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Friday, December 24, 2010


Writing commentaries has turned me into a sort of semi-professional curmudgeon. It's pretty easy too, since the world does indeed appear to be going to hell in a handbasket. Nonetheless, it's getting to be a drag. So, I'm going to try something new today. I'm going to try imagining a better future for America, and, by extension, the world.

True, in imagining what could be, I will once more be underscoring how far we are from such lovely dreams. Envisioning a better future can't help but evoke a certain amount of dismay about the present. But I'm going to try anyway, because you cannot get a better future without dreaming of it. The dream, the visualization, is what engenders change. We've seen this over and over again, from Gandhi to Mandela.


Imagine if the two billion dollars a week America is spending on the war in Afghanistan were being spent to build hospitals here at home. Or schools. Or high speed rail, light rail, bridges, tunnels.

Imagine if 10 percent of what America spends on the military was spent on the arts, and another 10 percent on the sciences - what kind of cultural renaissance would we be experiencing right now?

Imagine if no one went to sleep hungry in America, or the world. We have enough wealth on this planet right now to give everyone clean food and water.

Imagine if there were hundreds of thousands of newly employed workers installing federally subsidized solar panels, wind turbines, insulation, and efficient heating and lighting in your house and mine.

Imagine if all American military bases outside the US were shut down; How much fuel we'd be saving; How much money.

Imagine if America categorically refused to provide any material aid whatsoever to any brutal regime, regardless of ideology.

Imagine if children were taught empathy, comparative religion and literature, critical thinking and non-violent conflict resolution, and real science not creationist claptrap, the world over. No more madrassas of mindless rote memorization, no more ideologically-driven curricula - whether Islamic, Christian, Hindu, or Jewish. No one ever to be taught again that their way of life, their skin color, their tribe, country, ethnic group or religion was superior to any other.

Imagine if nothing was ever allowed to become 'too big to fail', again, and every single Wall Street gambler and corporate banking hotshot paid their fair share of their losses.

Imagine if corporate CEOs still made on average only 10 times what their workers made in salary. Compared to today's lopsided ratios, that would almost feel egalitarian.

Imagine if people thought that paying taxes was patriotic because instead of funding endless wars that bloated the coffers of mega-corporations and politicians, our tax dollars were spent on the best educational and health systems in the world, and on an Apollo-style full-bore attack on the intertwined challenges of energy independence and carbon neutrality.

Imagine if carping bullies like Rush Limbaugh, histrionic febrile charlatans like Glenn Beck, sub-intelligent corporate mouthpieces like Sean Hannity and vituperative racist homophobes like Anne Coulter were laughed at whenever they spouted their slanders, absurdities and lies.

Imagine if we could all be part of a civil dialogue, one big reality-based conversation among grown ups, with the congenital liars, bullies, and misanthropes all dropped by the wayside, dead ends on our evolutionary tree.

Imagine if all racism - black, white, yellow and brown, had withered away and you and I were always judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin.

Imagine if America had some of the lowest teen pregnancy and infant mortality rates in the developed world, and some of the highest literacy rates, instead of the other way around.

Imagine if sexuality was seen as a gift from god, instead of something dirty and shameful.

Imagine if there were no welfare, because if you were fit to work, society had a job waiting for you, and if you were disabled, your needs were taken care of so you could live comfortably and with dignity.

Imagine if America didn't incarcerate almost 25% of all of the prisoners on earth.

Imagine that instead of one woman in four on our planet being subjected to sexual or domestic violence, that number was none in 4 billion.

Imagine if parents never struck their children, but met their needs and tolerated their inevitable misdeeds with patient, unconditional love.

Imagine if it was OK that you believed in one god and I in another, or none at all, that I were straight and you gay.

Just Imagine!

Monday, December 13, 2010


Sunlight is the best disinfectant. It’s a cliché, because it’s true.

The massive trove of hidden data about American foreign policy that has been coming out in bunches from WikiLeaks over the last year is one huge application of disinfectant, a vast searing beam spotlighting American cynicism, malfeasance, murder, manipulation and mayhem, once again demolishing our self-righteous stand as a beacon the world over for justice, liberty, and democracy.

America has sold itself so thoroughly on its fictional status as world liberator, both at home and abroad, that it wasn’t really until Vietnam, that an appreciable number of Americans and others alike began to really understand that, far from being a force for liberation and the full flowering of human potential, America has more often than not merely been another empire, coldly, calculatingly intent on extracting as much natural and human capital as possible. But despite the pernicious reality, the fantasy America has created in order to inspire young men to be cannon fodder in unjust wars, and in order to justify wholesale theft and murder, is surprisingly robust. One can only hope that these revelations can do damage to the durable fictions we maintain about our country, because maybe then we can truly start to become what we say we are.

Since at least the 19th century, we’ve expanded our sphere of influence, often undermining democratic institutions by means of covert destabilization and outright invasion and attack.

Some people believe that this is the natural order of things. Like citizens of empires before them, they believe that their empire is preordained, blessed by God, to practice its cruel hegemony. Others are in denial; they swallow the treacle that is most American history whole, believing that all of our wars have been about freedom and democracy. They refuse to acknowledge that America has taught jihadists how to build bombs and shoot down civilian airliners, and itself assassinated democratically elected leaders, practiced torture and wholesale slaughter. Their rejection of the facts is absolute: By definition, America can do no wrong.

And then there are those of us in the middle. Like the former, we see America for what she is – an often brutal, aggressive empire, but we reject the characterization of this behavior as anything other than evil. Like the latter, we’re still inspired by the founding documents of America, the fiery speeches of Tom Paine, the witty, hypocrisy-piercing acumen of Ben Franklin, Jefferson’s stirring aspirations – but we no longer believe them.

As I’m writing this, the US government is in full damage control mode as the unprecedented diplomatic meltdown created by the WikiLeaks revelations metastasizes and reverberates around the world. While I am neither distressed nor particularly pleased about these embarrassments, I do think that their release into the light of day does more good than harm because I think that hypocrisy revealed is almost always a good thing.

However, it’s the things in the cracks that I find so deeply painful. For example, if these cables are to be believed, our Pentagon specifically and purposely targeted refugee camps in Yemen for missile attacks. This revelation harkens back to the earlier release from WikiLeaks a few months ago that revealed our conduct of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to be replete with the same kind of cynical callous brutality.

I want to believe that America is a force for good in the world, but when we purposely rain bombs down on innocent men, women and children to fulfill some arcane geopolitical goal, or merely to maintain a huge empire that gorges on the world’s bounty, I can’t. My dream of America spirals off of the gritty surface of the reality of our foreign policy like sunlit frost sublimes into vapor. One minute it’s there, an apparently hard truth, the next, it’s gone, rising skyward like a vagrant dream, and once again I am left with the sad fact that my country is not the soaring force of Justice, democracy and decency I was taught it was.

My only hope is that if enough sunlight is poured onto America’s behavior, and motives, she will finally recoil in horror at what she has become, stanch the infection of empire, and grow toward the dream of herself that she holds so dear.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Drill, Obama, Drill!

Obama just gets worse and worse.

It’s hard for me to believe, but now our president is apparently coming out in support of fracking, the natural gas extraction technology that pollutes the air with volatile organic compounds, and ground water and aquifers with neurotoxins and carcinogens, wastes prodigious amounts of fresh water, and produces noise pollution so violent, it has caused broken eardrums among those living near fracking drill sites.

This is a palpably ironic state of affairs. First, much to my incredulous dismay, our president came out for expanding off-shore drilling, right before the BP gulf oil disaster. Then he reversed course and imposed a moratorium on all deep-water drilling, saying we needed to know the causes of the accident to assure ourselves it wouldn’t be repeated.

Subsequent political pressure and judicial rulings forced him to drop the moratorium, which made little sense anyway: Deep water isn’t the issue, drilling is; The largest oil spill in the Gulf prior to the BP spill, the Ixtoc spill of 30 years ago, occurred in less than 200 feet of water and was equally unstoppable. You might think that 30 years of technological advances would make such shallow-water spills easy to cap, but an examination of the BP incident shows that the oil industry hasn’t advanced accident prevention or mediation at all in the ensuing decades. They tried the same combination of ‘top hats’, ‘top kills’, and ‘junk shots’ in 2010 that they tried in 1979, to the same negligible effect.

Given President Obama’s stated rationale for the moratorium, the lack of proven safety devices, the unknown causes of the accident, the palpable failure to stop the spill and mediate its effects, you’d think he’d apply the same logic to fracking.

As the movie ‘Gasland’ so ably demonstrates, fracking has been proven to cause water, air and noise pollution. It has caused groundwater spills, irreversible aquifer damage, and physical damage to wildlife and humans alike, from ingested pollutants, and high-intensity low frequency sound waves.

Homeowners in Pennsylvania, who were more than delighted to lease their land and sell their gas rights in the modern gold rush of the Marcellus Shale fracking bonanza, have found their livestock dead, and their water irretrievably polluted with Benzene, Methane, Toluene and other toxic chemicals. The value of their homes has plummeted. For a quick infusion of 5 to 100 thousand dollars, they’ve lost their way of life, their family farms and homes, and their investment in the future. While some New Yorkers salivate at the prospect of a quick buck for their gas rights, lawsuits against the gas companies are sprouting like toadstools in neighboring Pennsylvania. They’ve lived the dream, only to see it turn into a nightmare. Their rose colored glasses are now coated in carcinogenic slime.

Meanwhile, our president continues to give the impression that he’s a pro-business, centrist technocrat, hardly an agent of seismic change. He supports big oil and gas, and even Wall Street, effete slaps on the wrist notwithstanding. He continues to kill more civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan through the use of immoral drone strikes than George W Bush did during his entire eight year tenure as president. He continues to abrade our basic freedoms and respect for the rule of law by upholding Bush policies on rendition and detention without trial.

But my god! I thought he’d at the very least be a decent environmental president! Yet here he is, supporting the oxymoronic concept of ‘clean coal’ – such a thing does not exist, fracking, and even Canadian-style oil-shale-sand extraction, one of the worst environmental nightmares in existence! Oh, and he’s also providing more loan guarantees and market support for nuclear power than for alternative energy.

Where is our change president? I am so sick and tired of liberals blaming the Republicans alone for our predicament! Obama’s policies, and his personnel choices to run the departments of treasury, interior, transportation and energy, speak volumes about his true allegiances.

We need a viable third party. Or at the very least, we need some truth out there, not a president who lies to us, as Obama manifestly has, about the severity of the oil spill in the Gulf, the quagmire and human rights horror in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and about these environmentally ruinous technologies.