One hand tied behind our back

I only spent a summer living in Boston, yet that brief connection to people and a place left me completely enrapt this week with the incredible, horrifying tumult that turned a wonderful American city into a police state of fear.

The ordeal has made me want to hug loved ones. We, watching and listening from the distanced gallery that is INTERNETNEWSPAPERSTWITTERPOLICESCANNERTV, first and foremost can be thankful that it didn’t happen to us.

But as life restarts now, big questions, drama and arguments lie ahead as a nation focuses on the fate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. We must all pray for healing for victims; we must also pray for sanity in whatever comes next.

And something will come. I hope it is true justice. Not angry mob vengeance, but sober, encompassing, compassionate, holistic justice. As others deliberate what justice will look like, I have one quote from Aharon Barak, former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, ringing in my ears:

This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it, and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it. Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand. Preserving the Rule of Law and recognition of an individual’s liberty constitutes an important component in its understanding of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit and its strength and allow it to overcome its difficulties.

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Get on de boat, de banana boat!

Ships headed for the Panama canal

Earlier this month the banana giant Chiquita filed a lawsuit attempting to block the release of documents pertaining to the various payments it made to paramilitary groups that the U.S. considers terrorist organizations. That sounds like a tale out of a different, era, yeah?

Unfortunately, it’s all too current. Chiquita paid a $25-million fine just six years ago after admitting that it had funneled money to multiple Colombian groups. That’s part of a larger phenomenon where multinationals essentially operate above the level of governments in many parts of the world — often engaging in illegal shenanigans — precisely because the corporations have so much economic clout.

A development professor on mine has labeled countries like Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica essentially a “dessert” economies. It’s a fitting moniker given the number of bananas and pineapples they produce. What large-scale industrial fruit-culture has done to the landscapes and social organization of these countries is hard to fully comprehend without visiting. And I note that Global North citizens — particularly Americans — are complicit, what with our year-round demand for exotic fruit of uniform shapes at cheap prices. That consumer demand leads precisely to Chiquita acting like, well, Chiquita.

Fruity boat

If you think capitalism’s rising tide lifts all boats, you’ve got the wrong metaphor. Capitalism’s tsunami wave overwhelms most anything that lacks the political or financial power to get out of the way. And to understand just how far back this goes, check this history of the United Fruit Company, Chiquita’s predecessor.

You can see today just how enmeshed corporate agriculture is in the economies of Costa Rica and Panama; these images are just from my bus/boat/taxi/plane rides there in 2012 but vast swaths of the land look just like this — plantations, pesticides and underpaid workers all in the name of foreign export. It’s the same in a number of other countries in Latin America. Certainly some things have changed, but control remains highly concentrated in the hands of a few.

Where your bananas come from

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The scent of spring on a late night breeze conjures Neruda

Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos

The famous D.C. cherry blossoms on one of my middle-of-the-night rides last week. Warm breeze, the scent of the blossoms and I reminisce of Neruda and the love of my life. The cherry blossoms always do that. The last two stanzas of Sonnet XIV:

My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.

I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

Maybe I’m cliche and schmaltzy. I’m OK with that. Of course one Neruda poem immediately has me reading another.

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Grey skies are gonna clear up…

Spring in Costa Rica

That’s a mighty fine blue. From March 2012, in Costa Rica.

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Dear State Department: #NOKXL

There are only a few more days to submit comments to the State Department regarding its draft environmental impact statement on the latest version of the Keystone XL nightmare pipeline. Following the closure of the comment period, the state department may make revisions to its currently flawed assessment of the pipeline, which will ultimately be used to make a recommendation to the president.

[For those folks who are not deeply mired/versed in this debate already, this article, this archive and this video are some places to start. Bonus: If you pause the video at 2:29, you can see me in my white linen protest suit and Panama hat getting arrested in front of the White House.]

The pipeline is a focal point for environmental protest because its construction would be devastating to any attempt to stave off extreme climate change. As NASA climatologist James Hansen has said, the pipeline would essentially be “game over.” I won’t belabor the well established point that tar sands oil is particularly noxious. Suffice to say: We need to stop the pipeline.

Anyone concerned can submit comments on the impact statement to keystonecomments@state.gov. You can also send letters with suggested text via 350.org’s Stop KXL campaign or through other outlets, such as The Nation.

My own comment (which anyone can use):

I oppose Keystone XL because it serves neither our national interest nor the planet’s. The pipeline only returns profits to TransCanada (which has lied about facts and spun the story to suit its ends) while bolstering the incredibly destructive tar sands industry. This extraction is particularly bad for our planet (and hence our nation) and will only deepen our path dependency on an economic mode that cannot and will not survive in the long-run. If we are to transition to a post-carbon economy — which is the only option if we value the future and don’t simply discount all coming generations — we must take concrete steps to move beyond oil. Any economist worth her salt can explain that concept; adjust the discount rate, extend the time horizon a generation or two and there’s no way this pipeline is “in our national interest.”

More importantly, this is no longer just an economic calculus. The president’s “all of the above” energy strategy may be politically expedient and may (but still probably doesn’t) make sense in the very short-run. But expediency doesn’t equal morality, and this is not only an economic decicision. It is also a moral one. Some forms of energy — in this case, tar sands crude — are simply incompatible with a just and right future.

As such, blocking this pipeline is the only moral course of action.

— Adam Jadhav, April 14, 2013

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