American insanity

I admit to a feeling of dejection at being back in the USA again.

Same old callous attitude towards women vomiting out of the Republican Party (“legitimate rape,” my ass!).  Same old desperate pleas for money from the Democrats, who are forced to beg for funds from small fry like me to try to compete with the billionaire Republican funders.  Same old blithe disconnect between the reality of climate change (drought, anyone?) and the steady roar of the fracking drills in Pennsylvania and the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.  Shrimp and fish turning up grotesquely deformed by tumors, eyeless and burned, for hundreds of miles around the BP spill.  Whatever.

Not that things were paradise in Canada.  The crash of the fish populations there is alarming, and they too are involved in the dirtiest of business in the Alberta boreal forest (which I refuse to call by the euphemism “tar sands,” implying as it does that there’s nothing there worth saving).  They clearcut forests and pollute rivers and all the rest of it.

But from just a few weeks of tuning into the media there, I can tell that there is much more clarity and focus there on environmental issues.  Every single issue of the Halifax Chronicle Herald has at least one article, and usually several, about energy or agricultural or fishery policy in relation to climate change.  They are actually working towards meeting the goal they set for themselves of generating 15% of the nation’s energy needs by renewable means by 2020, and many are calling for a more ambitious target.

Coming across the land bridge into Nova Scotia one is now greeted by a newly erected forest of huge wind turbines, and there are water turbines churning in the nearby waters of the Bay of Fundy, too.  Many more are in the works.

Although there is political strife in Canada, such as has boiled up in Quebec in recent months, there is none of the viperous, self-destructive attack politics that goes by the bland name of “the election year cycle” here in the States.  Politicians campaign on the issues rather than on smearing and sniping at each other. Voter turnout is about 60%, as compared to the dismal 40% in the U.S.

Why do so many people feel disengaged, disillusioned, and disgusted with politics here in the U.S.?  Why do we feel like no matter how we vote, our values will not be reflected in Washington?

Because it’s true.

I happen to believe that Barack Obama shares my values.  I believe he is a genuinely caring, ethical man who sincerely wants to create a country in which politicians collaborate rather than backstab each other; in which government and corporations serve the public good; in which the goal of economic activity is raising all boats, rather than creating a few luxury liners for the richest 1% of Americans.  I believe he’s a good man.

And yet, he has been unable to make a dent in politics as usual in Washington.  The Republicans have shown repeatedly that they are the party of the wealthy boardrooms of Big Business and Big Finance, and since they own so much of the news media, and so many think tanks, and so many political seats, including Supreme Court seats, well, they can do as they wish and everyone else be damned.

I have noticed a certain grim set to Obama’s jaw in the last year, as the reality of his fly-in-the-web position has sunk in.  He knows that even if he wins re-election, he will be foiled at every turn.  And it doesn’t help that it’s getting harder and harder for him to inspire his base—people like me who are beyond frustrated with the status quo, and no longer believe he and his team can make a change.

When I get those daily emails from Democratic headquarters pressing me to donate to the campaign (just $12!), and then I hear about how the Koch brothers are donating millions to the Romney campaign, the little sprout of hope that springs eternal in me just starts to wither.

Yes, if 100 million Americans donated $12 to Obama it would make a big difference.  But frankly I would rather see some savvy crowdsourcing through social media, with the goal less raising money to burn up on TV than getting more people out to the polls on election day, and empowering ordinary Americans to rise up and insist on real representation in Washington.

I am not interested in betting on the horse race.  I can’t sanction the wasteful spending of huge sums on campaigning, while our planet burns and billions of people are locked in poverty.

Romney will be bad—very, very bad—for the health of the environment and all living things, including humans.

He, and all the slimy bastards who prop him up, must be defeated.

But this battle is about much more than just one country’s Presidential race.  It’s about our future on this planet.  A vote for Romney is a vote for business as usual, and then some—drill, baby, drill.

Why is it that so many Americans are so suicidal?

Maybe we need some collective social therapy more than anything else.

It really does seem that as a nation, we are insane.

Never underestimate the value of JUST SHOWING UP

In response to “Beyond Occupy” in today’s NY Times:

Dear Bill Keller,

I was surprised and pleased to see that on your recent trip to India, you made time to talk with the social activist Anna Hazare–or at least, with a member of his team, since the great man himself, “exhausted by his latest hunger strike and weary of the media melodramas that have bedeviled his team,” had just “announced that he had taken an indefinite ‘vow of silence.’”

Obviously you didn’t think much of this as a tactic for activism, but you went ahead and talked to his associate, a woman, “Kiran Bedi, who battled for reforms as India’s first policewoman before joining Hazare.”

Despite this conversation, and despite the name of Hazare’s organization, Team Anna, you came away from this encounter with the impression that the movement is dependent on the personal charismatic leadership of Mr. Hazare.  You also noted approvingly that Hazare is “always very explicit about his objectives”–he makes specific, winnable demands.

You used this information to criticize the American Occupy movement for its “consensus-oriented and resolutely leaderless” character, and its stance as a “composite of idealistic causes, many of them vague.”

You also took the occasion to contrast the Occupy Wall Street movement, which you say is “scornful of both parties and generally disdainful of electoral politics,” with Team Anna, which “uses Indian democracy shrewdly” to advance its aims.  And while you say that the Occupy movement “has at least a strong undercurrent of anticapitalism,” the Indian movement of Hazare is, according to spokeswoman Bedi, “not anticapitalist,” but rather “pro-integrity.”

You ended your column by sticking it to the Occupy Wall Street crowd with a pithy zinger that I’m sure had you chuckling to yourself:

“I’m prepared to celebrate when the Occupiers…accomplish something more than organizing their own campsite cleanup, demonstrating their tolerance for tear gas, and distracting the conversation a little from the Tea Party. So far, the main achievement of Occupy Wall Street is showing up.”

Well, Mr. Former Executive Editor of the New York Times, I think you need to get over yourself and wipe that self-congratulatory smirk from your face.

You are among the 1% who “showed up” to be crucial cogs in the capitalist and electoral wheel that cranked us inexorably to where we are now, mired in an economic and political system so corrupt and so destructive that it has effectively locked out the millions of young people in this country who might have wanted to give American-style democracy and capitalism a chance.

Despite having covered the news for the past thirty years or so, you don’t seem to have realized that there are very few American dissenters today who can evade capture and imprisonment or even worse, assassination.  Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn got away with it.  Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Mumia, Peltier and even Tim DeChristopher have not.

The strength of the Occupy movement is precisely in its “resolutely leaderless” quality.  It’s also, as Slavoj Zizek perceptively noted recently, being strategic in not coming up with a unified “platform,” with planks that can be shot down by snipers from all sides.

Yes, the Occupy movement is suspicious of electoral politics.  That’s because it’s smart enough to figure out that if even someone as apparently idealistic and populist as Barack Obama enters the maw of American “democracy” and comes out zombified, the system itself is not worth trying to win. It has to be changed from the ground up.

And that’s what those resolute, leaderless people on the ground at Liberty Parks all over the country are out to do.  By just showing up, day after day, they slowly pull the Bill Kellers of the world out of their insulated comfort zones and into the conversation.

I may not like what Keller has to say, but I’m glad he’s talking about these issues, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to engage him in dialogue about what’s wrong with our society, and how we might go about making it better.

Never underestimate the power of a company of dedicated activists who JUST SHOW UP, day after day, to change the world. They just might be able to do it.

Let’s give them credit, let’s give them a chance, and let’s give them a hand!

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