This really happened. In the eighth grade, prodded by Ms. Spiver, an enthusiastic teacher with an enlightened vision for an open classroom, I had the opportunity to research different governing systems. I chose communism because the name sounded cool and appeared to frighten everyone. I read about Marx and Lenin and the proletariat of the state and the main idea which I glommed was to ensure everyone’s basic needs were met. This seemed grand, generous and even beautiful. I quoted the Encyclopedia Britannica at length, and with a flourish, scribbled out three pages in long hand, ending the paper with a makeshift version of the iconic hammer and sickle.
I thought Ms. Spiver would be proud.
The next day I was called into a parent/teachers conference. This was in Raleigh, North Carolina circa 1976 when the rabid anti-communist Senator Jesse Helms graced the Channel six news editorial spot which my father listened to every. single. night.
Ms. Spiver was all ‘tender mercies!’ and ‘Lord child!’ and ‘where did you get such ideas?’ and I wasn’t sure if she was as concerned about my paper and my education as the possibility that Mr. Creigh, who substituted as an insurance agent on days when he wasn’t playing the principal, might take serious offense. But I explained, and even defended as best I could the idea of equality, and everyone getting what they needed, these all seemed like fine goals. What was the problem? Ms. Spiver, to her credit, did not try to correct my initial interpretation, but merely advised that my opinion on the matter was somewhat out of step with the adult population of Raleigh, North Carolina circa 1976. Mom and dad ushered me home, silent in their Buick. Dad finally parked the car in the lot and turned and proceeded to give me the low down. “Communists are bad because they represent a totalitarian system. They don’t allow freedom. You understand?”
I nodded my head.
“Okay.” That sounded like something to avoid. And the tone in my father’s voice was enough for me to forget my flirtation with alternate political systems until high school when we began looking at the social democratic governments, and I found myself once again intrigued by the idea that a government would be based on people getting what they absolutely needed; regardless of their jobs, social stations or life situations.
Denmark, Finland, Sweden, England, to a lesser extent, Germany and Spain. If all these countries pursued such programs, why didn’t we?
My father, with the patience of Job, once again explained what he thought should have been obvious.
“What if I just gave you a dollar every week instead of letting you earn a dollar by mowing the lawn? Hmmmm?”
“I’d have a dollar but I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn.”
Yes, he conceded, okay, but that’s not the point. The point is if you give people something for nothing they’ll take advantage of it. Like all those welfare queens.
By this time, Ronald Reagan was running for high office and was denouncing shady welfare queens that rode around in Cadillacs and bought caviar with tax payer’s money. This activity rankled the hell out of Jesse Helms who never missed an opportunity to denounce the welfare moochers.
Do you want to be a welfare queen?
I decidedly did not want to be a welfare queen. I gathered from my father’s tone that I was not supposed to like the idea of riding around in a Cadillac, eating caviar at the tax payers’ expense, no matter how much fun it might appear.
By the time I entered college, Reagan was in his second term. Taxes had been slashed and the poorer residents of mental homes were dumped onto the city streets. Despite the loss of tax revenue, billions were being funneled into such patently absurd pursuits as an armed space shield; a so called ‘star wars’ shield that would provide cover for the Western Hemisphere by shooting down missiles aimed to blow up our cities. Since there were none and since billions were being funneled into a useless and unworkable program while the homeless and mentally handicapped were left to fend for themselves, (many times I stood in line with them at the local 7-Eleven), I wrote a few college paper editorials suggesting this kind of activity was ill-advised. I proudly signed my name.
My college Spanish teacher, a middle aged Cuban exile, caught up with me one day.
“I have read what you have written,” she whispered, “You are part of this nuclear freeze movement, too, no?”
“Yes.” I said. Sure I was. Who wouldn’t be opposed to nuclear weapons lying around waiting to obliterate the world 200 times over?
“Are you a communista?”
Of course I wasn’t a communista! What had that to do with the nuclear freeze movement? But, for her, the nuclear freeze movement was loaded with fellow travelers and communist sympathizers and what not. I tried to ease her mind by telling her I wasn’t a communist, closer to a democratic socialist, really. This did not appear to help matters.
“You know I come from Cuba. There, when Castro came to power, he forced my family into exile. We had a mansion and servants in Cuba, but when I came to this land, I had to cut my hair and sell it, just to survive. Can you imagine?”
I really couldn’t. “So you were very rich,” I said, “That must have been nice.”
“They stole everything!”
“Right. But now Cuba has much better infant mortality and death rates. It has one of the best medical systems even by Western standards. Cuban doctors help poor people all over the world.”
“So you are a communista!”
“No, I’m not. If I’m anything, I’m a social democrat, like in Finland.”
“It’s the same.”
“No, they’re really different.”
And so I went on to explain to her that one could be a social democrat without falling in lockstep with state run economies like in Cuba or the Soviet Union. In fact, one of the best examples of social democracy operates as the capitalist heart of Europe: Germany. “They have what they like to refer to as a social market economy. They try to combine the virtues of a market system with the virtues of a social welfare system. You can get a free education, even free higher education, free healthcare and free retirement. Some of your basic essentials are guaranteed by the government, but other stuff, like where you work or what you make is dictated by a private sector economy. Of course, you pay taxes for these things, but the government operates to redistribute the money so it benefits everyone. That is social democracy in a nutshell.”
“It will never work,” she advised me, predicting Germany’s downfall by the end of the decade.
That was 1987. Germany’s still around. It’s 2015. Germany still provides free healthcare, free retirement and free higher education and it is still one of the strongest economies in Europe. Our economy, conversely, is dogged by huge gaps of inequality, a dysfunctional healthcare system moderately improved by the ACA, insanely expensive higher education costs, and a retirement system whose paltry offerings are even now threatened by reactionary politicians. Our incarceration rate is the highest in the world. Our homicide rate is one of the highest. Our infant mortality rate is higher than Cuba’s and is comparable to Serbia. You read that right, Serbia. None of these things are natural or necessary. They are by design because we refuse to grow up like the rest of the civilized Western world and insist on the fairy tale version of capitalism that doesn’t require any funding for public infrastructure or social services beyond the absolute bare essentials. The only thing we want to pour money into is our vastly over sized military which has caused many more problems in the last few decades than it has solved.
The majority of the Western industrialized world embraces some form of socialized democracy. In our own country the most successful government programs are inherently socialized: Medicare, Social Security. And, of course, our own Defense Department is an almost entirely socialized bureaucracy. We have patches of socialism all over the place, but the rightwing has done an excellent job demonizing the term. In fact, the last time someone claiming to be a socialist ran for President was nearly a 100 years ago. His name was Eugene V. Debs. He famously said when he was convicted of violating the Sedition Act in 1918, that “while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” Ringing words that beautifully encapsulate a social democrat’s world view.
It’s become increasingly obvious that a strictly free market agenda is disastrous for a people and an economy. One only need look at Kansas under Brownback’s ideological leadership. The state’s surplus has been turned into a catastrophic black hole of debt through a combination of tax cuts for the wealthiest and slashing of public funds. One could see the same disastrous pile up under George W. Bush’s leadership.
The Spanish teacher who accused me of being a communist told me that I needed to ‘grow up.’ The nice thing about Bernie Sanders candidacy is that it is already grown up. It assumes responsibility for everyone in the nation, not just those that manage to make the cover of Forbes. He has tirelessly advocated for the poor and the underclass and, unlike the vast majority of American politicians, assumes it’s okay to travel coach class. But don’t take it from me that Sanders knows what he’s talking about or that social democracy is a mature governing principle. Take it from that flagship of capitalism, the Economist. In a 2013 article, that magazine declared the social democratic Scandinavian countries, “probably the best governed in the world.”
So there’s no need to carry on with this charade that the ‘socialist’ option cannot win. We can. Actually, in many areas, we already have. Si, se puede, baby. The only real question is, how soon before the rest of us grow up?
A day earlier it would have been April Fool’s day and everyone would have understood the McCutcheon decision that recently came down from the Supreme Court was a joke. Now, it’s still a joke, only no one is laughing.
How bad is it? Striking down the aggregate limits will flood our political system with new cash, but the seven-figure checks will go directly to candidates instead of super PACs. Without aggregate limits, one candidate, through the use of joint fundraising committees, can solicit contributions of more than $3.6 million from a single donor. For the record, $3.6 million is more than 70 times the median family income in America. Effectively one person will have the ‘voice’ of 70. This isn’t free speech, of course, it’s very expensive speech, and those with large bankrolls will continue to wield unwarranted influence throughout our political structure—only now it will be legal.
In the romantic version of our culture, we like to think that the United States will eventually get it right, but our nation has spent a long time maintaining income inequality and allowing our politics to reflect a kind of infantile belief in the ultimate goodness of aggregate cash. Steinbeck once famously said that there are no poor people in this country, only temporarily embarrassed millionaires, which at least explains the voting patterns of red states whose dire poverty levels should make them keen on redistribution, but who, inevitably, side with the wealthiest members of our society that so delicately place the boot upon their throat.
The justices—at least the five who voted out this decision—have no such conflict. They appear to earnestly approve of our growing plutocracy. “What world are the five conservative Supreme Court justices living in?” asked US Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. “To equate the ability of billionaires to buy elections with ‘freedom of speech’ is totally absurd. The Supreme Court is paving the way toward an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will control our political process.”
McCutcheon, of course, has partnered with the Republican National Committee to bring this case before the Supreme Court, and fittingly, the Republican worldview is the ultimate winner. The message from the bench is pretty clear: if you want to have a voice in our society, become a millionaire. For those not lucky enough or ruthless enough to acquire wads of extra cash, your voice will be drowned to a whisper, and your wishes and needs will be addressed if and when they align with the needs of your friendly neighborhood Robber Baron.
Ari Berman writing in The Nation notes that the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are also the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1 percent in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else.
From the Nation magazine, consider these stats from Demos on the impact of Citizens United in the 2012 election:
“• The top thirty-two Super PAC donors, giving an average of $9.9 million each, matched the $313.0 million that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from all of their small donors combined—that’s at least 3.7 million people giving less than $200 each.
• Nearly 60 percent of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. More than 93 percent of the money Super PACs raised came in contributions of at least $10,000—from just 3,318 donors, or the equivalent of 0.0011 percent of the US population.
• It would take 322,000 average-earning American families giving an equivalent share of their net worth to match the Adelsons’ $91.8 million in Super PAC contributions.
That trend is only going to get worse in the wake of the McCutcheon decision.
Now consider what’s happened since the Shelby County decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act: eight states previously covered under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act have passed or implemented new voting restrictions (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina). That has had a ripple effect elsewhere. According to the New York Times, “nine states [under GOP control] have passed measures making it harder to vote since the beginning of 2013.”
So we live in a country that expands the rights of the wealthy and powerful to dominate the political process, but does not protect fundamental rights for all citizens to vote. We live in a country that applies a legal veneer to this duality under the ridiculous assertion of “free” speech, or conversely voter ‘fraud’ (where none exists). Dos Passos said this years ago in his epic USA trilogy and I’ll pass it along as a reminder to those temporarily embarrassed millionaires: “America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have turned our language inside out, who have taken the clean words our fathers spoke and made them slimy and foul.”
The legal wrangling at the Supreme Court obfuscates what’s happening on the streets of this country, so it’s past time to speak plainly again. We can start where Dos Passos ends: “all right we are two nations.”
This strife among ourselves wastes our energy and destroys our unity. My message to those of you involved in this battle of brother against brother is this: Take your guns, your knives, and your pangas, and throw them into the sea! ~Nelson Mandela
When I was 25 in 1985, I took a course in South African political culture and current affairs. The general consensus at that time, at least among my professors, was that the lower third of Africa was headed inexorably towards murderous race war, probably within the next decade. The Reagan administration had no interest in mediating the situation and, in fact, tacitly supported the apartheid government in South Africa and its satellite in Rhodesia. South Africa had a nascent nuclear capability and a VERY well-armed white populous as well as a highly trained professional army and an extensive and brutal internal police apparatus. The African nationalists including the ANC had plenty of guns of their own, vastly superior numbers, time and moral authority. On the periphery, the Soviets, the CIA, the Israelis and the Organization of African Unity to name just a few, were all sniffing around. In the townships, a state of constant, low-level rebellion existed with civilians being killed on a daily basis either by a vicious police force or a murderous vigilante opposition. It seemed as if every night on the news there were more images of police massacres and the aftermath of “necklacing”. The Afrikaners were trying (and largely succeeding) to buy out the Zulus and make side deals with the mixed race half-casts who had marginally better rights than the blacks. The Communist wing of the ANC was threatening a full-scale reorganization of society if they took power and everyone knew that there was going to be a bloodbath in those circumstances. Would the US and Europe stand by if the Afrikaners lost and a black on white genocide began? Would the rest of the African continent and the US and Europe stand by if white South Africans won and sought to extend and intensify their own longstanding policy of ethnic and racial cleansing? If outside powers were seen to take a hand, would the Soviets get more involved, maybe through their client state Mozambique? After all, there are few places in the world of more strategic importance than the Cape. Southern Africa is a veritable treasure chest full of strategic materials like chromium, aluminum, beryllium, cobalt, diamonds and gold among other things. Many nations might be tempted to intervene for any number of reasons and a much larger and more general continental war was likely to start from a localized apartheid war. The Afrikaner administrations of Botha and later DeClerk were desperately looking for a way to step down from this precipice, ideally with their white supremacy intact, but there were few credible takers.
In the mid eighties, across Europe and the US, young people on college campuses began agitating for their schools and for major corporations to divest themselves of South African investments (I am proud to be one of those students), this threatened the last real connection the South African economy had with the West, and the Afrikaners understood that Reagan wouldn’t be there forever to protect them and Israel alone wasn’t much of a trading partner. The most militant elements on both the Afrikaner and Pan-African and Black Nationalist sides were ready and willing to kick this thing off, and I for one saw little chance that this could end in anything other than war waged on a map as big as the US with millions of civilians trapped in the middle.
Into this mess stepped Nelson Mandela, a man in the midst of his third decade of captivity, a man who had been tortured and abused, often in solitary confinement for as long as I had been alive. South African leader F. W. DeClerk deserves his share of the Nobel Peace Prize he and Mandela were awarded later for seeing the writing on the wall and choosing peace over war, but it is Mandela who shines. He brokered a peaceful transition to majority rule that convinced whites to largely remain in the country of their birth and keep the wheels of the economy turning, and convinced blacks to hold their rage in check and begin building a positive multiracial society. He did this through a brilliant political acumen and masterful diplomatic skill, but also in large part it seems through the power of his personal character and integrity. He had the credibility born through hardship and sacrifice among his colleagues in the ANC. This allowed him the room to negotiate with DeClerk. He had the gravitas and sense of the moment needed for the Afrikaners to take him seriously as a partner.
South Africa is not perfect and neither was Mandela, I am sure. The nation today has a terrible AIDS epidemic, and a generation later many blacks have yet to see much economic progress for themselves or their families. The ANC leaders who have come after Mandela are lesser men and they are prone to the kind of mortal weaknesses that apparently didn’t affect the great man, but one has only to look North to Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) to see the way things might have gone if not for the smooth transition in the south. While Zimbabwe limps along on the verge of becoming a failed state still ripped by racial and class resentment on all sides, the nation Mandela built continues to nurture the seeds necessary to one day become an international powerhouse like Brazil or India.
What has happened in South Africa is still something of a miracle to me, and Mandela was the catalyst. He will of course be compared to Gandhi and MLK and there are clearly many similarities and cross-references, but perhaps the most striking and gratifying difference to me is that Nelson Mandela died in his bed at the ripe old age of 95 in a largely peaceful region of the world that he primarily made, not a martyr for whom we can only speculate as to what he might have done, but as a beloved and respected leader who served his nation and mankind to the fullest of his capacities.
When I was a young man, that part of the world looked set to explode. Because he lived and because he could put aside the wrongs done to him and his people, that never happened. We’ll never know just how bad it could have gotten. His strength gave others the strength to forgive while not forgetting; and for that the world owes Nelson Mandela a massive debt of gratitude.
~ Scott Price, APV President
There’s a certain perverse pleasure in waiting to see what disastrous policy initiatives Republicans can develop, like watching a Jerry Lewis movie. You enjoy the unwinding disasters, almost in disbelief, just waiting to see how bad it can get. Attempting to repeal Obamacare for the 50th time, for example, when we come in dead last for healthcare outcomes among all developed nations…. That’s something, really. It requires a kind of supreme lack of imagination. We endure the worst rates of heart disease, lung disease, obesity, and diabetes among all the developed nations on Earth. We are last in positive outcomes, but we spend the most–outstripping all rivals in flushing money down the insurance toilet without any actual return on investment (or ROI, as the smart MBA kids like to say). So the natural conclusion for the conservative movement is to repeal anything that would correct that situation, right? All this might suggest that the right doesn’t actually care about outcomes, or maybe it’s some unfathomably clever political ploy. Like how, every six months or so, they actively seek to plunge our economy back into an ice bath by holding the debt ceiling hostage. Or again, maybe it’s just the right gone wild in their usual productive cycle of ginning fake outrage over fake scandals (Benghazi! IRS!) and destroying any attempt at a sane economic policy which, I have to admit, is par for the course. After all, our band of antediluvian brothers’ idea of economic progress is to repeal the minimum wage.
Yet, there are moments when even a cynic must pause. Ten years ago, for example, would anyone have wagered that our Supreme Court would gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act, invalidating section four and opening the way for conservatives to pass some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country? Within 2 hours of that court decision, Texas arranged a voter ID law and redistricting map both of which were blocked in previous years for their discriminatory tendencies against blacks and Latinos. It’s not like this should have come as a surprise, either. The Texas Republican Party’s 2012 platform specifically called for the repeal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The only people who didn’t see it coming, apparently, were the five Justices who concurred in the decision to gut the act. One must conclude they were willfully blind to reality, or criminally stupid, or, more likely, they were perfectly aware of the outcome, and that’s precisely why they formed their decision.
This brings us to an interesting question. Suppose the recent antics of the right aren’t just gross stupidity, poor analysis, or general loss of contact with reality? But, rather– it’s opposite. Suppose it is simply this: the right is actively seeking to disenfranchise millions of citizens to retain political power, keep sick people from adequate health care to ensure continued profits for a dysfunctional healthcare system, and weaken the middle class and labor movements so that big business–their primary constituent–can avail themselves of cheap labor in perpetuity.
If the latter is true, then maybe the activists in North Carolina have it right. The Reverend Barber and the NAACP have developed a sustained protest dubbed “Moral Monday” in reaction to anti-abortion legislation, voter suppression laws and cuts in public school teacher pay the conservatives of their state have enacted. Thousands have showed up at the North Carolina state house throughout the summer. Five thousand activists alone showed up in Asheville, North Carolina on Monday, August 5th. Close to a thousand have been arrested over the course of the summer in acts of civil disobedience.
“This is no momentary hyperventilation and liberal screaming match,” Reverend Barber told AP. “This is a movement.”
Indeed, it is. And with the racists-gone-wild antics of the right in Arizona, singing “Bye Bye Black Sheep,” outside one of President Obama’s speeches and carrying signs reading, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”, maybe it’s time to consider a nation wide “Moral Monday.”
After all, if the right isn’t entirely divorced from reality, their motives aren’t hard to decipher. Why gut the middle class economy, destroy any attempt at healthcare policy, restrict women’s rights, mock a black President and– a local note– plant a Confederate Flag just south of Richmond, Virginia (home of the ex-Confederacy, where millions of slaves were brought to be auctioned off to the highest bidder a little over 150 years ago) unless that is exactly what you’re seeking? To turn the clock back to that sunny time when blacks slaved like raisins in the sun, and poor whites were tenant farmers eking out a hard life’s wage, half of which went to pay their landlord? Sans any government protection, much less ‘healthcare’….This, after all, is the essence of the Confederacy, and, at bottom, the essence of the right-wing laissez faire economic model. It would not be the first time in human history that we’ve taken a step or two back.
Some folks might say I am exaggerating, because outside of a government predicated on a wealthy elite’s supremacy, the destruction of the middle class, the elimination of social services and the return of institutions that look and act like slavery or tenant farming, would the right-wing agenda really be all that bad?
I’m glad you asked, because even if we were to accept the feudal living arrangements the far right’s economic agenda promises, there is one other area where they would actually prove worse. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 30 Texas towns are about to run out of water due to global warming induced droughts, and– wait for it — fracking. Why? Because fracking uses water humans need to survive. The oil and gas industries are draining Texas of water in order to break up the earth so that oil may be extracted to produce gas that runs cars that lead to global warming which further exacerbates the lack of water … that humans need to survive.
The oil and gas industries consider the cost of this degradation–that is, the draining of Texas’ aquifers so that humans have nothing to drink–an ‘externality’ (another word those smart MBA kids love); and to the extent that they think about them at all, most of the humans in Texas are probably also considered externalities, as are their children and their children’s children, etc… Except the fetuses, naturally. That’s just the way the far right rolls.
We could put this another way, of course. We could talk about the human cost of such a far right economic model that reduces humans to a plus or minus on a ledger sheet. We could suggest that, as humans, strictly speaking, we cannot drink oil, and we cannot eat money.
Barnhart, Texas has already run dry. Moral Monday, anyone?
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With your help, we can turn up the volume on the progressive voice being heard at local, state and national levels. Each new APV member adds to our impact and strengthens our efforts to educate and influence the public, the media and elected officials about the progressive issues that matter to us all.
APV is an all volunteer, not-for-profit organization working to promote basic, common sense progressive values: economic fairness, social justice, and good government.
Among many other ongoing projects, APV currently directs task forces in Women’s Reproductive Rights, Clean Energy and the Environment, Sustainable Agriculture and the Food Supply, as well as fighting Voter Suppression and promoting Clean Elections.
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Other valuable information from our Public Policy Director, Victoria Bragunier, our Board of Directors, our Lobbying Support Group and the leaders of other projects, is posted on our website and our Fan page. In cooperation with other progressive groups, APV keeps members well-informed about concerning trends and pending legislation, as well as last-minute developments that need immediate attention. Members also receive regular news letters and highlights from our president, Scott Price.
Here’s our last newsletter, a year-end wrap-up of APV’s action!
And that’s not all. APV’s monthly Salons are great, too! In Richmond, on the second Monday of each month, APV invites members and guests to a casual, after work get-together at Helen’s Restaurant at 2527 West Main Street for a complimentary light dinner (cash bar for wine, cocktails and beer).
There, we have guest speakers, lively discussions and lots of member input, all of which strengthen our resolve and prove to be a lot of fun. But you should come and see for yourself. Please join us. We’d love to meet you and you can talk with APV staff and other members about issues APV is working on.
As you may know, APV is a growing, well-respected and wonderfully active group, and we truly depend on our many fully engaged and energetic volunteers – members and staff alike. But we also know that some people do not have the time or ability to extend themselves more actively. When you become a member of APV, please know that you’re in good company, and that we appreciate your support and your membership regardless of other participation or active service you may want to offer. All levels of engagement are welcome!
Simply put, we need you. The other side has an enormous amount of money and a dedicated and aggressive base. They won’t give up no matter how badly their policies fail us, or how much damage they do to our country. I think we’ve all realized that by now, and that’s why we fight! The Alliance for Progressive Values is here to stay. We’re gaining strength and we’re in this battle for the long run, so please give us your support and help us in any way you can.
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“That’s so ugly, isn’t it? That plastic bag stuck in the tree?”
“Yes, it really is a shame. Those bags get stuck in the trees in our park all the time.”
“Did you know that plastic bags are made with petroleum products?”
“No, I never thought about it before.”
… and there’s my opening. The conversation begins. 😉
No one likes to see plastic bags stuck in the trees of our parks, washing down our storm sewers, stuck to the exhaust pipes of our cars, or stinking until they shred, sloshing in the tides, visible and unsightly during our visits to the beach. When I have exhausted every other way to hold a conversation with someone who opposes my politics, we can always agree that those ‘tree bags’ are an eyesore. It’s a fail-safe opportunity for me to introduce a conversation about how plastics have really invaded our culture, and how plastic contributes, not only to the depletion of fossil fuels, but to the demise of our marine life as well.
Next, I ask them if they have ever heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s a concentration of plastic and other man-made sludge, estimated to be about twice the size of Texas (so far) and located north of the North Pacific Gyre. It’s driven and held in place by oceanic and wind currents. There are several garbage patches in our oceans, the Pacific being the largest of them.
The plastic and trash enter our waterways by storm sewer outlets, ocean vessel dumping, and various other methods. As it begins to photo-degrade, the plastics are reduced to smaller pieces (some microscopic), and the reduction becomes a toxic soup. The chemicals are consumed by fish, whales and dolphins, among other ocean life, and eventually it kills them. Birds that feed in ocean waters are also victims of the plastic garbage piles. We see their decomposed bodies on the shoreline. All that’s left is some feathers, a pile of bones, and … plastic.
(Here’s a great ABC News Video about it – Disposable Island)
This conversation evokes sympathy from just about everyone. Once I have touched on the dead marine and bird life, I throw in a fact that brings them back home. I ask if they’ve ever heard of method products inc., an eco-friendly company whose products are sold in many high-traffic variety stores. Though it doesn’t claim to be a “green” company, their brand is easily recognized by average shoppers. The method company collects plastic trash from the beaches of Hawaii and elsewhere, and recycles it to create the packaging for their cleaning products. Hopefully, I’ve given my conversation partner a thought or two about using more eco-friendly products.
Then, back to the bigger picture.
“You know, it’s really a shame that we produce so many plastics anyway. They use up much of the oil that we seem to find so precious these days.” That’s when I drop the F-bomb on them – FRACKING.
“Have you ever heard of fracking?” I find many people who are unaware of it, or at least the devastating environmental and health effects that result from it. I tell them about the studies and consequences of the hydraulic fracturing process – everything from man-made earthquakes to flammable “drinking” water from a kitchen faucet. We discuss the impact of Fracking on the people who live in surrounding communities, like cancer and brain lesions! These studies indicate a need for strict regulation: “There have been over 1000 reports of contaminated groundwater since fracking began, and studies also link the extraction process to polluted air, disease and death in farm animals and wildlife in addition to humans. It is also connected to the increase in earthquake activity. Doctors have come out against fracking; it’s been banned in New Jersey, and other states are considering banning it.”
At this point, I am usually met with an incredulous, “Well, that doesn’t seem right!”
“I know!” I agree with them, and then I move to the most important part of the conversation. We need safety regulations, but lobbyists from oil companies, chemical companies and others, such as Halliburton, have swayed legislators who have exempted the process of hydraulic fracturing from some of our key federal environmental laws. “That’s why we have to keep corporations from having undue influence over our government and legislators. We need to reverse the Citizens United decision – you know?”
I have found some people who don’t know about the Citizens United decision or how it’s affecting our nation. I explain the Supreme Court’s ruling and that as a result, corporations now contribute to political interests without identifying themselves or disclosing their donations to the public. These massive donations, PACs and corporate lobbying groups have strong influence over our politicians, and ultimately our laws. They also pour money into media outlets and run dubious ads that influence voter’s choices. Because of the Citizens United decision, the voice of the American people has been pushed nearly out of the democratic process.
I invite them to write to their legislators about fracking and about overturning the Citizens United ruling, and mention that they can go to APV’s website, and use our link to identify their legislators. At that point, I can end the conversation without ever having spoken the words Republican or Democrat, and, yet, we are united in thought!
“Hey, can you give me a hand to get this plastic bag out of the tree? Thanks!”
Bravo! and thanks to APV board member, Rhonda Hening, for contributing this thoughtful post, and for her continuous devotion and active support for so many of the progressive issues confronting us today.
This Tuesday may be the most important election of the new century. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker with the backing of extraction billionaires David and Charles Koch is matched against Tom Barrett who has been raising funds locally and whom the DNC has refused to financially support. In some ways it’s an obvious David and Goliath struggle. The DNC should be funding this to at least approach parity with what the Republicans and surrogates are spending on Walker. But they are not. They are not spending a dime even though Wisconsin was the home of the progressive movement in the 19th Century. In fact, without Wisconsin, our nation’s 20th century would have looked radically different-probably closer to China’s, with no viable unions, no decent labor laws or protections and consequently no worker rights. I don’t think I’m overstating the matter by saying a victory by Scott Walker in Wisconsin will put that all in play once again. Why isn’t the DNC leading on this? Where is Barrack Obama? Can money obviate everything for the Democrats, even the very heart of their own base? This is not a trivial question.
In Tom Barrett’s last debate performance he called Walker a liar (he is one) and said point-blank that the man is about dismantling labor unions as viable entities across the state (which he is doing). He argued that Walker was treating the state as “an experimental dish for the far right.” All true. More importantly, whether the luminaries in the DNC realize it or not, Wisconsin is a bell weather for the rest of the nation, as Charles Pierce has pointed out it in Esquire Magazine: “In 2010, in addition to handing the House of Representatives over to a pack of nihilistic vandals, the Koch Brothers and the rest of the sugar daddies of the Right poured millions into various state campaigns. This produced a crop of governors and state legislators wholly owned and operated by those corporate interests and utterly unmoored from the constituencies they were elected to serve [Note: Virginia is no stranger to this process—witness ALEC and the ignominious machinations of Governor McDonnell on contraceptive rights]. In turn, these folks enacted various policies, and produced various laws, guaranteed to do nothing except reinforce the power of the people who put them in office. This is the first real test of democracy against the money power. Its true national import is that it is the first loud and noisy attempt to roll back the amok time that Republican governors and their pet legislatures have unleashed in the states at the behest of the corporate interests who finance their careers. It is the first serious pushback not only against Scott Walker, but against Dick Snyder’s assault on democracy in Michigan, and Mitch Daniels’s assault on unions in Indiana, and Rick Scott’s assault on voting rights in Florida. None of this was in any way coincidental. It was a national strategy played out in a series of statewide episodes, aimed at establishing the habits of oligarchy on a local basis.”
This is not toast and tea. We’re talking about real lives and real stakes. When Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein makes it perfectly clear that sophisticated investors don’t or at least shouldn’t rely on his word, it’s a cautionary note that we should apply to politicians as well—especially when they take money from those who would destroy the middle class. It’s painful to note that Blankfein was probably more honest in that brief moment than all the speeches by Mitt Romney and Barrack Obama combined. Don’t believe me, he said, and if you do, you’re a sucker. As Joseph Stiglitz writes, Blankfein makes plain that “those who bought the products his bank sold were consenting adults who should have known better. They should have known that Goldman Sachs had the means, and the incentive, to design products that would fail; that they had the means and the incentive to create asymmetries of information—where they knew more about the products than the buyers did—and the means and the incentive to take advantage of those asymmetries.”
Lesson learned. Politicians have the means and the incentives to create “asymmetries of information.” When politicians are purchased on such a large national scale…well, we get what we pay for, don’t we? When a chameleon candidate like Mitt Romney– who even most Republicans don’t like — can achieve a primary victory based almost entirely on access to cash, the system is out of whack. As Wisconsin shows some of the wealthiest individuals and organizations in this country have used their capital to buy liars and sycophants in public places. They are not disinterested in what their money is buying, either. Far from it. Scott Walker, frankly, was probably a bad buy: a little too showy, a little too much the front man. These folks like to remain a bit more discreet. What they really want to purchase is congressional gridlock on reform and regulation. And subsidies and tax cuts, of course. Everyday companies like Exxon seed doubt about global warming swamping the discourse with paid off pseudo scientists and front groups. At the state level, ALEC produces legislation that knee caps environmental regulation and offers a perverse polluter protection ‘model’ legislation that requires the results of environmental audits to be kept secret. While ALEC and Exxon, infuse massive amounts of money into the legislative process, creating “asymmetries of information.” FOX happily ignores or attacks anyone who would suggest there are real public concerns that need to be addressed. FOX News is the propaganda product of billionaire Rupert Murdoch. ALEC has over 5.7 million dollars in ‘corporate sponsorship’. The Koch brothers have more money than the entire state of Wisconsin. Exxon is the largest and most profitable corporation on Earth. It’s not class warfare to suggest money is tilting the scales in a way that makes it impossible for us to honestly govern ourselves. It’s the truth. And, Democrats — take note– only when we tell the truth as Tom Barrett has done in Wisconsin — can we begin to build a country that we can trust.
APV thanks Jack Johnson once again for a great post. We also extend our whole-hearted support and best wishes to gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett in Wisconsin’s recall election this Tuesday.
Stop the presses. Grover Norquist, that ruddy no-tax zealot of the far right has just had his neatly trimmed beard plucked. Freshman Republican Scott Rigell of Virginia, has openly rejected his insanely rigid no-tax pledge. Why?
Um, because it’s insane.
Rigell carefully explained on his website that such a pledge would be counterproductive when working in a real world environment. Unlike Grover’s world, revenue is sometimes necessary for the functioning of, well, everything, including the government. Rigell points out that such no-tax pledges will prevent Congress from eliminating corporate loopholes or government subsidies because those changes would have to be revenue-neutral. The math, he said, just doesn’t make sense.
A refreshing confession from the ranks of the no tax inquisition: the math just doesn’t make sense. Indeed, ask any moderately conscious ten-year old and you might have gotten the same response. Of course, said ten-year old may also believe in biological evolution and the fact that man-made climate change is as real as you’re neighbor’s Ford Explorer — intellectual advances notably missing from today’s GOP, but we’ll take what we can get.
Norquist, in his role as Grand Inquisitor of the GOP’s no-tax inquisition made wet, forgiving sounds, but there was an edge to it:
Of Rigell’s apostasy, he said, “I think he’ll make it clear he’s not going to raise taxes and he’ll get himself reelected and whatever momentary impure thoughts he had on taxes will pass.”
Good to know those ‘impure’ thoughts –raising revenue for government services –won’t be a hindrance to his political career, although, Norquist added, while twisting the ends of his thin mustache, that he had “been in touch with the Republican Party in [Rigell’s] district, and they aren’t excited about it.” Then, with a hint of menace, “This is not going to be a continuing problem.”
But Rigell is not alone, and despite Grover’s electoral extortion, a few other Freshmen Republican are turning to elementary math and learning to add and subtract.
According to Politico: Freshman Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) never signed the pledge to begin with, making up half of the six House Republicans who refused to sign on.
Woodall argued the pledge was too restrictive because it promises that lawmakers must “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
No word from Inquisitor Grover on whether the Republican Freshmen will be tortured, excommunicated or simply burned at the stake for their tax heresy, but GOP Speaker of the House, Boehner is said to be tearfully praying for their lost souls.
More here from Politico:
GOP rookies buck Grover Norquist
And more! Has Rigell quit drinking the Kool-Aid?
Virginia Republican Wants To Tie Congress’s Pay To Its Effectiveness
The great writers of the nineteenth century had neither religion nor politics nor aesthetic principles in common. But what they did have in common was a climate of ethical judgment, a moral climate. They shared certain values, they were humanist. If you read a nineteenth century novel today, Dostoevsky or Dreiser, Dickens or Twain, it is recognizable as a novel from the 19th century because of this moral climate. The core question that is asked is not are the characters successful or witty, but are they right? Writers of that period saw the individual struggling to find the correct balance between their independence and individual beliefs and the needs of the collective. There are only a handful of 20th century writers that have carried on this discourse and too many of them are given over to despair. The post-modernists of the 70s and 80s saw almost any political action as futile, compromised, or something of a joke. Some –too many –took ironic delight in pointing out the obvious difficulties. And rather than enlighten, they left one feeling bleak and hopeless. Meanwhile, in the real world, small wars and large wars continued. Corporations were stripped of their essential community based purpose, and instead were turned into the raw machines of profit. Yet, despite this sea change, our writers seemed stuck in a kind of identity crisis, a second gear, neither willing or able to tackle political issues of the day. Our popular culture essentially gave up on political man. News shows only pretended to objectively cover politics, and then only covered scandal. People forgot what it was to be politically or ethically engaged. During this same period, roughly from the late 1970s to 2012, our industrial base was eviscerated, our addiction to oil became deadly, and the American middle class saw their healthcare costs sky-rocket, their pensions raided, and their educational institutions privatized for the profit of a few. None of this is a coincidence.
As Christopher Hedges points out, “We have been, like nations on the periphery of empire, colonized. We are controlled by tiny corporate entities that have no loyalty to the nation and indeed in the language of traditional patriotism are traitors. They strip us of our resources, keep us politically passive and enrich themselves at our expense. The mechanisms of control are familiar to those whom the Martinique-born French psychiatrist and writer Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth,” including African-Americans. The colonized are denied job security. Incomes are reduced to subsistence level. The poor are plunged into desperation. Mass movements, such as labor unions, are dismantled. The school system is degraded so only the elites have access to a superior education. Laws are written to legalize corporate plunder and abuse, as well as criminalize dissent. And the ensuing fear and instability—keenly felt this past weekend by the more than 200,000 Americans who lost their unemployment benefits—ensure political passivity by diverting all personal energy toward survival. It is an old, old game.”
Hedges goes on to note that what fosters revolution is not misery, alone, but the gap between what people expect from their lives and what is offered. As if in response to this syllogism, on September 17th of last year, activists and students descended on Wall Street and said, essentially, the gig is up. The scam must stop. The financialization of the world is killing our Earth. The Occupy Wall Street crowd did not operate in a vacuum. They were following The Arab Spring and the European Indignados. In fact, Spaniards from Puerta del Sol marched with us on Wall Street in those beginning days. And, on cue, it would seem, the Indignados in Spain have returned. They have reoccupied the Puerta del Sol as part of a global day of action to commemorate the first anniversary of the 15-M (May 15) movement. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards amassed in the square, some dancing joyfully, others debating the replacements for capitalism. According to an article on roarmag.org, a message circulating on Twitter yesterday perfectly caught the mood in Madrid:
“This is not an anniversary — it’s a tradition!”
In a few more months, the United States will have its own anniversary. In advance of that, Noam Chomsky, MIT linguist and political activist, outlines the reasons Occupy should make a come back, and, seeing the challenges ahead, he offers a warning as well:” Unless the spirit of the last year continues to grow and becomes a major force in the social and political world, the chances for a decent future are not very high. ”
Read more below…