Time to Meet Your Maker

OK, I admit it.  I love my air conditioners.  I have two window units, one upstairs and one downstairs, and they cool my whole house to a comfortable 70 degrees, no problem.

On a day like today, 95 degrees Farenheit and humid, you’ll find me huddled around the AC, whether it’s in my home, car or office, or out to the movies or a restaurant.

Even though I know full well that my AC addiction is part of the problem of global warming, am I going to go without?

Hell no!

Why should I swelter while everyone else who can afford it, and especially the fat cats who got us into this global warming mess, are sitting cool as cucumbers and pretty as you please?!

Thus you have the tragedy of the commons playing out all over again, all the time.

It will take a crash—a blackout, a total system collapse—to make us give up our creature comforts here in the heart of Empire.

Some people say that crash can’t come soon enough, and I guess I agree with them.

Certainly for the rest of the life forms on the planet, the sooner human beings get lost, and take our asphalt and our AC and our combustion engines with us, the more chance there will be for the planet to recover without turning back the clocks to zero and starting all over again with bacteria and plankton and the other very basic building blocks of life.

But am I going to commit hari-kari right now to speed this process along, playing martyr for the benefit of the songbirds and the orangutans?

No, I am not.

I am going to keep living, keep cranking up my AC and bopping around in my car, until there’s no juice in the wires and no gas in the tank.


Trying to keep cool, I just went to see PROMETHEUS, a bizarre movie if there ever was one.

In it, human beings go to meet their Maker, and discover that their alien progenitor is an impatient, violent, sadistic psychopath—at least by human standards—who, immediately upon being revived from an eons-long sleep, greets his human rescuers  with murderous fury and sets course for Earth with a full payload of biological weapons.

As I complained to my son afterwards, why is the human imagination always so dark and destructive?

Why couldn’t the screenwriters have imagined a happier scene, where the Maker showers the Earthlings with stardust and thanks them for waking him up?


We are, it seems, an irredeemably violent species.

We deserve whatever violent end awaits us.

When it comes, we should bow our heads and acknowledge that we totally brought it upon ourselves.

In the meantime, it’s getting hot in here.  Time to crank up the AC.

Grassroots heroism: what we need now

The image that stays with me most from the blockbuster superhero action film The Avengers is not the thrilling climax when the hero uses all his power to wrest a nuclear missile away from its collision course with Manhattan and up into space, where it explodes a waiting battleship of nasty intergalactic invaders—although that was pretty thrilling I have to admit, especially in 3-D!  Man, that movie packs some powerful special effects!

But no, what really struck me were the scenes of ordinary human beings on the ground, dressed in their regular 21st century civilian clothing, sipping their lattes and strolling about midtown Manhattan one moment, and the next moment being terrorized from above by sinister alien rampaging monsters and soldiers.

Without Captain America, the Black Widow, the Incredible Hulk and the other heroes, all those people would certainly have been totally destroyed within minutes—and not just by the aliens, but by “friendly fire” as well.

This scene resonates with me on two levels.

On the one hand, it goes to show yet again how quickly an apparently normal, peaceful morning can turn to nightmare when militarized violence shows up unexpectedly.

And on the other hand, it underlines how deeply dependent we human beings are on the idea of the charismatic leader, the savior, the hero who will leap into action and save the day for us.

This has been true since ancient times, and it appears to be cross-cultural: every culture has its heroic myths and legends, in which men and women with superhuman strengths and powers do battle with dark forces on behalf of the rest of humanity.

Watching politicians of The Avengers decide to send a nuclear missile to destroy the entire city in order to kill off these alien soldiers, an order that their general resists but an ordinary pilot obeys, I am uncomfortably reminded of how much danger we are probably all in, every day, thanks to decisions made by the men in charge, who sit in remote splendor in faraway bunkers like the gods on Mount Olympus of old.

I want to see a movie made that points the way to a different model of heroism.

Instead of the superhero, David against Goliath type tale, I want to see, on the big 3-D screen with all the lavish special effects and brilliant actors, a tale that celebrates the ordinary heroism of people on the ground, who—understanding the danger of militarism and the mechanized violence that pervades human civilization, from agriculture to energy to education and entertainment—come together to offer whatever skills, talents and gifts they have to the common pool of resistance.

In this movie, the human beings would not cower on the ground while the battle of the titans raged overhead; they would not sink to their knees before the might of an alien invader; they would not follow blindly wherever the men with guns and uniforms told them to go.

Instead they would use the power of their collective will and determination to demand a change of course, and insist that it happen.

What I want to see celebrated on the big screen is the kind of grassroots resistance that we saw on the ground this past year in Egypt and other Arab Spring hotspots, or in the General Assemblies and protests of the Occupy movement.

Egyptian women protest in Cairo, April 2011

It is happening already in real life.  Hollywood and Marvel Comics, maybe it’s time to break with the fixation on the past and try a new story.

What President Obama and Eve Ensler have in common

President Obama did something really, really good this week.  He sent 100 Special Ops military “advisors” to Central Africa to help local government forces get rid of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group of crazed, vicious thugs who have been terrorizing people in four countries for as long as many in the region can remember.

The New York Times reports: “For more than two decades, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children in central Africa,” Mr. Obama wrote in a letter to Congress announcing the military deployment. “The LRA continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security.”

You don’t even want to know what kind of atrocities he’s talking about.  Joseph Kony and his men are depraved, sick torturers, rapists and murderers who have been at it so long that I doubt they can ever be rehabilitated.  They are part of a long cycle of violence in Africa that begins with the kidnapping or luring in of young children, boys and girls, who are then drugged, beaten and raped into total submission to the authority of the adults, and grow up indoctrinated into the lifestyle of terror.

For an inside story, read Ismael Beah’s memoir A Long Way Gone, or the chapter in my anthology African Women Writing Resistance by former girl child soldier China Keitetsi, whose memoir Child Soldier is available in an e-book edition.

I can’t help but think that there is an element of racism in the fact that it’s taken so long for the international community to unite behind the mission of bringing true security to Central Africa (including the Democratic Republic of Congo, where some of the worst human rights violations in the world are taking place daily, with women and girls disproportionately targeted.)

When Bosnian men were massacred, people thrown out of their homes, and women and girls imprisoned in rape camps by the Serbs, the Clinton Administration waged an all-out war to stop it.  All that and more has been happening in the DRC and neighboring countries for decades.  Decades.

Eve Ensler has done a tremendous amount to get the word out about the impact of all this violence on women, not just in Africa but throughout the world.  I particularly admire her because she has used art as the medium for her outspoken calls for solidarity and resistance with victims of rape and violence–starting with “The Vagina Monologues,” and moving on through a host of books and plays.

She’s also used digital media to get her word out and build a global movement to end violence against women, and I don’t think anyone does it better–check out her website, vday.org, to see for yourself.

Eve Ensler is a great example of a woman of privilege who has used all of her talents and gifts to reach out and help others–and not through begging, cajoling or guilt-tripping, either, but through the sheer power of her spoken and written word.

President Obama has the power to send in the military, and it’s good he’s at least taken the first step in that direction.

We ordinary people have power too, more than we often realize.  We can open our eyes to what’s really happening in our towns, our country and our world, and then allow our hearts to show us the way to action for positive social change.

There is no more urgent task for each of us in our lifetimes.  This is what we came here to do.

SlutWalk, Occupy Wall Street and other sparks of resistance: let’s fan the flames!

Finally this morning The NYTimes.com is paying some attention to the Occupy Wall Street protests.  But the tone is still highbrow and dismissive–Charles Blow, who really should know better, labels the protesters “hippies and hipsters” and the movement overall as “a spark set down on wet grass,” with “no where to go.”

He also finds space to inform us that “a New York Times/CBS News poll released two weeks ago found that a third of those who make $30,000 a year or less don’t believe that the government should raise taxes on the wealthy to lower the budget deficit.”

Could that be because those who are living on the edge are so beaten down by a variety of forces, including lousy education and the constant scorn this country shows the poor, that they could care less about “lowering the budget deficit”?

I bet that the pollsters would get quite a different response if the question were worded more directly, as in: Should the government raise taxes on the wealthy to help the poor get a better education, promote job growth and tighten the social safety net?  Hell yes! they’d say.

Meanwhile, up in Union Square, another protest is brewing today: SlutWalk, a new, international protest movement against “rape culture.”  In a rape culture like ours, the SlutWalkNYC site informs us, “sexual violence is made to be both invisible and inevitable; and these two practices are what normalizes rape, harassment and assault….The forces that normalize rape culture are not examined; rape is not seen as a culture or “practice” and if it is ever discussed, sexual violence is seen as an isolated act that occurs between individuals.”

SlutWalk began in Toronto last year, in response to an incident where a police officer told a rape victim that she had been “asking for it” because of the way she was dressed.  That the movement has caught on so quickly, especially among young women, is testament to the validity of its argument that no woman, no matter how she is dressed, is ever “asking” to be raped.

Both Occupy Wall Street and SlutWalk are driven by young people who are frustrated with the status quo and know that a better world is possible.  Their elders should know better than to dismiss these young folks as idealistic dreamers.  Hasn’t all change in human society, both positive and negative, been driven by those who dare to dream differently?

Lately I’ve been reading Derrick Jensen‘s latest book, a huge tome called simply, Dreams.  In it he argues that one of Western civilization’s crucial fallacies is our collective tendency to ignore and dismiss our dreams, as well as the possibility that through our dreams we may connect with “supernatural” forces that we don’t understand and cannot control.

Derrick sides with indigenous cultures who believe that the natural world is alive (“animism”) and can communicate with us.  His big question in Dreams is a weighty one: why hasn’t the natural world fought back harder in the face of the sustained murderous onslaught of humanity?

I would not presume to speak for the natural world.  But this question can be applied to a lot of other contexts today.

Why has it taken so long for Americans to get out and protest the takeover of our country by the corporate elite?  Why has it taken two weeks for the New York Times to deign to notice this gadfly protest on the flanks of the giant Wall Street bull?  The New York unions are finally stirring and considering joining the protesters–why has it taken so long for the American working class to awaken?

I think it might have something to do with the way we in the U.S. are caught up in a media-induced waking dream/nightmare, with a storyline that repeats over and over the following all-pervasive mantra: c’est la vie, there’s nothing to be done about it.  No fundamental change is possible.  The contamination of our environment is inevitable, and necessary if we want to maintain our comfortable fossil-fuel-driven lifestyle. The ever-growing gap between rich and poor is inevitable, as natural and normal as rape culture–boys will be boys, and you can’t expect rich boys to care about the poor.


Someday analysts may look back on this period as one of remarkably successful mass indoctrination.  That is, if there are any shreds and shards left of our culture to examine after climate change is done with us.

To answer Derrick’s question, climate change is Nature fighting back.  Has anyone noticed that it’s been raining practically non-stop in New England for weeks now?  Here we are almost in leaf season, and our once-glorious maple trees are barely able to muster some mustardy brown color.  If this rain were snow, we’d be buried.  It may be an interesting winter season, to say the least.

However, resistance movements, both human and natural, are stirring all over the planet.  Like Occupy Wall Street, they may seem small, fragmented and disorganized to people who are accustomed to watching the huge, well-funded, tightly organized spectacles of mainstream political parties, or even mainstream-funded resistance movements like the Tea Party.

But it’s possible that dispersed, small-scale resistance may just what is called for under the present circumstances, when anything more obvious would simply be crushed by the iron fist of the corporate capitalist ruling class.

Resistance is happening when people take the time to relearn ancient human practices like small-scale biodynamic agriculture, bee-keeping, and storing food for the winter.  Resistance is happening when people refuse to let the dominant narratives ride rough-shod over their dreams of positive change.

Resistance is happening!  Let’s prove Charles Blow and the other naysayers wrong. It may be a rainy season, but let’s be the dry tinder for the spark of protest to fall on. It just takes one spark to start a wildfire, after all.

Occupy Wall Street: Time to Tell Bloomberg to Call Off the Goon Squad

Finally, the alternative media is coming alive!  Alternet is leaping on the Occupy Wall Street bandwagon, and urging its readers to do the same.

Arun Gupta issues “a clarion call to join the protests,” and a longer story by Sarah Jaffe shows how the heavy-handed police techniques and lack of attention from the press have not dampened the protesters’ determination, and if anything have drawn more people to the cause.

Truthout.org doesn’t have the protest on the front page, but they did reproduce a very disturbing video from msnbc, with anchor Lawrence O’Donnell, certainly no radical, standing up for the protesters in the strongest terms.

It’s the people wearing the badges that are the troublemakers, O’Donnell says, accusing the police of “unprovoked police brutality.”  The provocation, he observes, was having a video camera running.

There is NOTHING illegal in recording a peaceful protest.

Americans, we have to stand up for our freedom of speech.

It’s time to tell Mayor Bloomberg, a Wall Street type if there ever was one, that this is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE.

If you want to send the Mayor a letter, this is how.  And protesters, maybe it’s time to send a contingent over to the new Tammany Hall.

Wangari Maathai’s Canopy of Hope: remembering a warrior woman for the planet and role model for us all

Kenyan Wangari Maathai, who died last night of ovarian cancer, was a woman who took everything she learned and used it for the benefit of her local community and the planetary community as a whole.

As a girl, she used to sit by a certain fig tree that grew near her family village.  Beside the fig tree a clear, sparkling stream flowed, planted with arrowroots and hopping with small frogs.  Her mother told her that this was a “tree of God,” which wasn’t to be harvested for firewood.

Later, Wangari realized that “there was a connection between the fig tree’s root system and the underground water reservoirs.  The roots burrowed deep into the ground, breaking through the rocks beneath the surface soil and diving into the underground water table.  The water traveled up along the roots until it hit a depression or weak place in the ground and fushed out as a spring.  Indeed, wherever these trees stood, there were likely to be streams.  The reverence the community had for the fig tree helped preserve the stream and the tadpoles that so captivated me.  The trees also held the soil together, reducing erosion and landslides.  In such ways, without conscious or deliberate effort, these cultural and spiritual practices contributed to the conservation of biodiversity” (Unbowed, 46).

Wangari came of age as the traditional wisdom of the village people was giving way before the onslaught of Western epistemologies.  A girl who excelled in her schooling, she educated by Catholic nuns, and was fortunate enough to be chosen for the so-called Kennedy airlift of 1960, under which the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation provided scholarships for promising young African students to study in America—the same program that brought Barack Obama’s father to the U.S. to study.

Wangari ended up at Mount St. Scholastica, a Benedictine women’s college in Kansas, where she majored in science, and she went on to earn a Master’s in biology at the University of Pittsburgh. She continued her studies in Germany, and in 1971 earned a Ph.D. in biology from the University College of Nairobi—the first women in East and Central Africa to earn a doctoral degree.

Like so many other highly educated women who join the workforce, Wangari experienced plenty of gender discrimination as she tried to advance her career. Frustrated with her lack of advancement within the university, she joined the National Council of Women of Kenya, which was a group of educated women who sought to improve the living conditions of all Kenyan women.

“We could either sit in an ivory tower wondering how so many people could be so poor and not be working to change their situation, or we could try to help them escape the vicious cycle they found themselves in,” she said.  “This was not a remote problem for us.  The rural areas were where our mothers and sisters still lived.  We owed it to them to do all we could” (124).

For Wangari, the problems were clear:

“The connection between the symptoms of environmental degradation and their causes—deforestation, devegetation, unsustainable agriculture and soil loss—were self-evident.  Something had to be done.  We could not just deal with the manifestations of the problems.  We had to get to the root causes of those problems.

“Now, it is one thing to understand the issues.  It is quite another to do something about them.  But I have always been interested in finding solutions.  This is, I believe, the result of my education as well as my time in America: to think of what can be done rather than worrying about what cannot.  I didn’t sit down and ask myself, ‘Now let me see, what shall I do?’ It just came to me: Why not plant trees?’ The trees would provide a supply of wood that would enable women to cook nutritious foods.  They would also have wood for fencing and fodder for cattle and goals.  The trees would offer shade for humans and animals, protect watersheds and bind the soil, and, if they were fruit trees, provide food.  They would also heal the land by bringing back birds and small animals and regenerate the vitality of the earth.

“That is how the Green Belt Movement began” (125).

 The Green Belt Movement mobilized thousands of ordinary women in Kenya to start tree nurseries, and to plant trees near their homes.  It also became a forest conservation movement, with Wangari leading women in protecting Kenya’s remaining forests against the loggers hired by giant transnational conglomerates.  She made plenty of enemies in the government when her agenda threw a wrench in their greedy plans, and she was often afraid for her life.  She was thrown in jail many times, and frequently confronted violence at the hands of police and goon squads.

 Through it all, she remained, as the title of her memoir suggests, UNBOWED. She would not be browbeaten into submission to authority.  She knew that her cause was not only righteous but right for Kenyans and for the planet she loved, and this gave her the courage to stand firm against intimidation.

Wangari’s activism cost her her marriage: her husband, a Kenyan Member of Parliament, divorced her after she earned her Ph.D. and became more financially successful.  She could have chosen the easy way and lived a very privileged, comfortable existence in Nairobi, if she had been willing to bow her head and put her husband’s needs and career before her own.  Instead, she went through a humiliating public divorce trial:

“It became clear that I was being turned into a sacrificial lamb.  Anybody who had a grudge against modern, educated and independent women was being given an opportunity to spit on me.  I decided to hold my head up high, put my shoulders back, and suffer with dignity: I would give every woman and girl reasons to be proud and never regret being educated, successful and talented.  ‘What I have,’ I told myself, ‘is something to celebrate and not to ridicule or dishonor’” (146).

The divorce trial ended, incredibly enough, with Wangari being sentenced to six months in prison for “contempt of court”; she was hauled off to prison without even having the time to say goodbye to her children. It was clearly an attempt to put this uppity woman in her place, but it did not work: Wangari would not be intimidated, and emerged from prison determined to put her talents to work for her people, come what might for herself personally.

Her Green Belt Movement became a model for sustainable, grassroots-driven development throughout Africa and beyond, which worked not only for environmental sustainability, but also for women’s rights, human rights and participatory democracy.  Wangari consistently provided an upright model of honest, steadfast leadership, leading by example in speaking truth to power and and refusing to be cowed.

“What I have learned over the years,” she said, “is that we must be patient, persistent and committed.  When we are planting trees sometimes people will say to me, “I don’t want to plant this tree, because it will not grow fast enough.” I have to keep reminding them that the trees they are cutting today were not planted by them, but by those who came before.  So they must plant the trees that will benefit communities in the future.  I remind them that like a seedling, with sun, good soil, and abundant rain, the roots of our future will bury themselves in the ground and a canopy of hope will reach into the sky” (289).

Wangari Maathai herself grew that “canopy of hope” for all of us.  May the seedlings she planted be nourished with care by those of us who aspire to walk in her footsteps, for all those who deserve a better world in the future here on our precious planetary home.

Songs of Freedom in New York

I can hardly bear to watch this video, but I feel compelled to share it.  You need to know what is being done in your name.

The right to peaceful protest?  The right to dissent?  Right.

Meanwhile, up in another part of New York, I was at a conference this weekend celebrating “40 Years of Feminist Activism and Scholarship” at the Barnard Center for Research on Women.  Here all was decorous and polite–no protesters, no cops, no tight handcuffs or people being pulled down the sidewalk by their feet.

Instead we discussed “issues of translocation” in the Latino diaspora, and how there is a need for social theorists to serve as translators, transcultural workers, and border-crossers of all kinds.  Unfortunately, this information was presented in a kind of high-level theoretical drone that sucked the lifeblood out of the topic. When the presenter began to read us the annotated table of contents of her new anthology, I had to get up and leave.

Fortunately, the panel I had organized, on “Living and Working in the Borderlands,” was up next, and it kicked us in to a whole different register.  Margaret Randall read poetry that wrenched us into the heart of the dangerous, shifting borders between past and present, safety and terror, life and death.

“They say you are not at home/until you have lived in a house/through all four seasons./What they don’t say is/you are never at home/when a part of that home/has been taken.” —As If the Empty Chair: Poems for the Disappeared, p. 20

Ruth Irupe Sanabria followed, reading her powerful poems about growing up in the long, sick shadow of the terror that marred her childhood in Argentina during the Dirty War.  Reading a poem about how the violence visited on her parents, political prisoners during the war, was reenacted in her own childhood, Ruth choked up, and I could not help but think of the first-trimester fetus curled in her womb, choking as well in this legacy of pain.

Finally the youngest of us spoke, my current B.A. student Michelle Gonzalez, who described her struggles to come to turns with all the jagged fault lines that mark her own identity.  Her honest self-exploration led us into a thoughtful, engaged discussion with the audience on how one’s location in the borderlands, whether chosen or imposed, can be both a spur and a hindrance to creative freedom.

There is a temptation to see a continuum in this, a continuum of creative protest going from the poet who writes in the blood of her own passion to the passionate young protester who is not afraid to put her body on the line and submit to the manhandling of the police.

One thing for sure is that the kind of jargon-laden social theory expressed in the keynote speech seems more and more clearly to be completely beside the point.  What is the good of talking about people’s struggles for freedom, self-determination and dignity in words they would not understand, on a platform to which they will never have access?

There is a reason that song lyrics continue to resonate with the young.  We may not all read poetry, but most of us do listen to music.  Simple, direct, powerful words are the ones that will stay with us, and perhaps even move us to action.

What songs do you hum to give yourself the courage to go on?  What songs might break through the spell of the men in blue and remind them who they are supposed to be working for?

I’ll end with the voice of a martyr for political freedom, Victor Jara, savagely murdered by the Chilean goon squad while still valiantly trying to sing his songs of peace:

It’s up to us now to keep his song alive.

Peace Day Travesties

Last night my son reminded me that it was Peace Day yesterday, and my heart sank even lower.  How could it be that on the day dedicated to world peace, the U.S. allowed an improperly tried man to be put to death by lethal injection?

Perhaps even worse, how could it be that our President chose this day to appear before the United Nations opposing the Palestinian government’s efforts to negotiate a two-state resolution with Israel?

Obama’s speech was laden with bitter irony for those who could hear between the lines.  How could he laud the people of other Middle Eastern states like Egypt, Libya and Yemen for taking matters in their own hands and violently overthrowing oppressive rulers, while at the same time telling the Palestinians that they should wait, be patient and let others decide their fate?

What difference is there, really, between an oppressive dictator like Qaddafi and an oppressive state dictatorship like the one Israel exercises over Palestine?  In both cases it’s a matter of people’s basic human rights being violated.  In neither case do the people have the “democracy” that Obama praised in his speech yesterday.  Why is it OK for the Libyans to rise up and throw out the oppressors, but not for the Palestinians?

Of course, we know the answer.  Because American Jews have too much invested in the success of the state of Israel, and are too afraid of the Palestinians to see them as anything other than potential terrorists.  Because American Jews wield considerable power in the U.S. government, and their support can make or break a political candidate here at home.

Under these circumstances, I am not proud to be an American of Jewish descent (I can’t call myself a Jew because I have never practiced the religion and am largely unfamiliar with it).

I’m not happy to be a white American either, given the clear racialization of the American criminal justice system, with people of color receiving much harsher treatment, from the police on the streets to the courts and the prisons, than people of European descent.

What do I do with my guilt over the way “my people” are treating others?  I can “pass” as a non-Jew and distance myself from that community, but I can’t exactly “pass” as a person of color.

What I have to do, and what all of us who deplore the oppression that was blazoned across the headlines on World Peace Day should do, is to ally myself firmly with those who stand for freedom.  In many cases, sad to say, this would mean opposing the policies of the U.S. government and many of its cronies, like the state of Israel.

Dissent from majority opinion has a long and proud history in our country and we should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe, even if we appear to be opposing the powers that be.

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States declined to step in and save the life of Troy Davis even though it was plain to hundreds of thousands of onlookers that he did not deserve execution.  Yesterday President Obama went on record as opposing the efforts of President Abbas of Palestine to finally take his rightful place among the league of nations at the U.N.

Justices and President, I respectfully disagree with you.  A lot of us disagree with you, a lot of the time.  You need to start listening to us ordinary folks again, and give us a government we can be proud of.

Otherwise, you might just wake up one morning and find the Arab Spring has come to America–with you, or at least the oppressive establishment you represent–as the targets this time.



9/11–Let’s Get Real!

All right, I have to say it.  I find the coverage of the 9/11 10-year anniversary nauseating.

The way we are collectively wallowing in our victimhood, while at the same time celebrating our oh-so-macho response to being attacked.

The way so few voices are talking about the reasons for the anger that launched those pilots at the US; the money that funded them; the horrendous aftermath of the attack, in which we rattled our sabers, swore vengeance against the “axis of evil,” and started a war in Iraq that cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives.

The way we aren’t talking about the corporate capitalist policies of exploitation and greed that led to widespread misery in the places where Al Qaeda operatives like to hide, places where starving parents opt to send their sons to the madrassa so they can eat, not knowing or caring what kind of indoctrination may be occurring between bites.

The way we aren’t talking about the indoctrination our children are getting here in our schools, through the sanitized version of the 9/11 story, in which the U.S. is always the good cop, policing the rest of the world in a superior and politically correct manner.

No one ever mentions anything about our status as the largest military operation in the world and the largest exporter of guns and military hardware—the biggest fomenter, therefore of violence on the planet.  How could we naively expect that this violence would not come home to roost?

And now those same policies of profit-seeking callousness have reached their limit in the natural world, and the violence we have wreaked on our environment can and will return to bite us—in fact, it is already visible in the erratic weather patterns of global warming, leading to natural disasters and food instability even here in the heart of Empire.

Instead of the obsessive repetition of schizophrenic patriotic self-congratulation alongside whining victimhood, we aren’t we talking about what really matters: moving forward in a way that radically changes the culture, both national and international, that produced 9/11?

Until we begin to have this forward-looking conversation, in which all the cards are put on the table and no credible way out of the morass of violence, greed and destructive exploitation is ignored, we will be stuck in a sick Groundhog Day of our own making, with no way to stop the repetitive madness.

I don’t know about you, but I want to wake up to a new day.

Pretty Ugly

“If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous — er, treasonous, in my opinion.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas, speaking about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s efforts to prevent deflation

When I think about Texans “treating someone ugly,” what leaps to my mind is lynching.  Even so conservative a group as the Texas Historical Association is unable to whitewash the truth of white Texan oppression and brutalization of the Mexican Americans (“Tejanos”) and African Americans throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

To be heading into a Presidential election year with this kind of hateful invective being thrown around, especially in a contest where a Black man is involved, is truly frightening.

We who are watching the slow-motion political lynching of Barack Obama unfold cannot afford to be silent bystanders.

The Rick Perrys of our country are treating our President “pretty ugly” every single day.

Although I share many progressives’ disappointment with Obama’s reluctance to call out these ugly folks and fight fire with fire, I recognize the bind he’s in, and I cannot stand by silently while he’s symbolically dragged through the mud (as happened to the victim of one of the most recent Texas lynchings, Brandon McClelland, in 2008).

I’ve spent a lot of time this past month wishing I could just move to Canada and be done with the ugliness here in the U.S.

But this is my country, at least for now, and I must do my best to make it a better place, a country I can be proud of.

My ancestors left Russia, Poland and Germany in the 19th century precisely because of the kind of slimy and dangerous hatred that we heard come out of Governor Perry’s mouth this week.  They believed they would find a more welcoming and ethical society here in shadow of the Lady of Liberty.

Of course, America they knew in the early 20th century had terrible problems of racism, elitism and sexism. People fought for change throughout the 20th century, and they won big victories.

We can’t let the clocks be turned back now.  We must fight on, now more than ever!

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