Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Death Merchants Party

How foolish we were, to think that the election of Barack Obama meant that the nightmare was over. Republicans are off at a Values Summit, glorying in their new success at intensifying their core values: hate, racism, lying and what has emerged as their greatest: in your face hypocrisy.

Unless you count killing. The Republican Party is a baby-killer. They support as "the best in the world" a health care system that is near the bottom in keeping infants alive. But as many of those babies are probably brown, black and red, and possibly even "illegal," that comports with their core values.

But the Republican Party--from the party leadership to their congressional leadership, most of their prospective presidential candidates, and certainly their Rabid Right extremists and media inciters that officials in the party are so eager to embrace-- doesn't support killing only babies. They support inflicting pain and suffering, wounds and death on Americans of all ages. A new study gives one special number: 45,000 deaths a year attributable to lack of health insurance, more than die by homicide and drunk driving combined. That's the equivalent of about 15 9/11s a year. And that doesn't even count those who die because the health insurance they have refuses to cover the medical treatment they need to live.

The Republican Party by opposing health care reform is also killing the economy, especially the small businesses they purport to love, and they are killing families by sending so many into bankruptcy over medical bills. But it's not all "reform" they oppose: just the kind that makes it more likely that more non-wealthy people will receive quality health care, through insurance that is actually insurance instead of legal extortion.

Because the only thing health insurance corporations want to do is collect money from people. So the part of reform they are very high on is the government forcing everyone to buy insurance from them. What they cannot allow is government forcing them to actually insure people, which means that when their customers get sick, they have to pay for their care. For you see, today's insurance corporations don't see paying money out as part of their business.

Insurance corporations are just another species of death merchants, along with the arms manufacturers who supply all sides of every conflict with ever more deadly weapons, and infiltrate governments to make sure that there are plenty of wars that will use up those weapons so those countries buy more.

Sure, those particular death merchants cultivate another profit center--the most elaborate and expensive weapons systems they can imagine, sold on the basis of fear of continuing "threats." These don't kill as many people directly since they aren't always used, but then that gives them another advantage: those weapons don't have to actually work. But indirectly they do kill people since they soak up so much money that other countries devote to sane health care, and other life-saving purposes.

These folks had a little setback this week when the Obama administration cancelled the Star Wars missile defense system that was supposed to protect Poland from long-range nuclear missile attacks from Iran. And how the Republicans shout in pain over that one! Yes, a missile defense system that has never successfully defended anything against missiles in tests, even including some of the tests that were rigged, to be built to defend against missiles that themselves don't exist. What a business! Health insurance executives salute you!

So the U.S. government has spent billions of dollars on these technologies--billions of dollars to defend Poland from a nonexistent threat with an ineffective system-- while those billions could have been used for universal health care right here in America, and over the years since this Reagan fantasy began, saved upwards of 10 million American lives.

The party of ignorance, the party of death--we thought we'd gotten past this, but so far their very loud lies, their bold hatred, their barely-veiled threats of violence and their relentless shameless hypocrisy have roiled things so thoroughly that the real discussions on the real action that might still conceivably save the future aren't front and center where they should be.

So add one more very big death: the Republican Party is killing the future.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“The Buddha teaches us that we are always at a crossroads, moment by moment.”

--Pema Chodron. Image: NGC 6302 by Hubble telescope.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Conservation Refugees" highlights a relatively unknown phenomenon, in which human rights, global ecology, economic development and well-meaning but misguided efforts clash, with tragic results for both Indigenous peoples and wilderness. See "Bookmark" below.

Bookmark: Conservation Refugees

One of the surprises of my few years working with a Native American organization involved in issues affecting Native peoples in North and South America was the common attitude towards environmental organizations and the "enviros" themselves. It varied from playful skepticism and wariness to suspicion, scorn and anger.

It's become common to think of Indigenous peoples as the first environmentalists, but while the reality is more complex, the basic link between the land and the people who have long been part of its ecologies is strong and true. In the late 1980s, when the South American rainforests were a global environmental concern, one of the celebrities making the case--Sting, who started the Rainforest Foundation--made common cause with Indigenous tribes, particularly the Kayapo of Brazil, and stated the principle: the way to save the rainforests is to save the Indigenous peoples who live in them.

Some twenty years later, this is still something of a radical principle, according to the history that journalist Mark Dowie relates in his book, Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples (MIT Press.)

Citing situations in Africa and Asia as well as South and North America, large environmental organizations in league with international development powerhouses have too often attempted to save wilderness areas by moving Indigenous peoples out. The repeated result has been to impoverish and destroy these peoples (with countless individual tragedies) while often enough also failing to really preserve a healthy ecology.

Dowie doesn't dismiss the problems. He acknowledges harmful practices of some Indigenous groups, but argues that it is better to negotiate changes in these practices than to arrogantly dispossess entire peoples, creating these "conservation refugees." It is that arrogance--including that of a largely white environmentalist establishment--that contributes to the misunderstanding and suspicion that has divided two groups that should be natural allies: Native peoples and environmentalists.

Dowie argues as well that the idea of wilderness as meaning human-free is another cause of these conservation tragedies."One can only wonder what Yosemite would look like today were the descendants of Tenaya still thriving in the valley, sharing the native wisdom accumulated over 4,000 years in the ecosystem, and sharing, as equal partners in the stewardship and management of the park," he writes. "What would be the state of its biotic wealth? Would the grizzly bear and bighorn sheep still roam its meadows and canyons?"

Such observations are backed by reporting in that difficult midrange between the specifically descriptive and the generally conclusive. Readers have to be willing to navigate the acronyms and statistics, but the cumulative effect is a compelling history of global failures and successes in saving the last natural ecosystems, and saving the last Indigenous peoples. The stories are complex as reality, and as human.

Economic development, national and international politics all come into play. But for all the tragedy there is also growing awareness, and sophistication in finding common ground and developing partnerships. There is also the assertion of principle, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the text of which is included in this book. Conservation Refugees is informative, enlightening and provocative, highlighting a key but neglected feature of a crucial set of problems of planetary significance. For one thing, the last forests are crucial to all civilization surviving the Climate Crisis future without irrevocable damage.