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.

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

2016-southwest-source.cnn_

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.

It Takes a Child to Challenge Deniers of Climate Chaos

Once again, the world’s “leaders” have met and accomplished next to nothing to mitigate the most extreme existential crisis humanity has ever faced. It takes a child…

Greta.Thunberg shames COP24

Greta Thunberg shames world “leaders” at COP24.

Here is the transcript of a stunning speech the other day near the end of the COP24 climate meetings in Katowice, Poland, condemning global inaction in the face of catastrophic climate change. A young girl from Sweden has every right to shame the “world leaders” who dance on the grave of old coal mines in Katowice, Poland, while the planet burns. Indeed, she took it as her personable responsibility to call out the moral failures of her elders. Her words are even more powerful when you listen to them on the video, which is available here.

GRETA THUNBERG: “You Are Stealing Our Future”

“My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old, and I’m from Sweden. I speak on behalf of Climate Justice Now!

Many people say that Sweden is just a small country, and it doesn’t matter what we do. But I’ve learned that you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to.

But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.

But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

Until you start focusing on what needs to be done, rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself.

We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past, and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses, and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people. Thank you.”

Communication, Contagion, and Conspiracy

Social contagion is an age-old process of collective behavior. It has been studied by sociologists in the U.S. for decades. In the economic sphere, stock market bubbles that end in a furious crash that reflects the contagion of panic. Economists cite the infamous

Tulipomania

A tulip, known as “the Viceroy,” 1637

collapse of the “Tulip Mania” in Holland in 1637 as the classic example of stock-market contagion gone suddenly reversed. The U.S. financial crash of 2008-9 had elements of contagion, but calculated actions by financial elites artificially drove the market in mortgage derivatives to collapse.

The New Contagion

Today, socio-political contagion has achieved new heights of both intensity and extension through social media. When life is relatively stable, most people behave in routine and mostly traditional ways. They find comfort in the predictability of everyday life supported by a regular paycheck, manageable debt, and hope for a better future. Only when things get dicey do conspiracy theories proliferate and extreme political movements grow contagious and threaten the established order.

Of course, we can always find social outliers in society. Dreamers, artists, and explorers of the unknown chafe at the constraints of social habit. They are restless seekers of new ideas, new images, new frontiers, and vindication for their fertile imaginations. Most of us live in a world where our habitual behaviors are far more important to us than any deviation from social norms. However, that is rapidly changing. As “normalcy” disintegrates and economic and social stability dissipates, fear of the other rises, resentments follow growing instability, and many more people become subject to manipulation by political demagogues.

Conspiracy of Concordance

Today’s socio-political contagion does not result from the imagination of dreamers. Instead, it results from increasingly unstable conditions of life in the last stages of the industrial era. Most people in the industrialized societies of Europe and North America know in their guts that things are not exactly as claimed by the economic culture or dominant institutions. Opportunists such as Steve Bannon quickly exploit the chance to use fear and resentment to their advantage.

The rise to power by neo-fascists, white nationalists, and outright political scam artists rides on the hatred they can generate toward the scapegoats they blame for the conditions brought on by extractive capital and its agents. The societal failures of an industrial system designed to concentrate wealth and power by exploiting land, air, water, and people provide the grist for their mill of hatred. The real conspiracy is between these political opportunists and the super-rich who bankroll them, not among refugees or racial minorities. The political elite rewards their benefactors by tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy and de-regulation for their corporations, then find scapegoats to blame for the painful consequences.

Science and Sanity

The evidence of increasing instability mounts, as the average citizen’s ability to make a living and avoid danger, grows ever more difficult. The evidence of reaching the limits of

highwaterline_miami1

High water coming to Miami soon.

plundering Nature becomes more obvious as the health effects of polluted air, water, and land reach new heights. More frequent and more intense extreme weather events penetrate our emotional shields even as many cognitively deny their human causality. Active suppression of scientific findings by the Trumpists and their financial backers attempts to hide the solid evidence of growing planetary danger. The absurdity of “climate denial” grows with each new report of accelerating glacier melt, drought, superstorms, and species extinction.

It really does not matter whether we prefer to attribute “conspiracy” to the forces of extractive capital, political demagoguery and the culture of hate. These forces need not meet in a smoke-filled room to plot strategy and coordinate their behavior. Their cultural beliefs and economic interests result in coordinated action to gain more and more power.

It is up to the rest of us to find ways to turn our lives away from the destruction they foment and shape a world in which we can live. Little time remains to resist hatred, restore ecosystems, and re-establish our resilience. We must combine human civility with scientific rigor to take the drastic steps needed to dampen the chaos that grows daily.

Departments of Insecurity and Dysfunction

I remember when most Americans most of the time lived in a world of predictable events, stable relationships, and reasonable expectations for the future. Well, our worlds are mostly not so stable anymore. That, after all, is what much of the current political turbulence is all about. Everyone seeks the novelty of interesting things, but not if they interfere with the stability of our everyday lives.

In 2016, fed-up with the self-serving political stagnation and corruption, voters decided to try an “outsider.” Had the Democratic Party nomination process been democratic, they might have chosen an independent predictably moral grandfather figure. But an inveterate real estate huckster effectively conned them into picking the brash disrupter over a corporate insider.

Never mind the fact that she won the popular vote; never mind the voter suppression, never mind gerrymandering; never mind Russian trolls. Resentment of stagnation and corruption of the political process drove many angry voters, as Michael Moore put it, to throw a political “Molotov cocktail” into the arena.

Even in these turbulent times, when the lives of so many have destabilized, we tend to see the institutional world out there as a given. Well, not so much. What we thought was certain, what we thought we could count on, has been “kicked under the bus.”

Constitutional Chaos

We tend to see American society as a stable institutional structure, ordained by the Constitution. We may see politics as an unfortunate if necessary disturbance of the normal process of constitutional government. Even in these times of administrative disruption of numerous departments and agencies, we believe that the institutions of the nation are rock-solid entities beyond the range of any threat to their existence. We remain placidly comfortable in the Constitution and the institutions it supports as if nothing could change what the founding fathers wrote in it. We see villains pecking at the perimeter, but no real threat.

Whether we are strict constructionists or interpretive relativists, we see the Constitution as a sacred and solid guide to the conduct of government and of citizens. Well, actually, no institution is any stronger than the beliefs and actions of the people who sustain it. The ties that bind an institution together are only as strong as the commitment of the people charged with overseeing its operations. What interests do they have in holding it together as required by the Constitution? What if a president appoints political hacks to cabinet posts or as directors of core federal agencies, who are diametrically opposed to the very mission of those institutions? Well, here we are.

Destructive Deconstruction

We now have plenty of evidence for what happens when a leader intends to “deconstruct” a department or agency. Typically, the appointed leader is “in bed with” the entities that legislation mandates the institution to regulate or prosecute. If so, s/he can do a lot of damage to the mission and morale of its members. Such “leadership” can divert and stifle normal operations and drive dedicated public servants away in despair.

Institutions do not stand alone. They stand only in the values of leaders who believe in them and support employees in carrying out their mandate. Yes, people come and go as members and leaders over the years. Yet in normal times, the structure and purpose remain stable and clear. That is because leaders of variable competence and commitment either drive the institution to greater achievement or do not much get in the way of effective performance.

However, if a president appoints a “leader” to administer an agency or department with the explicit intent to eliminate its function in society by budget constraints, executive orders, or censoring reports, all hell breaks loose. Employees committed to the mandate of their organization will retreat into obscurity to keep their jobs or they will resign on principle. The organization and its mission suffer severely and the destroyers claim victory.

Plunder and Plutocracy Propagate Profusely

Today, a presumptuous president produces an increasingly dysfunctional federal government. His executive appointees are hell-bent on reducing and eliminating any function or operation that does not serve his and his cronies’ economic interests. The plutocratic class of super-rich corporate and financial elites have already benefitted immensely, both financially and politically. They wallow in new freedoms from social and environmental responsibility and from windfall tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

The appointment of Supreme Court justices that favor corporations and the ultra-wealthy over the people and the public interest, assures the continued future strength of the plutocrats. Hence, continued climate denial in the face of overwhelming catastrophic facts. No wonder the Republicans, who are more heavily bribed by the wealthiest of the wealthy than the poorly organized corporate Democrats, faun over the political pretender they initially despised. No wonder they are now so “loyal” to the would-be dictator. Their greed matches his.

Rob Riemen warns us in his brief book, To Fight Against this Age, of the dangers of the new rise of fascism. Timothy Snyder urges us to practice citizenship as argued in his small book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, to avoid falling under the spell of a would-be fascist dictator. These two scholars, one Dutch and one American, sum up the clear lessons of history on how to retain democracy and freedom. We must learn them or lose both.