Giving Thanks for what?

Giving thanks at Thanksgiving dinner continues as an ingrained ritual. At some holiday tables, those present state in turn what makes them most thankful. At others, the most senior member gives a Thanksgiving prayer. In most cases, that is about as far as reflection on the meaning of this peculiar American holiday goes. Nobody mentions, of course, its historical origins in continental conquest and racist extermination. Only the mythical feast with natives helping colonists to survive is affirmed.

This season of giving thanks, I look at the headlines on Trumpist subservience to the barbarian brutality of a Saudi tyrant. I examine analyses of overwhelming evidence of climate chaos and its accelerating risks to national security and international stability stridently denied by the highest authorities. I struggle to find something of major importance for which I can feel genuine in giving thanks. We live in desperately dangerous if uncomfortably interesting times.

No Thank You

Around the world, I see the rise of authoritarian dictators (Brazil, Philippines, Eastern Europe, etc.) who brag of their history of assassinations and parallel future intentions. No thank you.

In the U.S., we have elected a megalomaniacal narcissistic would-be dictator, who is steadily gaining more power by demagoguery and pandering to the demands of the super-rich. No thank you.

The “administration” released the latest U.S. climate assessment report by a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee on Black Friday, hoping to bury it in a no-news day. Drawing on resources of multiple government agencies, the report forecasts massive economic and health costs of growing climate chaos. These are imminent catastrophic consequences if our government continues to deny facts. Meanwhile, the Trumpists pursue a policy of destroying the minor federal efforts so far taken to mitigate catastrophic climate change. No thank you.

Not long before Thanksgiving, I read the brilliant and frightening small book, To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism, by Dutch philosopher Rob Riemen. He describes the current resurgence of fascism in Europe. His list of neo-fascist tendencies strikingly parallels what we observe right here in Trumplandia today. No thank you.

I note the continuing concentration of income and wealth among the 1% of the 1% of the richest Americans and corporations. Its correlation with the destruction of the middle class and the expansion and intensification of poverty among the rest of us is not coincidental. No thank you.

I read of the growing auto-loan debt, credit card debt, corporate debt, and government debt. These threats to economic stability result from extreme income tax cuts for the super-rich and the systematic concentration of wealth and income in recent years. The risk of societal collapse that such greed portends is also extreme. No thank you.

I know that the decline of community in America has a long continuing history that parallels the rise of the corporate state. The currently exploding opioid-addiction epidemic reflects a crescendo in that trend, due to the alienation of American institutions from their claimed purposes. Like mass incarceration, it results from “health care” and “law enforcement” institutions serving themselves, not the public interest. No thank you.

Creating Grounds for Giving Thanks

Of course, the list goes on. Giving thanks inevitably seems to require us to look to our immediate families, friends, and neighbors. All indicators suggest that we must strengthen our local communities to counter the global trends that otherwise seem insurmountable as well as extremely destructive.

Giving thanks will truly mean something when we take back control of our lives by turning away from the oppressive institutions and culture of the global “technosphere.” Politics must become local again and drive decisions that will enhance rather than destroy life on planet Earth. Then giving thanks will have resulted from putting human values ahead of the demands of the machine.

On the Rails Again: Euro Trains are No Amtrak

Another in the series of occasional rants by the Mad Jubilado.

Over two hundred kilometers per hour? That’s more than 124 mph! Well, we seemed to be going pretty fast.  It was no Shinkansen (the Japanese “Bullet Train”) rocketing the 330 miles from Tocho-Mai Station in Tokyo to Kyoto between 150 and 200 mph. In the U.S., the contrast is striking.  Amtrak passenger trains dare not go over about 65 mph, and with good reason. The European trains are quiet, fast, and comfortable.

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Dutch Tulips

In Tokyo, trains routinely pull up to the platform and stop exactly as scheduled, to the second, after their high-speed runs. Departure times are equally precise. In Europe, they are very close. In the U.S., well, things are different. Here, passenger trains have been relegated to a second-class status, behind the more profitable freight trains. They are not particularly comfortable, fast, or on time. Moving all that coal, oil, and Chinese manufactured consumer goods imported by U.S. corporations, gets first billing. Gotta sell that junk to Americans who have lost their well-paid manufacturing jobs and now work as Walmart greeters or fast food cashiers. That is the priority, not public transportation.

Like so much here, public transportation systems have been ‘privatized,’ leaving the public interest behind. The railroads were created to help stimulate western expansion. The federal government gave wide swaths of land to railroad companies to encourage their development. Huge profits were made not only on the rails themselves but in the many land deals that followed. Private corporate exploitation of the commonwealth continues apace, with little challenge.

Now, the railroad companies act like it is their God-given right to exploit those properties in their own interest, the public be damned. Contrary to the corporate “free market” ideology, most of the magnificent technological developments of the industrial era were subsidized by the public purse. The prime beneficiaries have been the private corporations that took advantage of government largess. Any public benefit was secondary, though there have been many. Unlike Europe, where public infrastructure is valued and maintained, here it is all about the next subsidy or tax break for the corporations and super-rich, to be paid for by squeezing public infrastructure and services ever more tightly as the national debt grows.

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On the Rails to Haarlem

The speed, smooth ride, and quiet on the electric European rail lines got my attention. I don’t remember a more comfortable train ride anywhere else. Then I saw the flat panel display on the forward bulkhead in the rather new passenger car. It displayed the speed in kilometers per hour and the time of arrival at the next station. We were on the TGV, the Euro Rail line, heading from Lyon, France to Haarlem, Netherlands.

The French countryside is a beautiful green in springtime. The tulips are in bloom all across the flat lowlands of Holland. What color! The mix of architecture in passing towns and cities, ranging from medieval to modern, is a bit dissonant in its charm. It is all so lovely to watch through the large windows of our passing train. It is almost as if nothing has changed in the world…but it has.

If there is to be a solution to the converging crises of climate chaos, poverty, resource wars, failed agriculture, mass starvation and forced migrations, it must include transforming public infrastructure to create low-carbon forms of transportation, powered by solar and wind-generated electricity and human energy. Trains, trams, and bicycles must become an essential element of a new life strategy, if we let it. The U.S. is so far behind. We wallow in political fights over false narratives while the planet burns. Making significant progress on issues like public transportation will require a political revolution.