America, land of the brain-damaged and debt-enslaved

Is it any surprise that we Americans treat animals and the natural world so badly, given the way we treat even our own cherished children?

This week there were two grim news stories illustrating the callousness of American society towards its young adults.

The first was a disturbing column by Nicholas Kristof revealing to the public what research scientists have known for a while: the skyrocketing rates of PTSD and suicide among young veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are due not to mental instability, but to the physical effects of repeated exposure to shock waves caused by bomb detonations.

The military is in the process of performing autopsies on veterans who committed suicide, and so far an alarming number of them have shown evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), a degenerative disease of the brain best known for affecting boxers and football players who endure repeated concussions.

“In people with C.T.E.,” writes Kristof, “an abnormal form of a protein accumulates and eventually destroys cells throughout the brain, including the frontal and temporal lobes. Those are areas that regulate impulse control, judgment, multitasking, memory and emotions.”

In other words, even young soldiers who return home physically intact may in fact be suffering from the hidden effects of shock wave concussions, which will destroy their lives over time; apparently the disease “typically develops in midlife, decades after exposure. If we are seeing C.T.E. now in war veterans, we may see much more in the coming years,” says Kristof.


Number two, we learned yesterday that the combined student debt in the United States reached $1 trillion. 

Occupy Wall Street demonstrators participating in a street-theater production wear signs around their neck representing their student debt during a protest against the rising national student debt in Union Square, in New York, April 25, 2012. The protest eventually marched to Wall Street; two people were arrested during the protest. REUTERS/Andrew Burton

I can’t even wrap my mind around a number that big, but one thing I can understand is that this is an egregious example of how we as a society are condemning our best and brightest young people to spending the best years of their lives in debt bondage to the banks.

For the wealthy, college and graduate school continue to serve as playgrounds for the young, a place to have fun, learn a few things and pair up before joining the family business.

For the rest of us, college is an essential step along the road to personal and professional success.  It’s not optional, and the price tag just keeps rising, while the ability of parents to pay for their children’s higher education keeps falling.

And so we find kids still in their teens signing loans for tens of thousands of dollars.  It is not uncommon for these kids to find themselves, just a few years later, with a B.A. and $200,000 worth of debt.

If you have ever tried to pay the interest on that much debt on a typical entry-level salary, you know that it’s nearly impossible.  Certainly it’s daunting to try to achieve the American dream—the car, the house, the spouse and two kids—with that kind of stranglehold of debt around your neck.


So this is the way we treat our precious children in America.

In a new twist on “friendly fire,” we send them to war without even realizing the longterm effects that our fancy new bombs will have on them.

And we blithely tell them that a) a college education is the only way to get ahead; and b) if you want one, you have to get in line at the loan office and spend the first 20 years of your working life paying off that interest.

There is something deeply, hauntingly wrong with this picture.

And you know what the worst thing is?  There is no widespread outrage about it!

If you are a young person, a parent, or any person with a conscience, you should be working furiously to end war and to end debt bondage for students.


Well, start by standing up and saying NO MORE!!!!

An urgent message for the global elites: change is coming, like it or not!

America’s ‘Primal Scream’ –

It’s always nice to wake up and see the very thoughts I was writing last night trumpeted in the Sunday Review of the NY Times.  Nick Kristof cites many of the same statistics I did to make his case that income inequality is not only real, but “a cancer on our national well-being.”  

But where he ends his column wondering whether the movement will persist “once Zuccotti Park fills with snow and the novelty wears off,” I believe things are only going to get more intense as we move into this winter of discontent.

For one thing, there’s climate change looming over us.  Check out today’s big story on the fact that this imperative issue has lost traction in the U.S., even as most of the rest of the world is moving aggressively to regulate carbon emissions and develop more sustainable technologies.

It seems that the elites driving our economy believe that we can continue our comfortable insulated ride in the plush American Caddy, and let the plebes outside the walls of our national gated community deal with the unpleasantness.

How quickly we forget the major blizzard in New York City last year, or Hurricane Irene bearing down on the whole East Coast.  Climate change is only going to intensify in the coming years unless we get serious about it fast.  The natural disasters it will cause will cost far more than action to curb emissions proactively.

Unlike Nick Kristof, I don’t believe our society has a choice about whether or not to change.  We will be changing, like it or not.  The question is, will we change in an orderly fashion, through regulation and innovation that puts the common good ahead of the greedy goals of the men behind the tinted windows of those chauffeured limousines?

To me, this is what the Occupy protests are about.  The 99% are sick and tired of shouldering all the costs of our industrial capitalist way of life–the debt bondage, the toxic chemicals making us sick, the decimation of our environment wreaking havoc with our climate, the fading of the American dream–while a few fat cats sit pretty on top of the heap and enjoy the spoils.

I have news for you, global elites.  You can’t escape the impartial justice of climate change.  You should have realized by now that you will reap what you sow: if you seed our agriculture, air and water with toxic chemicals, you and your children will get cancer just like the rest of us.  If you continue to deforest the Earth at the current rate, you too will be gasping for oxygen along with the poorest inhabitants of what used to be a boreal forest.

Hiding behind police barricades in your plate-glass towers will only get you so far.  In the long run, it’s no way to live.

Come on out into Liberty Plaza with the rest of us, and let’s work together for a better life for all–while there’s still time.

Can’t you just play nice?

It’s one of the most popular NY Times articles on Facebook this morning.  Yes, a bonafide Times columnist, Nick Kristof, finally went down to Liberty Plaza to interview the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

But what does he come back with?  A strong personal defense of capitalism as a philosophy (“I don’t share the antimarket sentiments of many of the protesters”), and a condescending pat on the head for the demonstrators, who, he says, don’t really know why they’re there (“Where the movement falters is in its demands: It doesn’t really have any”).

Let me help, Kristof suggests.  His advice, listed in neat bullet points in his column today, is nothing you haven’t heard before from various left-of-center sources.  Tax financial transactions, close tax loopholes, regulate banks more carefully.  Nothing wrong with these ideas for reform–though they’re not exactly galvanizing.

But what’s infuriating is the way the establishment, from reporters to editors to cops & the Mayor, is treating the protests as child’s play: a source of amused wink-winks, not to be taken too seriously.  Give them some finger-wags, accompanied if necessary by some wrist-slaps (or pepper-spray, or tricky mass-arrest scenarios), and they’ll go home.  Let’s all just play nice.

Well, was it playing nice to “allow” hundreds of protesters to gain access to the Brooklyn Bridge roadway, and then round them up like cattle and haul them off to jail?

Is it nice to continuously infantilize the movement by pretending that the people in Liberty Square don’t know why they’re there or what they stand for?

Why are they there? The 99% says it all. To protest the ever-widening income disparity in this country, and the lack of political or ideological support for change.

A protest song from the 1960s has been running around in my brain this week.  It’s called “It isn’t nice,” and it goes like this:

It isn’t nice to block the doorways/It isn’t nice to go to jail/There are nicer ways to do it/But the nice ways always fail/It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice/Well thank you buddy for your advice/But if that’s freedom’s price/We don’t mind, no no no, we don’t mind!

Give it a listen, and pass it along.

%d bloggers like this: