Introspective Blog Alert: Surrender "E-Waste" Politics

CAUTION:  This is one of my "introspective", blog-cum-journal posts.   I'm trying to view the political battlefield over "e-waste" from 50,000 feet in the air.  I'm trying to study the philosophy, personalities, history, and politics. I want the best environmental and social outcome.  My outcome is a free people living sustainably in a sustainable Earth, and dialectic and information and integrity seem indispensable to that goal.  Popularity is dispensed with in Chapter 1 of the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1 of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.  It is a form of personal wealth, and only good for the Sustainable World if that currency is spent furthering the Just Outcome.

Many people prefer peace.   But freedom is won through revolution and war.  How do we use the politics of anger and self-righteousness to leverage a greater outcome?   Surrender is always an option which brings peace.  How do we plan surrender in the battle of e-waste politics?

Not aiming for high readership statistics today.  Skip down to yesterday's post if you are here for cutting edge news about electronics recycling.  This is an introspective blog on the nature of conflict in the workplace, and how political winds play in our quest for a sustainable planet.

Massachusetts DEP was an exciting place to work in the 1990s.  I was hired on as "Recycling Program Director" in 1992, after being shaken out of a job I loved (non-profit office paper recycling) by a depressed paper fiber market.  The five years I had driving a truck and collecting scrap paper made me feel like a hands-on, operations wizard at MA DEP.   I took on the management of the Springfield MRF, and managed over a million dollars in savings by 1993.  A certain amount of that was the good timing of a rebounding paper market, but I am still certain I earned my salary ($168k savings in the first month).

Some thought I was a genius (or simply the rare regulator bird who knows what he's talking about, a big operations fish in a small pond).  Some thought I was claiming credit for the sunshine.   A few important people were convinced I had uncovered a sham overbilling at the MRF, catching the contracted operator.

My take was that the head of the contracted operator was 1) an expert in glass bottles and cullet, and 2) tin plating.  He had not really followed the paper fiber markets, and never bothered to join eastern paper mill suppliers groups.  He had also gotten into recycling, at the right place at the right time, when curbside recycling was making headlines, city by city, across the USA.  As a wholly owned small business, he was also having trouble financing contracts to manage other MRFs, to expand his business with organic growth.

So it's possible he closed one eye on the paper market, using a beneficial trade to get the recycled paper buyers to favorably assist him in paper baling machines at new plants he was bidding on.   That would have been an example of privately financed recycling infrastructure, letting the early businesses make more profits is easier than setting up bank loans or government grants, both of which waste (through interest rates and government bureaucracy) a lot of money in transaction costs.

At Massachusetts DEP, there were a lot of Harvard Kennedy School types who saw my job as using regulations and grants to increase recycling, using the power of the office.  I probably scored points in my interview for the job with my honest appraisal of the USA's federal Bureau of Land Management, and the General Mining Act of 1872, which I still argue creates the problems with recycling by subsidizing raw material extraction (which should be, by all rights, the number one concern of TOXICS political interests and the number one concern of CARBON / GREENHOUSE interests and the chief concern of rain forest and species preservationists).   I got into recycling because I cared about the rate of consumption of the earth, which was clearly visible in the 1970s, and I still credit Lester Brown's Worldwatch Institute, State of the World for my place in life (link is to WorldWatch Institute, Brown has retired,

I used Lester K. Brown's State of the World for my Arkansas High School Debate tournaments. (NOTE:  My partner Gary Hepler and I won the Arkansas State Championship in 1980... but had our debate asses kicked all over the parking lot at tournaments in Norman Oklahoma.   Arkansas was not the SEC of high school debate at the time.)

Plato made me love debate.   Bhagavad Gita made me love karma, throwing myself into battle by seeing that causes and courage were more important than popularity.  Jacques Cousteau documentaries made me love rain forests and coral reefs in Malaysia and Indonesia.  My mom made me love travel (she was pursuing a Ph.D in World Literature at U of A, adored Dr. Ben Kempel).   And Lester K. Brown gave me the tools to understand that the protest of nuclear power plants in the late 70s was going to be less effective than recycling aluminum cans.  Arkansas Nuclear One was built for the Aluminum bauxite mining industry in Arkansas, and recycling cans saved 95% of the energy it takes to make a new can.  (Take note, McKibben and Middlebury College, brown environmental studies affect green environmental studies, it's called a cycle).

All this high school and Carleton College philosophy and travel to Europe and Peace Corps in Africa set me up as some kind of an environmental debate cyborg.   As Krishna convinces Arjuna, being able to see all of man's mortality over a 50,000 year perspective allows you to fight for something that will be more important than you are, and your personal popularity and personal discomfort with antagonism is less important than doing the right thing.

I loved the Idea of working for Worldwatch Institute.  But I felt I needed experience in the field, in business.  I felt I detected a certain pragmatic weakness in WorldWatch.  I wanted to take their ivory tower statistics, and apply them on the ground, where the battle of conspicuous consumption was waging.  Recycling, at worst, would be my karma, measured in tons and BTUs saved.  This was before landfills... disposal was merely a stepping stone to RCRA funding.  The battle was in forest conservation and mining abatement.

And I came in to MA DEP like some kind of Robocop, stepping on toes, hiring during a hiring freeze, bypassing authority, meeting directly with Ways and Means Committee staff, making deals with William Bulger's cocky UMass programs, fighting to keep money we saved... I grew he department 3 fold, and the budget 3-fold, in 3 years.

And I learned the wrath of politics.

I made enemies, and largely surfed that battle by hiring brilliant and smart people behind me.   People would come at me with knives, psyched that my growing department was a turkey for their pet projects or dotted line influence.  And I'd Jackie Chan them into a full nelson, leaving them programs ("wins") in months they had no time to spend before FY end, and setting up to sweep their funds into another account (Recycling Loan Fund) which would take it off the books before the end of the Fiscal Year.  It was called "use it or lose it", and the more success I had, the madder people got at me.

But none of that mattered.  Here I am in Washington DC, with my three kids.  Today I hope we'll make it to  place close to General Robert E. Lee's homestead - now known as Arlington National Cemetery.  My daughter Gabrielle has already been to the cemetery at Normandy Beach.

Ok, previously I made the analogy that I'm like John Brown of the popularity contests.  I want to be remembered for being willing to seem like a nut to wake up society over something as important as slavery.  Now, I'm Robert E. Lee?  Sounds bi-polar.  Ok, listen.

Robert E. Lee was known as the best of the best at West Point.  He was the first guy Lincoln went to, to ask him to lead Union forces as the Civil War was breaking out.  Lee's loyalties were in a tighter concentric circle - Virginia friends and family.  He chose to lead the Confederacy, and by all accounts, he was a master foe.

What is special about Lee is that he was so admired by the rebels, for his loyalty, integrity, talent, heart and intelligence, that he was in a perfect position... to surrender.  When he presented his sword to Lincoln's forces, and saluted, he sent a message to the South not to fight a guerrilla war, not to fight the peaceful end of slavery.  Not that slavery ended without bumps... but it's amazing in a way how much our country changed.

And how much Japan changed after WWII.  And how much South Korea changed, and how much Germany changed.  I'm a complete believer in the Egyptian and Arab youth revolutions, and the small role I have played providing them with affordable DISPLAY UNITS (goddam it you VPIRG idiots, display devices do NOT go obsolete in 3 years by Moore's Law!!!).

So, what I'm saying here, in DC, is that the politics of personal popularity are not my game.  I recognize that like Robert E. Lee, that it's possible to be popular in one way, and to use that popularity to affect greater change.  But Lee was hardly popular because he was a pacifist.   What I hope is that people will recognize that by fighting this war on behalf of the Geeks of Color, the Technicians overseas who CAN change Africa and the mideast in the same way Germany, Japan, and Korea changed (via democracy and free and fair trade), and by fighting it ruthlessly and with honor, that I'll be in a position to surrender my sword, and in the act of surrender, set forward a peace between the Geeks of Color and the regulatory-enviro-obsolescence-complex.

EOL, No longer a retirement package
The effect of which may be that Good Point Recycling, like Arlington, will become a cemetery for "end of life" products.  But a cemetery which overlooks Lincoln's Memorial.

For BAN to say they will no longer talk to me, or the geeks, because I fight them, is like Abraham Lincoln saying he will not communicate with Robert E. Lee.  By my calculation, they have built a political complex which has honor and value, without a leader.  I am calculating that a younger leader will emerge from beneath the Ayatollah of E-Waste who is as different from the Imam as Khaled Said.  I wish I knew the names of younger elected officials in post-war Japan, who took over after the Emporer.

Politics.   It turns people off.  But I have a degree in "Political Science".  The outcome I fight for is not personal wealth, or genetic prosperity.  I fight so that an environmental movement can learn to ask themselves, "am I shooting at that man because of the color of our uniforms, or because this is the best idea?"  Krishna and Arjuna could have been at Gettysburg.  The blues and greys, Kennedy School and MIT, rigid philosophies fueled by dogmas... they all fall in the same way, by patient application of the scientific method.  Honesty, integrity, research.   I have to listen to whether the display devices can be properly managed.

Basel Action Network, if they wonder why I am fighting so hard, should read the Ghana study, and then ask themselves, what if the places you were going after were the incubators of the "toxic fraction" - the bad CRT glass from reuse of display devices?  What if the primary targets you were attacking were Samsung Corning CRT glass furnace, Semarang Indonesia CRT glass washing at the refurb factory, fair trade operations which were funding the proper management of the fraction you are concerned about?  What if there were lots of other places you could be bombing, and you found that most of your ammunition was being directed at schools and hospitals?  What kind of a legacy do you leave attacking a Vermont e-waste recycling operation which is working diligently to use fair trade to create proper management of the residuals you protest?

Is it just the color of your uniform that matters?  Environmentalist Ayatollahs should read Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.

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