Sunday, August 28, 2005

Rewarding Good Behavior

It’s sad. Cindy Sheehan and the other antiwar protestors are engaging in exactly the kind of peaceful protest that should be rewarded by leaders like President Bush. Government leaders claim that they will not negotiate with terrorists, when in fact, they will soon have to negotiate with Iraqi insurgent leaders, if negotiations haven’t started already.

But when faced with Americans using their right to free speech and fulfilling their duty to hold elected officials accountable and peacefully petition the government for the redress of wrongs, Bush & Co. can only think of one response: to ignore the protestors or smear their characters. The message is clear: those who blow things up get heard; those who stand vigil do not.

I have faith that history is gradually rewarding the patient and the peace-loving, but there are hundreds of American soldiers and hundreds more Iraqi civilians set to die in Iraq over the next few months and years for whom history will come too late, unless our leaders start listening respectfully to the dissenters and answering the questions all Americans deserve to have answered.

That conversation, when it happens, will mark the beginning of the end of the quagmire, and no matter how long it takes for stability to re-emerge from the chaos wrought by the Bush invasion, the sooner Americans have that conversation, the better.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

What Next?

Cindy Sheehan is finally bringing attention to the antiwar movement that the movement has deserved all along: since September 2001, when some of us began demonstrating against the invasion of Afghanistan, or September 2002, when many more of us began pointing out that there was no evidence to back up Bush’s drive to attack Iraq.

We were right. It needs to be said, because we are still right, and because we were so roundly condemned and discredited for making our predictions. The war is not making us safer. The war is killing Iraqis and Americans, creating new terrorists, sucking much-needed money from American education, health care and housing, and destroying America’s reputation around the world.

We need our leaders in Congress to stop dodging and weaving, listen to the growing public clamor, and just start getting our beloved countrymen and women out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Those men and women have suffered more than enough for the blindness of our leaders and the forced ignorance of our citizenry. We don’t need to spend any more time digging up documents and interviewing whistleblowers to prove, again, that our leaders lied, and our watchdogs weren’t watching, and that our national motives were anything but pure self-protection and noble democracy-spreading.

The real questions now have to do with the future. Most of the decisions affecting the next few decades have already been made. We do not have good, sustainable, clean energy sources ready to go. But the global oil supply is inexorably headed toward its peak; Americans are about to face a major decrease in our standard of living, as transportation, plastics and dozens of other industries, in many nations, compete for an increasingly scarce resource.

Global warming has tremendous momentum already, and America, as the world’s largest polluter, has done virtually nothing to decrease emissions, while many other countries are increasing their use of dirty fossil fuels, which will only intensify the public health and weather consequences. Food production will become less predictable, and disaster relief missions more frequent.

The world economy is extremely unstable. Consumers in rich countries are completely dependent upon the cheap labor and cheap natural resources of poor countries, and upon the transportation systems that move their raw materials and finished products to our store shelves. Once again, the decisions that formed corporate globalization were made decades ago, and the consequences are beginning, finally, to be broadly felt here in America.

But in South America, Africa and Asia, the people have dealt with forced relocation in search of jobs for many years. They know what it’s like to leave a home or a region your family has lived for centuries because your farmland has been taken over for dams, or your forests have been cut down for timber and cattle ranching. They know what it’s like to lose access to local water supplies, or see those water supplies polluted by invading factories. They know what it’s like to emigrate in desperation to another country to perform the most menial, backbreaking work, and to find yourself totally unwelcome once you arrive.

We in America are about to learn those lessons for ourselves, those of us who haven’t already lost a job to NAFTA, or had to move away from a polluted town. We will have to learn to make do with what we can make and do here, and we will have to learn to get along with the economic refugees flooding across our borders. We will also have to learn to accept income redistribution, and permit dollars – financial power – to once again flow from the richest Americans to the poorest Americans, and also from the relatively rich nations of North America and Western Europe to the poverty stricken nations in the global South.

Our political system has become unstable as well. Politicians from both major political parties are beholden to the campaign funders, which are not citizens but companies and business lobbying groups. Office-seekers from minor parties still can’t get a foot in the door. The credibility of all three branches of government is dangerously low. American citizens do not trust their President to tell the truth, or even recognize reality, in matters of national importance. We do not trust our Congress to represent the interests of the people in making self-governing laws. We do not trust our federal judiciary to interpret the Constitution impartially; we now know that many judges cave in under political pressure, and the ones who don’t cave are mercilessly hounded by right-wing demagogues. We need to scrap most of the current players and start over from scratch, like Argentina, in the streets, and try to elect people whose allegiance is only to what they believe and what they work for, whose actions are scrutinized far more than their words.

By and large, these corrections – over which we no longer have any control – may tend toward justice and a cleaner, better world. We will be forced to confront drastic global warming and crippling oil shortages with conservation and alternative energy, because we lacked the will to deal with them early. We will be forced to see wealth more equitably distributed, because we lacked the kindness to do it by choice. We will be forced to create a new political system in America, because we’ve lacked the education and attention to properly choose our representatives and supervise the governments we’ve elected.

But in the meantime, as the corrections work their way around the American population – from the poor, who already know what’s going on, up to the rich, who will soon – and on around the world, the next few decades are going to be ugly. Terror attacks, energy crises, job loss, massive migrations, hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves, extinctions, epidemics – all have begun and are gathering force. And we will have to look around our own small neighborhoods, roll up our sleeves and find ways to help each other get by.