The Cabal Behind the Curtain

It’s hard to understand the kind of person who would be taken in by Mitt Romney’s absolutely unsubstantiated claims that he’ll be able to magically produce 23 million new jobs in the next four years, and raise take-home pay while he’s at it.

Do people really think Mitt is a magician?

Watching him struggle to appear mild-mannered and fangless during the debates—an effort that translated into a zombie-like smirk—I began to understand him as the puppet he is, a marionette whose strings are pulled by the cabal behind the curtain: the Koch brothers and their ilk, along with Big Fossil Fuel, Big Pharma, Big Chemical, Big Ag, Big Free Trade, Big Finance, you name it.

Now, it’s true that that gang has their tentacles in Obama too.  You can see the strain the President is under, trying to please his popular base while also keeping his pockets open for the big under-the-table donations that keep his campaign afloat.

Guys like the Kochs hedge their bets.  Whichever of the two parties wins, they’ll carry on just fine.

But if it’s Romney/Ryan, their agenda will take a great leap forward.

We’ll automate and outsource jobs like crazy, to satisfy Wall Street—the hell with Main Street.

We’ll drill and frack and mine and bulldoze our way to oblivion, and call it Kingdom Come.

We’ll appoint more social conservatives to the Supreme Court, and put women back where they belong: barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

We’ll drastically increase our military spending, at the expense of social welfare programs.  Those who dare to ask for help with affording health care, education, or retirement, not to mention simply being able to eat regularly and keep a roof overhead, will be asked coldly: Can’t you borrow from your parents?  Or, are there no workhouses?

Not only that, but the first thing we’ll do in office—day one!—is pick a fight with the Chinese over currency manipulation.

Yes, Obama is the better of the two choices, for all the reasons he has laid out himself during the Presidential debates.

We must re-elect him, and continue to work to strengthen the progressive movement over the next four years, so we don’t backslide in 2016.

But part of this work must be to stand up for true democracy in our supposedly democratic nation.

Stein and Honkala arrested outside Hofstra U on Oct 16

The detention of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala last week was reprehensible, and I am glad to see they are filing suit—at least that way more people will know what happened to them when they tried to enter Hofstra University to participate in the presidential debate there.

You wouldn’t know from reading the mainstream media that Stein and Honkala were taken by police to a secret detention facility and handcuffed tightly to metal chairs for eight hours, without being allowed to consult their lawyers or staff.

Thank goodness for Amy Goodman, who broke this story and has refused to let it die, broadcasting “alternative debates” on Democracy Now that give the other three candidates on the November ballot a chance to have their views heard on national television.

Goodman is a model for the kind of alert, engaged and impassioned citizenry we desperately need in the coming decade, when the economic and environmental challenges we face are going to be increasingly dire.

We don’t need more goon cops in riot gear to maintain order, we need more ordinary people taking the time and energy and yes, the risk, to stand up for our rights to a safe, sustainable future.

After we re-elect Obama, those of us who understand what is at stake need to get to work with redoubled energy on building a broad coalition of people who care about our future and are willing to lead the way in making the necessary changes to ensure that human civilization survives on this planet.

This is a struggle that concerns all of us: we need to work across ethnicities, across gender, and across nationalities to engage the young and the old, the faith-based groups, centrists and leftists, the elites and the working class.

We can’t let a few shortsighted, greedy, impossibly foolish billionaires hijack our future.  It’s ours to save—or to lose.

Earth to Obama: Come in please! Or do we have to take to the trees to get your attention?

Of course I knew it would be too much to expect President Obama, during the second Presidential debate on Tuesday, to actually break the great taboo of contemporary American politics and mention—Shhhh—climate change.

But I didn’t expect him to come out pandering so shamelessly to Big Fossil Fuel.

Yes, he managed to create a mild distinction between his position and his opponent’s.

Romney is 100% for exploiting fossil fuels as fast as we can possibly get them up out of the ground.

Obama, on the other hand, is 100% for exploiting fossil fuels as fast as we can possibly get them up out of the ground.

And oh yeah, he’s not against throwing a little money at solar, wind and biofuels (let’s not even talk about how destructive existing biofuels like ethanol have actually been on multiple levels—let’s give the guy a break).

While Romney just wants to hammer home the assertion that his Administration will bring us lower gas prices (no doubt as a result of all the frantic drilling he intends to support), Obama is interested in encouraging conservation by raising fuel economy standards, an idea right out of the late 1970s if I ever heard one.

A 21st century idea would be to get rid of oil subsidies and insist that the price of gas and oil reflect the true costs of its production and consumption, which are actually way higher than whatever the current price of a gallon of crude might be.

Then there’s coal, which both of these guys are apparently in favor of continuing to exploit.  Did someone say “mountaintop removal”?  Just point Romney/Obama at the mountain, and let’s go!

The nadir of the whole energy discussion of the second Presidential debate came when, in response to a little goading from Romney, Obama said he was “all for pipelines.”

In nearly the same breath, he proudly proclaimed that his Administration has supported lots of oil and gas drilling on public lands—how many leases, and what percentage of increase or decrease they may represent from the Bush years, may be a bit fuzzy, but the gist is clear: both Romney and Obama are all for opening up our public lands to drilling, in the name of energy independence from foreign fuel sources.

Oh Lord. The truth is that our dependence on so-called foreign fuel suppliers (who are mostly multinational corporations anyway) is the least of our worries.

The one thing we most need to be focusing on is the one thing that no one wants to deal with at all.

The effect of global heating, caused by the ever-escalating burning of fossil fuels worldwide.

And instead of working soberly and swiftly to turn the climate juggernaut around, our politicians are acting like easy-going traffic cops, just waving those bulldozers and oil rigs right on through.


Take the Keystone pipeline, which both Romney and Obama were unabashed in supporting.

Did you know that right at this moment, there are dedicated Earth defenders sitting in trees in Texas, trying to block the construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Daryl Hannah at Keystone XL Pipeline protest, October 2012


Well, you probably realize that the bitumen that pipeline is designed to carry is so thick and sludgy that it has to be mixed with toxic chemicals in order to make it flow.

You’ve probably heard about the damage that could be caused by a spill from a pipeline like this, if the chemicals leaked into the major aquifers that are along the way.

This on top of the destruction of the forests that is already happening on a vast scale to get those “tar sands” out.

On top of the chemical contamination of our aquifers from hydro-fracking for gas.

On top of mountain-top removal and strip-mining for coal.

On top of the whole lousy cap and trade system, by which dirty Northern-hemisphere commercial polluters can continue to pollute as long as they buy credits in Southern hemisphere forest preserves—except that what’s actually been happening is that first they buy the preserves, then they log them, then they replant with palm oil trees, heavily sprayed with pesticide, herbicide and fungicide to keep the rainforest from returning, and then they proudly collect their credits for having maintained some semblance of soylent green!

All this is the reality behind the puffery that passed for politics at the debate last night.

What is our national energy policy?  For both the Republicans and the Democrats, it’s drill faster!  Drill harder!  Drill everywhere possible!

President Obama chided his opponent at one point for thinking only of short-term prospects.

“We have to think about what’s coming in 10, 20, 30 years,” he said, the implication being that we shouldn’t entirely neglect the prospects of wind and solar energy.

But the truth is that if we continue drilling at the rate both candidates support, there won’t be a stable environment left to build an alternative energy future for our grandchildren and future generations.

They won’t be building wind turbines and solar panels in 2050, they’ll be building underground shelters and modern-day Noah’s arks.


Still, yes, I am going to go grumbling to the polls on Nov. 6 and pull the lever for Obama.  There is no question in my mind that he is the better man.

I understand that right now he is trying to walk the centrist line and please as many American constituencies as he can.

But once re-elected, he must be pushed to take a stronger stand on environmental policy, including energy policy.

If that means that more of us have to take to the trees in protest, well, so be it.  I always did love climbing trees!

Finding the fire in the belly to combat climate change

OK, I admit it, I fell asleep during the Presidential debate.

I got the lay of the land: the sober, restrained President; the overly aggressive, bulldog-style challenger; and poor Jim Lehrer, looking overly made up and rather frantic, trying to maintain order.

The truth is, I don’t like debates as a form of political discourse, especially not when we’re talking about something as important as who gets to hold the American presidency for the next four years.

This shouldn’t be decided on the basis of who is more aggressive at sniping at the opponent.

Pundits were quick to fault President Obama for not displaying sufficient fire in the belly, and I have to agree, I would have liked to see him put his rapier wit to better use.

But can we say that Mitt Romney “won” the debate simply because he showed more aplomb at throwing around inaccurate statistics?

Who do you want as your President, the man who can keep his cool and who believes in telling the truth, or the man who is all bombast and blather, and is quite comfortable with stretching the truth as need be?


The elephant in the room of this debate, and I suspect in the next debates as well, is climate change.

Neither candidate wants to talk about it, although it’s true that Romney is Mr. Fossil Fuel, while Obama is a tad more amenable to alternative energy.

All the projections about deficits and economic growth, etc etc ad nauseum, will be totally moot when and if the earth’s atmosphere goes way out of balance.  And all indications are that this is already happening, faster than anyone expected.

What we should be doing now is preparing for a brave new world that we have brought upon ourselves.  A world of violent storms, droughts, floods and wildfires, a world of acidified, dying oceans and rainforests turned to deserts.


No, this is not science fiction, this is real, and it’s already happening.

What we desperately need is a politician who will dare to stand up and tell the truth about where we’re heading, and the truth about what needs to be done to head off total catastrophe.

Obviously, neither Romney nor Obama is that leader.

Are we going to simply follow them over the cliff of climate change?


Although it may be hard to recognize, we do have other choices.

All involve taking the risk of stepping further off the beaten path. The lifestyle that most of us Americans were raised to see as normal is, in fact, a big part of what has brought the entire world to the brink of disaster.

We have to change.

And if we can’t find any leaders to show us the way, we have to do it ourselves.

Look into your heart and try to hear the deep, wise voice that lives there.

We know what to do.  It’s just a matter of summoning the courage to actually take those first baby steps into a new world.

State of the Union or State of the Planet?

Tonight is President Obama’s State of the Union.  I love to watch that man orate, but I just can’t summon much enthusiasm this time.  It’s so obvious that he will be reciting lines that have been scripted for him, after much vetting by all the stakeholders.  So I don’t expect any surprises or delights in tonight’s speech.

Like a racehorse, Obama has many owners, and he has to answer to all of them.  The only thing they care about is that he wins.

The problem is that winning, in today’s terms, means ignoring what’s really important.  If we were going to focus on what is urgently needed right now, we would start with a massive push to shift from fossil-fuel energy to renewable energy.

This is starting to sound so old-news, and yet—hello!  It’s not being done!  Instead we’re still expending energy on fighting over the Keystone XL pipeline, which is so clearly a 20th century dinosaur that SHOULD NOT BE BUILT.

Rather than pour billions of dollars into thousands of miles of pipeline for dirty crude, we need to be drastically ramping up our manufacturing output of solar panels.  I have mixed feelings about wind power, but solar seems to be a no-brainer.  Put solar panels on rooftops across the USA, as so many in Europe are doing, and away we go to a brave new world of energy autonomy.

President Obama is not going to talk about solar power tonight.  His handlers won’t let him.

And so, he will continue to lead us down the daisy path of delusion—what David Selby and Fumiyo Kagawa, the editors of the new volume Education and Climate Change  (Routledge, 2010), call the  “eyes wide shut” approach to “global heating.”

If we were bring truthful, Selby and Kagaway say, we would admit that “future scenarios look grim: a mix of ubiquitous environmental disaster (including a huge loss of biodiversity), ongoing and massive internal and external population displacement as a result of sea incursions, seasonally recurring wildfires and desertification (and resultant social dislocation), hunger, starvation, internecine strife, violent conflict, tribalism, aggressively defensive localism, as well as the ever-lurking danger of genocide.”

Do you think Obama is going to address this stark scenario?

Not on your life!

He will talk about jobs creation and economic improvement as though we were living in a world divorced from our planetary base.

Most of us exist in this delusional sphere.  Plugged in, it’s hard for us to imagine that there could come a time when the physical disruptions of the planet could actually interfere with our digitized lifestyles.

Could there be a time when food from all the corners of the globe is not available in our grocery store?  Could there come a time when electricity is not either flowing freely, or about to be restored?

No one wants to hear this, but I have to say it anyway.  It is very possible, even probable, that there will be interruptions of food supplies and electricity  in the foreseeable future.

You won’t find any politician willing to talk about this.

For all politicians, and for most of us ordinary citizens, it is akin to heresy to suggest that sometime in the near future, the corporate capitalist economic model, based on endless growth and endless extraction of resources, is going to take a nosedive off the nearest cliff.

Neither the State of the Union, nor any political speech that will make prime time in the next year, will honestly engage with the reality of climate change.

Birmingham, Alabama, Jan. 24, 2012

That means that when storms hit, as they did just this week in Alabama, we will still be interpreting them through the conventional frame of “freak storms,” rather than as the steadily advancing harbingers of a future we don’t want to see.

We have such a limited window to prepare for the deep systemic planetary changes that are heading our way.  The difference between us and the dinosaurs is that we know what’s coming.

Are we going to squander this knowledge with shortsighted power struggles motivated by greed? Or are we going to use our superior intelligence to help our species, and countless others, avoid the fate of the dinosaurs?

It remains to be seen, but this much is certain: tonight’s State of the Union address, being just so much more smoke and mirrors, is not going to provide any answers.

Shades of an American Kristallnacht?

Tonight at dinner the conversation turned to politics, although it seemed that everyone at the table was reluctant to mention the name “Obama”—a sign of the deep disappointment in our erst-while hero.

There was some enthusiasm for the political satire of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, who are probably doing more to educate young people in politics than most high schools in America today.

There was derision for the spectacle of the Republican primaries, which I, for one, have been unable to stomach watching—not even for a moment.

And there was deep sadness over the unavoidable truth that now, in the wake of Citizens United, it has become totally legal for rich people to run politicians the same way they might run horses or greyhounds.  Just like that.

Maybe that’s what provides the eerie, zombie-like atmosphere in politics these days. You really have the sense that most politicians, especially the ones at the top echelons of power, are like old-fashioned Kabbalistic golems, animated out of clay by skilled magicians who can control them from afar.

Of course, that’s been going on for a long time.  Remember George Bush, a wind-up man getting remote control instructions through his earphone in the 2004 Presidential debates?

But it’s getting worse and worse.  That’s why I can’t stand to watch Gingrich and Santorum and all the other Republican wax model men mouth their lines on the stage these days.  You know they’ll say whatever they’re told…whatever they think it will take to win.

There is certainly a good chance that one of the Republicans will win.  The Democrats are dispirited and grumpy, not much in the mood to get all fired up about yet another election.

The Republicans, on the other hand, are rabid to take back the White House.  They’ve been busy as hell redistricting to try to gain every electoral advantage, and I have absolutely no faith in the electronic voting machines that they’ve been installing in every town and city in the land.

It’s very possible that Mr. XY Zombie Republican could seize power in November, with the backing of endlessly deep pockets like the Koch brothers, Big Energy, and Big Finance, and the blessing of the Supreme Court.

What then?

If the Republicans controlled all three houses of government, they could ram through the legislation they’ve been concocting during the past decade or so: legislation powering up the assault on the environment, on health, on social services, destroying any kind of safety net for people, animals or the environment.

They could escalate the war on dissidents (like me), who dare to oppose their plans.  In short order, the United States could turn into just another big banana republic, with a military-backed regime of elites governing through the indiscriminate use of fear tactics, with violence applied as necessary to keep the people in line.

Lately I have been re-reading Margaret Atwood’s marvelous sci-fi novel The Handmaid’s Tale, and finding it chillingly prophetic.  In Atwood’s dystopia, environmental catastrophe has rendered the elites infertile, and pushed them to withdraw into gated communities where food shortages are common, and people are regularly hung in the public square to keep everyone fearful and docile.

The narrator remembers how just before her world fell apart, there were signs of repression: books being banned and burned, identity cards being issued and required, mobility restricted, media censored.  All of a sudden, one fine morning, it was no longer possible for her and her family to get in their car and drive away to seek safety in Canada.  All of a sudden, they were trapped in a nightmare that went quickly from bad to worse.

Augusto Pinochet of Chile

This reminds me also of the many testimonials I have read from Latin America—true stories, not fiction—from the 1970s, when wealthy politicians wielding military power and complete control over the ballot boxes ruled their countries with iron fists, “disappearing” anyone who might remotely be a threat, including thousands of innocent students.  This happened in Chile and Argentina, in Guatemala and El Salvador and many other countries.  Often the shift from democracy to fascist dictatorship happened literally overnight.

As in Germany before the Kristallnacht, none of us here in the U.S. wants to believe that anything could happen to destroy our cherished freedoms, our vaunted  “American way of life.”  We don’t want to admit, even to ourselves, the extent to which our freedoms are already being encroached upon, day by day.

Just last week, for example, there was an outrageous episode in Arizona, where the government declared a whole long list of books by Mexican Americans to be unsuitable for school use, and went so far as to direct the school librarians and teachers to pull them from the shelves, box them up and put them into deep storage.

Among the authors banned are some of my favorite writers—Gloria Anzaldua, Elizabeth Martinez, Paulo Freire.

Paulo Freire

Yes, that Paulo Freire, the famous Brazilian educator and free thinker who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a brilliant analysis of the way that traditional education indoctrinates students into conformity and submission to authority.

Freire proposed that instead of a banking style of education, where knowledge is deposited into students, who are then required to spit it back upon demand, education worth its salt should empower students to think for themselves.

Such a simple idea, but so powerful, too.  Education should teach people to think for themselves, and to work with each other to come to consensus on issues of importance to the larger society.

Isn’t that just what the Occupy movements have been trying to do?  If Freire were alive, he would be out there in the thick of the Occupy action, inspiring the young to shake off the false animation of Zombiland, and insist on dancing to their own authentic beat.

This reminds me of another beloved science fiction book, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, where the sinister IT controls all the inhabitants of a city by forcing them to conform to ITS rhythm.  Their hearts pulse to ITS rhythm, their eyes twirl to ITS rhythm, their thoughts are entirely subsumed by IT.  The only way to break ITS control is to think for oneself, to be creative, resilient and determined.

The children Meg and Charles Wallace succeed in rescuing their father from the clutches of IT by dint of their own powers of creativity and love, with a little help from some eccentric and freethinking guides.

Will the science fiction tale we’re living through now have that kind of happy ending?

Oh yeah, it’s not fiction, is it.

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