shows some of those anarchist ideas. They were all suspicious of authority. We might say that the Transcendentalism played a role in creating an atmosphere of skepticism towards authority, towards government. Unfortunately, today there is no real organized anarchist movement in the United States. There are many important groups or collectives that call themselves anarchist, but they are small. I remember that in 1960s there was an anarchist collective here in Boston that consisted of fifteen (sic!) people, but then they split. But in 1960s the idea of anarchism became more important in connection with the movements of 1960s.
Ziga Vodovnik: Most of the creative energy for radical politics is nowadays coming from anarchism, but only few of the people involved in the movement actually call themselves "anarchists." Where do you see the main reason for this? Are activists ashamed to identify themselves with this intellectual tradition, or rather they are true to the commitment that real emancipation needs emancipation from any label?
Howard Zinn: The term anarchism has become associated with two phenomena with which real anarchists don't want to associate themselves with. One is violence, and the other is disorder or chaos. The popular conception of anarchism is on the one hand bomb-throwing and terrorism, and on the other hand no rules, no regulations, no discipline, everybody does what they want, confusion, etc. That is why there is a reluctance to use the term anarchism. But actually the ideas of anarchism are incorporated in the way the movements of the 1960s began to think.
I think that probably the best manifestation of that was in the civil rights movement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee -- SNCC. SNCC without knowing about anarchism as philosophy embodied the characteristics of anarchism. They were decentralized. Other civil rights organizations, for example Seven Christian Leadership Conference, were centralized organizations with a leader -- Martin Luther King. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were based in New York, and also had some kind of centralized organization. SNCC, on the other hand, was totally decentralized. It had what they called field secretaries, who worked in little towns all over the South, with great deal of autonomy. They had an office in Atlanta, Georgia, but the office was not a strong centralized authority. The people who were working out in the field -- in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi -- they were very much on their own. They were working together with local people, with grassroots people. And so there is no one leader for SNCC, and also great suspicion of government.
They could not depend on government to help them, to support them, even though the government of the time, in the early 1960s, was considered to be progressive, liberal. John F. Kennedy especially. But they looked at John F. Kennedy, they saw how he behaved. John F. Kennedy was not supporting the Southern movement for equal rights for Black people. He was appointing the segregationists judges in the South, he was allowing southern segregationists to do whatever they wanted to do. So SNCC was decentralized, anti-government, without leadership, but they did not have a vision of a future society like the anarchists. They were not thinking long term, they were not asking what kind of society shall we have in the future. They were really concentrated on immediate problem of racial segregation. But their attitude, the way they worked, the way they were organized, was along, you might say, anarchist lines.
Ziga Vodovnik: Do you thing that pejorative (mis)usage of the word anarchism is direct consequence of the fact that the ideas that people can be free, was and is very frightening to those in power?
Howard Zinn: No doubt! No doubt that anarchist ideas are frightening to those in power. People in power can tolerate liberal ideas. They can tolerate ideas that call for reforms, but they cannot tolerate the idea that there will be no state, no central authority. So it is very important for them to ridicule the idea of anarchism to create this impression of anarchism as violent and chaotic. It is useful for them, yes.
Ziga Vodovnik: In theoretical political science we can analytically identify two main conceptions of anarchism -- a so-called collectivist anarchism limited to Europe, and on another hand individualist anarchism limited to US. Do you agree with this analytical separation?
Howard Zinn: To me this is an artificial separation. As so often happens analysts can make things easier for themselves, like to create categories and fit movements into categories, but I don't think you can do that. Here in the United States, sure there have been people who believed in individualist anarchism, but in the United States have also been organized anarchists of Chicago in 1880s or SNCC. I guess in both instances, in Europe and in the United States, you find both manifestations, except that maybe in Europe the idea of anarcho-syndicalism become stronger in Europe than in the US. While in the US you have the IWW, which is an anarcho-syndicalist organization and certainly not in keeping with individualist anarchism.
Ziga Vodovnik: What is your opinion about the "dilemma" of means -- revolution versus social and cultural evolution?
Howard Zinn: I think here are several different questions. One of them is the issue of violence, and I think here anarchists have disagreed. Here in the US you find a disagreement, and you can find this disagreement within one person. Emma Goldman, you might say she brought anarchism, after she was dead, to the forefront in the US in the 1960s, when she suddenly became an important figure. But Emma Goldman was in favor of the assassination of Henry Clay Frick, but then she decided that this is not the way. Her friend and comrade, Alexander Berkman, he did not give up totally the idea of violence. On the other hand, you have people who were anarchistic in way like Tolstoy and also Gandhi, who believed in nonviolence.
There is one central characteristic of anarchism on the matter of means, and that central principle is a principle of direct action -- of not going through the forms that the society offers you, of representative government, of voting, of legislation, but directly taking power. In case of trade unions, in case of anarcho-syndicalism, it means workers going on strike, and not just that, but actually also taking hold of industries in which they work and managing them. What is direct action? In the South when black people were organizing against racial segregation, they did not wait for the government to give them a signal, or to go through the courts, to file lawsuits, wait for Congress to pass the legislation. They took direct action; they went into restaurants, were sitting down there and wouldn't move. They got on those buses and acted out the situation that they wanted to exist.
Of course, strike is always a form of direct action. With the strike, too, you are not asking government to make things easier for you by passing legislation, you are taking a direct action against the employer. I would say, as far as means go, the idea of direct action against the evil that you want to overcome is a kind of common denominator for anarchist ideas, anarchist movements. I still think one of the most important principles of anarchism is that you cannot separate means and ends. And that is, if your end is egalitarian society you have to use egalitarian means, if your end is non-violent society without war, you cannot use war to achieve your end. I think anarchism requires means and ends to be in line with one another. I think this is in fact one of the distinguishing characteristics of anarchism.
Ziga Vodovnik: On one occasion Noam Chomsky has been asked about his specific vision of anarchist society and about his very detailed plan to get there. He answered that "we can not figure out what problems are going to arise unless you experiment with them." Do you also have a feeling that many left intellectuals are loosing too much energy with their theoretical disputes about the proper means and ends, to even start "experimenting" in practice?
Howard Zinn: I think it is worth presenting ideas, like Michael Albert did with Parecon for instance, even though if you maintain flexibility. We cannot create blueprint for future society now, but I think it is good to think about that. I think it is good to have in mind a goal. It is constructive, it is helpful, it is healthy, to think about what future society might be like, because then it guides you somewhat what you are doing today, but only so long as this discussions about future society don't become obstacles to working towards this future society. Otherwise you can spend discussing this utopian possibility versus that utopian possibility, and in the mean time you are not acting in a way that would bring you closer to that.
Ziga Vodovnik: In your People's History of the United States you show us that our freedom, rights, environmental standards, etc., have never been given to us from the wealthy and influential few, but have always been fought out by ordinary people -- with civil disobedience. What should be in this respect our first steps toward another, better world?
Howard Zinn: I think our first step is to organize ourselves and protest against existing order -- against war, against economic and sexual exploitation, against racism, etc. But to organize ourselves in such a way that means correspond to the ends, and to organize ourselves in such a way as to create kind of human relationship that should exist in future society. That would mean to organize ourselves without centralize authority, without charismatic leader, in a way that represents in miniature the ideal of the future egalitarian society. So that even if you don't win some victory tomorrow or next year in the meantime you have created a model. You have acted out how future society should be and you created immediate satisfaction, even if you have not achieved your ultimate goal.
Ziga Vodovnik: What is your opinion about different attempts to scientifically prove Bakunin's ontological assumption that human beings have "instinct for freedom," not just will but also biological need?
Howard Zinn: Actually I believe in this idea, but I think that you cannot have biological evidence for this. You would have to find a gene for freedom? No. I think the other possible way is to go by history of human behavior. History of human behavior shows this desire for freedom, shows that whenever people have been living under tyranny, people would rebel against that.
Ziga Vodovnik is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, where his teaching and research is focused on anarchist theory/praxis and social movements in the Americas. His new book Anarchy of Everyday Life -- Notes on Anarchism and its Forgotten Confluences will be released in late 2008.
© 2008 CounterPunch All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/85427/
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I only had the opportunity to talk to Utah briefly and to see him perform live once. But I listened to his radio show regularly and listened to him tell stories of hobos, labor activists, poets and songwriters. He was such an intimate storyteller, I feel like I have lost a friend.
The “Golden Voice of the Great Southwest”: Legendary Folk Musician, Activist Utah Phillips, 1935-2008
From Democracy Now
Utah Phillips, the legendary folk musician and peace and labor activist, has died at the age of seventy-three. Over the span of nearly four decades, Utah Phillips worked in what he referred to as “the Trade,” performing tirelessly throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. The son of labor organizers, Phillips was a lifelong member of the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies. As a teenager, he ran away from home and started living as a hobo who rode the rails and wrote songs about his experiences. In 1956, he joined the Army and served in the Korean War, an experience he would later refer to as the turning point of his life. In 1968, he ran for the US Senate on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. For the past twenty-one years he lived in Nevada City, where he started a nationally syndicated folk music radio show. He also helped found the Hospitality House homeless shelter and the Peace and Justice Center. We spend the hour with an interview with Phillips from January 2004.
Utah Phillips, legendary folk musician and peace and labor activist, interviewed in January 2004. He passed away in his sleep in his Nevada City home Friday night of congestive heart failure. He was 73 years old.
AMY GOODMAN: Utah Phillips, the legendary folk musician, peace and labor activist, has died. He passed away in his sleep in Nevada City Friday night. He died of congestive heart failure. He was seventy-three years old. A memorial service is being planned for Sunday.
Over the span of nearly four decades, Utah Phillips worked in what he referred to as “the Trade,” performing tirelessly for audiences in large and small cities throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. His songs were performed by Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie. He earned a Grammy nomination for an album he recorded with Ani DiFranco and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Folk Alliance.
Born Bruce Duncan Phillips in 1935, he later adopted the name “Utah,” from where he grew up. The son of labor organizers, Phillips was a lifelong member of the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies. As a teenager, he ran away from home and started living as a hobo who rode the rails and wrote songs about his experiences. In 1956, he joined the Army and served in the Korean War, an experience he would later refer to as the turning point of his life. In 1968, he ran for the US Senate on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket.
For the past twenty-one years, he has lived in Nevada City, where he started a nationally syndicated folk music radio show called Loafer’s Glory, produced at community radio station KVMR. He also helped found the Hospitality House homeless shelter and the Peace and Justice Center there.
Today we spend the hour hearing Utah Phillips in his own words. In January 2004, I had a chance to sit down with Utah for an extensive interview. We met at the pirate radio station, Freak Radio Santa Cruz, where Utah had come to perform. I began by asking him why he arrived at least a day early to any city or town where he performed.
UTAH PHILLIPS: When you have an engagement, at least in my world, the world that I create for myself, an engagement doesn’t begin when you hit the stage and end when you leave the stage. It begins when you hit the city limits, and it ends when you leave the city limits.
There’s a whole lot going on in that town. My trade is like being paid to go to schools, and every town is its own teacher. Every town, that’s my university. And there are marvels and wonders. There’s Hobos from Hell, are from Santa Cruz. They’re young people riding on the freight trains, and they’re better at it than I ever thought I would be. You’ve got the Homeless Garden Project. You’ve got just an enormous rich community here.
I was involved some years ago in helping to organize a street singers’ guild in this town, and it—you got to beat the streets and learn from the people, and then you’ve got to get on their stage and, having done that and been with those people, let that audience know that you’re not just doing the show you did in the town the night before, you know. You’re no—you’ve got to know who you’re with and where you are. That’s very important to me. And they’ve got to know that I understand that, that I’m really there for them.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s start out where you started out. Where were you born? When were you born?
UTAH PHILLIPS: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1935.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did you start on this journey? When did you begin singing, storytelling?
UTAH PHILLIPS: Oh, mercy, I think we’re all storytellers, you know. You think of the excuses you told your parents for why you got home late. I just never gave it up.
I got—I left home. I went up to work in Yellowstone National Park during high school. I was going to make some summer money. I went up on the freight trains, and for the first time I rode the freight trains. And I worked on a road rating crew. And at that time, I was playing the ukulele and singing ersatz Hawaiian music—Johnny Noble, things like that, “Lovely Hula Hands,” “Malihini Melee.”
The other hands working on that crew, a lot of them were old, old alcoholics who could only shovel gravel. But they knew songs. And late at night, you know, there would be a fire. We would live in these clapboard shanties. They sang old songs, Jimmie Rodgers, and they sang old Gene Autry songs, songs I had never heard, but were much closer to the way I was living right there at that time, certainly a lot closer than as Hawaiian music. So they showed me how to turn my ukulele chords into guitar chords and taught me those songs.
And it’s right about then I started making songs in that mold, making songs of what I saw in the world around me, but using those tune models and those verse models that had endured for so long and will continue to endure simply because they work. So, you know, I’ve been making songs and stories for over fifty years now. It’s a way of life. It’s like breathing.
AMY GOODMAN: War has always seemed to play a major role in defining our times and affected your work, as well. You went to Korea?
UTAH PHILLIPS: Yes, I joined the Army. Like old—as a string fellow said, some people learn things the hard way, but at least then you never forget it. I joined the Army and then got pipelined for Korea. I was there after Panmunjan, you know, after the treaty, right after the treaty there, the truce. Life amid the ruins—I mean, it was absolute life amid the ruins. Children crying—that’s the memory of Korea. Devastation. I saw an elegant and ancient culture in a small Asian country devastated by the impact of cultural and economic imperialism. And the impact of an army of young men given unlimited license for excess of every kind, of violence, sexual, booze, what have you, drugs—a blueprint for self-destruction. And I knew that if I endured that, I would perish, I would simply perish.
It was there in Korea in that situation around those kinds of experiences—and I was up—I was up on the Imjin River, and I wanted to swim in it, because I wanted to wash all that away, all that away. And I was told I couldn’t swim in the Imjin. And it was the young Korean there, Yoon Suk An [phon.], who explained to me why I couldn’t. He said, “When we marry, we move into our grandparents’, in with our grandparents, and—but the place is devastated. There’s nothing growing. It’s all dead. So when the first child comes, somebody has to leave, and it’s the old man. The grandfather will leave and go sit on the bank of the Imjin with a jug of water and a blanket until he dies and will roll down into the water.” He said, “You can’t swim in the Imjin, because those are our elders being carried out to sea.”
Well, that’s when I cracked. You know, that’s when I broke up. I said I can’t do this anymore. You know, this is all wrong. It all has to change. And the change has to begin with me. It was right then that I decided that the idea of manhood that I had been given, that blueprint for self-destruction, that my father had lied to me about manhood, my drill instructors, my Army sergeants, my scoutmaster, my gym instructor in high school. They had all lied to me about what manhood was, and it was up to me to begin to figure out what it really meant.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you do it?
UTAH PHILLIPS: Painfully, painfully. It takes a long time to shut up and listen. You know, it takes a long time just to plain shut up and listen. I tell you, what I learned was—I decided that the great struggles, the wars that you’re talking about—it could be the Bosnian War, it could be the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, it could be the Korean War, it could be the Iraqi War, whatever, it doesn’t matter—it’s all—every—the thing they all have in common is that it’s young men with guns doing it to everybody else. Women aren’t doing it. Kids aren’t doing it. Old people aren’t doing it. Disabled people aren’t doing it. It’s young people with guns, you know, that are doing it to everybody else. And we don’t have a problem with violence in the world. We’ve got a serious male problem. And I bought into it, so I know. And I’m buying myself out of it, you see. It’s terribly, terribly important for me for people to understand that and begin to shut up and listen. The most important movement in the world is the feminist movement. If we can really figure out what’s going on between men and women, the other problems will take care of themselves. I’m sure of it.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Utah Phillips. We’re broadcasting on Democracy Now! and doing it at Free Radio Santa Cruz, which is also broadcasting us live, known as Freak Radio. And Utah Phillips is going to be performing tonight before, well, many hundred of people, and he’s been in places with a couple of people, he’s been singing alone, or he’s been singing before thousands, actually just came off of a concert tour with Ani DiFranco?
UTAH PHILLIPS: Oh, no, no. I don’t tour anymore because of this congestive heart failure. I only leave town about once a month, if that. Ani and I will share the stage, you know, when we happen to be in the same area. She’ll invite me to go and do that. I should mention that tonight I’m not doing this show by myself. It’s called a circle of friends. It’s like a living room, where some good friends of mine, Bodhi Busick, great guitarist and a fine song maker, and Paul Kamm and Eleanor McDonald, who are up from Nevada County, town I live in, we’re going to sit on the stage and share songs and stories together. And that’s the way that I want it to be.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I wanted to continue on this idea of confronting violence and how you became a pacifist. When did you—how long were you in Korea?
UTAH PHILLIPS: I was there for eighteen months, and I extended for some months. I can tell you exactly how. I made it back to Salt Lake, and I was going into the post office, and there was an old man sitting under the bush out there, taking on water break. Well, that man was Ammon Hennacy, the great Catholic Worker, one of Dorothy Day’s people. And Ammon Hennacy had come to Salt Lake to open the Joe Hill House of Hospitality, one of the Catholic Worker houses. And Ammon took me in. And I was there with Ammon for about eight years at the Joe Hill House.
Ammon came to me one day and said, “You’ve got to be a pacifist.” And I said, “How’s that?” He said, “Well, you act out a lot. You use a lot of violent behavior.” And I was. You know, I was very angry, very angry person. “And you just act out a lot. And if you brought a lot, you’re not any good at it. You’re the one who keeps getting thrown through the front door, and I’m tired of fixing the damn thing. You’ve got to be a pacifist.”
He had a more fundamentalist way of looking at it. And I said, “What’s that?” He said, “Well, I could give you a book by Gandhi, but you wouldn’t read it. So”—but he said, “You’ve got to look at nonviolence like—your capacity for violence like an alcoholic looks at booze.” Alcohol—booze will kill an alcoholic, unless he has the courage to sit in a circle of people that are like that, put his hand up and say, “Hi. My name is Utah. I’m an alcoholic.” But then you can—once you own the behavior, you can deal with it. You know, you can have it defined for you by the people whose lives you’ve messed with, and it’s not going to go away. Twenty years sober, you’re not going to sit in that circle and say, “Well, I’m not an alcoholic anymore.” You’re going to put up your hand and say, “My name is Utah. I’m an alcoholic.”
He said, “It’s the same with violence. You acknowledge your capacity for violence, you see, and you learn how to deal with it every day, every instant, in every situation for the rest of your life, because it’s not going to go away. But it will save your life.” See, it’s a different way of looking at pacifism. I have to be a pacifist, you see.
So I said, “OK, I’ll do that, Ammon.” And he said, “It’s not enough.” I said, “Oh.” He said, “You were born a white man in mid-twentieth century industrial America. You came into the world armed to the teeth with an arsenal of weapons, the weapons of privilege, economic privilege, racial privilege, sexual privilege. You’re going to be a pacifist. You’re not just going to lay down guns and fists and knives and hard angry words. You’re going to have to lay down the weapons of privilege and go into the world completely disarmed. Well, you try that.” I’ve been at it—Ammon died over thirty years ago, and I’m still at it. But if there’s one struggle that animates my life, it’s probably that one.
AMY GOODMAN: Utah Phillips, the legendary folk musician, died this weekend at his home in Nevada City, California. We’ll come back to this 2004 interview in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Legendary folk musician and peace and labor activist Utah Phillips died Friday night at his home in Nevada City, California at the age of seventy-three. I interviewed him in 2004 at the pirate radio station Freak Radio in Santa Cruz. I asked him how he got the name Utah.
UTAH PHILLIPS: Well, that comes in the Army. I was from Utah, and nobody ever heard of anybody from Utah. Had mail call out in the street, and they holler out “Utah!” and I’m the guy who says, “Here, sir.” So the name, you know, since—it’s like calling somebody Tex if they’re from Texas or calling them Louise if they’re from Louisiana maybe. I don’t know. So that name just stuck.
The “U. Utah”—I’ve always been known as “U. Utah Phillips,” and that comes—I guess I can say that now. That’s been a closely held secret for years. When I was in Utah there first learning the kind of music I love, my favorite singer was T. Texas Tyler. So my friend, Norman Ritchie, the traveling teenage sage, started calling me U. Utah Phillips. There you go.
AMY GOODMAN: So we’re here with U. Utah Phillips. And wars have defined so much. History books define times by war. But resistance is also there, and that’s what often goes unchronicled, except with people like you who have been chronicling the resistance movements for a long time. And I was wondering if you could talk about some of the people who you feel have made important differences in activism, in resisting the wars.
UTAH PHILLIPS: Well, for that, I would have to go back to union brothers and sisters. I would have to go back to the Espionage Act in the First World War. In my union, the Industrial Workers of the World, this is my fiftieth year in the IWW, by the way, my proudest association. It is the only organization I’ve ever been—ever known of that didn’t break faith with its elders.
Well, when I hit the road, when I went out to try to find out who I really was, to reconstruct my life, when I left Utah, I found those elders and I sought them out. I never thought I would be able to say this, Amy, but my—most of my elders, most of my great teachers, were born the century before last. [inaudible] born in the 1890s. And I think of Fred Thompson and the elders that I’ve talked to that went through the First World War as unionists and endured the Espionage Act, endured the enormous persecution, and just kept at it and kept at it. That was an amazing thing, because that was the—one of the effects of the war—and the same thing happened in the Second World War, was to use that super patriotism and to use the enhanced governmental powers to break the back of the labor movement, especially the radical labor movement, the IWW, and pretty damn well, you know, near succeeded. In spite of that, you know, of that terrible oppression and that awful war, we came out of that war with the beginning of the eight-hour day, with mine safety laws, with child labor laws, you know? We were still winning all the time we were losing.
AMY GOODMAN: For young people who’ve never heard of the Wobblies, or the International Workers of the World, can you explain—
UTAH PHILLIPS: Industrial Workers of the World.
AMY GOODMAN: Industrial Workers of the World—can you explain its origins?
UTAH PHILLIPS: Industrial Workers of the World was started—grew out of the Western Federation of Miners. It started in 1905. The cornerstone of the IWW was the notion that people in the same industry should belong to the same union.
Big Bill Haywood there in Colorado, Big Bill, the true American, he was one of the founders of the IWW. His father rode for the Pony Express. His mother was a forty-niner who got off the wagon train in Salt Lake. Bill was born in Salt Lake. There in Colorado, he’d see how a mine would get struck. So they’d bring in scabs to bring out scab ore, and then it would be transported to the mill on the union train and milled at the union mill. He said all of the people in this industry should belong to one union, because that’s union scabbing.
So industrial unionism was born as an alternative to craft unionism, like the AFL, organized bodies of workers fighting against each other. And it wasn’t just industrial unionism; it was the One Big Union, the OBU, a union of all skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers in one big union, divided up into industrial departments, syndicalists, syndicalism, which would then replace the government; the means of production in the hands of the producers, produced for use instead of profit, create abundance for workers and nothing for parasites; an end to the wage system. Well, like John Greenway called the IWW a banzai charge on capitalism, and that was about right.
Well, of course, the union dwindled, you know, after the First World War, the Palmer Raids, which were so much worse than anything we’re experiencing now, but still survived. And now the union is growing, has been growing for quite a long time now.
AMY GOODMAN: The Palmer Raids?
UTAH PHILLIPS: No, the Industrial Workers of the World.
AMY GOODMAN: Right, but the Palmer Raids, if you could say what they were again, for people who—
UTAH PHILLIPS: Oh, Attorney General Palmer, that was the first Red Scare, the first big Red Scare. The Russian Revolution had been accomplished right at the—you know, during the First World War. So the first big Red Scare happened when Attorney General Palmer caused thousands of unionists to be jailed and many, many immigrant workers to be deported without any kind of due process. And it was like an industrial war. And Palmer—they did their best to break up the IWW, but it never succeeded, because we have survived and we have persisted.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the Palmer Raids. You talk about the Espionage Act. How do you think the time we’re living in now compares?
UTAH PHILLIPS: I think that—I think that it’s getting—it can get as bad. I think that we’re being frog-marched into a corporate fascist takeover of the country. And no fooling, I think that we’re in the Weimar Republic. And that’s another thing that I would encourage young people to understand, what—that was Germany before the Second World War, the rise of Hitler, the rise of Nazism. Why didn’t people do anything? You know, the big question that young Germans are asking their grandparents: “Why didn’t you do something?” Read about the Weimar, compare the rise of fascism in Germany from the 1920s to what’s happening right here right now.
The long memory is the most radical idea in America. That long memory has been taken away from us. Listen, you young people I’m talking to, that long member has been taken away from you. You haven’t gotten it in your schools. You’re not getting it on your television. You’re not getting it anywhere. You’re being leapfrogged from one crisis to the next. You know, you can’t remember what happened last week, because you’re locked into this week’s crisis.
No, turn that off. You know, walk away from that. Walk out your front door. Go find your elders. Go find your true elders. Go find your people that lived that life, who knew that life and who know that history. And get your hands down into that deep rich stream of our people’s history. We divided our culture up into a market for youngers, a market for young adults, a market for young marrieds, a market for older people, you know. It’s not that way. And mass media contributed to that by taking the great movements that we’ve been through and trivializing important events. No, our people’s history is like one long river. It flows down from way over there. And everything that those people did and everything they lived flows down to me, and I can reach down and take out what I need, if I have the courage to go out and ask questions. That huge river, you know, it’s like tributaries that flow down into the polluted river and purify it and purify it.
AMY GOODMAN: Utah, you’re known for telling stories, very—well, really opposite from the mass media world today, where a sound bite is something like eight or nine seconds.
UTAH PHILLIPS: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think that has done to the way people learn and understand?
UTAH PHILLIPS: I think that television has had a serious—we’re thinking differently. I’ll watch television once a year just to get kind of an idea of what is happening to people’s minds, or maybe I want to go see the World Series. The frequency of images is so fast that I can’t track it. If I don’t—I don’t have TV, and I don’t like them, so I can’t understand how people can watch them. The frequency of the images is just too fast. I can’t take it all in. Yeah, it is—you’re absolutely right that we’re thinking differently. Television alters consciousness. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t use it. It’s intended to alter consciousness.
Me, the last TV set I had, I shot. I don’t know what commercial importunement drove me off of the pier, but I hauled it into the backyard. It was up in Spokane, Washington, and I got a—had an old Stevens shotgun. I tied a scarf around it for a blindfold and scotch-taped a cigarette to the front and lit it and let it burn an appropriate amount of time, and then I blew a hole through it with the shotgun. It was out there in the lilac hedge, which grew through it eventually. It was kind of pretty after a while. But I have not—you know, I haven’t owned one of those foolish things since.
I think that abandoning children, you know, to a television set—children are born with this bridge between world time and dreamtime. They wander back-and-forth over it at will, and you never know which side of the bridge they’re going to be standing at either. You’ve just got to be willing to stand with them at the dreamtime end of the bridge, instead of jerking them over the bridge into world time on the presumption that facts will save your butt. Have they? Well, they won’t.
Kids understand storytelling. They understand stories, and they understand that particular kind of magic. And they also understand innately that all the wonders of the mind need not be explicit. We’re robbing children of their imagination. We just said earlier that the glory of radio is that it unlocks the imagination, as my wife said, and television—because you create your own images—and television gives you the images. Also, television is there to say to these kids, see, kids—you can take a coffee can and turn it into a rocket ship, you see? You create the story. If you have the story and you want act out, and then you create the object to act it out. Television turns that around backwards and says you can’t have this story unless you buy the object—the exact opposite of what we’re born to do. We have to fight like hell to turn ourselves back to our own best natural selves. And that’s part of what I’m doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Utah, we’re speaking on this weekend that would have been Martin Luther King’s seventy-fifth birthday, who came out of a fierce tradition of civil rights protest and human rights activism. A lot of people don’t appreciate what that day-to-day organizing and activism is all about. They hear Martin Luther King, it’s almost as if he was alone, but he certainly wasn’t. And there were so many, like you mentioned Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks, a story, a legend, where we hear about a woman who just got tired and sat down, but of course that was not her story.
UTAH PHILLIPS: No, she was at Highlander School getting her training.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what Highlander School was?
UTAH PHILLIPS: Oh, good heavens, that Myles Horton—Myles Horton was the world’s—the best educator the country ever had. And I knew Myles. He was a fine, remarkable man, good preacher, too. The Highlander principle was that any group of people in the community experiencing a problem, if they sit in a circle and spend a couple of days telling each other their life story, will eventually arrive at a solution to the problem. So the Highlander School was created for people to come together and do that.
So there’s food that’s prepared for them, a place to stay. And if you run into a knotty problem and you need a lawyer or you need an expert—and, you know, ex is a has-been, a spurt is a drip under pressure—you need an expert come in there, they’ll come in and tell you what you want to hear, and then they have to leave. You know how a lawyer can take over a meeting. And then you go back and just use the information, because it’s right in the hands of those people to do that.
And that’s where Rosa Parks was. Martin Luther King was there. Remember that billboard during the ’60s that the John Birch Society put up, said Martin Luther King at a communist training school? That was Highlander that he was at.
And it’s—and it was Myles’s idea, an extraordinary idea that works. Myles was a great organizer by himself. Myles Horton told me once, he said he was doing an organizing job in a little, small town, a coal mine job, and the thugs were in town, and they were going to try to break the union, you know, pretty violent. The preacher feared for Myles’s life and gave him a horse pistol to protect himself, but it was broken, and it didn’t have any ammunition. And Myles said he didn’t know how use it anyway.
Well, Myles was looking out the front window down on the street from the rooming house, and a big black car pulled up and these three goons got out. And Myles opened the window and, dangling that pistol out the window, said, “Hey, you down there. Let me tell you something.” They looked up and said, “Horton, you can’t tell us anything.” He said, “Oh, yes, I can. You’ve got to get organized.” They said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You’re not organized.” “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, now, look. You’re going to come upstairs and try to kill me. You’re going to kick in my door. I’m going to shoot the first one inside the door, and I may get the second one. Third one will get me. But you’ve got to decide which one’s going to come in first. You’ve got to get organized.” Well, they talked to each other for a while and got in the car and drove away. Myles could do that.
One time he—Myles, he did a—he was invited to give a talk on leadership. And he showed up in town, and he couldn’t remember where he was supposed to go. He lost the piece of paper. So he walked up to the main part of town, and he saw a bunch of people going into a hall, so he followed them. And he went in there and saw his name on the reader board, and everybody sat down and he sat down. When they were all sat down, he got up and walked to the front onto the stage and said, “Leadership is finding a bunch of people that look like they know where they’re going and following them, and when they’re all sitting down, stand up and talk to them about leadership.”
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about commercial media and what it’s done, what radio—that is commercial—record industry, the music industry, how you respond to it. And I also wanted to ask you about Johnny Cash.
UTAH PHILLIPS: Isn’t that the little bill changers in public restrooms? Forget it. My brain does that. Listen, I’m a victim of this myself. You know, I’m a bystander. I’m not doing this.
Let’s see, you started out with what media has done to people. You know that better than I do. That’s why you do what you do. See, you’re doing an alternative media. And if we play our cards right and have enough time, then pretty soon it won’t be alternative media anymore. But then, we have a thorough understanding—don’t we, Amy—that they fight with money and we fight with time, and they’re going to run out of money before we run out of time. So we’ll just be patient, and you do your work, and I’ll do mine, and we’ll catch up and overtake them.
It’s a damn shame, though, that we have to be alternative. But then, we’re in a capitalist environment, we’re in a capitalist system that’s built on—that’s built on the least commendable features of the human psyche, greed and envy, rather than the best. We in community radio, in pirate radio, in alternative music distribution, we reach for the best in people, you know, we don’t—not lowest common denominators. And we are building a new world within the shell of the old.
I don’t feel pessimistic about that at all. There’s simply too many good people right here in this room, too many good people on the street, close to the street, doing too many good things for me to afford the luxury of being pessimistic. I’m going to—I’ll tell people that tonight, damn it. I’m glad it came up. If I look at the world from the top down, from FOX, God help me, or CNN or—there ought to be a CNN Anon to ween people from that idiocy. If I look at it from the top down, I get seriously depressed. The world’s going to hell in a wheelbarrow. But if I walk out the door, turn all that off, and go with the people, whatever town I’m in, who are doing the real work down at the street level, like I said, there’s too many good people doing too many good things for me to let myself be pessimistic about that. I’m hopeful, can’t live without hope. Can you?
AMY GOODMAN: Legendary musician, Utah Phillips. We’ll come back to this 2004 interview in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: As we go back to 2004, I asked Utah Phillips to talk about the music industry.
UTAH PHILLIPS: I was in New York, after I left Utah on a kind of blacklist, and I was a fish out of water. I had to be told I was singing folk music. And I wound up in New York City, and there was a fellow there that was going to manage me and Rosalee Sorrels. We were assured he was the most honest manager in New York City. It took me a year to figure out that “scrupulously honest” in New York City was a jailable offense elsewhere. And I bailed out on that, you know, and I realized that I would no longer own what I do. I was a good Wobbly. You need to own the means of your production. I would have to abdicate most of the creative decisions to non-artists, and I said I’m not going to do that.
I decided that I would learn the trade. The trade is a fine, elegant, beautiful, very fruitful trade. In that trade, I can make a living and not a killing, and that was very important to me, to make a living and not a killing, to live reasonably well. I found a world of folk music. I found folk music societies all over the country, little singer circles, a little program here, Spirit of the Woods, Manistee, Michigan, what have you. And these were people who part of their pattern of social responsibility was being committed to making sure folk music happened in their community, like you might work for United Fund or muscular dystrophy. And so, I would come into town to do a concert as a partner in that effort. So the past thirty-five years I’ve been in this trade, I had no bosses. That’s another part of it: no boss. I make all the creative decisions.
And then, this wonderful glorious movement, the most healthiest one that’s happening in this country, is organized folk music, people turning off those machines and getting together to sharing music and food as a holy activity, singer circles, folksong societies, campouts, things like that, take care of each other’s kids, potlucks. It’s—you find that town, town, city for city, all happening below the level of media notice. And that’s where I happen, that’s where I want to happen, below the level of media notice, off of their radar, and create this world that’s apart, but which, as I say, if we’re patient and continue to build and to do our work in place, we will no longer be the margin. We will no longer be the alternative.
AMY GOODMAN: The late Johnny Cash and you?
UTAH PHILLIPS: Well, John R. Cash once sent me a—well, no, he called me on the phone. There was a fellow named Paul Milosevich, used to paint a beautiful painting for outlaw country singers down in Austin, Texas. I discovered the difference between outlaw country music and Nashville country music was that in outlaw they had dirty hats and in Nashville they had clean white cowboy hats. And if you wanted to be an outlaw, you had to take it off and throw it under a truck at a truck stop and let it run over four or five times, then you can be an outlaw. I knew that.
Well, Paul Milosevich had taken him a bunch of songs I had made up, and John R. Cash, Johnny Cash, said, “I’d like to record these songs.” And Paul said, “Well, you’d better talk to Utah first.” He could have demanded a license. You know, that’s the way the law is written, copyright laws. If they had already been recorded once, you could demand a license. But no, he’s a gentleman. He called me up and said, “I want to record these songs.” And I said, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do that.”
And we talked a good deal about that, you know. I think what I told him, I said, “I don’t want to contribute anything to that industry. I can’t fault you for what you’re doing. I admire what you do. But I can’t feed that dragon. I’m not going to feed that dragon.” And, of course, he and other people said, “Well, think of the money that you’d make. You could put it together in any cause you wanted.” And I said, “Mr. Cash, think about dollars as bullets. And the ragged band of revolutionaries meet on the field with the general of the army, and the general says, ‘We’re going to divide up the bullets. I’ll take seven, and you’ll take three. And then we’ll fight.’ Who’s going to win?” See, so—and a lot of people got on me. Melvina Reynolds was furious with me for not doing that, you know, for not making the deal. And I was on the edge of doing it, you know, any number of times.
And finally I said I’ve got to resolve this. I got a call from Santa Rosa. They were going to open a peace center, and they asked me if I’d come and sing. And I said, “Well, I think I can get there.” And they said, “By the way, Father Daniel Berrigan will be there.” I said, “OK,” and I went over there so I could do the show, but also so I could ask him, Father Berrigan, say, “What do I do in this situation? Would you have any advice?” And so, I told him the story backstage, and Father Berrigan said—all he said was “Oh, yeah. They’ll always tell you how much good you can do with dirty money.” And he walked away. So, OK, you know, I called and said, “No, no. Don’t do that.”
What I wound up doing was turning around, since there is mandatory licensing, is telling people who want to record those songs I make up, even if you’re a little label or you’re self-produced, you know, folk legacy, something like that, go ahead and do it, I just won’t sue you. And if somebody does demand a license, you know, and gets it, like the industrial-strength performers, I set up a non-sprinkling trust called the busker’s fund. And the money, I don’t even see it, just bypasses me and goes into there for people for medical relief for over-the-road folkies who can’t get health insurance.
I don’t want to make money writing songs. There are people who make money writing songs; I can’t fault that. I’m an anarchist. I don’t make rules for other people. I make rules for myself. And it’s also a kind of penance for what I saw and felt when I was in Korea. And that’s where we started, isn’t it?
AMY GOODMAN: Utah Phillips, we’re talking in an election year, perhaps one of the most important election years ever. But you once ran for election.
UTAH PHILLIPS: Once—oh, yeah, well, several—OK, I ran for the US Senate in 1968 on the Peace and Freedom ticket, took a leave of absence from state service—I was a state archivist—and ran a full campaign, twenty-seven counties. We took 6,000 votes in Utah. But when it was over, my job would vanish, and I couldn’t get work anymore in Utah.
So I hung on for about a year living on a cot in the back of a warehouse, keeping a little draft resistance center going. And, of course, by that time, we were dealing with deserters that didn’t want to go back to ’Nam, rather than, you know, the resisters. And I did some work with the Utah Migrant Council, started the Joe Hill House again, because Ammon had moved to Phoenix because he was too old to run it.
Finally, I had just run out of moves. I couldn’t find work, and that’s when people, friends like Rosalee Sorrels, suggested I leave Utah and try to make a living telling stories and singing songs, which seemed criminal or somehow unthinkable in Utah. But that’s when I went out and found—discovered this whole world.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you were an archivist in Utah?
UTAH PHILLIPS: I was an archivist, yeah. I handled 75,000 cubic feet of public records. For an information junkie, that’s heaven. Yeah, I loved studying archival science, and I still have a library in my home that I curate, my own little research library of popular antiquities. And that’s where my mind lives when I’m at home.
AMY GOODMAN: I’ve been speaking with librarians who are very concerned that the country’s archives are now being transferred to the internet, and they’re afraid from there that they will then be vacuumed, that the internet can then be changed, as we’ve seen President Bush, you know, purging words like “global warming” from government websites.
UTAH PHILLIPS: Archival science is in a serious—a serious crisis, and that’s because of electronic media, electronic storage and retrieval. A lot of hotshot, fancy, high-tech salesmen have gone to a lot of archives and archivists and sold them some bogus hardware and software. How many books has the Library of Congress lost? Millions of books, because the images have vanished, whatever the storage system is, electronic storage system is. It’s degraded to the point where the stuff is no longer usable.
In the Utah state archives, the best and most durable records are on paper, from the 1800s, the old Mormon Governor Brigham Young’s papers. Why? Because there was potassium in the water they used to make the paper in their own mill, and that’s a natural paper preservative, you know. And that’s true, I think, of any archive in the country. You talk to the archivists; they’ll say the most durable resource they have is still on paper.
Well, what’s the shelf life of a CD? Is it about ten years, ten, twelve years? Congress won’t accept tape for archival purposes, because after about ten, fifteen years, it bleeds through, you see? That it—paper. You know, LPs, I have, what, over 150 John McCormack 78s from the early 1900s—my favorite singer, John McCormack—and I can play those and listen to those. Same with my LPs. The whole information is becoming more and more temporary. And you’re absolutely right. You know, it is terribly threatening to every archive to be bullied by technocrats into going that route.
AMY GOODMAN: So, are you going to be voting this year? Are you going to be endorsing anyone? What do you think is the most important form of participation these days?
UTAH PHILLIPS: Well, now, you’ve got me boxed in. Amy, you know, you make—you ever made of vow? You know, like Catholics make vows, don’t they? You make a vow of celibacy or a vow of poverty. I made a vow to Ammon Hennacy shortly before his death, that, you know, he would never—he was an anarchist, a great anarchist. And he would never speak when I was running for the Senate. He would never talk, you know, for me. Another you learn things the hard way, don’t you? He made me promise that I wouldn’t engage in systemic politics ever again, that there was another way I had to do this.
Ammon never went to the polls, but you couldn’t tell him you hadn’t voted. He did vote. Ammon’s body was his ballot. And he cast it in behalf of the poor around him every day of his life. And he paid a terrible price for that. You couldn’t tell him you hadn’t voted. You said, “Yes, I did vote. I just didn’t assign responsibility to other people to do things. I accept responsibility and saw to it that something got done.” It’s a different way of looking at voting, isn’t it? And you can do that all the time. You could have your life in this way. I lived my life. My body is my ballot. It’s a lesson I learned from Ammon. That’s my way. That’s the vow I took, and I’m not going to break it. Right?
Given that, I can’t, of course, ask people to do something that I wouldn’t do, you know, but it does appear to me that these fascists that have taken over have got to get—we’ve got to get rid of them. They’re not Republicans, and they’re not Democrats up there. You know, they’re something else. They’re corporate fascists. And they got to be out off there. And the only organized force on the planet—in the country that I know of that can do that is the Democratic Party. God help us all. You know, it’s like buying a seat on the Titanic, the Democratic Party, but they’re the only force, organized force, that has the ability to do it. So it’s imperative that the entire progressive movement come together, like they did in the Great Depression at the time of the CIO.
Every progressive force in the country came together, gave them the window of opportunity, Roosevelt’s second term, and put their differences on the shelves, stopped hammering on each other. In the Great Depression. And we came out of that with Social Security and workmen’s compensation and a minimum wage, you understand? The whole progressive movement, from animal rights to the feminist movement to anti-nuclear—I don’t care what permutation—have got to saying, “This is my issue, this is my issue,” and join forces and once again create the united front, total united front, and take over the Democratic Party, and that’s the only way we’re going to be able to do this, to pull this off. We can’t do that—then, when we’ve done it, go back and hammer on each other, OK, but for right now, all the difference has got to be pushed aside. I am absolutely appalled at these Democratic candidates hammering on each other, you know, not recognizing the direness of our situation.
It is long since, since those people should have sat down in a room together and decided which one could be elected and put everything they had into that person. Time has long since passed. They’ve got to do it. And otherwise, we’re in for very much serious, more serious times we’ve got now. It’s not that time has run out. It’s going to make it a lot harder on everybody else to try to make it better.
AMY GOODMAN: Legendary folk musician Utah Phillips in 2004. He died this weekend in Nevada City, California. The memorial service will be held on Sunday. The family requests donations go to Hospitality House in Grass Valley,hospitalityhouse.org. I’ll be speaking in Grass Valley Friday night.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
I'm a clown and an activist so this story hits close to home. I think it is important on this Memorial Day Weekend that we remember those who have given their lives for the cause of Peace, Joy and Healing.
Exiled Iraqi clowns cheer refugees
By Lina Sinjab
BBC News, Damascus
Rahman, Ali and Safi are members of Happy Family Clowns group, established in 2004 to put smiles on the faces of Iraqi children.
A few months ago the group started receiving death threats warning them against continuing their show, entitled A Child is as Scared as a Country.
But the clowns kept going, until two members of the troupe were murdered.
This was enough to drive the surviving three to leave Iraq.
"We don't know why they targeted us. We were entertaining children," says Rahman.
Like many thousands of fearful Iraqis, Rahman and his fellow clowns left their home and fled to Syria.
Not knowing what awaited them in Syria, they went to the UN refugee agency to register and ended up working with the UNHCR to entertain refugee children.
Despite all efforts to provide security in Iraq, large numbers of Iraqis are still fleeing the country, with about 1,000 reportedly crossing into Syria daily, where they join a population of more than one million.
The refugees are not allowed to work legally in Syria, and many families whose money is used up face the difficult choice of living in poverty or returning home with no guarantees of safety.
"We are lucky to find a job here, but we are stuck. We cannot leave, and we cannot even develop our work," says Rahman.
"We want to continue our studies and live safely. I left everything behind, my family and home."
The group hopes to be able to develop its repertoire, and maybe even travel the world giving performances.
"I miss Iraq but I cannot go back. We are afraid we will be killed... That's our destiny," said Rahman.
It always seems hard to understand the seemingly ceaseless killing in Iraq - even more so when the victims are as apparently harmless as a troupe of clowns.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/02/21 09:42:25 GMT
© BBC MMVIII
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Can meditation make you a calmer, more compassionate person? Does the goddess sing in the shower?
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I'm not exactly clear on how they did it. Something about taking Group No. 1 over here and hooking them up to a nifty array of happyfun electrodes and letting them begin their deep and experienced meditation practice, and then at some point suddenly blasting the sound of a woman screaming in distress right into their prefrontal lobes like a swell little icepick of terror.
And then the researchers simply observed which parts of the meditators' brains lit up, and noted that it was the hunks related to empathy and compassion and also the parts that say, hey gosh, that screaming can't be good and I think I shall get up right now and go help that poor woman because I am training myself to feel more compassionate and empathetic and helpful all thanks to my deep and calming meditation practice.
Then they did a similar thing with Group No. 2, only minus most of the experienced meditation part, and when this group heard the same woman screaming in distress, their brains also lit up, only this time it was those parts that said huh, chick screaming in distress, how very curious, let us now reach for the remote control and turn up the volume on this delightful episode of "How I Met Your Mother" to drown out that obnoxious sound because, you know, how annoying.
I might be oversimplifying a bit. Or exaggerating. No matter, because the fact remains it is was one of those nice and delightfully foregone studies that deigns to reveal a helpful factoid which millions of people and thousands of teachers and gurus and healers have known for roughly ten thousand years.
It is this: deep meditation, the regular, habitual act of stilling yourself and intentionally calming the mind and working with the breath and maybe reciting a mantra or clearing your chakras or running a nice bolt of golden energy up and down your spine like a swell erotic tongue bath from Shiva, can actually have a positive effect on your worldview, can inject some divine love-juice into your core and make you more sympathetic, kinder, more apt to feel a natural inclination toward generosity and compassion and helping people who might be, you know, screaming.
I know. Totally shocking.
It's a small study that goes handily with the umpteen similar bits of research lo these past years, all of which seem to indicate some other famously healthful aspect of meditation: stress relief, improved heart function, life extension, emotional stability, improved sleep, increased productivity, better orgasms, fewer ingrown hairs, brighter sunshine, better gas mileage and also merely learning to sit still and shut the hell up once in awhile, which I can promise you will make your wife and your siblings and your kids and your dog and even your own manic ego very happy indeed.
Did you already know of such benefits? I'm guessing you did. Hell, here in NorCal meditation is so widespread and normalized it's actually available in the Whole Foods bulk aisle. I do believe over in Berkeley and parts of Marin County you are actually required by law to meditate at least twice a week atop your handmade zafu cushion in your Zen rock garden next to your carefully restored BMW 2002 as you listen to slightly cheesy wind chime music on an iPod-enabled Bang & Olufsen 5.1 home theater system just before you pour yourself a nice glass of Sonoma chard, or the police come and politely take away your Tibetan Nag Champa incense holder for a month.
Ah, but I suppose this is not the case nationwide. I imagine the practice is still widely considered, even after all these millennia and all these studies and teachers and perky New Age bookstores and all the obvious proof that meditating has little, really, to do with religious belief, it's still thought of as some sort of hippie cultish pagan anti-Christian Satanic frou-frou thing more aligned with monks and bells and Hindu wackiness than with everyday gul-dang gun-smokin' 'Merkin life.
And hence I guess we actually still need studies like this to lend validation to a timeless wisdom which, if disseminated more widely, could actually improve the health of the nation. Hey, every little bit helps, right? Enough studies and enough serious medical journals bring alternative ideas like meditation to the fore and maybe, just maybe, we could nudge the culture away from mania and obsession and road rage and a zillion Prozac prescriptions as the only means of coping with the trudging maelstrom of daily existence. You think?
It can't hurt. Because the problem is that we as a culture are still very much trained, beaten, shaped from birth to never, ever, no matter what you do, calm the hell down and breathe more consciously and try to live more fully in the moment you are in. Present-time awareness? Breathwork? Cultivating a sense of loving kindness? Save it for the New Age Expo, hippie. Real men live in some neurotic/psychotic state of need and regret and wishful thinking, all undercut with a constant shiver of never-ending dread. Isn't that right, Mr. President?
But meditation, well, it abides none of that noise. It brings you into the here and now and plops you into the lap of stillness and reminds you that there is more to it all than mania and media and political moronism, that you have incredible power to change your own habits and tendencies and daily love quotients, that god often speaks in whispers and flutters and quiet little licks on your heart and only when you dial down your raging internal dialogue can you actually hear what the hell she's trying to say. Hell, what's not to like?
Of course, you need no scientific study to learn any of this for yourself. But who knows, maybe there will come a day when you can stroll into just about any doctor's office and she will say, what's that? You say you're getting weird rashes and heart palpitations and you feel overwhelmed on a daily basis? You have rage issues? Melodrama? Warmongering and pain and fear of the Other? Sure, have a glass of wine. Take a few aspirin. Eat better. Exercise. More sex, less whining, better books.
And oh yes, also this: once a day, just for a few minutes, go sit very still, close your eyes, shut up, and breathe.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
The HIV Morning-After Pill
Introducing the best FDA-approved, commercially available lifesaver you've never heard of
Justine Sharrock May/June 2008 Issue of Mother Jones
One winter night in 2000, Danny, who was 21 at the time, went home with a guy he met at a crowded bar in San Francisco. Random hookups weren't out of the ordinary for Danny, but this one ended badly: As he was buttoning up to go home, his new friend mentioned he was HIV positive. Usually conscientious about safe sex, Danny hadn't been, and he panicked. "I was in shock," he says. "I just couldn't believe it." He vaguely remembered reading about an emergency treatment that could prevent infection, so when he got home he called the California AIDS hotline. Memory served. A monthlong regimen known as post-exposure prophylaxis treatment (PEP)—usually given to health care workers who have been stuck with needles—was available at local clinics and emergency rooms to people who had recently been exposed to HIV. The side effects of debilitating nausea and fatigue were a small price to pay for its potential benefits: A study of health care workers published in the New England Journal of Medicine linked the rapid administration of the drug to an 81 percent decrease in the risk of contracting the virus.
Danny went to a city clinic, where after a consultation, he was given a prescription for two antiretroviral drugs—the same kind that HIV-positive patients have taken since the '80s. As preventative medicine, the drugs work with a one-two punch: The first intercepts the virus' initial attachment to DNA, and the second stops infected cells from spreading the virus.
Danny was lucky that California is one of the few states (along with New York, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Rhode Island) where policies ensure that the general public—not just hospital workers who have been exposed on the job—can access the drugs. Elsewhere, the decision is up to individual hospitals, clinics, and doctors. Surveying all 50 state health departments and more than 50 ERs nationwide, I encountered STD clinicians and workers at AIDS hotlines and Planned Parenthoods who did not know PEP could be prescribed to the public. An Alabama health department official told me, "It's not available." A nurse at a North Dakota clinic said he all but encouraged patients to fly to San Francisco.
Since the virus must be intercepted before it attaches to cells and reaches the lymph nodes, it is crucial that PEP be administered immediately—each passing hour means decreased effectiveness.
"It needs to be treated like a gunshot wound or a stabbing," says Antonio Urbina, a medical director at St. Vincent Catholic Medical Center's HIV clinic in New York City. Yet of the largest hospitals in each state, only a quarter offer PEP in their emergency rooms. In a 2005-06 CDC survey taken at gay pride parades around the country, less than 20 percent of HIV-negative respondents knew about PEP. "When I tell people that I used it, they say they've never heard of it," says Danny. "You see signs about crystal meth or syphilis, but even in the gay publications, you never see ads for PEP."
PEP is FDA approved, commercially available, and even often covered by insurance (though for the uninsured the drugs run upward of $1,000). In 2005, the CDC recommended that PEP be administered to all patients on a case-by-case basis within 72 hours of a high-risk exposure, followed up by testing and counseling. But for reasons that are more political than scientific, there is no federal funding for the treatment. Some public health officials claim that public availability of PEP will encourage risky behavior—the same argument used against RU-486, abortions, and condom distribution. Robert Janssen, director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the CDC, explains, "Biomedical interventions raise concerns that people would feel, 'Oh, I have these pills, they will keep me from getting it.'"
Yet 73 percent of non-hospital-worker PEP recipients in a San Francisco study decreased high-risk sex over the following year. And since PEP drugs are so toxic, most doctors would be careful about overprescribing. "I'm concerned with two things," says Urbina. "Is the person that exposed them either HIV positive or at high risk for HIV, and is there potential contact with infectious body fluid? If both are yes, in my equation, you give PEP." Peter Leone, medical director of North Carolina's HIV department, who hasn't received the necessary support to institute a public PEP program in his state, believes the benefits of PEP outweigh the risks. "Nationally, there is a 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy," he says. "We're okay to say it's a good idea, as long as we don't know about it and don't do anything to support it. We don't deny care to smokers or people who didn't buckle their seat belts. It says a lot about the political climate around sexuality and homophobia." For the 40,000 people infected with HIV in the United States each year, the knowledge of a lost opportunity for prevention is devastating. In Britain, an HIV-positive couple has filed suit against the government for withholding lifesaving information.
Two months after he finished his treatment, Danny tested negative for hiv—whether because he hadn't contracted the virus from the encounter or because the PEP worked, he'll never know. Since a randomized clinical trial is unethical, researchers have to rely on observational and tangential research. "At least if you test positive after PEP, you'll know you did everything you could," says Danny. He keeps his medication label as a token of how a little bottle may have saved his life.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This article has been made possible by the Foundation for National Progress, the Investigative Fund of Mother Jones, and gifts from generous readers like you.
© 2008" The Foundation for National Progress
Monday, May 19, 2008
U.S. Sergeant Refuses to Go to Iraq: "This Occupation is Unconstitutional and Illegal"
By Karin Zeitvogel, Middle East Online
Posted on May 16, 2008
Matthis Chiroux is the kind of young American U.S. military recruiters love.
"I was from a poor, white family from the south, and I did badly in school," the now 24-year-old said.
"I was 'filet mignon' for recruiters. They started phoning me when I was in 10th grade," or around 16 years old, he added.
Chiroux joined the U.S. army straight out of high school nearly six years ago, and worked his way up from private to sergeant.
He served in Afghanistan, Germany, Japan, and the Philippines and was due to be deployed next month in Iraq.
On Thursday, he refused to go, saying he considers Iraq an illegal war.
"I stand before you today with the strength and clarity and resolve to declare to the military, my government and the world that this soldier will not be deploying to Iraq," Chiroux said in the sun-filled rotunda of a congressional building in Washington.
"My decision is based on my desire to no longer continue violating my core values to support an illegal and unconstitutional occupation… I refuse to participate in the Iraq occupation," he said, as a dozen veterans of the five-year-old Iraq war looked on.
Minutes earlier, Chiroux had cried openly as he listened to former comrades-in-arms testify before members of Congress about the failings of the Iraq war.
The testimonies were the first before Congress by Iraq veterans who have turned against the five-year-old war.
Former army sergeant Kristofer Goldsmith told a half-dozen US lawmakers and scores of people who packed into a small hearing room of "lawless murders, looting and the abuse of countless Iraqis."
He spoke of the psychologically fragile men and women who return from Iraq, to find little help or treatment offered from official circles.
Goldsmith said he had "self-medicated" for several months to treat the wounds of the war.
Another soldier said he had to boost his dosage of medication to treat anxiety and social agoraphobia -- two of many lingering mental wounds he carries since his deployments in Iraq -- before testifying.
Some 300,000 of the 1.6 million US soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from the psychological traumas of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or both, an independent study showed last month.
A group of veterans sitting in the hearing room gazed blankly as their comrades' testimonies shattered the official version that the US effort in Iraq is succeeding.
Almost to a man, the soldiers who testified denounced serious flaws in the chain of command in Iraq.
Luis Montalvan, a former army captain, accused high-ranking U.S. officers of numerous failures in Iraq, including turning a blind eye to massive fraud on the part of U.S. contractors.
Ex-Marine Jason Lemieux told how a senior officer had altered a report he had written because it slammed U.S. troops of using excessive force, firing off thousands of rounds of machine gun fire and hundreds of grenades in the face of a feeble four rounds of enemy fire.
Goldsmith accused U.S. officials of censorship.
"Everyone who manages a blog, Facebook or MySpace out of Iraq has to register every video, picture, document of any event they do on mission," Goldsmith said after the hearing.
"You're almost always denied before you are allowed to send them home."
Officials take "hard facts and slice them into small pieces to make them presentable to the secretary of state or the president -- and all with the intent of furthering the occupation of Iraq," Goldsmith added.
Chiroux is one of thousands of U.S. soldiers who have deserted since the Iraq war began in 2003, according to figures issued last year by the US army.
But while many seek refuge in Canada, the young soldier vowed to stay in the United States to fight "whatever charges the army levels at me."
The US army defines a deserter as someone who has been absent without leave for 30 days.
Chiroux stood fast in his resolve to not report for duty on June 15.
"I cannot deploy to Iraq, carry a weapon and not be part of the problem," he said.
Watch video footage of Matthis Chiroux's announcement here.
© 2008 Middle East Online All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/85612/
Thursday, May 15, 2008
By Amory B. Lovins, Imran Sheikh, and Alex Markevich
For Rocky Mountain Institute
Nuclear power, we’re told, is a vibrant industry that’s dramatically reviving because it’s proven, necessary, competitive, reliable, safe, secure, widely used, increasingly popular, and carbon-free—a perfect replacement for carbon-spewing coal power. New nuclear plants thus sound vital for climate protection, energy security, and powering a growing economy.
There’s a catch, though: the private capitalmarket isn’t investing in new nuclear plants, and without financing, capitalist utilities aren’t buying. The few purchases, nearly all in Asia, are all made by central planners with a draw on the public purse. In the United States, even government subsidies approaching or exceeding new nuclear power’s total cost have failed to entice Wall Street.
This non-technical summary article compares the cost, climate protection potential, reliability, financial risk, market success, deployment speed, and energy contribution of new nuclear power with those of its low- or no-carbon competitors. It explains why soaring taxpayer subsidies aren’t attracting investors. Capitalists instead favor climate-protecting competitors with less cost, construction time, and financial risk. The nuclear industry claims it has no serious rivals, let alone those competitors—which, however, already outproduce nuclear power worldwide and are growing enormously faster.
Most remarkably, comparing all options’ ability to protect the earth’s climate and enhance energy security reveals why nuclear power could never deliver these promised benefits even if it could find free-market buyers—while its carbon-free rivals, which won $71 billion of private investment in 2007 alone, do offer highly effective climate and security solutions, sooner, with greater confidence.
The Economist observed in 2001 that “Nuclear power, once claimed to be too cheap to meter, is now too costly to matter”—cheap to run but very expensive to build. Since then, it’s become several-fold costlier to build, and in a few years, as old fuel contracts expire, it is expected to become several-fold costlier to run. Its total cost now markedly exceeds that of other common power plants (coal, gas, big wind farms), let alone the even cheaper competitors described below.
Construction costs worldwide have risen far faster for nuclear than non-nuclear plants, due not just to sharply higher steel, copper, nickel, and cement prices but also to an atrophied global infrastructure for making, building, managing, and operating reactors. The industry’s flagship Finnish project, led by France’s top builder, after 28 months’ construction had gone at least 24 months behind schedule and $2 billion over budget.
By 2007, as Figure 1 shows, nuclear was the costliest option among all main competitors, whether using MIT’s authoritative but now low 2003 cost assessment1, the Keystone Center’s mid-2007 update (see Figure 1, pink bar), or later and even higher industry estimates (see Figure 1, pink arrow)2.
Cogeneration and efficiency are “distributed resources,” located near where energy is used. Therefore, they don’t incur the capital costs and energy losses of the electric grid, which links large power plants and remote wind farms to customers3. Wind farms, like solar cells4, also require “firming” to steady their variable output, and all types of generators require some backup for when they inevitably break. The graph reflects these costs.
Making electricity from fuel creates large amounts of byproduct heat that’s normally wasted. Combined-cycle industrial cogeneration and buildingscale cogeneration recover most of that heat and use it to displace the need for separate boilers to heat the industrial process or the building, thus creating the economic “credit” shown in Figure 1. Cogenerating electricity and some useful heat from currently discarded industrial heat is even cheaper because no additional fuel is needed5.
End-use efficiency lets customers wring more service from each kilowatthour by using smarter technologies. As RMI’s work with many leading firms has demonstrated, efficiency provides the same or better services with less carbon, less operating cost, and often less up-front investment. The investment required to save a kilowatt-hour averages about two cents nationwide, but has been less than one cent in hundreds of utility programs (mainly for businesses), and can even be less than zero in new buildings and factories—and in some retrofits that are coordinated with routine renovations.
Wind, cogeneration, and end-use efficiency already provide electrical services more cheaply than central thermal power plants, whether nuclear- or fossil-fuelled. This cost gap will only widen, since central thermal power plants are largely mature while their competitors continue to improve rapidly. The high costs of conventional fossil-fuelled plants would go even higher if their large carbon emissions had to be captured.
Uncompetitive CO2 Displacement
Nuclear plant operations emit almost no carbon—just a little to produce the fuel under current conditions6. Nuclear power is therefore touted as the key replacement for coal-fired power plants. But this seemingly straightforward substitution could instead be done using non-nuclear technologies that are cheaper and faster, so they yield more climate solution per dollar and per year. As Figure 2 shows, various options emit widely differing quantities of CO2 per delivered kilowatt-hour.
Coal is by far the most carbonintensive source of electricity, so displacing it is the yardstick of carbon displacement’s effectiveness. A kilowatthour of nuclear power does displace nearly all the 0.9-plus kilograms of CO2 emitted by producing a kilowatt-hour from coal. But so does a kilowatthour from wind, a kilowatt-hour from recovered-heat industrial cogeneration, or a kilowatt-hour saved by end-use efficiency. And all of these three carbonfree resources cost at least one-third less than nuclear power per kilowatt-hour, so they save more carbon per dollar.
Combined-cycle industrial cogeneration and building-scale cogeneration typically burn natural gas, which does emit carbon (though half as much as coal), so they displace somewhat less net carbon than nuclear power could: around 0.7 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt-hour7. Even though cogeneration displaces less carbon than nuclear does per kilowatt-hour, it displaces more carbon than nuclear does per dollar spent on delivered electricity, because it costs far less. With a net delivered cost per kilowatthour approximately half of nuclear’s, cogeneration delivers twice as many kilowatt-hours per dollar, and therefore displaces around 1.4 kilograms of CO2 for the same cost as displacing 0.9 kilograms of CO2 with nuclear power.
Figure 3 compares different electricity options’ cost-effectiveness in reducing CO2 emissions. It counts both their cost-effectiveness, in delivering kilowatthours per dollar, and their carbon emissions, if any.
Nuclear power, being the costliest option, delivers less electrical service per dollar than its rivals, so, not surprisingly, it’s also a climate protection loser, surpassing in carbon emissions displaced per dollar only centralized, non-cogenerating combined-cycle power plants burning natural gas8. Firmed windpower and cogeneration are 1.5 times more costeffective than nuclear at displacing CO2. So is efficiency at even an almost unheard-of seven cents per kilowatthour. Efficiency at normally observed costs beats nuclear by a wide margin— for example, by about ten-fold for efficiency costing one cent per kilowatthour.
New nuclear power is so costly that shifting a dollar of spending from nuclear to efficiency protects the climate several-fold more than shifting a dollar of spending from coal to nuclear. Indeed, under plausible assumptions, spending a dollar on new nuclear power instead of on efficient use of electricity has a worse climate effect than spending that dollar on new coal power!
If we’re serious about addressing climate change, we must invest resources wisely to expand and accelerate climate protection. Because nuclear power is costly and slow to build, buying more of it rather than of its cheaper, swifter rivals will instead reduce and retard climate protection.
All sources of electricity sometimes fail, differing only in why, how often, how much, for how long, and how predictably. Even the most reliable giant power plants are intermittent: they fail unexpectedly in billion-watt chunks, often for long periods. Of all 132 U.S. nuclear plants built (52 percent of the 253 originally ordered), 21 percent were permanently and prematurely closed due to reliability or cost problems, while another 27 percent have completely failed for a year or more at least once. Even reliably operating nuclear plants must shut down, on average, for 39 days every 17 months for refueling and maintenance. To cope with such intermittence in the operation of both nuclear and centralized fossil-fuelled power plants, which typically fail about 8 percent of the time, utilities must install a roughly 15 percent “reserve margin” of extra capacity, some of which must be continuously fuelled, spinning ready for instant use. Heavily nuclear-dependent regions are particularly at risk because drought, a serious safety problem, or a terrorist incident could close many plants simultaneously.
Nuclear plants have an additional disadvantage: for safety, they must instantly shut down in a power failure, but for nuclear-physics reasons, they can’t then be quickly restarted. During the August 2003 Northeast blackout, nine perfectly operating U.S. nuclear units had to shut down. Twelve days of painfully slow restart later, their average capacity loss had exceeded 50 percent. For the first three days, just when they were most needed, their output was below 3 percent of normal. The big transmission lines that highly concentrated nuclear plants require are also vulnerable to lightning, ice storms, rifle bullets, and other interruptions. The bigger our power plants and power lines get, the more frequent and widespread regional blackouts will become. Because 98–99 percent of power failures start in the grid, it’s more reliable to bypass the grid by shifting to efficiently used, diverse, dispersed resources sited at or near the customer. Also, a portfolio of many smaller units is unlikely to fail all at once: its diversity makes it especially reliable even if its individual units are not.
The sun doesn’t always shine on a given solar panel, nor does the wind always spin a given turbine. Yet if properly firmed, both windpower, whose global potential is 35 times world electricity use, and solar energy, as much of which falls on the earth’s surface every ~70 minutes as humankind uses each year, can deliver reliable power without significant cost for backup or storage. These variable renewable resources become collectively reliable when diversified in type and location and when integrated with three types of resources: steady renewables (geothermal, small hydro, biomass, etc.), existing fuelled plants, and customer demand response. Such integration uses weather forecasting to predict the output of variable renewable resources, just as utilities now forecast demand patterns and hydropower output. In general, keeping power supplies reliable despite large wind and solar fractions will require less backup or storage capacity than utilities have already bought to manage big thermal stations’ intermittence. The myth of renewable energy’s unreliability has been debunked both by theory and by practical experience. For example, three north German states in 2007 got upwards of 30% of their electricity from windpower-39% in Schleswig-Holstein, whose goal is 100% by 2020.
Large Subsidies to Off set High Financial Risk
The latest U.S. nuclear plant proposed is estimated to cost $12–24 billion (for 2.2–3.0 billion watts), many times industry’s claims, and off the chart in Figure 1 above. The utility’s owner, a large holding company active in 27 states, has annual revenues of only $15 billion. Such high, and highly uncertain, costs now make financing prohibitively expensive for free-market nuclear plants in the half of the U.S. that has restructured its electricity system, and prone to politically challenging rate shock in the rest: a new nuclear kilowatt-hour costing, say, 16 cents “levelized” over decades implies that the utility must collect ~27 cents to fund its first year of operation.
Lacking investors, nuclear promoters have turned back to taxpayers, who already bear most nuclear accident risks and have no meaningful say in licensing. In the United States, taxpayers also insure operators against legal or regulatory delays and have long subsidized existing nuclear plants by ~1–5¢ per kilowatt-hour. In 2005, desperate for orders, the politically potent nuclear industry got those subsidies raised to ~5–9¢ per kilowatthour for new plants, or ~60–90 percent of their entire projected power cost. Wall Street still demurred. In 2007, the industry won relaxed government rules that made its 100 percent loan guarantees (for 80 percent-debt financing) even more valuable—worth, one utility’s data revealed, about $13 billion for a single new plant. But rising costs had meanwhile made the $4 billion of new 2005 loan guarantees scarcely sufficient for a single reactor, so Congress raised taxpayers’ guarantees to $18.5 billion. Congress will be asked for another $30+ billion in loan guarantees in 2008. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has concluded that defaults are likely.
Wall Street is ever more skeptical that nuclear power is as robustly competitive as claimed. Starting with Warren Buffet, who just abandoned a nuclear project because “it does not make economic sense,” the smart money is heading for the exits. The Nuclear Energy Institute is therefore trying to damp down the rosy expectations it created. It now says U.S. nuclear orders will come not in a tidal wave but in two little ripples—a mere 5–8 units coming online in 2015–16, then more if those are on time and within budget. Even that sounds dubious, as many senior energyindustry figures privately agree. In today’s capital market, governments can have only about as many nuclear plants as they can force taxpayers to buy.
The Micropower Revolution
While nuclear power struggles in vain to attract private capital, investors have switched to cheaper, faster, less risky alternatives that The Economist calls “micropower”—distributed turbines and generators in factories or buildings (usually cogenerating useful heat), and all renewable sources of electricity except big hydro dams (those over ten megawatts). These alternatives surpassed nuclear’s global capacity in 2002 and its electric output in 2006. Nuclear power now accounts for about 2 percent of worldwide electric capacity additions, vs. 28 percent for micropower (2004– 07 average) and probably more in 2007–08.
An even cheaper competitor is enduse efficiency (“negawatts”)—saving electricity by using it more effi ciently or at smarter times. Despite subsidies generally smaller than nuclear’s, and many barriers to fair market entry and competition, negawatts and micropower have lately turned in a stunning global market performance. Micropower’s actual and industry-projected electricity production is running away from nuclear’s, not even counting the roughly comparable additional growth in negawatts, nor any fossil-fuelled generators under a megawatt (see Figure 4)9.
The nuclear industry nonetheless claims its only serious competitors are big coal and gas plants. But the marketplace has already abandoned that outmoded battleground for two others: central thermal plants vs. micropower, and megawatts vs. negawatts. For example, the U.S. added more windpower capacity in 2007 than it added coal-fired capacity in the past five years combined. By beating all central thermal plants, micropower and negawatts together provide about half the world’s new electrical services. Micropower alone now provides a sixth of the world’s electricity, and from a sixth to more than half of all electricity in twelve industrial countries (the U.S. lags with 6 percent).
In this broader competitive landscape, high carbon prices or taxes can’t save nuclear power from its fate. If nuclear did compete only with coal, then far above- market carbon prices might save it; but coal isn’t the competitor to beat. Higher carbon prices will advantage all other zero-carbon resources—renewables, recoveredheat cogeneration, and negawatts—as much as nuclear, and will partly advantage fossil-fueled but low-carbon cogeneration as well.
Small Is Fast, Low-Risk, and High in Total Potential
Small, quickly built units are faster to deploy for a given total effect than a few big, slowly built units. Widely accessible choices that sell like cellphones and PCs can add up to more, sooner, than ponderous plants that get built like cathedrals. And small units are much easier to match to the many small pieces of electrical demand. Even a multimegawatt wind turbine can be built so quickly that the U.S. will probably have a hundred billion watts of them installed before it gets its fi rst one billion watts of new nuclear capacity, if any.
Small, quickly built units also have far lower financial risks than big, slow ones. This gain in financial economics is the tip of a very large iceberg: micropower’s more than 200 different kinds of hidden fi nancial and technical benefits can make it about ten times more valuable (www.smallisprofitable.org) than implied by current prices or by the cost comparisons above. Most of the same benefits apply to negawatts as well.
Despite their small individual size, micropower generators and electrical savings are already adding up to huge totals. Indeed, over decades, negawatts and micropower can shoulder the entire burden of powering the economy.
The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the utilities’ think-tank, has calculated the U.S. negawatt potential (cheaper than just running an existing nuclear plant and delivering its output) to be two to three times nuclear power’s 19 percent share of the U.S. electricity market; RMI’s more detailed analysis found even more. Cogeneration in factories can make as much U.S. electricity as nuclear does, plus more in buildings, which use 69 percent of U.S. electricity. Windpower at acceptable U.S. sites can cost-effectively produce at least twice the nation’s total electricity use, and other renewables can make even more without significant land-use, variability, or other constraints. Thus just cogeneration, windpower, and efficient use—all profitable—can displace nuclear’s current U.S. output roughly 14 times over.
Nuclear power, with its decade-long project cycles, difficult siting, and (above all) unattractiveness to private capital, simply cannot compete. In 2006, for example, it added less global capacity than photovoltaics did, or a tenth as much as windpower added, or 30–41 times less than micropower added. Renewables other than big hydro dams won $56 billion of private risk capital; nuclear, as usual, got zero. China’s distributed renewable capacity reached seven times its nuclear capacity and grew seven times faster. And in 2007, China, Spain, and the U.S. each added more windpower capacity than the world added nuclear capacity. The nuclear industry does trumpet its growth, yet micropower is bigger and growing 18 times faster.
President Bush rightly identifies the spread of nuclear weapons as the gravest threat to America. Yet that proliferation is largely driven and greatly facilitated by nuclear power‘s flow of materials, equipment, skills, and knowledge, all hidden behind its innocent-looking civilian disguise. (Reprocessing nuclear fuel, which the President hopes to revive, greatly complicates waste management, increases cost, and boosts proliferation.) Yet acknowledging nuclear power’s market failure and moving on to secure, least-cost energy options for global development would unmask and penalize proliferators by making bomb ingredients harder to get, more conspicuous to try to get, and politically costlier to be caught trying to get. This would make proliferation far more diffi cult, and easier to detect in time by focusing scarce intelligence resources on needles, not haystacks.
Nuclear power has other unique challenges too, such as long-lived radioactive wastes, potential for catastrophic accidents, and vulnerability to terrorist attacks. But in a market economy, the technology couldn’t proceed even if it lacked those issues, so we needn’t consider them here.
So why do otherwise well-informed people still consider nuclear power a key element of a sound climate strategy? Not because that belief can withstand analytic scrutiny. Rather, it seems, because of a superficially attractive story, an immensely powerful and effective lobby, a new generation who forgot or never knew why nuclear power failed previously (almost nothing has changed), sympathetic leaders of nearly all main governments, deeply rooted habits and rules that favor giant power plants over distributed solutions and enlarged supply over efficient use, the market winners’ absence from many official databases (which often count only big plants owned by utilities), and lazy reporting by an unduly credulous press.
Isn’t it time we forgot about nuclear power? Informed capitalists have. Politicians and pundits should too. After more than half a century of devoted effort and a half-trillion dollars of public subsidies, nuclear power still can’t make its way in the market. If we accept that unequivocal verdict, we can at last get on with the best buys first: proven and ample ways to save more carbon per dollar, faster, more surely, more securely, and with wider consensus. As often before, the biggest key to a sound climate and security strategy is to take market economics seriously.
Mr. Lovins, a physicist, is cofounder, Chairman, and Chief Scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute, where Mr. Sheikh is a Research Analyst and Dr. Markevich is a Vice President. Mr. Lovins has consulted for scores of electric utilities, many of them nuclear operators. The authors are grateful to their colleague Dr. Joel Swisher PE for insightful comments and to many cited and uncited sources for research help. A technical paper preprinted for the September 2008 Ambio (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences) supports this summary with full details and documentation (www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid257.php#E08-01). RMI’s annual compilation of global micropower data from industrial and governmental sources has been updated through 2006, and in many cases through 2007, at www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid256.php#E05-04.
1. This is conservatively used as the basis for all comparisons in this article. The ~2-3¢/kWh nuclear "production costs" often quoted are the bare operating costs of old plants, excluding their construction and delivery costs (which are higher today), and under cheap old fuel contracts that are expected to rise by several-fold when most of them expire around 2012.
2. All monetary values in this article are in 2007 U.S. dollars. All values are approximate and representative of the respective U.S. technologies in 2007. Capital and operating costs are levelized over the lifespan of the capital investment.
3. Distributed generators may rely on the power grid for emergency backup power, but such backup capacity, being rarely used, doesn't require a marginal expansion of grid capacity, as does the construction of new centralized power plants. Indeed, in ordinary operation, diversified distributed generators free up grid capacity for other users.
4. Solar power is not included in Figure 1 because the delivered cost of solar electricity varies greatly by installation type and financing method. As shown in Figure 4, photovoltaics are currently one of the smaller sources of renewable electricity, and solar thermal power generation is even smaller.
5. A similar credit for displaced boiler fuel can even enable this technology to produce electricity at negative net cost. The graph conservatively omits such credit (which is very site-specific) and shows a typical positive selling price.
6. We ignore here the modest and broadly comparable amounts of energy needed to build any kind of electric generator, as well as possible long-run energy use for nuclear waste management or for extracting uranium from low-grade sources.
7. Since its recovered heat displaces boiler fuel, cogeneration displaces more carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour than a large gas-ï¬ï¿½ red power plant does.
8. However, at long-run gas prices below those assumed here (a levelized 2007-$ cost of $7.72 per million BTU, equivalent to assuming that this price escalates indefinitely by 5%/y beyond inflation-yielding prices far above the $7-10 recently forecast by the Chairman of Chesapeake, the leading independent U.S. gas producer) and at today's high nuclear costs, the combined-cycle plants may save more carbon per dollar than nuclear plants do. This may also be true even at the prices assumed here, if one properly counts combined-cycle plants ability to load-follow, thus complementing and enabling cleaner, cheaper variable renewable resources like windpower. Natural gas could become scarce and costly only if its own efficiency opportunities continue to be largely ignored. RMI's 2004 study Winning the Oil Endgame (www.oilendgame.com) found, and further in-house research confirmed in detail, that the US could save at least half its projected 2025 gas use at an average cost roughly one-tenth of the current gas price. Two-thirds of the potential savings come from efficient use of electricity and would be more than paid for by the capacity value of reducing electric loads.
9. Data for decentralized gas turbines and diesel generators exclude generators of less than 1 megawatt capacity.