Monday, November 30, 2015

Crisis of civilization

As the Paris talks open addressing the human family's response to climate change and as a record number of refugees seek safety from violence, poverty and injustice, and as demagogues aplenty ramp up fear-mongering of others it's hard for this soul not to want to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.

The more common approach in our culture is to look for diversion in denial - watch and be absorbed by the sporting contest du jour, the tv show, the blockbuster new film, or perhaps the latest new gadget or stylish apparel. I've written before on the whole 'bread and circus' phenomena if any of my three readers wants a little more of that fodder.

Climate Change: The Bigger Picture
The potential remedy to this is partially hinted at in a piece I shared some time back by Charles Eisenstein, Climate Change: The Bigger Picture. In it Eisenstein makes the linkage across these crises and more and why a narrow focus on any one of them perpetuates the underlying system that feeds all the crises.

What I think is missing from Eisenstein's sharp analysis is the collective action to change the system. We are approaching an election year in our country that I believe will truly be a turning point in the direction civilization moves in facing these multiple and accelerating crises. Who gets elected from the bottom to the top of the ticket will matter. It is why those with deep pockets who know this have been pouring money into the campaigns and shadow campaigns of those they favor. They have been funding the organizations that crank up the volume on the framing of issues,  most often in simplistic, black and white choices.They are polished, Madison Avenues  campaigns.

I received one in the mail just yesterday from an organization Citizen's for Michigan's Energy Future asking me to forward a pre-printed postcard to my state representative supporting a bill on creating a new energy future for Michigan. There is nothing describing who leads this front organization or who funds it.

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For those willing to dig a little deeper the Michigan Campaign Finance Network's Rich Robinson released a study earlier this month that showed that the state's two biggest public utilities, DTE and  CMS (Consumers) Energy have added more than $400,000 to the campaign kitties of select legislators and spent more than another $300,000 on lobbying.

There is nothing but empty platitudes in the mailing. Not a single specific fact from which to understand how the proposed legislation will actually work or who would benefit. It's my opinion that this has been sent to  tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of residents. A report from early in the year by the Sunlight Foundation, indicated this dark money group had made ad buy commitments of $120,000. No doubt they have likely magnified that amount in recent months. Too many residents will receive this mailing and fall unsuspectingly for it's false claims. They will have no understanding that the propaganda they are holding was created by the two largest public electric utilities in the state for legislation that really just frees them from any legal responsibility to address the energy challenges before us.

And so, many, thinking their civic responsibility to communicate with their representative will sign their name on the postcard and send it in. Of course, most who receive it, will ignore it and turn back to the football game or latest episode of a favorite tv show. Some very few of us will see the mailing for the fraudulent fluff it is. Some of these, even fewer, will contact our representative and let him know we think otherwise. We need many more of us to become citizens. To be more than those liberals or conservatives grousing about the state of affairs and to engage with the system. Questioning its failures, offering alternatives, bearing witness to the injustices, shining light on the hidden agendas and dark money is essential if we are to steer away from precipitous decline.

Bernie Sanders may be wrong on many things, but of one claim he makes I feel pretty certain - citizens need to get engaged to shape our future. If we leave it up to the others with the power and money to control and direct the issues, we will not live in a democracy. Some would say that's already the case. I'm not giving up the hope yet, but the tipping point is near. Time to get up folks. As Rebecca Solnit poignantly asserts, 

       Hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky.

 Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency.


The emergency is upon us.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Three Years to the Day

Today is three years to the day I decided to try and blog about "possibilities". While they have been rather sparse over the past couple of months, in total this is number 197 that I've published along with another dozen started but left dangling. The purpose for me was to share inspiration that we might find better ways to live on a finite planet as a single family. Hopefully a few folks have found something worthwhile.

Some 26,000 plus views of pages over that time plus an occasional comment let me know that every once in awhile something I've shared has been well received. So, we'll continue for a while longer.

Although, on the eve of Thanksgiving, it is hard to find hope and possibility in our current time, even as I write this in comfortable shelter, with the steady supply of heat and electricity, and food only feet away. Yes, I am personally very lucky, privileged, and thankful for what I have been blessed with.

But the world has never seen so many refugees, fleeing war and disaster, and with the bellicose statements coming from our prospective leaders, many of whom are climate change deniers, the prospects for us (the human family) don't look to promising. The leaders of the military-industrial-complex, that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about 55 years ago, are rubbing their hands with anticipation of even more profits as they arm all sides with the latest technical means of obliterating others.

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I made the mistake recently of picking up the award winning, veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges,  War Is the Force That Gives Us Meaning. I say a mistake because it is painful to read of the war experiences he has viewed in El Salvador, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Guatemala, Nicaragua,Sudan, Yemen, West bank, Gaza, Punjab, Romania, and Algeria and the lessons he has taken from those experiences.

     The cultivation of victimhood is essential fodder for any conflict. It is studiously crafted by the state. All cultural life is directed to broadcast the injustices carried out against us. Cultural life soon becomes little more than the drivel of agitprop. The message that the nation is good, the cause just, and the war noble is pounded into the heads of citizens in everything from late-night talk shows to morning news programs to films to popular novels. The nation is soon thrown into a trance from which it does not awake until the conflict ends. In parts of the world where the conflict remains unresolved, this trance can last for generations. (p.64)

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This trance is most dramatically depicted in Mark Twain's satirical short story, published after his death. You can read the full story here. I remember being compelled to read "The War Prayer" at a meeting of the university's Academic Council the day before our invasion of Iraq. I have the same compelling force today to share it with you.

“Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it —
For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
The compelling force arises in response to the supposedly Christians calling for slamming our doors in the faces of Syrians and others fleeing war and destitution. The same who are sabre rattling that we should destroy everything and everyone in our wake to get at the evil incarnate, ISIS. As if, centuries of war have taught us nothing. The escalation of fear-mongering and the corresponding call for yet more military spending are yet more fuel for the fire.

I took note yesterday of the celebratory report that a huge convoy of ISIS fuel trucks had been hit by air strikes. As the sale of those fuels helps fund ISIS it seems a good tactic. Yet, the amount of carbon released into an already overloaded carbon atmosphere is creating yet more refugees, including those same Syrians who are now running for cover. As Rebecca Solnit wrote recently, Climate Change is Violence, too.
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So in this dark time, where are the Possibilities?

 I saw them last weekend at the Peace Education Center's Annual Alternative Gift Sale. I see them in the folks who attend the weekly peace vigil at the capitol. I see them with the groups of people volunteering to take in refugees even as their governors try to shut the door. I see the young people heading to Paris this weekend to push for global action to slow climate change. I see it in physicians and others who work in refugee camps.

This is a time to step up. If you've never written your elected leaders, if you've never joined a peace vigil, if you've never donated to a relief agency, and even if you have before. NOW IS THE TIME.

UM Prof of Public Policy and refugee and human rights expert, Dr. Susan Waltz has recommended the following groups working with refugees that could use your support. If you are like me, have much to be thankful for, let's help those who are desperate.

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UNHCR   (will redirect to UNHCR-USA for US tax-exempt donations)  -- is the central coordinating UN agency for Syrian relief

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·         Mercy Corps    (active throughout the region)

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·         International Rescue Committee    (particularly active in Iraq)
Recommended by a local Syrian-American surgeon who volunteers in the refugee camps
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Syrian American Medical Society 

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As international legal scholar Richard Falk notes in this piece published this week, [ a modified version of the Morton-Kenney annual public lecture given at the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale on November 18, 2015 under the joint sponsorship of the Department of Political Science and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute]that “not one of the candidates of either party has  any understanding of the questionable role of military power in addressing characteristic 21st century conflicts.”

We must do better in whom we elect in the new year. Let's make what seems impossible, more possible in the coming year.

Blessings to everyone.