Archive for December 27, 2009

My New Decade’s Resolution

Most years, my New Year’s resolutions are the usual mundane fantasy items– lose weight, spend less money, improve my love life, yada yada.  The other day however, I received a lovely little notepad that says, “I am fairly certain that given a cape and a nice tiara, I could save the World.”  Of course the author probably should have mentioned having a magic wand, but nonetheless, I was inspired to think that after the last ten abominable years, a decade-size resolution might be in order, so here it is:

TAKE BACK THE COUNTRY AND

SAVE THE WORLD

Cut to the chase, the last ten years have been a horror.  From the stealing of two Presidential elections to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the wars first in Afghanistan and then based on outright lies, Iraq.  The fleecing of investors and non-investors alike by companies like Enron and Goldman Sachs.  Katrina, the economy, foreclosures, the healthcare debacle and the failure of substantive progress in addressing climate change.

Add to that a global perspective, and of course things are much worse-horrendous weather along the Pacific Rim, the ongoing hell of places like Gaza and Darfur, people starving and dying of disease unnecessarily, half a million maternal mortality deaths every year, melting glaciers, it was, let’s face it, a decathlon of disaster.

In a must-read piece about what is needed,  Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association refers to those who run the government as “indentured politicians,”  a thought echoed by Carl Bernstein who knows a thing or two about crooked politicians.

Meanwhile in Beltwayistan

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been telling Democrats a win on the health issue will reverse the slide in public opinion, just as passage of another controversial proposal, the North American Free Trade Agreement, lifted President Bill Clinton in the polls.

And after all, it is all about public opinion…not.

Health insurers get some big presents in the Senate’s health overhaul bill — about 20 million new customers and no competition from a new government plan.Taking advantage of those boons might take some time, though.

The bill imposes hefty new taxes and coverage rules that will pinch insurers by forcing them to cover more sick people without gaining enough healthy, lower-cost customers, industry insiders say. The industry is also worried the bill doesn’t do enough to control health care costs.

It’s a matter of figuring out how to make those new customers profitable, analysts say.

However, the most damaging thing about the health care debate is not the legislation itself,  flawed as that is, but rather that those who have opposed meaningful reform have been allowed to hijack the discourse with tactics such as using the issue of abortion rights not only to weaken the legislation but to create such a lengthy ruckus that things such as the economy, military spending and most importantly the environment have been relegated to afterthoughts.

“We need to deal with the phenomena of global warming, but I think it’s very difficult in the kind of economic circumstances we have right now,” said Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, who called passage of any economy-wide cap and trade “unlikely.”

At a meeting about health care last month, moderates pushed to table climate legislation in favor of a jobs bill that would be an easier sell during the 2010 elections, according to Senate Democratic aides.

“I’d just as soon see that set aside until we work through the economy,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), “What we don’t want to do is have anything get in the way of working to resolve the problems with the economy.”

Leaving aside the absurdity of cap and trade, so nice to hear from you again Sen. Nelson after your sellout of women’s human rights in exchange for the health of the insurance companies, and now you would have us believe that the economy is going to get better while the environment falters?  Can I interest you in some oceanside property in Florida?

Translation of all this thanks to my handy B.S.-to-English translator:  We need to see past our noses when it comes to the word from Washington according to self-serving politicians such as Nelson, Bayh and Emanuel.  We may have voted these  folks into power, but the reality is, their loyalties are to themselves and their corporate owners.

Which leads me back to that super-sized resolution.  Enough already.  Why in tarnation are we allowing corporations to pull the strings?  Why is corporate welfare being valued over human rights? Why are we allowing the continued trashing and degradation of our planet? Where is the culpability?

I’ve written several times recently about the need to stand up for what you believe (here and here).  It is time to do some serious introspection and to think about what we truly believe in and what is important, and quite frankly, whether we plan to be able to look back upon the next decade 10 years from now because that is just how serious the issue of climate change is.  And then it is time to get off the couch.

We don’t have the luxury of waxing poetic while we watch the ball drop in Times Square.  We’ve already dropped the ball enough.  We need to be in the street, we need to go to Washington, and yes all that might mean going to jail, but no  way around it, we need to reclaim the body politic and we need to do it now.

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What Now?

Remember that  careful list you think about making early in the year about how much you will spend on holiday shopping and then it all goes to hell in late December when you mostly just want to get done and go home…

With almost no debate

The U.S. Senate approved a $636 billion military spending bill on Saturday that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and also includes money to extend jobless aid and Medicare payment rates for two months.

By a vote of 88-10, the Senate approved the bill and sent it to President Barack Obama to sign into law. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Wednesday.

The bill covers Pentagon operations through September 30, 2010. But the $128 billion approved for ongoing wars probably will not be enough to cover Obama’s plans to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan

…lawmakers funded 10 more Boeing Co C-17 transport planes than the Pentagon had asked for, at a cost of $2.5 billion.Congress also kept alive over the Pentagon’s objections the troubled VH-71 presidential helicopter, made by Lockheed, and an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter made by General Electric Co and Rolls Royce Group Plc.

Then there was the health care bill that we were told last summer would cost a trillion dollars over 10 years.  The cost of the current plan is unknown because the Senate has devolved into  a last minute Christmas shopper who has to buy a gift no matter what it costs, might find a bargain or have to pay full price but hey as long as you get  it before Christmas who cares.  And then  there is the Copenhagen “agreement“:

“Finally we sealed a deal,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “The ‘Copenhagen Accord‘ may not be everything everyone had hoped for, but this decision…is an important beginning.”

But a decision at marathon 193-nation talks merely took note of the new accord, a non-binding deal for combating global warming led by the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

The 193 nations stopped far from a full endorsement of the plan, which sets a target of limiting global warming to a maximum 2 degree Celsius rise over pre-industrial times and holds out the prospect of $100 billion in annual aid from 2020 for developing nations.

The plan does not specify greenhouse gas cuts needed to achieve the 2 Celsius goal that is seen as a threshold for dangerous changes such as more floods, droughts, mudslides, sandstorms and rising seas.

If asked, I wonder how President Obama would characterize his leadership style, because I don’t know what you call it when the Congress spends the better part of a year crafting an expensive, deadly healthcare plan while barely blinking an eye about spending even more money on poorly defined wars  while completely trivializing the issue of climate change that ought to be a national emergency priority item.

Without a question we need to re-prioritize our thinking and change our framework, to wit, profit at the expense of human rights and environmental degradation should be considered a treasonous act.  We also need to play a little round of six degrees.

The U.S. military is arguably the world’s biggest polluter.  When we spend money on the military we need to take into account that aside from funneling that money from education, health care and other vital services that make us more secure, we are also contributing to the further environmental degradation of the planet.  And courtesy of IrishAntiWar.org, here are some other connections between military spending and the environment:

  • Projected total US spending on the Iraq war could cover all of the global investments in renewable power generation that are needed between now and 2030 in order to halt current warming trends.
  • CO2 released by the war to date equals the emissions from putting 25 million more cars on the road for one year.
  • If the war was ranked as a country in terms of annual emissions, it would emit more CO2 each year than 139 of the world’s nations do.
  • The $600 billion that the US Congress has allocated for military operations in Iraq to date could have built over 9000 wind farms (at 50 MW capacity each), with the overall capacity to meet a quarter of the US’s current electricity demand and cut 1/6 of the country’s total CO2 emissions.
  • In 2006, the US spent more on the war in Iraq than the whole world spent on investment in renewable energy.
  • US president Obama has committed to spending $150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of green energy technology and infrastructure. The US spends that much on the war in Iraq in just 10 months.

I’ve also been thinking about the odd juxtaposition of the use of abortion rights as a tool of white, conservative American men to jettison meaningful health care in this country and the increasingly louder drumbeat, mostly by white, liberal American men to tie the benefits of family planning to the use of population control for the sake of the planet. Really?  Using the latter line of reasoning we should also cut maternal health care funds such as they are because hell, half a million (almost exclusively non-white) women die of maternal mortality every year and if we can up that number, that means less babies and mothers and that is good for the planet.  It is no accident that the colonization and control of women’s lives is being ratcheted up at the same time we trash the planet.  And we need to make that connection.

Derrick Jensen has an eloquent vision of the first step of what it would take to re-frame the discussion of how we are going to walk in this world, and I’ll leave you with that:

A lot of the indigenous people with whom I’ve worked have said to me that the first and most important thing any of us needs to do is decolonize our hearts and minds. Decolonization is the process of breaking your identity with and loyalty to this culture-industrial capitalism specifically, and more broadly civilization-and remembering your identification with and loyalty to the real physical world, including the land where you live. It means re-examining premises and stories this culture handed down to you. It means seeing the harm this culture does to other cultures, and to the planet. It means recognizing that we are living on stolen land. It means recognizing that the luxuries of this way of life do not come free, but rather are paid for by other humans, by nonhumans, by the whole world. It means recognizing that we do not live in a functioning democracy, but rather in a corporate plutocracy, a government by, for, and of corporations. Decolonization means recognizing that neither technological progress nor increased GNP is good for the planet. It means recognizing that this culture is not good for the planet. Decolonization means internalizing the implications of the fact that this culture is killing the planet. It means determining that we will stop this culture from doing that. It means determining that we will not fail.

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Gift Warped

No that isn’t a typo in the title to this piece.  I love giving gifts, but what I am seriously not fond of is giving gifts because it is expected, a pastime that we  pursue with relentless obsession during the month of December.

As Genevieve Vaughan writes in For-Giving:  A Feminist Criticism of Exchange,

We have made giftgiving,  which is the source of life and joy, a slave to the artificial masculated ego and its  expressions at the economic, political, and ideological levels. This drains the gifts of  humanity into the coffers of the few, whose priapic excesses are kept from the needs and  transformed into phallic armaments, deadly ‘marks,’ by which one group can demonstrate  its ‘superiority’ over another,  which is forced to give way. (p. 118)

The connection between standing in line in the pre-dawn hours outside of Walmart on the day after Thanksgiving and the birth of Jesus is quite clearly non-existent, although the connection with the GNP is quite strong.  The degree to which the reason for the season has been lost in the traffic jam at the mall was illustrated quite nicely in the local newspaper where I was visiting over the Thanksgiving weekend which ran two stories side by side at the top of the first section, the first explaining how “Black Friday” is an important barometer of the economy and right next to it a story about cuts in state social services.

There are many good reasons to give, perhaps the best being to satisfy a need.  My father used to tell a story of giving his very nice winter coat to a perfect stranger in need during the Depression.  His Mother was not too thrilled by that, but what he did was gifting in its finest form.

On Facebook, JP Morgan Chase has set up the Chase Community Giving Program that allows Facebook users to vote on how they will give away $5 million to various charities.  Which sounds like a good thing, but let’s face it, $5 million is a pittance for the huge banking company that is heavily involved in financing for such detrimental things as mountaintop removal and has engaged in lending practices with credit cards and mortgages that have left a lot to be desired for its customers and the communities in which it lends and has involved a great deal more than $5 million.  So while they exchange their big bad corporation mantle for the generous corporate citizen mantle with programs such as these, it is hardly the same as the altruistic gift my father made as a  youngster.

Cause branding is a popular concept for many companies.  Breast cancer has become highly profitable for any company that can figure out how to take whatever it is that they manufacture and make a pepto pink version of it from which they will donate some exceedingly small percentage to finding a cure while they still profit handsomely from the sale of whatever doodad they are hawking.  But hey, they look good, you got a beautiful new pink thingy and can feel virtuous about buying it because it is for a good cause.  Of course, if you’d written a check for the same amount to the charity that  benefits from your purchase, it would be much more useful, but you wouldn’t have anything to show for your virtuousness and these days, that is a hard sell.  We want something in exchange for what  we give.  Companies want recognition, not to mention profit, for their  community support.  Bottom line is we are much more likely to give if we get something in return.  Even charities feel the need to give you something for your generosity–think raffles, public television premiums, etc.

———-

Nine years ago when I suffered a serious illness that put me out of commission for several months, I learned that while giving  might  be easy, receiving was a much, much harder thing to do.  I was a single mom with 2 young children and I was flat on my back in a hospital bed, a position from which you can definitely not drive carpool.  All of a sudden things that I somehow managed to juggle on my own required the help of others and much as I’ve never been good at asking for that help, it was clear I had no choice.  But what I found out over and over again was that all I needed to do was  to say what was needed and there would be someone who would help.  They didn’t expect anything in return, that  was never the point, much as a mother tends to a baby’s needs simply because there is a need, not in exchange for something given in return.  They gave their time and help according to what Vaughan calls the gift paradigm which she explains this way:

The gift paradigm emphasizes the importance of giving to satisfy needs. It is need-oriented rather than profit-oriented. Free giftgiving to needs–what in mothering we  would call nurturing or caring work–is often not counted and may remain invisible in our  society or seem uninformative because it is qualitatively rather than quantitatively based.  However, giving to needs creates bonds between givers and receivers. Recognizing  someone’s need, and acting to satisfy it, convinces the giver of the existence of the other, while receiving something from someone else that satisfies a need proves the existence of  the other to the receiver. (p.30)

Quite a far cry from the dominant form of gifting in our society today, which Vaughan calls exchange.  While I’ve used the commercialized giving that epitomizes December as a jumping off point, the notion of exchange and gifting go well beyond that to describe economic systems as a whole:

Opposed to giftgiving is exchange, which is giving in order to receive. Here calculation  and measurement are necessary, and an equation must be established between the  products.
In exchange there is a logical movement which is ego-oriented rather than other-oriented.  The giver uses the satisfaction of the other’s need as a means to the satisfaction of her  own need. Ironically, what we call ‘economics’ is based on exchange, while giftgiving is  relegated to the home–though the word ‘economics’ itself originally meant ‘care of the  household.’ In capitalism, the exchange paradigm reigns unquestioned and is the mainstay  of patriarchal reality. (pp.30-31)

As the  newspaper stories I mentioned above sadly illustrate, our current mode of gifting is indeed a measure of the economy, and it is precisely the amount we spend and charge that indicates the non-viability of the system when at the same time services for those in need are being cut. Vaughan’s work in demonstrating that there are viable and far healthier alternatives to our current economic system has, to say the least, been marginalized and is familiar for the most part only in limited circles of feminist critique.  However, as we face multiple crises–the economy, healthcare, climate change, war, it would be extremely useful to go outside the usual box in all its fancy wrapping to utilize her  wisdom in understanding and healing our world systems.

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Nuclear Power Is Not The Answer

As we grasp at straws trying to find a way to substantively address climate change, some folks on the left who really ought to know better are touting the use of nuclear power as an alternative to coal, usually prefaced with, “I hate to say this but…”.

Nuclear power is neither safe nor cheap and solving climate change by killing ourselves off another way is just plain stupid. Aside from cost, there are 2 BIG problems with nuclear power:

1.  It has this ugly tendency to leak and explode and expose land and people to toxic radiation.

2.  There is no known safe way to reliably contain it or dispose of its toxic bi-products.

(F)inancial and energy journals make clear that boiling water with uranium is the costliest and dirtiest energy choice. Even Time magazine reported Dec. 31, 2008, “It turns out that new (reactors) would be not just extremely expensive but spectacularly expensive.”

Florida Power and Light’s recent estimate for a 2-reactor system is a shocking $12 to $18 billion. The Wall St. Journal reported on nuclear’s prospects May 12, 2008 finding, “[T]he projected cost is causing some sticker shock … double to quadruple earlier rough estimates. These estimates never include the costs of moving and managing radioactive waste — a bill that keeps coming for centuries.

Radioactive tritium has poisoned groundwater near at least 14 U.S. reactors, including Kewaunee in Wisconsin. Water under Braidwood, Dresden, Brookhaven, Palo Verde, Indian Point, Diablo Canyon, San Onofre and Kewaunee is all contaminated at levels above EPA and NRC standards.

Nuclear power is so clean that Germany legislated a phase-out of its 17 reactors by 2025. Germany’s 1998 decision was based partly on government studies that found high rates of childhood leukemia in areas near its reactors.

This article is personal to me because one of the very first protests I ever attended back in the early 1970’s was to stop construction of the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant outside Phoenix, AZ.

PaloVerde1

Palo Verde protest circa the 1970's.

We were a scruffy lot, gathered just outside the barbed wire fence that was the future Palo Verde site with law enforcement on the other side waiting to see if we would go  through the fence.  Both photos taken by yours truly.

We were a scruffy lot, gathered just outside the barbed wire fence that was the future Palo Verde site with law enforcement on the other side waiting to see if we would go through the fence. Both photos taken by yours truly.

We were right to be concerned then, and those concerns are still valid today. This is not a viable way to provide energy. It is toxic, it is expensive and while there is still the possibility of constructively addressing climate change, once the monster of nuclear pollution is unleashed, we will have committed planetary suicide.

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The First Church Of The Sidewalk

We’re having the wrong conversation, or perhaps more accurately, we’re having a lot of wrong conversations.

This past weekend, I joined a small group of people from across our community who felt moved to stand up against the escalation of the war in Afghanistan.  We chose to stand in a place where we have visited before in the cold December air–on the sidewalk next to the main road leading  to the biggest shopping malls in town because we knew people would have plenty of time to read our signs as they were stuck in traffic.  The traffic was lighter than it has been in past and several stores in the strip mall behind us have been shuttered in the last year.  No  doubt people heading into the malls will  be spending less this year, considering each purchase a bit more carefully.

A few people yelled angry things at us, most just stared, a few  honked and waved in support.  But they all kept driving.  Into the mall, with less money but refusing to see  the connection between the money we spend in Afghanistan, for what noble  cause (as Cindy Sheehan eloquently puts it) I have no idea.  In explaining the reasons for the escalation, Obama opened with references to 911, claimed that terrorists trained overseas had been found in America (although on  the Colbert Report a few nights later, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napalitano was hard-pressed to offer any evidence of that, and the mainstream media sure isn’t pressing the point).  Obama’s  speech offered no change, in fact it could have  just as easily been  delivered during the Bush presidency. Telling us we must risk more lives to fight the elusive enemy called terror. And meanwhile,  Americans rack up credit card debt at the mall just in time for Wall Street to hand out its obscene bonuses.

Change?  Not hardly, just a propping up of the system so that it can keep feeding on itself.  Congress meanwhile bound and determined to pass a healthcare bill regardless of merits cheerfully sold out women’s reproductive rights in the eleventh hour for 3 votes and whatever the final form of what is likely to be a very sorry piece of legislation looks like, the compromises made in the name of health industry ‘support’ will no doubt come at the cost of lives, probably many more lives than have been lost to ‘terrorism’. Still, people keep driving to the mall.

But perhaps nowhere is the discussion more nonsensical than when it comes to the environment.  The whole notion of Cap and Trade is insane (and for a wonderful, easy explanation that even a grade-schooler (although apprarently not members of Congress)  would understand of why, go here).  Here in the southeastern U.S. our mountains have been sacrificed for coal, the tops summarily cut off and the debris  dumped in our streams as if we have the right to do  such a thing without regard for the true cost to people and the environment.

As Bill McKibben points out, this wrong conversation about the environment, unlike the wrong  conversations about the economy and health care, has the potential to be an end game, to wit physics does not know to respond to politics, “It’s like nothing we’ve ever faced before — and we’re facing it as if it’s just like everything else. That’s the problem.”

And still, people keep driving to the mall.  Back in 2002, as the war in Afghanistan was ramping up, we had a  sign in our yard that said, simply, “Peace”.  Some of my neighbors felt moved to respond by literally circling our front door with “We Stand With President Bush” signs. It was a terrifying sight. When the Christmas season rolled around again later that year, one of my sons wondered what would happen if we put a sign up that said “Peace on earth, Goodwill to all.”   In the years since, I have stood my peace several times alongside the malls as we did last weekend.  And in the last few weeks, I have stood up for health care, and for the environment.  And I’ll keep standing up. I think of it as attending the First Church of the Sidewalk, surely a far holier experience than a day at the mall.

The one thing I know for sure–we need to quit the annual mall trek, get out of our cars, put down the plastic shopping bags and say enough of the damaging and downright deadly conversations.  Health care is a human right, war does not create peace and most assuredly begets terrorism.  The wealth of corporations cannot come at the expense of the welfare of people and we can not trade our way to capping carbon or fuel our world by destroying mountains.

Stand up.  Speak out.  It is  time to insist upon speaking truth to power.

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