» UNDER THE ETERNAL SKY: Mongolia’s Wilderness and People Threatened by Mining Boom

by Brian Awehali

An article I wrote based on my travels in Mongolia was published in Earth Island Journal, then subsequently picked up by the Guardian, and I cordially invite you, dear reader, to check it out.

Mongolia today is the least densely populated country in the world (Antarctica doesn’t count; it’s “just” a continent). It is home to a staggering array of largely untouched natural splendors, as well as some of the last traditional nomadic peoples and wild horses on earth. It’s also home to the largest mining boom in history, and despite projections that the boom is expected to triple or quadruple the size of Mongolia’s economy in the next five years, times are tough for most Mongolians, and the relationship between the country’s great natural resources and the wealth of its people is still to be determined. What’s clear is that the actual land and 3 million people of Mongolia will never be the same.

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» THE U.S.-CHINESE MINING RACKET IN AFGHANISTAN

by Brian Awehali

On a recent trip to Mongolia, I found the place filthy with miners. I rarely come into contact with people in the mining industry, but I often read about their exploits, usually in the Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, and The Economist. So much of global politics is about competition for resources that I’ve always thought it was wise to pay attention to the aims and strategies of those tasked with acquiring and processing them. I definitely want to know what a mining executive thinks about political and economic realities, for the same reason I read the business press.

On the flight into Ulaanbaatar, I sat next to a Canadian miner employed by an Australian company, who was in the Gobi helping to set up a copper mine. He told me lots of interesting things about transnational mining companies doing business in the region. It’s mostly Chinese, Russian, Korean and French companies, and selling what’s under the ground is basically the only real business in Mongolia, though they’ll be happy to sell you a cashmere sweater or a variety of felted wool products as well:

On my flight out, I sat next to an American mining executive on his way from gold mining in Mongolia to an oil drilling gig in Kazakhstan. This second executive talked a lot about the backstory of the mining business, about corruption and bribery, and he claimed that “risk averse” U.S. and European mining companies were losing out in the resource wars. He spoke of some sordid realities of the mining business and shared stories about Nigeria, Mexico and… Afghanistan.

Afghanistan? Did the U.S. have mining operations in Afghanistan? Not exactly. But were we in the mining business in Afghanistan? Absolutely, in a manner of speaking.

“Oh yeah,” the mining executive said, leaning in confidingly: “The Chinese just won the largest copper mining bid in the world after bribing a bunch of Afghan officials, but that’s not even the worst part.” He paused for dramatic effect, then continued: “The worst part is that it’s the U.S. providing military protection for the Chinese to do it!”

Interesting. Once I got back, I started looking into U.S-China-Afghanistan relations, and found that this guy was basically speaking the truth: Continue reading

» FOOLISHNESS AND GENEROSITY IN GORKHI TERELJ, MONGOLIA

by Brian Awehali

During an extended trip to East Asia, my partner and I took a two-week trip to Mongolia, partially because our Chinese visas required it, and also because of Mongolia’s wild, largely undeveloped openness. For nature. After the extreme urban clamor of China, this sounded perfect.

Ger in Gorkhi Terelj, Mongolia, photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Roofward perspective from inside a ger in Gorkhi Terelj, Mongolia, photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

We flew into Ulaanbaatar (UB), the capitol, from Beijing, and spent two days there before heading to the countryside. I was told by some long-timers that UB used to be attractive when the country was still under Soviet “administration,” but it’s hard to believe. Today, it’s a dusty and vegetation-free city made of large Soviet-style concrete block architecture with paint peeling off from the extreme cold of UB’s winters. Tourist-focused shops, of which there are many, hawk camel, yak or wool knick-knacks and sweaters alongside various products, from vodka to war helmets, commemorating Chingiss Khaan.

Traffic in UB is congested, and the roads, attacked as they are by extreme conditions, are in various states of decay. Air quality is exceedingly poor, owing to two main factors: the widespread use of coal as fuel for heating, and the unplanned growth of a city built for 300,000 swelling to over a million in too short a time. Mongolia only has about 2.5 million people, and over a million live in UB.

We were happy to head for the countryside. Our host and guide, Bogi, drove us several hours to the northeast, and found a “nomadic” herding family for us to stay with for two weeks. They had a ger (yurt) and agreed to prepare two meals a day for us. Perfect.

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» NEAR DISASTER, MINING, AND BEING A MONGOLIAN MILLIONAIRE

by Brian Awehali

We arrived at Peking airport for our flight to Ulaanbaatar (UB), the capital of Mongolia, several hours before our flight. We visited the cosmetics and perfume shop to smell the fragrances and to take advantage of the free samples of high-end lotions. F. was overzealous in her application of scented face lotions and was afflicted with burning red eyes for most of our flight because of it. There is no good reason I can think of for face lotion to be scented. I mean, if your face stinks the solution is probably more medical than cosmetic.

When we eventually moved into line for our flight, I realized my passport wan’t on me, or in my bag. Had I left it at the restaurant where we’d eaten? Had someone stolen it? (U.S. passports are worth a small fortune to people in China who know how to alter and use them.) I couldn’t imagine that I’d taken it out of my pocket, and as the last passenger before us boarded, I felt sick. Forgetting that my ankle was still mending from a bad break and still had three-quarters of a troublesome surgical pin embedded in it, I sprinted for the restaurant. No one there had seen my passport.

As my feet and heart pounded the length of the airport, I thought I’d ruined our trip. I’d carelessly let it all slip away by losing track of my passport and Chinese visa, costing us the considerable expense of the flight, not to mention that we’d now be stuck in the Beijing airport for probably a very long time, until an expensive expedited replacement passport and visa could be arranged for. I would not be able to re-enter China without these.

I sprinted back to the gate, panting heavily. When I got there, a smartly dressed flight attendant told me that my passport and visa had been found at the security check. The flight had now been held at least fifteen minutes beyond it’s scheduled departure time she said, and informed me that they would hold the flight for only ten more minutes. Flights from Beijing to Mongolia only happen twice a week, and they are generally fully booked.

We got back to the gate in about ten minutes, and they were still holding the flight.

During our flight, we chatted with our seat mate, a guy named Tim, from Nova Scotia, who was wearing a hat like Crocodile Dundee and that a-hole, Steve “The Animal Guy” Irwin used to wear before they both died. Tim told us he worked for a mining company that was setting up a work camp somewhere in the Gobi Desert. I’d heard that a huge mining boom was kicking off in Mongolia, and that the Russians, Chinese and international mining interests from many other countries were salivating over the country’s relatively untapped reserves of copper, gold, silver, and coal. So I was curious to chat with Tim, and he was eager to talk about his work.

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Body of (Written) Work

Here is a fairly comprehensive archive of work by Brian Awehali.


FEATURES | ESSAYS | INTERVIEWS| LiP: INFORMED REVOLT


FEATURES

» After the Twister – A Day in the Ruins of Joplin
“I was born in Joplin, but I am not a local. Since my parents divorced and left when I was three, I’ve lived in Tulsa, the Hague, Immokalee (Florida), Albuquerque, New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Santa Fe, Asheville, Oakland, and China. My worldview is not like the Joplinites. I’ve long since renounced any belief in theism or supernatural determinism, and don’t believe that tornadoes or anything else for that matter are acts of God, unless you mean it metaphorically…”
:: The Brooklyn Rail :: July 2011

» Drift to Live: Words with China’s People’s Historian, Liao Yiwu
“Why should the government fear me?” says Liao smiling, the first day we meet, along with an interpreter and several of his writer friends, at a riverside teahouse outside of Chengdu, in Sichuan province. “I’m just a guy who tells stories…”
:: Counterpunch :: April 2011

» China’s Underground Historian
Liao Yiwu may be the most censored writer in China. His work has been translated into several languages and has enjoyed international critical acclaim, yet in his hometown of Chengdu, where his books are banned, he’s virtually unknown.
:: The Progressive :: April 2011

» Mongolia’s Wilderness Threatened by Mining Boom
Multinational mining companies eye Mongolia’s earthy fortunes
:: Earth Island Journal / Guardian (UK) / Third World Resurgence (Malaysia)/ Ger (Denmark) :: 2010-11

» Native Energy Futures
Renewable Energy, Actual Sovereignty & the New Rush on Indian Lands
:: LiP :: 2006 :: Project Censored award winner :: PDF version

» Trust Us, We’re the Government
How to Make $137 Billion of Indian Money Disappear
:: Alternet :: 2002 :: Project Censored award winner

» The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ $100-Billion Shell Game
:: Z Magazine (cover) :: April 2002 :: with Silja Talvi

» Broken Promises
Government malfeasance continues in landmark Indian Trust case
:: ColorsNW :: 2003 :: Society of Professional Journalists award-winner :: with Silja Talvi

» New World Disorder
How U.S. arms dealers and their Cabinet-level cronies profit from the war on terror
:: LiP / Alternet :: 2002

» Monitoring Your Every Move – A Guide to Biometric Technologies
What are the facts about biometrics? Predictably, industry leaders and critics paint wildly different pictures. Here, however, are a few brief looks at today’s leading biometric technologies, which may be a much bigger part of your life than you’d expect, in a considerably shorter time than you’d imagine.
:: High Times :: 2002

» Profit, Control, and the Myth of Security
The advance of Total Surveillance Society, aka Total Security, promises a world free of danger and uncertainty, yet the arguments for a comprehensive surveillance society comprise a fear-addled litany of threats and fantastic promises of security that are grossly exaggerated by the very corporate and government serial offenders who pose the greatest threat to our health and safety.
:: LiP :: 2006 :: with Ariane Conrad

» Life After Corporate Death Care
As traditional religious death rituals have given way to more secular alternatives, a consumer revolt against the high cost of dying in America is well underway.
:: Alternet :: 2004

» David and Goliath in Indian Country
The feds are on the losing side of the largest class action lawsuit ever filed against the U.S. government. This time, the Indians may actually beat the cavalry.
:: Alternet :: 2005

» Propaganda, Public Relations, and the Not-So-New Dark Age
Edward L. Bernays birthed the public relations industry in the United States. His clients included General Motors, United Fruit, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, the U.S. Department of State, Health, and Commerce, Samuel Goldwyn, Eleanor Roosevelt, the American Tobacco Company, and Proctor & Gamble. He directed public relations campaigns for every president from Calvin Coolidge in 1925, to Dwight Eisenhower in the late 1950s. He was, in the estimation of cultural historian Ann Douglas, the man “who orchestrated the commercialization of a culture.”
:: with Stephen Bender :: LiP :: 2006

» Challenging the War on Drugs
A landmark conference on drug policy in Los Angeles convened nearly 600 attendees from across the U.S. and Europe.
:: Santa Fe New Mexican / Alternet :: 2002

» Nike Come Home, All is Forgiven
Oregon invites shoe giant to consider the economic advantages of domestic prison labor.
:: LiP :: 1998


ESSAYS

» Inventing Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Day provides an ideal opportunity to consider the formation of national identity and the concept of a civil religion. It’s also a living metaphor of the prevailing American model for immigrant assimilation and the ways in which history can be reinterpreted, and indeed wholly reinvented, to serve competing ethnic, patriotic, religious and commercial ends.
:: Britannica.com :: 2002

» Where Fools Rush In – Custer’s Last Stand
July 25, 1876 ― The U.S. Army today suffered its worst defeat ever in Plains Indian warfare, as more than 260 soldiers in the 7th Cavalry were killed along the banks of the Little Bighorn River in the disputed Montana Territory. The bloodbath ensued after an evidently ill-conceived charge under the command of Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
:: Britannica.com :: 2000


INTERVIEWS

» Madness and Mass Society
Pharmaceuticals, Psychiatry, and the Rebellion of True Community
:: an interview with Dr. Bruce Levine :: LiP :: 2006

» Torture Taxi – Anatomy of a CIA Front Company
Anatomy of a CIA Front Company
:: an interview with A.C Thompson and Trevor Paglen :: LiP :: 2007

» Remote Control Hip Hop
Culture, power and youth…
:: an interview with Jeff Chang :: LiP :: 2005

» Who’s White?
Race, Humor and the New Black/Non-Black Breakdown
:: an interview with damali ayo and Tim Wise :: LooseLiP podcast :: 2007

» Bad Vibes – Poison Pleasure Products?
Words with Jessica Giordano, co-founder of the Smitten Kitten and the Coalition Against Toxic Toys (CATT).
:: with Lisa Jervis :: LiP :: 2006

» Conveying Correctness
The Prefabrication of Political Speech
:: an interview with Chip Berlet :: LiP :: 2005

» Designing Our Demise
One respected Cornell robotics expert is in firm belief that machines will acquire human levels of intelligence by the year 2040, and that by the middle part of this century, they will be our intellectual superiors.
:: an interview with Hans Moravec :: Britannica.com :: 2000

» Membership Has Its Disadvantages
Whiteness and the Social Entropy of Privilege
:: an interview with Tim Wise :: LiP :: 2005

» Notes On a National Disorder
A look at the growing problem of excessive concentration in the U.S. culture industries, and the oligopolistic sway of just a few giant players over television news, book publishing, popular music and cable TV. Also, how the hell Bush II happened.
:: an interview with Mark Crispin Miller :: LiP :: 2005

» Addicted to Waste
Harm Reduction, Disposability and the Myth of Activist Purity
:: an interview with Julia Butterfly Hill :: Tikkun :: 2005

» On Irony
A pointed Q&A with author Rebecca Solnit
:: LiP :: 2006



LiP: Informed Revolt

In 1996, I started a zine called LiP in Chicago, learned a lot from it, took a break for several years to do other things, then relaunched it as a full-fledged North American periodical in 2004. The magazine, always printed on 100% recycled PCW paper, using non-petroleum-based inks, and with either worker-owned or union printers, explored radical (root/fundamental) aspects of the world and its power relations in a way we hoped could reach beyond the choir and be compelling for a wide readership. We did surprisingly well with our all-volunteer staff, 600+ contributors and no appetite for running an actual business, garnering awards from Project Censored, Utne Reader, East Bay Express, South by Southwest and Clamor during our run. Below are links to one complete issue of the magazine, and to various items related to the publication of the LiP anthology, Tipping the Sacred Cow (AK Press).

LiP No. 5:
The Relentlessly Persuasive Propaganda Issue
[PDF]

Featuring: Eduardo Galeano, Vandana Shiva, Dr. Bruce Levine, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Jeff Conant, Antonia Juhasz, Timothy Kreider and Hugh D’Andrade, among many others. 

“‘Making the world safe for democracy,’ that was the big slogan.” – Edward Bernays, on his work for the first US government propaganda ministry, the 1917 Committee on Public Information

“In really hard times the rules of the game are altered.” – Journalist and social theorist Walter Lippmann, speaking of both elite manipulations of society and history’s mass cataclysms.


Tipping the Sacred Cow
The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt
(AK Press)

Tipping the Sacred Cow is a savvy and well-curated collection of the comics, illustrations, articles and interviews featured in LiP’s myriad print and online incarnations from 1996-2007. Capturing the magazine’s cheeky nature, it reads like a super-special edition of LiP—complete with illustrations by cartoonist Eric Drooker, a “theft ethics” quiz, a glossary of culture-jamming lingo and other useful appendices—including some exclusive, behind-the-scenes, previously unpublished material…. Tipping the Sacred Cow serves as a worthy headstone for a publication that died before its time.”

– “R.I.P. LiP” – In These Times, 11/2007

“Every single article in this anthology forced me to shift my thinking about issues near and dear to my heart (feminism, the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., eco-friendly policies—even the fine art of using the toilet).”

Feminist Review, 11/2007

“[There's a] paradox that’s becoming increasingly difficult for independent publishers–especially progressive, environmentally conscious ones–to resolve. ‘Being values-driven,’ says Awehali, ‘I think we’re fundamentally and structurally at odds with the systems we use to print, to distribute, and so on. It’s really no surprise that [LiP] found it difficult to survive and thrive in a hypercapitalist periodicals marketplace.'”

– “Shelf Life,” Utne Reader, 11/2007