Brexit, Blexit, Drexit

Radical Beat Radio Roundup: February 2020

You Brexit, You Bought It (February 6th)

Rich man’s club.  Free market trade bloc.  Undemocratic distant decision-making bureaucracy.  All describe the EU, and yet the comfort these truths provide in the face of the UK withdrawal from the union is bittersweet.  Growing up in it, an international identity of a positive nature developed, whether accidental or planned, as perhaps seen in the age skewing of the referendum result.  Freedom of movement and elections and other characteristics of nation states proliferated it.  In being stripped of my EU citizenship, it’s difficult not to feel a sense of loss.  On the other hand, it wasn’t really strong enough that I thought about it very often, or prevented me from feeling a connection with people outside the bloc.

There’s always been contradiction at the heart of what we might call the EU’s benevolent capitalism.  Capital can move freely across borders, but so can most labour, if largely for the benefit of capital.  Rights for workers are uniform but savage cuts to public spending are imposed by the European Commission and Central Bank and the IMF.  Like all capitalist enterprises the bloc expands to increase the size of its market but also often seeks to keep outsiders locked out.  These multiple faces have only helped stoke the impression of an unreachable behemoth with giant moving parts, controlling the lives of common people from afar.  The more that it came to resemble a nation state, the more it mimicked the democratic shortcomings of large countries.

It’s worth remembering that even though Europe is often used as a shorthand for the EU, they are not the same thing.  I’m a European because I like the idea that there is a loyalty transcending nationalism.  That it might be an imperfect stepping stone to weakening nationalism as our ultimate self-identifier and accepting all people and all life as our own.  While the EU itself in recent years became more formally militarised, more aligned with NATO, it’s difficult to argue that a common identity on a continent plagued by centuries of perpetual war is a bad idea.

We’re at a scary crossroads.  Things could easily go badly.  But there is no lasting change without risk.  If positive concepts gleaned from the EU experiment can be nurtured we could build the kind of borderless order that we so desperately need to face our global problems. So don’t worry.  Just as your national identity doesn’t have to define you, the EU, or any other elite-run institution, doesn’t get to define how we treat or relate with others. The Molotov of discontent has been thrown, but the genie of internationalism can’t just go back in the bottle.  If you want to show your love for your neighbouring peoples and nations, don’t leave it up to politicians and negotiators to represent you.  Find out what their concerns are, where you share common ground, reach out to them, and do something to show your support.  We are freed from the task of half-heartedly defending a flawed institution that never truly represented what we believe.  Taking back control, indeed.  Au revoir pour l’instant mes amis.

Algae Bloomberg (February 13th)

The following edition of Radical Beat was originally broadcast on WMNF on December 5th, 2019, before Michael Bloomberg casually flicked 300 grand to the DNC to bribe himself into the upcoming debates.  Mike will “get it done” alright!  Also in the last two months an additional 136 governments worldwide have declared a climate emergency.  St. Petersburg, Florida, is not one of them.

Lately I’ve been paying more attention to the political turmoil and general election campaign going on in my home country than I have to the long-form circus taking place over here.  I’ll have some commentary on the UK election in the next few weeks.  That’s reasonable, you might think, but it also occurred to me that I might be trying to distract myself from the struggles of my American life much like anyone else does with these popularity contests.  Referring to a US election “season” is like referring to summer in Florida as a mere season, and I think we could all do well to stop paying attention to the drama a lot more often than many of us do.  We simply don’t have the time to indulge when it comes to the biggest issues facing us.  Then Michael Bloomberg slowly entered the Democratic race (as if the timing wasn’t carefully calibrated) and the disgust I have felt towards this man throughout 2019 became too much to choke down.

He was here in St. Pete on January 3rd.  He was announcing that St. Petersburg was the latest winner of the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, a list of 25 cities that were given a support package from Bloomberg Philanthropies, valued at $2 million.  There I was 10 feet away from one of the true global elites – my kingdom for a custard pie!  At the very least I still regret not sticking my hand up to ask him how to reconcile owning 6 homes with a low impact society, or whether he believed billionaires and the biosphere could peacefully coexist.  Though I suspect he and his handlers would have known it best to avoid the scruffy weirdo stood in the back scoffing at every greenwashed sentence.

At the time I wrote that while this climate package could be considered a welcome if crude form of resource transfer, it could also lead to significant limitations in thinking for participating cities. I have since wondered if the presence of a Bloomberg employee at St Pete’s Office of Sustainability & Resiliency (a dubious part of the package) is one of the reasons that the city still refuses to declare a state of climate emergency.  At a mass rally in September, Mayor Rick Kriseman said they were “exploring” making such a declaration.  When contacted by a local climate activist several weeks later to ask what the reason for delay was, the Sustainability & Resiliency Director said that the matter was still under consideration, and referred back to the Bloomberg accolade for proof of good faith efforts.  The months have since dragged on with no further comment.  So is St. Pete the only city to have taken this rich man’s money that is having trouble meeting a threshold requiring diminishing stocks of political bravery?

According to The Climate Mobilization — the main group pushing for and documenting such declarations — 1,214 governments worldwide have now joined the club.  57 of these are in the U.S.  I cross referenced the list of cities receiving the so-called acceleration program from the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge with those on the declarations list.  You might imagine, given that these local governments were selected for being climate leaders, that there would be a lot of overlap.  But out of 25 cities to get money from Bloomberg Philanthropy, just 4 have decreed that the possible extinguishing of life on this planet constitutes a state of emergency.  So much for an acceleration program.  More like a “fiddle at the margins without upsetting the status quo that made my friends rich” program.  Perhaps the residents of the remaining locales needs to take a cue from activists in Miami, who finally forced the measure through their local council two weeks ago by going on hunger strike.  Miami did not get the philanthropic donation; maybe Bloomberg expects the place to be underwater before the election finally rolls around.

For an example of why Bloomberg’s business class might prefer useless PR stunts to rapid, sweeping change, let’s look to his time as New York Mayor.  The man spent $6 million of his own money flying his staff around by private plane during his twelve year term.  As writer Fran Lebowitz rightly observed: “He’s the green mayor who travels by private jet. There is nothing more polluting than jet fuel. One of his little trips on his private jet… that is every cigarette ever smoked in the history of New York City.”  Such selfish behaviour would be unacceptable in a society that accepted we are in a state of emergency.

And if you’re hoping Bloomberg is making this run because he’s bored of amassing more money than anybody could ever possibly need, think again.  He infamously declined the New York mayor’s regular six figure salary for $1 a year.  And yet, his personal wealth in the same period somehow grew from 4 billion in 2001 to 27 billion in 2013.  That amount has doubled to over $55 billion since then.  His advisers have conceded that without such a fortune, he probably would never have won office, let alone pushed through a term limit-breaking third term.  Bloomberg used the job to enrich his image and his bank balance.  He’ll do the same with the Presidency, all the while believing that he can just buy another term after his first 8 years are up.  What a wonderful alternative to Donald Trump.

It may turn out that Bloomberg’s candidacy serves the same purpose as the spectre of another Clinton run being dangled over us, where we’ll settle for whichever crap candidate the DNC picks in relief that it isn’t one of them.  Think of it as progressive rage inoculation.  But the 9th richest person on the planet running for the top job in the empire doesn’t strike me as someone prone to thinking of themselves as a pawn.  He strikes me as someone whose hunger for power is insatiable.  And that hunger could help leave a lot of people starving.

A Rough Draft (February 20th)

The United States is in a permanent state of war.  So it perhaps shouldn’t be all that surprising to learn that aside from a few years off here and there, the country has had a form of military conscription since 1940 right up to the present day.  Having said that, if you’re not surprised, it should probably alarm you that you’re not surprised, because as with all things to do with American firepower it’s an objectively bizarre and unjustified reality.  The good news is we might finally have a chance to end it.

For the uninitiated, American males between the ages of 18 and 25 are expected to register with a government agency named the Selective Service System.  The Triple-S is essentially a draft-in-waiting in the event that there’s a national emergency and the Nicaraguans are found, once again, to be just two days away from Texas.  It currently includes around 17 million names and has an operating budget for this year of $27 million.  This wasteful little agency exists solely for the purpose of preparing cannon fodder for the fanciful scenario that a giant nation surrounded by the world’s two largest oceans could ever face a serious threat of invasion.  And it’s not just for citizens or even just those seeking naturalisation.  The requirement to register also applies to male permanent residents, refugees, asylum seekers and even those without documentation.  You might not be allowed to vote, but you’re definitely allowed to die.

I’ve had personal dealings with this antiquated bureaucracy.  Because I reached the age of 26 between the time that I entered this country and when I became a permanent resident, this was just another baffling, outrageous, flaming hoop to jump through in the immigration process.  It was very concerning.  You never know what fresh hell these global domination architects are going to come up with next, and I didn’t much fancy being press ganged into the empire like some 18th century merchant sailor.  A few years later the issue came up again when applying for federally-funded poverty grants at my community college, with equally unnecessary stress.  For citizens there’s actually very little risk in failing to sign up, as the government, due to overwhelming numbers of smart dodgers, essentially gave up on prosecuting people in the late 1980s.  So even by its own standards, this agency massively fails at the one thing it’s intended to do.  But for foreigners it’s difficult to avoid if you hope to get through your personal torrent of paperwork.

Part of me dared these jokers to try and make me join the military.  I’m not fighting for this country, or any country, unless the reasons for doing so meet my own standards, not those of politicians weened on crude oil and juvenile notions of exceptionalism.  To quote author and activist Rivera Sun, writing in 2016 (when that years latest absurd defense bill proposed an amendment to start drafting women):

There is something ludicrous about the very notion of drafting me into the military. I imagine what Helen Keller might have told me: sit-down, strike, and refuse to die in the rich men’s wars. Kathy Kelly and Medea Benjamin might smile on my first day of boot camp as I engage in total noncooperation with the training and speak to my fellow women about the injustice and horror of war. What will the officers do then? Throw me in prison, where, like peace activists and all organizers, I might organize work strikes and refuse to build the infrastructure of war?  Would they put me in solitary confinement like Chelsea Manning for speaking truth to power? Would they torture me as they do to the illegally and unfairly held men at Guantanamo? Would they rape me like they already do to one third of my sisters in the military?

I’m sure the feeling is mutual as well.  I’ve heard many times that the U.S. military prefers a volunteer force to a drafted one, as long as there are enough desperate and brainwashed people to make it the bloated whale of foreign adventurism that it is today.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the top brass want to limit their options by getting rid of the selective service, however.  The agency acts as a way to further normalise militarism, and hands over the personal contact information of untold numbers of men annually to the Department of Defense as a form of lead generation.  The other main reason this thing still exists, of course, is in case the ruling class simply decide that they want to use it.  Unless you’re in favour of an even more massively expanded democracatic-bullet-spreading footprint around the globe there is absolutely no argument for keeping it in place.

As women slowly earned the right to die alongside their brothers securing access to foreign resources, the male only database came under increasing scrutiny.  Last February, courtesy of a lawsuit from a group usually ripe for a laugh, the National Coalition for Men, a federal district court ruled the registration service unconstitutional because it applies only to males.  A congress-appointed commission is now investigating whether to force women into the program or abolish the whole thing.  They will publish their report in March.  A bill, H.R. 5492, was also introduced in December to dismantle the agency.  I’ll post more information and a petition on the Alternative Frequency and Radical Beat Writing Facebook pages, so be sure to look those up.  If you’re a teenager that wants to avoid being drafted I’ll also be posting advice from the organisation World Beyond War.

It occurs to me that abolishing this long-dormant law could, like forcing women to fight in the name of equality, also be considered a tokenistic crumb to the progressive among us, a gesture that leaves the structures of violence largely untouched while being enough to shut us up for a while.  But the antiwar movement’s victories are often nebulous and difficult to quantify, and this would at least be a clear win against the seemingly boundless future plans of the war machine.  Supporting abolition of the draft is a low bar for action that should carry no real political risk.  Can an economy based on war meet even that standard?  And if it can, will we be able to celebrate in moderation without missing sight of the big picture?

These essays were originally recorded as Radical Beat segments for the WMNF community radio show Alternative Frequency.  You can hear the latest essay each week in part three of the show, accompanied by two music choices.

James Lamont runs Radical Beat, a project of underground music journalism, fringe politics and the place where they intersect, based in St. Petersburg, Florida. He can be reached at jamesalexanderlamont[at] Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.