Archive for Global Warming

My Newly Published Poem

I’m so pleased to have my poem, Prose Poem For After A Hurricane  included in the Spring issue of ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, which is published by Oxford University Press. The poem was written in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, so in it’s specifics it is a tad dated, but such are the rigors of academic publishing, it is just being published now. Regardless, the sentiment of the poem is one that I suspect could/should be written about every climate disaster. The full spring issue is  devoted to creative responses to the issue of climate change.

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Downstream

The recent assault on West Virginia’s Elk River that left hundreds of thousands of people without usable water should give us all pause. We need to not only address the immediate disaster but also to examine the context in which it happened and the ways in which it is part of the global environmental crisis. As awful as this situation has been and continues to be, it should come as no surprise–the plundering of West Virginia for coal has been exacting an enormous environmental and human cost for many, many years.

And around the world, there are many places that have to cope with unsafe or scarce water supplies on an ongoing basis. As the impact of global warming continues to grow, this will only get worse.  A lot worse.

We know this, but we continue to allow chemical companies, energy  companies, agricultural companies, development companies and yes, military actions as well, to continue to endanger this most precious resource with far too little oversight and regulation.

When this story first broke, I saw a picture of water bottles being distributed to those in need, and I was struck by the irony that when you go through airport security, a water bottle is considered a possible weapon of terrorism, but tanks of toxins are allowed to sit upstream of our water supply with little or no regulation:

Downstream (for West Virginia)

What deep delusion

the body politic

that searches luggage

at airport checkpoints

looking for water bottles

that could become

weapons of terror

yet does not inspect the

tanks of toxic chemicals

that leak poison

into the rivers on which

so many lives depend–

incognizant that, in the end,

we all live downstream.

–Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

 

 

Will the West Virginia disaster be a wake-up call?  Maybe for the next ten minutes, but then something else will happen to distract us and we will go along our merry, delusional way until another inevitable result of our folly comes back at us.

The 24 hour news spin cycle is dependent on moving us on to the next big thing, time to absorb and react is truncated if not obliterated.  Water crisis today, burst pipeline tomorrow, a military crisis somewhere, budget talks break down–sorry something else just came up and we have to move on, no time to think about why this happened or how these things are connected, let alone how to change this destructive paradigm.

We would do ourselves (and the planet) a lot of good if we just stopped for a moment and insisted on being with what has transpired, refusing to allow ourselves to be push me pull you’ed on to the next crisis without the chance to absorb the implications of what has happened into our experience and understanding of the world and our very lives.

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Finding Strength In The Extraordinary Ordinary

For more than ten years now, I have devoted the overwhelming majority of my work as a writer and activist to shining a light on the many heinous guises of misogyny, especially on the impact violence has on women’s lives, and also on efforts to stop that violence and to empower women. Now and again I have also tackled other topics, including environmental issues such as global warming and climate change because as we confront environmental disaster after environmental disaster at a rapidly snowballing speed, the need to address these issues as an integral part of my work feels urgently compelling, yet words more often than not painfully fail me.

What precisely can one say about ocean acidification, leaking methane from the thawing Arctic, seas that are rising faster than expected, the loss of ice in Greenland and Antarctica, (and those are just stories that have crossed my digital desk in the last week alone)?  And how precisely can one say what should be said about these overwhelming climactic disasters in a way that accurately portrays the proper measures of terror, and the tears that should be streaming down our faces as we see the result of our misguided dominion while offering  hope or perhaps vision?  On most days, I neither know or begin to feel adequate to that task.

Not being one to suffer writer’s block or despairing inertia quietly, I have floundered about trying to find inspiration and strength, a grounded path towards coherent expression.  I have buried myself in the words of Terry Tempest Williams and tackled a lengthy biography of Rachel Carson. I cheer Sandra Steingraber’s call to action about fracking and Bill McKibben’s relentless tar sands pushback and the solar-powered Thanksgiving in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

And mostly I have walked away from the computer and staggered out into the natural world, needing to take in huge gulps of (I hesitate to say fresh) air.  I have sat beside the Atlantic Ocean and watched the tides roll in and out, seagulls standing watch at the water’s edge.  I’ve walked along the Potomac, visited pueblos and mountains and craters in the Arizona desert and high country. And some days, I simply walk the streets of my suburban neighborhood.

The community in which I live is perhaps the embodiment of a sub-urban design train wreck–houses crammed in every available space, open spaces in the wrong places, dysfunctional streets where people live isolated lives.  But even in this embodiment of Malvina Reynolds’ little boxes on the hillside “all made out of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same”, I have looked up at the trees, and found wonder and love and grounded strength in these branches of heart filling beauty.

And where words come sometimes only haltingly, I have taken to letting my camera portray the extraordinary that we all too often fail to see, let alone honor in the ordinary of our days.

The words will continue, we must talk about what has been, what is and what will be.  But we must also see the tree branches above, and feel the breezes from the sea, the hot desert sun and the path below our feet.

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Will We Drown In Denial Or Face The Sea Change of Climate Reality

Of all the searing images in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the one that I find most disturbing is this picture of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which remained throughout the storm at great personal danger. That we must honor our military dead even at the risk of completely unnecessary loss of life speaks volumes about our priorities in this country.

I rarely watch cable news, but I found myself obsessively switching between a local news channel, CNN and The Weather Channel for much of the storm.  There was much valuable and urgent information shared although much of it looked like a contest between reporters to see who could report while standing in the deepest water and stay standing (and I absolutely need to say that throughout the storm, I consistently found critical information being disseminated on Twitter well before I saw it on television). But not once did I hear any mention of the many nuclear power plants in the storm’s path, or a discussion of what to do if your house is flooded with toxic waste or the lack of plans to protect oil and gas facilities. No analysis of what climate change denial and inaction has cost us.

Nor was there mention of the fact that we’ve known that storms like this have been an event waiting to happen.  Instead, as I pointed out a few days ago, we have continued to beat the drum in the fight against “terrorism”, pouring billions of dollars into destroying other countries, killing innocent civilians and creating conditions in which terrorism ferments and while we’re at it doing an ace job of brainwashing ourselves into being perpetually paranoid and terrified while at the same time allowing the infrastructure of our own country to go to hell.

As Chris Mooney pointed out in Grist, NASA warned about an event like Sandy in 2006:

Scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York have been studying that city’s vulnerability to hurricane impacts in a changing world, and calculated that with 1.5 feet of sea level rise, a worst-case-scenario Category 3 hurricane could submerge “the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan, and eastern Staten Island from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano Bridge.

And of course, that wasn’t the only warning.  WE KNEW IT COULD HAPPEN.  And we did nothing.  As a result we are now contending with this:

Consider what Kathy Waters, American Public Transportation Association vice president for member services had to say about the New York subway system,

The New York system, although there are some components that have been upgraded over the years, has a lot of antique components where the vendor has been out of business for 50 years. (emphasis mine)

And then there is this from NRDC’s Amy Mall:

Under the Clean Water Act, there is something called the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule which includes requirements for oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response to prevent oil discharges to navigable waters and adjoining shorelines…Sounds like a no-brainer. But in Fiscal Year 2011, EPA officials visited 120 sites oil and gas development sites and found 105 were out of compliance– 87.5%…Almost every single oil and gas site inspected lacked a mandatory spill prevention plan meant to protect our rivers and streams. (emphasis mine)
 

Internet, cable and phone services were also significantly disrupted and yet two days later with thousands of people still without access, I heard a report of a FEMA official telling people to file claims on the internet.  And he expects people who are stranded in flooded buildings to do that how?

And,

Raw sewage, industrial chemicals and floating debris filled flooded waterways around New York City on Tuesday

…The best officials could do was urge residents to steer clear of the contaminated waters.

Incidentally, they sent that warning out by email.  To people who obviously were going to have trouble accessing their email.

The storm also precipitated numerous problems at various nuclear power plants, all of which are aging quickly past the lifespans they were designed for and some of which are the same design as the Fukushima facility in Japan,

Storm-related complications were blamed this week for forcing three nuclear reactors offline – Nine Mile Point Unit 1 northwest of Syracuse, N.Y., Indian Point Unit 3 about 25 miles north of New York City and the Salem plant’s Unit 1 on the Delaware River in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, rising waters along the Barnegat Bay prompted officials to declare an “alert,” the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system, at Oyster Creek in New Jersey…

…NRC officials reported that other plants continued operating but reduced their electrical output as a precaution, including the Millstone plant’s Unit 3 reactor in Waterford, Conn., Vermont Yankee south of Brattleboro, Vt., and both reactors at the Limerick nuclear plant about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The storm also appeared to knock out emergency sirens used to notify residents who live near the Oyster Creek and Peach Bottom plants in Pennsylvania, according to NRC reports. (emphasis mine)

These are the kinds of issues we need to confront if we are to stand a prayer of survival.  They aren’t theoretical or in the future.  They are real and they are right now.  We need to see this as literally the moment for a sea-change in attitude.  It is not acceptable for the media to continue to ignore climate change,

Last year at least 7,140 journalists and opinion writers published some 19,000 stories on climate change, compared to more than 11,100 reporters who filed 32,400 stories in 2009, according to DailyClimate.org…

…Particularly noticeable was the silence from the nation’s editorial boards: In 2009, newspapers published 1,229 editorials on the topic. Last year, they published less than 580 – half as many, according to DailyClimate.org’s archives.

And it is not acceptable for our politicians to continue to chest thump  the drums of war while maintaining a deafening silence on climate change. Protecting symbols of military prowess while our cities drown isn’t honorable, it is an act of national suicide.

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The Day Before The Day After Tomorrow–Meditations On A Storm And A Young Friend Who Wants To Serve His Country

In the pre-hurricane calm before Sandy hits, I am sitting by a window (where I probably don’t want to sit tomorrow), watching the skies darken and thinking of a young man that I’ve known since he was in diapers.  After high school, he joined the army and last week, he left to serve in a war zone.  All we can do now is pray that he comes back alive, hopefully without his body or mind broken.

———-

They are now saying that 10 million people could lose power from Hurricane Sandy.  One of the reasons that may happen is that for decades now, we have done far less than we should to protect our utility grids.  Water may be compromised and communications systems too.  Some of that would be inevitable with a storm this size, but proper upgrading and maintenance along the way might well have mitigated that.

What few are talking about and which may be a far larger worry is the potential danger to the 16 nuclear power plants that are in harms way.  After Fukushima, we should have no illusions that these plants can withstand catastrophic weather.  And we should be mindful of the massive amounts of toxic materials that may blow into our water and onto our shores as the storm blows through.

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I began by mentioned the young family friend now serving in the military, in a continuing war that serves only to continue to destabilize the world.  Yes, there will always be a few that will want to bomb and destroy us, and perhaps they will get away with killing some of us.  But no terrorist can ever hope to accomplish what climate changed weather has and most certainly will continue to do when it comes to wreaking havoc and destruction.

Yet throughout this presidential campaign, it has been business as usual with the war talk–why we must use drones and must fight terrorists without even a peep about climate change or the environment.

My young friend is a patriot.  He wants to defend the country.  Imagine if instead of fighting wars of empire that serve only to destroy and bankrupt, we brought our soldiers home and asked them to help secure our aging and  dangerous nuclear plants as best we can?  What if we asked them to install solar and wind installations?  What if we asked them to help trim trees off power lines and replace aging water pipes and roads. What if we put the formidable force that is the U.S. military to work doing things that would actually protect the country?  And if we still wanted to send some of our troops overseas, we could help other nations do the same, making them safer and less likely to hate us.

It is too late for this storm, but how many more times does this need to happen before we finally say no more to business as usual and start using our resources to address the real needs of climate change and stop the destructive foreign policy that drains us of our economic resources, destroys other countries and puts our troops in harms way?

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When The Truth Is Found To Be Lies

We Americans are not very good at telling or hearing the truth, although we’d like to think that we are. We tell our schoolchildren that George Washington could not tell a lie about chopping down the cherry tree, even though, ironies of ironies, the story likely isn’t true.  We fall all over ourselves giving the microphone to people whose whole understanding of the world is a lie (Rand Paul, Sarah Palin) because while we might not be very good at discerning or disseminating facts, we do so love our fiction.

Over the weekend we listened to our President tell West Point Cadets we will succeed in Afghanistan–succeed?  At what?  Even his own General–McChrystal– recently said that indeed, no one is winning. Congress keeps appropriating money for this endless battle but the truth is that war will make you poor.  Congressman Alan Grayson has it right,

“Next year’s budget allocates $159,000,000,000 to “contingency operations,” to perpetuate the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s enough money to eliminate federal income taxes for the first $35,000 of every American’s income each year, and beyond that, leave over $15 billion that would cut the deficit.”

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And in the Gulf–one wonders if there has been a coup–BP seems to be calling the shots.  The EPA tells them not to continue to use a toxic chemical dispersant (see quote below regarding why this is so extremely terrifying and see here regarding the issue that this chemical was approved for use even though we have known about its toxicity for many years), and BP says they will keep using it.  When reporters call law enforcement, they reach BP, scientific evidence is being evaluated by a company that counts BP as a client and worst of all, damage estimates are repeatedly minimized.

But the marshes are being destroyed, the oceans poisoned–there is no going back from this and as yet no way to stop it.  This isn’t Exxon-Valdez, it is far, far worse and the damage beyond anything this country has ever seen  and one which cannot be fixed.  The Gulf coast as we know it is gone.  The fishing, the tourism.  There will be health consequences.  There won’t be fish.  Or perhaps coral reefs. Or perhaps us. And that is the truth of it.

Bob Herbert puts it eloquently,

“No one knows how much of BP’s runaway oil will contaminate the gulf coast’s marshes and lakes and bayous and canals, destroying wildlife and fauna — and ruining the hopes and dreams of countless human families. What is known is that whatever oil gets in will be next to impossible to get out. It gets into the soil and the water and the plant life and can’t be scraped off the way you might be able to scrape the oil off of a beach.

It permeates and undermines the ecosystem in much the same way that big corporations have permeated and undermined our political system, with similarly devastating results.”

And just how devastating?  As bad as the consequences of  what we have seen so far will be, it may get far, far worse:

“The oil field the Deepwater Horizon had tapped is said to be the second largest deposit in the world. Viewzone.com reports, “The site covers an estimated 25,000 square miles, extending from the inlands of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. “

The oil deposit is so large, it could produce 500,000 barrels of a day for more than a decade.

Part of the reason the well exploded is because the site also contains large deposits of natural gas…

…The New York Times has reported that scientists suspect the leak is thousands of times larger than what BP has been reporting.  Some estimates are as high as one million gallons a day.

Rock particles, gas and oil escaping under pressure are pushing against  the capstone on the sea floor that surrounds the actual well. If it collapses, the canyon of oil will escape with a vengeance.

Neither BP nor anyone else wants to say what will happen it the wellhead gives way or the sea floor around it caves in.”

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Meanwhile, to hear government officials and Wall Street tell it, the economy is recovering, and perhaps in the language of economics it is.  But in truth the ‘recovery’ looks something like an upside down Ponzi scheme, a bit like the Tempe, AZ City Hall.

All the wealth is at the top but there is little to support it down below–and unlike the architecturally brilliant building, the upside down economic pyramid must eventually fall down. We have almost pathological blinders when it comes to seeing the obvious perils to our continued existence–climate change and global warming, peak oil, water and food shortages, melting glaciers, species extinction, deforestration, floods, droughts, oceans under siege. But still we gulp the koolaid and believe that growth is good and things will be better soon.  And we are just as blind when it comes to understanding that commodifying the sanctity of corporate well-being over human welfare is ultimately our downfall, not the path to prosperity that it claims to be.

I don’t watch much television, but I guess I should because it seems there is a Tru Tv which claims to be, “television’s destination for real-life stories told from an exciting and dramatic first-person perspective.  “Not Reality. Actuality”.   The truth will not be televised, but television is truth. As for the American dream, it is the reality show to end all reality shows.  And in the finale, the truth will out, but unlike “Lost” or American Idol”, there won’t be re-runs and don’t hold your breath for a spin-off or a sequel.

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Note regarding dispersants:  Via the Times Online this is why these are so very dangerous.  I would add that we should be extremely worried about the impact on reproductive health on animals and humans as well:

“Dispersants can contain particular evils. Corexit 9527 — used extensively by BP despite it being toxic enough to be banned in British waters — contains 2-butoxyethanol, a compound that ruptures red blood cells in whatever eats it. Its replacement, COREXIT 9500, contains petroleum solvents and other components that can damage membranes, and cause chemical pneumonia if aspirated into the lungs following ingestion.

But what worries Dr (Susan) Shaw most is the long-term potential for toxic chemicals to build up in the food chain. “There are hundreds of organic compounds in oil, including toxic solvents and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), that can cause cancer in animals and people. In this respect light, sweet crude is more toxic than the heavy stuff. It’s not only the acute effects, the loss of whole niches in the food web, it’s also the problems we will see with future generations, especially in top predators.””

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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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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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Scenes From A Zipless Recovery

Dear Main Street Residents,

The recession is ending, no more worries, sorry for the inconvenience.

Love,

Your BFFs  on Wall Street

As the national economy starts its slow recovery, 11 states and the District of Columbia are showing signs of emerging from the recession, according to a new report. (from Moodys Economy.com via Stateline)

Moody’s also estimated that the national recession ended in August, although the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private research firm that calculates the official dates of recessions, has yet to declare the end of the current downturn.

But let’s just bear in mind where that rose colored pronouncement came from– according to a report from McClatchy,

The Securities and Exchange Commission issued a blistering report on how profit motives had undermined the integrity of ratings at Moody’s and its main competitors, Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s, in July 2008, but the full extent of Moody’s internal strife never has been publicly revealed.

Translation:  I’ve got some swamp land in Florida for sale.  Well actually I don’t but can you blame me from trying to sell it to you anyhow.  If you want a more  honest take on the view from the top of the economic pecking order, this refreshingly honest commentary from a Goldman Sachs executive is probably more to the point:

“The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest,” Goldman’s Griffiths said Oct. 20, his voice echoing around the gold-mosaic walls of St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose 365-feet-high dome towers over the City, London’s financial district. “We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieving greater prosperity and opportunity for all.” (Bloomberg)

Meanwhile, down the block on Main Street,  recovery NOT is still a happening event:

The official jobless rate — 10.2 percent in October

one out of every six workers — 17.5 percent — were unemployed or underemployed in October. (New York Times)

For black teens nationwide, the rate was 40.8 percent in September. (Chicago Tribune)

40.8%…just roll that number around in your brain for awhile. Then consider this:

U.S. companies increased their output in the third quarter even as they slashed working hours, driving productivity up at a 9.5% annual rate in the quarter, the Labor Department estimated Thursday. …

Productivity is output divided by hours worked. Output rose 4% annualized, while hours worked plunged 5%. Real hourly compensation increased at a 0.2% annual rate. (Market Watch via Daily Kos)

If you look in your Berlitz for Wall Street-ese, that translates to, ‘we worked harder for less hours to make more stuff which we can afford less because we
earned less or worse yet, lost our job. And here’s a little conjugation of the screw you verb translation above,

Credit card companies are rushing to increase interest rates to historic highs of more than 30 percent, cut credit limits, and add new fees, even for customers who pay their bills on time. (Boston.com)

And then there is the pesky matter of health care and the ‘reform’ that is supposed to  cure it:

According to research by the John Hopkins Children’s Center, an analysis of 23 million hospital records from 37 states shows that a lack of health insurance likely played a role in the deaths of nearly 17,000 U.S. children over a 17-year period. (Denver Post)

One wonders if “children not covered” is a line item in annual reports by insurance companies which just had a VERY profitable quarter:

Managed care company Cigna Corp.’s third-quarter profit soared 92 percent, as improving equity markets spurred a big turnaround in a discontinued business that hurt the insurer last year.

Don’t know about you, but I sure the hell can’t sleep at night with that.  And lastly, give a big cheer for the ever so Gross Domestic Product that rose a “better than expected” 3.5% in the third quarter.  And here is one reason:

Billed as a way for the government to put more fuel-efficient vehicles on highways, the popular $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program mostly involved swaps of old Ford or Chevrolet pickups for new ones that got only marginally better gas mileage, according to an analysis of new federal data.

The single most common swap — which occurred more than 8,200 times — involved Ford F150 pickup owners who took advantage of a government rebate to trade their old trucks for new Ford F150s. They were 17 times more likely to buy a new F150 than, say, a Toyota Prius. The fuel economy for the new trucks ranged from 15 mpg to 17 mpg based on engine size and other factors, an improvement of just 1 mpg to 3 mpg over the clunkers.

The overall mileage increases over the clunker fleet represent a decline of 1.87 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, based on families driving an average of 12,000 miles, a yearly savings equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide spewed in the U.S. in just 2.5 hours. (AP)

(Note–To get a further idea of just how absurd this program was, during the Cash for Clunkers program, I traded in my 10 year old van that was beginning to have significant problems  for a car that gets much better milage.  However since my van officially got  19 mph, I didn’t qualify for the program, even though my new car is far more efficient than some of the trucks and SUV’s that qualified for the rebate.  And while it gave a huge short-term boost to auto sales, it is doubtful that will have a long-term impact and the more important question is why boosting the auto industry without a significant change in transportation policy is appropriate in the first place.  Yes jobs are at stake, but this kind of short-term thinking is not going to save those jobs in the long run.)

Dave Lindorff has a more detailed explanation,

Most of that rise was the result of government subsidies to car-buyers and first-time house buyers. It was a one-shot stimulus that pushed forward spending, but it was no indication of a recovering economy, just a spasm of spending using taxpayer money. Furthermore, an excellent article in Businessweek by Michael Mandel noted that fully one-percent of that GDP gain was the result of a failure by government economists to account for a collapse in corporate spending on research and development and on training and retaining intellectual assets (a complicated way of saying that engineers, scientists and technology workers were being laid off at a higher rate than other workers, and much R&D work was being shipped overseas for good), So really the “growth” of GDP in the third Quarter should have been at a 2.5% rate, and even that was largely government pump priming, not recovered economic activity.

So what to take away here?  First of all, let’s quit using the DOW as a measure of how things are.  As Lindorff points out apropos of the oft repeated ‘wisdom’ that employment is a lagging indicator,

High and pro-longed unemployment leads to reduced demand for goods and services, and to a psychology of fear and consumer withdrawal. Once people feel that they aren’t going to find a new job soon, and once those who still have jobs feel that their employment is not secure, they no longer buy things except what they absolutely need. And in an economy where fully 72% of economic activity is consumer spending, that is no longer a “lagging indicator.” High, prolonged unemployment becomes a causal factor in the economic downturn.

In other words, sooner or later (and I’m betting on sooner), there is  going to be major blowback on Wall Street.

In our current  economic system, the official barometer of whether we are economically healthy or not is based primarily on the health of corporate citizens, not human ones.  Don’t have insurance, a job or a house? No worries, the market is up.  Which really should give us pause to think that maybe, possibly, we are measuring the wrong stuff.

As all of the above should certainly serve to illustrate, the current discourse on the economy is delusional.  If we are  truly to ‘recover’ in a meaningful way, we will need to re-define what we consider as economic well-being. Imagine how our policies might be different if, as Riane Eisler suggests, we measured the value of caring.   Or if we gave to meet needs instead of assuming the necessity of an exchange of goods as Genevieve Vaughan suggests.

And while I am not going to address it in depth here, any sustainable economic policy must also take into account and be responsive to the issues of climate change and global warming.  We cannot continue to degrade the planet at will and we need to take immediate steps to address the changes that are already happening.

Until we make those paradigm shifts in the way we think about the economy, the rumors of its recovery should be considered as the poppycock that they are.

———-

Postscript–Lest there is any doubt–the title of this post traces it’s origins to Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying,

The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game . The man is not “taking” and the woman is not “giving.” No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. And I have never had one.

–Erica Jong, Fear of Flying (1973)

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