Dead End

Age seems to bring on associations with drugs the doctors say we need. Most are not addictive, though many don’t do much good and often have unwanted “side effects.” Sometimes the “side effects” are front and center! One of the discomforts of being a Jubilado (retiree, if you don’t know the word, en español) is the experience of the death of others in one’s own age group.

Few of us plan much for our death or that of others. When I hear that a member of my generation who is younger than me has passed away, it is especially disconcerting. Of course, we all must go eventually, but for myself, I’d rather it be later. When, later? Who knows? Just later.

Unplanned Death

But it is a matter of an entirely different order when we hear of a death of someone much younger, whom we have known since his birth. At our age, we find ourselves on the way to another medical appointment with uncanny frequency. On one such occasion at 8:30 AM,  about three years ago, while slogging through South Bay traffic to a UCLA imaging facility in Santa Monica, I got a call from a very close long-time friend, who abruptly told me her son had just died of a drug overdose. He was 30 years old; I was around when he was born.

“What?” I could not process what I heard. I had planned to visit her late the next day. “You can come over any time tomorrow; I’m not going to the gym.” With that veiled plea for me to come over sooner, she could not talk anymore right then. In all the years I had known her, since the early 1970s, she had never been at a loss for words. In that stop-and-go traffic on Pacific Coast Highway, so was I. I spent the rest of the week with her, working through all the many details of dealing with a death too soon.

Internet-Facebook-addictionYou just never know. I will not go into the details of a very vibrant young man’s death from an overdose of a mix of new designer drugs, or his girlfriend’s that followed. But from what I hear, a wave of such young deaths has swept the East Coast, then the West, in recent years. “Progress through chemistry” keeps the overseas illicit manufacturers ahead of the drug laws. So does the Internet, where rogue drugs produced somewhere in Asia without quality controls and at unknown strengths are purchased through distributors in other countries. Ironic. We seek solutions to all our problems through new technology and we create more problems with newer technologies, including the Internet.

Addictions and Illusions

Portugal abandoned its “war on drugs” years ago. Drug use has significantly declined there. When addiction does occur, authorities treat it as the “behavioral health” problem that it is; the patient is often freed of addiction or learns how to live with it. Portugal-660x420Unfortunately, we in the U.S. live in a punitive society where “treatment” is something that is done to the patient; it is not so much done by the patient. It often fails, just like the mass incarceration that pretends to be the “rehabilitation” of those caught by law enforcement self-medicating with illegal drugs.

In our U.S. culture of profit over everything – into which the drug business fits so well – we treat our environment just like we treat children, and adults for that matter, who may have problems. We may treat symptoms, but rarely their causes, wondering why the problem persists. We punish indiscriminately. We find enemies everywhere, or we create them. Pablo Escobar and “Chapo” were products of the U.S. War on Drugs.

Contradictions of Denial

Terrorists arise in resistance to the invasions and occupations of our fossil-fueled global empire – a collective addiction. Death and destruction are products of our alienation from the living Earth we inhabit. That is why we can’t get a grip on the climate crisis we created by our alienated culture of extractive capital and wasteful consumerism. And, of course, we deny it all and project blame onto the enemies we have created. Addiction is the goal of marketing, which leads to diverse forms of illness or death. We need a new “culture war.” The culture of life must win over the culture of death. The alternative is a dead end.

Self-Importance Is the New Normal

Obsessive self-importance may be the new normal, and it is not pretty. We have all seen over-inflated egos expressed, from the poorest streets of our cities and dying towns to the elevated offices of CEOs and the White House itself. Likely as not, we have all tried to demonstrate our own self-importance.

Trump.Rally.Rage

Trump Rally Rage

Why is something that should be an aberration, so common? Well, the answer is complicated but clear. Expression of self-importance as psychological compensation for the lack of power and respect in our lives is not new. Yet, today it seems at a peak as it is seen in the new racism, xenophobia, domestic violence, politics, and just about every part of our lives. Security is scarce and anxiety is high. Anger is cathartic.

Self-Worth Shortage

We all need to feel worthy. If secure in our relations with family and community, we do feel our self-worth in our natural relations with others. When we are not sure of where we stand with our peers or “significant others,” be they family, coworkers, or powerful people we hardly know, the likely result is status anxiety. Well, status anxiety runs rampant in modern industrial-consumer societies, as does economic anxiety since so few jobs pay a living wage or are secure anymore.

Anxiety is an expression of fear, the fear of what is to come, how it may affect me, and the fact that I have little or no control over the outcome. Since people can do so little about the sources of modern anxiety, they often compensate psychologically by expressing self-assurance. As often as not, self-assurance comes off as some demonstration of how “I am important, much more important than you.”

Expressions of self-importance are everywhere. People often use the automobile as a tool we can control to show our self-importance. Unfortunately, as with shopping, the benefits do not last. And the risks may be physical, not just economic. Typically, “road rage” asserts power in reaction to someone else’s lack of deference to the offended one, if not just incompetent driving. To the self-important driver, “it’s my road; you must show deference to me.”

RoadRage.in.NJSome years ago, I made a lane change on a busy street, to get to the left-turn lane. The driver behind me was not at all close; that is, I did not cut him off. Immediately, he roared around me to the right, cut in front of me, and slammed on his brakes. This guy was clearly making a statement of self-important rage. I tried to see if he had a gun, as I acted as passive as I could, dropping back as he sped up having demonstrated his vehicular power. Fortunately, I saw none.

Just Because I’m Me

People do not need to work up a case of road rage to express their self-importance in a car. The mere presence of another driver is enough. When I taught social research methodology at Cal State University, I often gave an initial assignment to go out in the world and observe some social behavior, write up descriptions and analyze what happened. I got some boring reports and a few very insightful ones. At least some students discovered that it is not such a simple matter.

One semester, a young woman who had not stood out in another class, chose to observe behavior in the campus parking lot. Shauna focused on the interaction between drivers when one is leaving a parking place while others search for one.

Shauna timed dozens of people leaving their parking places, from unlocking their door to pulling out. When another driver was waiting to take that place, departing drivers consistently took more time to leave than drivers with nobody waiting to take their parking place. They adjusted their mirror, arranged their books or backpacks, put on lipstick, checked their cell phone, or anything that would slightly delay their departure. They seemed to be saying, “This is my parking place and I’ll give it up when I am good and ready.” They were not reacting to some behavior of the waiting driver. They were asserting a bit of self-importance in a world where personal control is a scarce commodity.

A core feature of industrial-consumer economies is the social fragmentation that leaves individuals isolated, alienated, and with little personal power in their lives. They must somehow fit into the institutional matrix to survive; that offers almost no personal basis for self-worth. The alienated expression of a false sense of self-importance is a poor substitute for the healthy social relations that breed self-worth.

Here Comes the Hate!

The misogynist racist good ol’ boys (well, rich old white men) are out in force now. Their hateful ridicule targets any outspoken woman who happened to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the midterm elections.

Alexandria Octavio-Cortez, dubbed AOC, the celebrity underdog who handily beat the old white male incumbent Establishment Democrat, is the iconic target of their spite. How dare she challenge their comfortable corporate feed trough? How dare she expect their super-rich handlers to pay their fair share of income taxes?

Tax the Rich?

The “extreme” marginal rate of 70% on the highest segment of the excessive earnings of the wealthiest Americans would be lower than that charged in the 1950s, when the Americans people (not just the rich) prospered more than any time before or since. GOP-driven (Democrat accepted) tax reductions for the wealthy have stifled economic growth and driven up public debt during every presidency from Reagan to Trump.

The progressive income tax scheme @AOC proposed is a bit lower than Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond calculated would be optimal – not too much, not too little – for the richest Americans to contribute their fair share to a healthy economy. She offends on several counts: her gender, her brown skin, her policy recommendations that challenge both patriarchy and plutocracy, and the shock of her demands for social, economic, and climate justice. On top of it all, like her colleagues, she just won’t “sit down and shut up.”

Patronize the Pantsuits?

And they expect her not to demand that children be healthy and well educated too, and that the Trumpist outlaw ICE-MEN return the children they kidnapped from their asylum-seeking parents. What next?

Oh, yes, these brash new representatives want a Green New Deal too. Why those anti-oligarchy democratic “socialists”! (Oh, is that still a dirty word?) They don’t even want to protect the plundering plutocrats from the ravages of facing up to climate chaos?

Women Reps in WhiteOh, maybe they just don’t like white pantsuits, or women’s suffrage for that matter. That would go 10x for any woman wearing a headscarf, unless of course it was a gingham print and meant only as an accent for that beehive doo that might MAGA! (Remember the beehive? We’re talking 1950s here. They were as big as the tailfins on a 1959 Chevy.)

What these ol’ codgers really hate is an uppity woman who has brown skin, is even smarter than she is pretty, can easily outsmart them, and just “don’t know her place”. “Whoa there, young filly! Back in the kitchen with them barefoot brats!” That avalanche of smart progressive women of color entering the chambers of the political good ol’ boys club is just more than their privilege-addled brains can process.

Fascists in Victim’s Clothing

I never could quite understand why so many people confound the Jewish people with the state of Israel.  Many people I’ve met around the world love Americans and America, but not its imperious government. I know of no nation-state in this world that is so pure and good that we should all declare it off limits to political, humanitarian, or policy criticism of any kind.

It was the Jewish people who suffered Nazi terror, not the state of Israel. I feel equally outraged by the ruthless violence of Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet, Netanyahu, and others too. But, any time someone criticizes the genocidal treatment of the Palestinian people, they are accused of supporting Hamas and terrorism. Nation states are the problem, not their people.

Go Figure. Well, you don’t have to figure much. U.S. politicians are terrified that someone might accuse them of being anti-Semitic. Closet racists often proclaim, “I am not a racist.” Same with closet anti-semites. Closet fascists claim to “bring democracy to the world” with state of the art military hardware. Too many Americans remain blind to nativist racism, even now when Trumpery has green-lighted its open expression.

I would suggest an analogy here. So many victims of abuse by parents, stepparents, or others with power grow up and become abusers themselves. Plenty of Israelis find it ironic and tragic that their government treats Palestinians nearly as badly as the Nazis treated their great-grandparents. Too many Americans are blind to the racism they tolerate because it does not directly interfere with their personal lives. Some are just clueless.

Too many easily fall into the hatred-on-the-rise that the new American fascists foment. The surge in violent hate crimes in the U.S., including anti-Semitic hate crimes, is no accident. It is part of the pattern of moral decay and political nihilism enabled by the political demagogues. That will only lead to more authoritarian politics and enable dictatorship to crush democracy unless the rest of us resist the hate.

Being David Brooks in the Bowels of the Green New Deal

Many consider David Brooks the voice of conservative reason In America. After all, he has even published some almost sociological books on matters of character, family, and progress toward ‘the American dream.’ And, he presents himself as a soft-spoken empathic analyst on the Sunday talk shows and in his New York Times column.

David.Brooks_New-articleInline_400x400Brooks may even entertain a valid point about the craziness of Trump or some of his extreme white nationalist supporters being a bit off target. He always seems to be concerned about protecting basic American values. That is why his entry into the surge of right-wing sniping at the persons and policies behind the congressional Green New Deal (GND) resolution might seem plausible to some. After all, most folks have not read its 14 pages.

Democracy of the GND

Offered up in the House of Representatives, the Green New Deal stands out as a unique document in the history of the Congress. It is a call to the U.S. government and the American people to mobilize on a scale analogous to the mobilization of American society to fight World War II. It is the first statement I have seen from any branch of the federal government that directly confronts the urgency of the crisis of impending climate collapse.

Brooks’ objections come off as almost objective comments on the failures of a few naïveAOC idealists. He fears they would attempt to solve the nation’s and the world’s problems by dictates from newly centralized government authorities. If we are to believe Brooks, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ed Markey, and the dozens of other congressional sponsors must be a bunch of old Stalinists. He claims that “the left” has “embraced elitism” by using the GND to centralize power.

Reactionary Elitism in Freedom’s Clothing

That is not only a complete misrepresentation, but it entirely misses, or should I say dodges, the main point of the Green New Deal. The climate crisis is real and it is now. Only by abandoning the elitism of the corporate Democrats and the plutocratic Republicans can we achieve social and economic justice. Congress can achieve that by initiating a Green New Deal that mitigates many of the disastrous consequences of the neoliberal corporate global economy they have fostered.

They may mouth platitudes of social concern like David Brooks does, but the corporatist right in both parties has always objected to the government doing anything to solve the nation’s problems, claiming “the private sector” can do a much better job. (Just take a look at privatized prisons, education, and the tortuous internment of the children of asylum seekers for an answer to that question.)

When it comes to assessing the potential impact of the Green New Deal, David goes right off the rails. He falls flat into the swamp of corporatist objections to any government involvement in efforts at achieving social progress. After all, that might impinge on his faith in the trajectory of the corporate state and its extreme fantasies of staying the course of business as usual.

Far more importantly, however, Brooks’ character assassination of the GND and its supporters implicitly denies not only the validity but the overriding urgency of the climate crisis we all face, like it or not. Instead, he reverts to the classic redbaiting of the past in his vain attempts to silence the voices of concern with people and planet.

Hopeful Realism vs. Political Climate Denial

How can Brooks characterize a call for community proposals for reducing carbon emissions based on the science and funded by the federal government, as a play for centralized power? Oh, there you have it. Government funding means taxing the rich and the giant corporations since the concentration of wealth leaves everyone else with marginal incomes. The top 100 corporations cause the majority of carbon emissions. And AOC would dare to institute a 70% marginal income tax rate, almost as high as we had in the 1950s, the most prosperous era for everyone in the USA.

For Brooks, the climate crisis is not even an issue. He denies it by omission. Instead, he focuses on political semantics. He dodges the question of whether the GND is “socialist” or not, embarrassed by his fear of the comfortable acceptance of the democratic socialist ideas embedded in the original New Deal. He shapes his inferences about the GND’s broad provisions to fit the terrifying characteristics of a dictatorial socialist state. Never mind that the sponsors of the resolution are all staunch decentralists, social democrats, and plain old fashioned liberals, who are just as concerned with overbearing bureaucracy as David ever was.

David Brooks would rather vilify the new hopeful realists in Congress than face the fact that the corporate state he equates with individual freedom is unsustainable. A New Great Transformation has begun and we need to take charge of our fate within the conditions that our profligate waste has created. The Green New Deal is merely a tiny step forward, or more accurately, a recognition of necessity. Wake up, David.

Last Words of a Civilized Man

Here are the words of one of the few remaining civilized politicians in America, on the day that he died. We should mourn his loss and the loss of civility (and humor) in American politics and we must fight to restore it. Now is the time to call upon all politicians to restore the civility to the public service that, whatever the conflict or dispute, retained a sense of the public good.

My Last Words for America

By John D. Dingell, The Washington Post, 10 February 19

John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

Rep.John Dingell.D-Mich

John D. Dingell in 2014. (photo: Jeff Kowalsky/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

ne of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Think about it:

Impoverishment of the elderly because of medical expenses was a common and often accepted occurrence. Opponents of the Medicare program that saved the elderly from that cruel fate called it “socialized medicine.” Remember that slander if there’s a sustained revival of silly red-baiting today.

Not five decades ago, much of the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth — our own Great Lakes — were closed to swimming and fishing and other recreational pursuits because of chemical and bacteriological contamination from untreated industrial and wastewater disposal. Today, the Great Lakes are so hospitable to marine life that one of our biggest challenges is controlling the invasive species that have made them their new home.

We regularly used and consumed foods, drugs, chemicals and other things (cigarettes) that were legal, promoted and actively harmful. Hazardous wastes were dumped on empty plots in the dead of night. There were few if any restrictions on industrial emissions. We had only the barest scientific knowledge of the long-term consequences of any of this.

And there was a great stain on America, in the form of our legacy of racial discrimination. There were good people of all colors who banded together, risking and even losing their lives to erase the legal and other barriers that held Americans down. In their time, they were often demonized and targeted, much like other vulnerable men and women today.

Please note: All of these challenges were addressed by Congress. Maybe not as fast as we wanted, or as perfectly as hoped. The work is certainly not finished. But we’ve made progress — and in every case, from the passage of Medicare through the passage of civil rights, we did it with the support of Democrats and Republicans who considered themselves first and foremost to be Americans.

I’m immensely proud, and eternally grateful, for having had the opportunity to play a part in all of these efforts during my service in Congress. And it’s simply not possible for me to adequately repay the love that my friends, neighbors and family have given me and shown me during my public service and retirement.

But I would be remiss in not acknowledging the forgiveness and sweetness of the woman who has essentially supported me for almost 40 years: my wife, Deborah. And it is a source of great satisfaction to know that she is among the largest group of women to have ever served in the Congress (as she busily recruits more).

In my life and career, I have often heard it said that so-and-so has real power — as in, “the powerful Wile E. Coyote, chairman of the Capture the Road Runner Committee.”

It’s an expression that has always grated on me. In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They hold power — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).

I never forgot the people who gave me the privilege of representing them. It was a lesson learned at home from my father and mother, and one I have tried to impart to the people I’ve served with and employed over the years.

As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands.

May God bless you all, and may God bless America.

In the Air Again: Expectations and Complications of Global Travel

I was not ready for more travel, though I had to go to L.A. for a doctor’s appointment a couple of days ago. An airline ticket was actually cheaper than a half-hour telephone consultation, which insurance does not cover. Not that I don’t like traveling; I do. But it is, after all, part of that middle-class and above, often excessive, “lifestyle” subsidized by debt, both personal and national.

As I have said before, somewhere, I don’t like the term, “lifestyle.” It seems to convey a sense that one’s life is merely a fashion statement. It implies that we are all free to choose whatever “style” of life we want. It also assumes that “lifestyle” choices entail no costs beyond the credit card. Only our economic success limits our ability to “choose our own lifestyle.” Culturally, it has become a matter of “consumer rights.” After all, with the inevitable march of “progress” as endless economic growth, we will all be middle class or even super-rich someday, right? Well, not so much, if you are a realist, however hopeful.

Old World and New

In Europe and other ‘older’ societies, families have lived in the same place for centuries. Who of us can say that? Most Americans move at least once every ten years. If you are a Euro-American and living in Santa Fe, NM, for over ten years, many transplants from California, New York, or Texas, will consider you a virtual native. Yet Native Americans or the heirs to Spanish conquistadors of four hundred years ago, would disagree. But that’s another story.

Commercial aviation is becoming a complicated affair in the twenty-first century. Yet it remains affordable for many among the shrinking middle class. Plans for expansion

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Popular Airliner ~ source: cnn.com

abound. The executive elite of the increasingly infamous one percent travels bi-coastally and internationally on a regular basis. The rest of us travel occasionally, relying on credit cards that many rarely pay off. All this is possible because of heavy public subsidies of companies like Boeing and Airbus. We all pay for the aviation infrastructure that makes the FAA’s Air Traffic Control system and National Weather Service work so well. Who would fly if it were all rolled into the price of a ticket from L.A. to Paris?

Externality and Ecological Costs

Like so many other industries, aviation “externalizes” the social and ecological costs of its operations to the people and the planet in the form of disease and climate chaos. As a general aviation pilot, I find it difficult to face the fact that aviation is generally an ecological disaster. At least aviation does not have the biggest industrial carbon footprint. No matter the relatively small ecological damage from small planes versus big jets, the total carbon emissions from the industry are huge. Yet, the status of “frequent flyer” is widely subsidized.

On the other hand, I calculated that my little 180 horsepower airplane consumes about the same amount of fuel per mile traveled as a standard American automobile. I don’t fly it all that many hours per year, so I can rationalize my hobby as having a relatively small carbon footprint. But then, American cars get terrible gas mileage compared to cars driven in Europe. I don’t have aggregate numbers, but the anecdotal evidence is consistent. Last time we were in France, we rented a little diesel Mercedes mini SUV, drove it all over, and rarely needed fuel. That car is not available in the U.S. However, the only viable future for the automobile industry is electric.

Airline flying for business or pleasure has a huge carbon footprint when considered as a whole. Yet the middle and upper-class American public considers it virtually a civil right to fly around the nation or planet at will. How can this conflict between species survival and the consumer culture of personal privilege be resolved? The increasing chaos of the living Earth systems will resolve it for us, in a very bad way, if we do not change our ways. As we move through the new era of the Anthropocene, we must harmonize with the ecosystems upon which we depend for our lives, or our lives will be lost in the consequent chaos.

On the Road Again: Snow Birds and Crocodiles

I was talking with someone the other day about my trip to the West Coast of Mexico, just to the east of the tip of the Baja peninsula. I praised the wonders of consistent sunny 80 degree beach weather in January and February. And swimming with my dog most afternoons in the little pool at the house we rented was great fun.

Commenting on my happy discourse he referred to me as a “snowbird.” I was taken aback. I had never thought of my little adventure as the mere seasonal migration of a snowbird. I had always thought of snowbirds as those people who live in “recreational vehicles” (RVs) and stay in various RV parks around the country, moving south in the winter, north in the summer. But it got me thinking.

While researching central Mexico for our first road trip “south of the border,” I had perused a Web site called “On the Road in Mexico.” We were having a hard time finding

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On the Road to Chihuahua

hotels in Chihuahua, Torreon, and Durango that would accept pets. When we had driven down the Baja peninsula a previous winter, we had easily found “pet friendly” motels along the highway to La Paz. Of course, Baja is heavily traveled by tourists from the western states of the U.S. Many travel in RVs with their dogs, some even with cats. As it turns out, pet friendly hotels are much more common in the western United States than in the eastern states. I don’t know why.

The “On the road in Mexico” Face Book page is a site where people exchange information and advice on traveling in Mexico. Much of the talk is about Baja, since probably the majority of road trips by U.S. nationals is to the various tourist destinations in Baja. Little is said about central Mexico. Very few “snowbirds” travel down the well maintained toll roads between Juarez and Durango or beyond. Chihuahua, Torreon, and Durango are all major Mexican industrial/commercial cities, not “tourist destinations.” It is striking to see, on driving through these cities, how they seem so similar in texture and tone to mid-size and large U.S. cities.

San Blas is a coastal city by a river about 3 hours’ drive north of Puerto Vallarta. The large estuary at the mouth of the river just south of town is teeming with all manner of wildlife. It is said that this area of the Mexican coast has more bird species than all the rest of the North American continent combined. We drove to San Blas one day and hired

crocodile.san.blas.mex_dusbuba

Smiling Croc. ~ San Blas, Mx.

a guide and his “panga,” a large outboard-motor boat that can seat up to 8 or ten people. Slowly cruising along the narrow waterways, we found more birds than we could capture on camera. Crocodiles also laze long the shore. We even saw a baby crocodile sunning on a tree branch just above the water. Had we gone out in the early morning, we would have seen much more.

San Blas was a major outpost of the Spanish empire on the west coast of what is now Mexico; today it remains a major fishing town. Its beautiful estuary seems so remote from the life of the industrial economies of the U.S., central Mexico, and the rest that threaten most species of the world in the Sixth Great Mass Extinction now underway. It is hard to imagine these crocodiles and birds being in danger. But they are. Those of us who are so lucky can go about our middle-class consumer lives for a little longer, but big changes are on the horizon… Snowbirds are, after all, totally dependent on fossil fuel, unlike the wily crocodile