The Cabal Behind the Curtain

It’s hard to understand the kind of person who would be taken in by Mitt Romney’s absolutely unsubstantiated claims that he’ll be able to magically produce 23 million new jobs in the next four years, and raise take-home pay while he’s at it.

Do people really think Mitt is a magician?

Watching him struggle to appear mild-mannered and fangless during the debates—an effort that translated into a zombie-like smirk—I began to understand him as the puppet he is, a marionette whose strings are pulled by the cabal behind the curtain: the Koch brothers and their ilk, along with Big Fossil Fuel, Big Pharma, Big Chemical, Big Ag, Big Free Trade, Big Finance, you name it.

Now, it’s true that that gang has their tentacles in Obama too.  You can see the strain the President is under, trying to please his popular base while also keeping his pockets open for the big under-the-table donations that keep his campaign afloat.

Guys like the Kochs hedge their bets.  Whichever of the two parties wins, they’ll carry on just fine.

But if it’s Romney/Ryan, their agenda will take a great leap forward.

We’ll automate and outsource jobs like crazy, to satisfy Wall Street—the hell with Main Street.

We’ll drill and frack and mine and bulldoze our way to oblivion, and call it Kingdom Come.

We’ll appoint more social conservatives to the Supreme Court, and put women back where they belong: barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

We’ll drastically increase our military spending, at the expense of social welfare programs.  Those who dare to ask for help with affording health care, education, or retirement, not to mention simply being able to eat regularly and keep a roof overhead, will be asked coldly: Can’t you borrow from your parents?  Or, are there no workhouses?

Not only that, but the first thing we’ll do in office—day one!—is pick a fight with the Chinese over currency manipulation.

Yes, Obama is the better of the two choices, for all the reasons he has laid out himself during the Presidential debates.

We must re-elect him, and continue to work to strengthen the progressive movement over the next four years, so we don’t backslide in 2016.

But part of this work must be to stand up for true democracy in our supposedly democratic nation.

Stein and Honkala arrested outside Hofstra U on Oct 16

The detention of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala last week was reprehensible, and I am glad to see they are filing suit—at least that way more people will know what happened to them when they tried to enter Hofstra University to participate in the presidential debate there.

You wouldn’t know from reading the mainstream media that Stein and Honkala were taken by police to a secret detention facility and handcuffed tightly to metal chairs for eight hours, without being allowed to consult their lawyers or staff.

Thank goodness for Amy Goodman, who broke this story and has refused to let it die, broadcasting “alternative debates” on Democracy Now that give the other three candidates on the November ballot a chance to have their views heard on national television.

Goodman is a model for the kind of alert, engaged and impassioned citizenry we desperately need in the coming decade, when the economic and environmental challenges we face are going to be increasingly dire.

We don’t need more goon cops in riot gear to maintain order, we need more ordinary people taking the time and energy and yes, the risk, to stand up for our rights to a safe, sustainable future.

After we re-elect Obama, those of us who understand what is at stake need to get to work with redoubled energy on building a broad coalition of people who care about our future and are willing to lead the way in making the necessary changes to ensure that human civilization survives on this planet.

This is a struggle that concerns all of us: we need to work across ethnicities, across gender, and across nationalities to engage the young and the old, the faith-based groups, centrists and leftists, the elites and the working class.

We can’t let a few shortsighted, greedy, impossibly foolish billionaires hijack our future.  It’s ours to save—or to lose.

Enough Political Reality TV: Time to tune in to the planet

I tuned into the Democratic National Convention (DNC), thinking I’d catch a few minutes of the action before going to bed, and I was quickly entranced by the spectacle.

This, of course, is what political conventions are all about.  They’re a great primetime opportunity to dazzle the video-feed audience, and energize the base.

Deval Patrick

I enjoyed watching Deval Patrick, governor of my home state of Massachusetts, give a moving speech focusing on the right of all children to a good education.

I loved meeting a rising political star, Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, Texas, who was winningly introduced by his identical twin brother, state Representative Joachin Castro, currently running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Castro brothers are handsome, talented, and are buoyed by a classic American success story, coming from a poor background, working hard in school, winning scholarships to Stanford and Harvard Law, and moving on and up into politics.

Julian and Joaquin Castro

Who wouldn’t be charmed?

Michelle Obama

And then there was the woman we were all waiting for, First Lady Michelle Obama, looking tall, muscular, vigorous—and very beautiful.

Mrs. Obama was introduced not by a politico, but by an “ordinary woman,” a military mom with four sons serving in four different branches of the U.S. military, and a fifth still in high school, bound for the U.S. Coast Guard.  It was moving to hear her tell of how she had written to Michelle and been invited with her husband to the White House, to receive the Obamas’ thanks for the service their family provides to our country.

And it was moving to hear Michelle roll out the by-now familiar story of her humble family background, and how her parents’ hard work enabled her and her brother to go to college and on to graduate school, where she met Barack—himself a scholarship boy who chose to work as a community organizer in Chicago rather than take a high-paying job as a corporate lawyer in New York right out of law school.

Who wouldn’t enjoy hearing Michelle praise her husband as a father, a partner, and a dedicated professional, who truly cares about his country and ran for office not for the glory but because he believed he could make a positive difference?

I came away from the couple of hours of speeches with just the feel-good sensation the scriptwriters had worked so hard to achieve.

But that’s the problem.  It all felt too scripted.  Too perfect.  Too much like entertainment—maybe some kind of weird political reality TV show.

I didn’t watch the Republican National Convention, so I can’t compare and contrast the two, but from all I’ve read about it, it was more or less the same in form, if not in content.

The DNC emphasized the multicultural, hardworking, can-do ethos of the 99%, while the RNC emphasized the white-skinned, inherited-wealth, party-animal ethos of the 1%.

If those are my choices, I clearly belong with the Democrats.

But I can’t help but wonder what I’d see if the Green Party were able to have a  primetime convention opportunity like this.

Of course, the Greens probably wouldn’t even want to put on a big expensive consumerist circus typical of our American political conventions, so wasteful of energy and resources.

Stein and Honkala

Looking at the Green Party platform of Presidential hopeful Jill Stein and her running mate Cheri Honkala, it’s clear that  the Green Party would not just talk about personal rags-to-riches stories of success, but about the structural barriers that keep the 99%–or at least, let’s say, the bottom 50% of our population—locked in generational cycles of poverty and unfulfilled promise.

They would not just repeat the monotonous mantra of jobs creation, but would talk about the most daunting issues facing us today.

The tsunami of climate change that is like the elephant in the room of American politics.

What good will a better K-12 education or the promise of a job be if our climate becomes so compromised that food shortages become rampant?

I want to hear a politician talk candidly about the stranglehold that the chemical companies and the fossil fuel industry currently has on our children’s future on this planet.

I want to hear a politician who is not afraid to talk about the effects we can expect from the rapid melting of the ice packs at the poles.

A politician who is committed to building local resiliency, rather than continuing the death march down the road to globalization, which benefits only the corporate elite and the finance wizards who serve them.

Is Jill Stein that politician?

I wish I knew.  The problem is that I have to work pretty hard to find out what she’s all about.  And that makes me worry that she, and the party behind her, just don’t have the strength to compete in our political gladiators’ ring.

Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that we are not going to find a political messiah who can part the seas and lead us to safety.

No one person, or even one party, can do that.

We individuals have to assume responsibility for our collective, interdependent future, and begin working harder in our own spheres, where we can have the most impact.

It matters who sits in the White House.  I believe the Obamas should get another four years, and hopefully a saner Congress to work with as well.

But it matters just as much what we do in our own states, cities and towns, with or without federal aid.

Mayor Castro and the Governor Patrick and Michelle Obama have been remarkable for working hard to make a difference at the local level.

Thanks to Michelle’s efforts, my son now has a mandated healthier lunch, with no sugary drinks or white bread allowed.

Governor Patrick continues to stand by our Massachusetts state health care program, one of the best in the nation (instituted under Mitt Romney, who now, to please his billionaire buddies, disavows it).

Massachusetts is working on alternative energy sources like wind and solar, with incentives for local municipalities and individuals to convert.

We need to continue to build community resilience and mutual support as we move into the brave new world that awaits us.

It is the only way we are going to make it through the coming climate-driven catastrophes.

We’ve got two more nights of DNC speeches ahead.  Is anyone going to acknowledge the climate elephant in the room, move us out of the polished entertainment arena and speak frankly to us about what’s ahead, and how to pull together to get through it?

Love in the end times

The political horserace in American politics has begun, with both Presidential candidates running full-tilt but ponderously towards each other like armored knights on horseback, wielding the lances of millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads and backed up by slick, smart campaign pages.

Meanwhile, it continues to be hot, hotter and unbearably hot here in the Northeast.  It was a blessing to wake up this morning to a brief soaking rain, breaking weeks of drought.

But there is no way to fool myself into hoping that things will go back to normal, weather-wise.

As many people have been saying lately, this is the new normal.

Just as we’ve gotten used to a political climate in which it’s normal for a Presidential candidate to hide his tax returns, refuse to comment on moving his millions into off-shore tax havens, and totally repudiate everything he once stood for in order to lick the shoes of his political bosses, we’re going to have to get used to a climate that lurches from one extreme to another–from blizzards to heat waves, from floods to droughts.

Those extremes also characterize the new economic normal.  These days, I’m having trouble convincing myself that the global economy that has been built up over my lifetime, since the end of World War II, is ever going to be able to function in such a way as to provide security and prosperity for the majority of the world’s people.

Maybe it never did.  There has always been a vast underclass of the disenfranchised, for whom globalization was just another name for displacement, oppression and exploitation.

The difference is that now we’re seeing a huge spike in the ranks of the poor right in the heart of what used to be called the First World—right in our backyards.

For a middle-class earner like me, it is getting harder and harder to make ends meet, and there are no substantial raises or bonuses in sight.

For the millions who are unemployed or under-employed or scraping by with under-the-table jobs in the informal economy, this new normal has got a distinctly  Dust Bowl feel to it.

Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala

The Occupy encampments have faded away, victims perhaps of effective police surveillance, infiltration and undermining.  The only Presidential candidate who has any new ideas to offer about improving the economy is the one we never see or hear on prime time, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, along with her running mate Cheri Honkala.

Most people aren’t saying much about the panic that runs like a live wire through their interior lives.

We are trying to enjoy this hot summer in the usual ways: going to the beach, having barbecues with friends and family, taking in a nice air-conditioned movie now and then.

But every once in a while a voice will break through our heat-addled stupor, crying to us to Wake up, wake up, before it’s too late!!

So, for example, we hear marine scientist Roger Bradbury shouting out from the Opinion Pages of the New York Times today, telling us to pay attention now, in these crucial last years before the planet’s entire coral reef ecosystem collapses, setting off a chain reaction of events that may very well include the starvation of millions of people, particularly in the tropics, who depend on the ocean for food.

Bleached coral

“Overfishing, ocean acidification and pollution are pushing coral reefs into oblivion,” Bradbury says. “What we will be left with is an algal-dominated hard ocean bottom, as the remains of the limestone reefs slowly break up, with lots of microbial life soaking up the sun’s energy by photosynthesis, few fish but lots of jellyfish grazing on the microbes. It will be slimy and look a lot like the ecosystems of the Precambrian era, which ended more than 500 million years ago and well before fish evolved.”

Bradbury advocates “an enormous reallocation of research, government and environmental effort” towards the “ecological engineering” necessary “to make the economic structural adjustment that communities and industries that depend on coral reefs urgently need.”

Even though Bradbury aims to be pragmatic and forward-thinking with his wake-up call, I still wonder if he’s living in a dream world.

Governments and the United Nations can’t even agree on basic protocols to begin to cut carbon emissions and pump up our renewable energy industries.  They don’t appear to give a damn about the hundreds of millions of poor, hand-to-mouth folk who are already being hard hit by climate change pressures, and they are not even willing to act when it comes to trying to assure the safe passage of the elites into the Anthropocene, air conditioners and all.

What should we be doing in these end times?  Where should we be putting our energies?

Not in the political side show of the Presidential race.

Not in the mindless distractions of our media-saturated cultural environment.

No, I believe we need to do two things above all as the world warms and our precious days of “normal” existence come to a close.

One: stay close to friends and family; strengthen the bonds of community.  We will be needing each other more than ever in the times ahead.

Two: Try to stay in the present moment as much as possible.  We humans are very good at casting our minds forward into the future, but in this case, the scenarios are only going to be pushing our panic buttons.  It’s important to stay calm and focused.

Tend the parts of the earth you can reach.  Keep your love flowing.

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