Thursday, November 04, 2010

The News

Here's the good news: as far as we know, the Earth did not get swallowed up by a black hole. Some people thought that might happen when they turned on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, but it didn't. At least, not that we noticed.

But the outcome of the 2010 elections made it less likely that we're going to make an orderly transition to a safe future, let alone a better one. It wasn't likely anyway, but bad times that most Americans can't even imagine are likely to become obvious sooner, and the far future has really taken a blow.

I remind you of what Paul Krugman wrote about the short-term future: "This is going to be terrible. In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness. "

A battle royal is ahead for the long-term future. Yesterday President Obama reiterated what he's said in interviews, that his emphasis for the next two years is on clean energy policy, which is the positive way of talking about efforts to control the Climate Crisis. But the GOP--the Grand Oil Party--has moved to unanimity on Climate Crisis denial, becoming the party of anticipatory mass murder. Writes Marc Ambinder (with my emphasis): "The GOP plans to hold high profile hearings examining the alleged "scientific fraud" behind global warming, a sleeper issue in this election that motivated the base quite a bit." (The rest of his analysis in that column sounds pretty sane as well.)

I find myself becoming less interested in the shifting winds of politics and more concentrated on both the longer view, and the much more specific. In terms of the longer view, some of us had the hope that the improvements and stability in our lifetime meant that humanity had become mature and smart enough to move into a brighter future for all, including the ability to meet challenges like global heating we might encounter along the way. Certainly a better test for human maturity could not be devised than the Climate Crisis, which requires intelligent analysis, emotional and psychological maturity, anticipatory thinking and imagination, high levels of skills and confidence, and a society that welcomes diversity and has outgrown petty divisions.

But another reading of these decades is that they were a fortunate but temporary aberration: a product of several kinds of luck (America's position after World War II vs. the rest of the world, an unusually beneficent climate period, etc.) These two possibilities are not mutually exclusive--in fact, this period of luck and relative stability, when so many scourges of disease, war and poverty were in abeyance for millions of people was the perfect opportunity to marshal our physical, intellectual and psychological resources to really grow up as a species spread everywhere in a global society, capable of managing our collective future.

That no longer seems at all likely. There was progress in some parts of the world, but not enough, and especially not enough here in the U.S. The consequences of the past and our inability to deal with them in the present (most notably, in the Climate Crisis caused by byproducts of industrial prosperity) are very likely to cause significant hardships and disruptions, already a reality for millions across the globe, as well as unheard and unknown numbers even in America. This is almost inevitably going to grow significantly worse in the next 50 years, and beyond.

The refusal to face this reality will be painful to watch now. Those who continue the daily struggle against it will need renewed courage, tempered by hard-won wisdom. But once again they will be fighting to keep our society and our country from slipping back even farther. We still haven't made up the ground lost in the Bush II years--not even the Reagan years. If Obama's election was a step forward, this election was at least a half step back. And when we need to move forward quickly, that may turn out to be too much.

And those divisions are clearly still there. Racism was a significant factor in this election, along with oil and tobacco money. It may be a Sunset Effect, but after sunset comes night. Actually this may have been the last hurrah for the Grand Old White People's Supremacy Party. Demographics will out eventually. But the cohesive society we need in emergencies, with some level of trust in times of chaos, has grown even more remote, and some or all of us may well pay a price for that.
I find myself thinking about how completely many people are locked in the present as they know it, as if it will last forever. It's probably not going to. This thought, maybe paradoxically, orients me towards appreciating the moment. I think about hot water gushing out of the tap. I enjoy my cat while we have her. I still imagine the future, but its rewards are different than I used to imagine. It's a different and more dangerous kind of adventure. Maybe I can still suggest ways to meet it, for people who will have to face it. I probably won't be one of them. I've got a different and shorter journey to make. Meanwhile, I'm just hoping the hot water holds out.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Today is Election Day: Guard the Change

"Tomorrow [meaning TODAY], you can help determine not just the outcome of this election, but our country's future."

(President Obama, in an email yesterday)

"The last election was a changing of the guard. Now we need to guard the change."

(President Obama, speech this fall)

Don't compare us to the Almighty; compare us to the alternative."

(President Obama, speech in September)

And for a scenario of the outcome that is still possible, there's this from Nate Silver.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

These are some of the Rabid Right extremists who have a good chance to be elected and to take power in the U.S. House and perhaps the Senate this week, plus two of their key facilitators. Here is some of what they've been saying: Social Security is evil, unconstitutional and must be abolished. End the minimum wage. End student loans, abolish the Education Department and abolish public schools. End the Veteran's administration. No separation of church and state--Christianity as the official religion, Islam is a terrorist religion. No right to vote for U.S. Senators. No legal abortions for any reason. Repeal health care reform, repeal consumer protection and Wall Street bank reform. Continue to subsidize corporations moving jobs out of America. Continue tax cuts for the super-rich. Keith Olbermann calls this election "an attempted use of democracy to end this democracy, to buy America wholesale and pave over the freedoms and the care we take of one another which have combined to keep us the envy of the world."

Paul Krugman wrote: "This is going to be terrible. In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness."

And these candidates unanimously agree: Global warming, the greatest threat to the future, is a hoax.

Be afraid, be very afraid. This year, Halloween is real.

The Monsters Conquest

The monstrous amounts of money being spent on this election--dwarfing even the many millions that here in CA the two superwealthy candidates have lavished on their campaigns--comes secretly from corporations that--at least at this point--would not pour millions into purveying simplistic lies on behalf of candidates whose strings they expect to pull, unless they could do it in secret. Which for the first election in recent history, they can. We may never know to what extent the expected outcome of the 2010 has been bought by this secret money, but we can sure guess.

Who are these people? The kind of people (or, as the sign at yesterday's Washington rally points out, legally "corporations are people too") that deny the Climate Crisis for the same cynical reason they denied that smoking kills (often employing the same tactics and p.r. firms to do so), that continue to squeeze out the American middle class and yet convince enough members of it that it's the fault of blacks and browns and the federal government, that cynically take the resources of the country for free while running candidates against these programs, that demand their own taxes be cut so their billions can become more billions.

It's all got a living metaphor in this Halloween horror story, a book called The Monster by Michael W. Hudson (Times Books.) The apparent conventional wisdom about the sub-prime mortgage crisis that plunged the U.S. into a near Depression is that it was banks giving in to the bad choices made by people who really had no business wanting those loans. In other words: shame the victims.

The reality Michael Hudson exposes is very different: a morally corrupt and systematic campaign of predation, with no conscience and an excess of greed, by a sociopathic financial system--not at the fringes but in its vital centers. The victims are most often lied to and subjected to relentless psychological warfare, the records falsified and legal obligations of the lenders are circumvented. That the book begins with a primitive act of forgery is the signature of what goes on for the rest of its pages.

It is this streak within American business, politics and American life that is being empowered now. That is empowering itself through the cynical and ruthless manipulation of the unfortunately willing, as well as the helpless. We are watching our monsters become bigger and more powerful. This is a really scary Halloween.