Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Don't take your guns to town, boys. There's nobody out to get you and you're just going to look silly

Remember the Black Helicopter scares from some 30 years ago?  (Oh, they're still around?  Do tell.  Have they attacked yet?)  The paranoia parties were going full swing back when Right Wing talk radio was young and the Commies, the Reds, the Pinkos were still such an obvious threat.  The New World Order as conspiracy theory was shiny new, and we in the Detroit area got a kick out of tuning in nearly every day to Mark "Excelsior!" Scott striving mightily to warn his followers about the dangers of big, nasty, secretive, elitist government.  According to Mark and his merry band of conspiracy-addicts, there were secret facilities hidden deep in the west and along the borders and there were black helicopters in the skies and Russian tanks under the trees and it was all a part of a New World Order plotting to rule the planet and make us all slaves.  Danger was all around us, and we were idiots if we couldn't see what was coming.

That was 30 years ago and then 20 years ago and then 10 years ago, and then five years ago and then last October (when Glenn Beck was astonished that people are talking about the New World Order without flinching)  and then right up to the moment I typed the last word in this paragraph.

And this one.

It's coming!!!!

So what's the natural progression, considering that the New World Order in all its blackness is honest-to-God almost almost here?  Well, if you've got any brains at all, you strap on your guns and saddle up and then you go to wherever the President of the United States happens to be, or at least to wherever a prominent Democrat happens to be, because. . . .

Because you have guns and you know how to show them.

You could be honest, but you've seen from past appearances by everyone you've ever admired that you don't have to be honest.  But if you were honest you might have to admit that the alleged threats to our republic from the black sites and the black helicopters pale in comparison to the fact that, even after all that jawing, that fear-mongering, you're still stuck with a government headed by a man whose skin is dark and who has a hint of the dreaded Muslim somewhere deep in his past.  And on top of that, he's a Democrat.  And on top of that, there are more Democrats than Republicans in the house and the senate.  And you hate that.

Look, I know life is tough for you guys, what with all your hollering going for naught, but honestly?  Nobody you're setting your sights on is out to get you. Nobody at those get-togethers is suddenly seeing your wife and kiddies as prey.  When you carry a gun to a public place--especially a place where politicians and their followers gather--you might as well be carrying a sign that reads, "Dick Cheney and the Neocons scared the hell out of me, but just because I can't think straight doesn't mean I can't shoot straight."

(By the way, that picture at the top of the page?  I took it from a fifth floor balcony, right out in the open, and I lived to tell about it.  It most likely was a Marine helicopter; there are Marine bases to the north and south of us there. One thing I know for sure:  It was on our side.)


Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Day to Celebrate the Earth. Tomorrow: Business as Usual?

"[O]n April 22, 1970, 20 million people, 2,000 colleges and universities, 10,000 grammar and high schools and 1,000 communities mobilized for the first nationwide demonstrations on environmental problems. Congress adjourned for the day so members could attend Earth Day events in their districts. The response was nothing short of remarkable, and the modern American environmental movement took off.
My major objective in planning Earth Day 1970 was to organize a nationwide public demonstration so large it would, finally, get the attention of the politicians and force the environmental issue into the political dialogue of the nation. It worked. By the sheer force of its collective action on that one day, the American public forever changed the political landscape respecting environmental issues."
Sen. Gaylord Nelson, Dem. Wisc - Founder of Earth Day.

Created by Walt Kelly for Earth Day, 1970

I remember that first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.  The scope of it was astonishing and really surprising. It was a grassroots movement in the best sense of the phrase, and we all felt good about it.  (Most of us, that is.  The day after, The Daughters of the American Revolution branded  the Earth Day commemoration "distorted" and "subversive".  (It didn't help that the first Earth Day happened to fall on the 100th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin's birth.)

What Gaylord Nelson originally proposed was a nationwide teach-in on school campuses.  He chose April 22 because it would fall after Easter break but before final exams.  It was spring.  The earth was renewing itself.  Environmentalism was gearing up and in motion,  and it was a fine time to give the earth a day.  Richard Nixon was president and, while he didn't participate in any of the day's events (maybe because a damned Democrat came up with the idea), he was actively talking about attacks on the environment and the steps the government would need to combat them.  Pollution was a big issue already, and steps had been taken to de-smog the cities.  It was working.  (Nelson had actually talked to JFK in the early 60s about the need to draw attention to the environment, and a day to commemorate had been thrown out there then.)

Industry was king, and the environmentalists, alarmed at water, ground and air pollution levels, were talking to brick walls (when they weren't batting their heads against them).  In 1962, the year Rachel Carson published "Silent Spring", 750 people died in London's smog.  In 1965, four days of inversion held down a cloud of filthy air that killed 80 people in New York City.  In 1969, Cleveland's Cuyahoga River caught fire. Earlier that year, an oil platform six miles out from Santa Barbara, California, blew out, spilling 200,000 gallons of oil, creating an 800 square mile oil slick that settled on 35 miles of California shoreline.  Almost 4,000 birds were killed, along with fish, seals and dolphin.  

Enough had finally become enough, and under Lyndon Johnson and a congress that could see clearly now (even though the rest of us were still lost in a choking, eye-watering, salmon-colored, man-made smog), we saw a Clean Air Act, a Clean Water act, a National Wilderness Preservation System, a Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a National Trails System Act, and, for what it was worth, a  National Environmental Policy.

That all changed, of course, when Ronald "A tree is a tree" Reagan became president.  For the Department of Interior, he chose James Watt, a notorious anti-environmentalist, to head it. He chose Ann Gorsuch, another determined anti-earthling, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  What a laugh that was--or might have been, if it weren't so serious.  They were chosen for the same cynical reasons George W. Bush chose his department heads--so that regulatory agencies could, from the inside, be forced to stop regulating.  

Gale Norton, GWB's choice for Secretary of Interior was called "even worse" than James Watt, by the Defenders of Wildlife.  I shuddered over that one.  I remembered James Watt, and I thought nobody could cause as much havoc on our little section of the earth as that little man did.  I thought we had learned something along the way.  I thought all those Arbor Days and Earth Days and global warming warnings had taught us all something.  Some of us obviously weren't listening.

But now we're in the era of Obama and former Colorado senator Ken Salazar is the Interior secretary.  The jury is still out on him; his voting record was either for or against the environment, depending on what I'm assuming was the alignment of the stars or the fullness of the moon.  I don't know.   But he's showing signs of bucking the oil industry, and he isn't necessarily doing what his naysayers thought he would, so I'm willing to cut him some slack for a while.

Lisa Jackson is the current head of the EPA. She's a chemical engineer, which seems like a start, and she said this in Newsweek:  "The difference between this administration and the last is that we don't believe we have an option to do nothing."  I like that.  But she seems to think there's no cause for alarm over offshore drilling.  That makes me more than a little nervous, considering the above-mentioned Santa Barbara incident, and the 11-million-gallon Exxon-Valdez incident, and today's oil-rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana.  (I hope she remembers that the EPA is 40 years old this year, too.  In fact it's a few months older than Earth Day--all the more reason for it to be the designated caretaker.)

This Earth Day, 40 years after the first, got a lot of play in the news and on the internet, but I was hoping to see crowds out there giving it their best.  I didn't expect teabags, of course, but what I wouldn't give for a sea of tie-dyes and peace signs and flower garlands. . .  The aroma of pachouli. . . 

All those things I thought were pretty silly in the day are looking downright good to me as I take note of the day we promised to give Earth a chance.

"Sometimes I wonder if Lewis and Clark shouldn't have been made to file an environmental impact study before they started west, and Columbus before he ever sailed.  They might never have got their permits.  But then we wouldn't have been here to learn from our mistakes, either.  I really only want to say that we may love a place and still be dangerous to it.  We ought to file that environmental impact study before we undertake anything that exploits or alters or endangers the splendid, spacious, varied, magnificent and terribly fragile earth that supports us.  If we can't find an appropriate government agency with which to file it, we can file it where an Indian would have filed it--with our environmental conscience, our slowly maturing sense that the earth is indeed our mother, worthy of our love and deserving of our care."  

Wallace Stegner, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Could we Just have the Damn Tax Day without the Rollicking Tea Party?

I filled out my first tax return when I was 17 years old and still in high school.  My Dad was ready to do it for me, but I wanted to be a grown-up and do it myself.  The entire form was on a cardboard third-sheet and it couldn't have taken more than five minutes to fill out, but when I dropped it into the mailbox I felt like I was no longer a child but was now part of the citizenry.  (It didn't hurt that I was getting a refund, of course, and when that check came, straight from the government, I almost didn't want to cash it.  It was wonderful to behold.)

Every year since that first mid-20th century tax day (then March 15, the Ides of March), I've had occasion to file my income taxes.  For the past 53 years my husband and I have filed jointly.  So yesterday we filled out our 1040, gave the government a whole lot of personal information, signed our real names with the promise that all of the above is true to the best of our knowledge, enclosed a three-figure check and  mailed it in.  Then we went back to doing what we were doing before we did it.  No protests planned, no signs made, no bullhorns, no teabags hanging off of silly hats.  We paid our taxes.  That's what we do when we're Americans and we have incomes.  (Which--I don't have to tell you--is getting harder and harder to say in this country.)

It's what we did even during the odious Bush years, when the thought of where our hard-earned money was going was entirely too painful to even contemplate.  We endured a royal screwing during those eight years--those of us who didn't wear a corporate crown--and still we understood that our nation couldn't survive without our taxes paid.  We paid our taxes even when we knew without a shadow of a doubt that those who could most afford to pay theirs weren't doing it.  We paid, knowing they would never choose to pay, would never have to pay, and would never have to pay for not paying.

(We sent in our census yesterday, too.  It took all of three minutes, 27 seconds to fill it out, and it felt pretty good.  Now we're counted.)

So now that I've done my duty, what do I want for my taxes?  I want BIG, smart, honest, conscientious  government. 

I want a government that saves jobs, protects jobs, creates jobs, and thinks rampant unemployment in the Land of Plenty is a mortal sin.

 I want a government that takes public education seriously and stays awake nights thinking up ways to educate every American child without having to put them at the mercy of the private sector. 

I want a government that thinks safety is pretty damned important, and allows no quarter when it comes to pollution or hazards or human neglect.

I want a government that minds its own business and stays out of wars and remembers who they're here to serve.

I want a government that stands up for the people who voted them into office, and gives their big donors nothing more than the hearty "Thank you" they so heartily deserve.

What I don't want is no government at all.  That's just stupid.

So when I wasn't filling out forms I was snickering at those faux-Yahoos mugging their faces off for the TV cameras, pretending that they're mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore.  Who are they trying to kid?  They're mad as hell that Obama is president and then the other thing is that they're mad as hell that Obama is president.

There isn't a person in this country who isn't angry about something the government does.  They're the government, for chrissake.  They do some of the dumbest damn things. 

But come on, Baggers, don't pretend you're angry at rising taxes when, in fact, your taxes are LOWER this year.

Don't pretend your concerns are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  The only thing that would make you happy would be Obama in exile and the liberals traveling behind him in cattle cars.

Don't pretend  that things are worse today than they were under George W. Bush.  Even on the darkest night under the deepest of covers you can't say that without crossing your fingers.

Don't pretend you're Everyman or Everywoman--just folks.  Your heroes are Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Mitch McConnell. They HATE just folks.  So how about you ask them what they've done for their country, not what their country has done for them?   And then ask yourselves:   Where am I?  How did I get here?  Who ARE these people?  Why am I dressed this way?  What is this sign I'm holding?  Am I on Candid Camera?


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here and at Alternet here)