Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hey, Starbucks, Take the Lead, Please!

Starbucks declares that it shares my concerns about the environment and strives to be a good steward. I have no reason to doubt the company's sincerity even if it may be profit motivated; after all, climate change affects terrain and growing conditions in coffee-bean producing places so Starbucks' bottom-line could be affected, but doesn't our commitment to every cause begin in healthy self-interest? So I welcome Starbucks to an important cause: the earth and us on it. I also challenge Starbucks to lead by posting a sign reading,

Idling cars release polluting particles. Join us in good environmental stewardship. Select a parking place, turn off your engine, and come inside. Thank you.

Snapshot by Al Griffin: "Somewhere in Alabama," 2010
The line of idling cars waiting for service at Starbucks' drive-through windows may be tempting, but it isn’t good for us, the air we breathe, or the earth we hope our children and grandchildren will enjoy so together, let's take one small step for mankind: just commit. Pledge not to add a few seconds or minutes of pollution by avoiding drive-through lanes.

I am so committed to this small, easily taken step that I created a petition at www.change.org. Please visit the site and sign your name.

Your signature merely commits you to park your car and walk inside Starbucks and every other fast food place you visit. Here is the text of the petition:

Climate change is fact. A major cause is man-made carbon emissions, including those from personal and public automobiles. An idling engine emits as much pollution as a vehicle does when driven. Not being one of several cars in long lines at drive-through lanes is one positive act to help reduce carbon emissions. So please, commit to find a parking place and walk inside.

Perhaps with commitments from many people, i. e., with many signatures on this petition, we can ask businesses to join us by offering an incentive to those who shop inside. A reduction of 5% before taxes might add up to mere pennies for consumers (just 25 cents on a $5 tab), but such an incentive would prove the business's commitment to reduce its carbon footprint, to live green, and to clean up the air we breathe. Together, we can make a difference so please stop your engines, especially during summer months when lines are longest.

Join my cause please, Starbucks and McDonald’s and Arby’s and Hardee’s and Burger King and frozen custard stands and all those other places where you can choose to pollute or get a bit of exercise. For my part, I’m parking and turning off the engine.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

To the Precipice and Beyond on the Rocks Below

I try to learn by reading and listening. Saturday morning, weekday early evening, and between television seasons, evening news programming raise my consciousness about current events. Analyses from NPR and PBS as well as my own insights drawn from articles in The Nation, Mother Jones, and online sources enrich my understanding. Speakers on C-Span also help to shape my thoughts, the ones I pass on to you.

This past week, the talking heads on television burbled and bubbled at a low boil about the state of the GOP. Those on MSNBC prophesy that the GOP cannot fare well by adopting exclusionary models reminiscent of a segregated South. Across the land, pundits believe that restricting the voters’ access to a ballot will only inspire minorities to stand in ever longer lines. Men and women, even a few on FOX, contend that denying a woman the right to sovereignty over her own body must be eschewed by those on the Right lest they lose their way to the White House. Again and again, self-proclaimed opinion-aires remind the GOP that their tent must be bigger, big enough to shelter immigrants, welcome minorities, entice women, and call card-carrying union members of both genders.

But Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative think-tank veteran and human torpedo responsible for sinking the Equal Rights Amendment initiative, refused to heed the advice of those pundits when she let the world know that voter identification and other restrictions have nothing to do with voter fraud. She explained to fellow conservatives that changes in access to the vote are needed to hurt Democrats, writing:

“The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that ‘early voting is giving …[Democrats] a solid lead in the battleground states ….’’

So the states where the GOP can push through laws quickly have accommodated an assault upon Democratic voters. The intent of those laws is exclusion, not inclusion.

Another GOP/Tea Party national figure, Representative Paul Ryan, declared that "We don't want a country where abortion is simply outlawed. We want a country where it isn't even considered.” Like Missouri’s Todd Akin, Indiana’s Richard Mourdock, and Texas’s Jodie Laubenderg, Paul Ryan is unapologetically anti-abortion. Akin, Mourdock, and Laubenderg also suggest that their understanding of rape and basic human biology is as wrong-headed as the GOP posture on climate change.

Anti-immigration legislation and sentiments also prove that the GOP prefers a smaller tent even though the national Republican Party chairman, Reince Priebus, disagrees. What I believe, what pundits and editorial spokesmen and women do not say is that Priebus is not in charge. In fact, neither the Tea Party nor the Republican Party under anyone’s chairmanship is in charge. Those parties are simply tools with which Big Money leverages influence.

"Loose Change," a photo by Al Griffin

The real GOP policy-makers, the true ideologues, and the puppeteers are Big Money, including the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, and Corporate America, aided by the U. S. Supreme Court with whom Big Money often dines.  Big Money also influences those on the left, notably in the area of education policy and practice, but it owns the Tea GOP. They have whipped Tea GOP members into a froth, teaching them fear and envy. You’ll recognize the narrative lines:

Union thugs are sucking the States’ economies dry.
Union thugs refuse to negotiate and must be denied the right to strike.
Right to Work legislation will draw business to states like dung draws flies.
Government needs to slash spending.
Government should be less intrusive--except, of course, in bedrooms. Government must reorient and/or punish homosexuals, and it must stand as the good father protecting and restraining promiscuity in women.
Government regulation is strangling small business.
Neither government nor business can afford to repair the nation’s infrastructure, protect and preserve the environment, provide a social network for those falling into poverty, or serve our veterans in a timely manner.
Health care is not a human right, but a privilege reserved for those most productive.

And my personal favorite, one that’s been around since Ronald Reagan cast his spell for smaller government, deregulation, privatizing government roles and subsequently rose to power, looming as large in the public psyche as Harry Potter among Hogwarts' graduates:

Trickle-down economics will allow everyone to prosper.

"Chump Change," a photo by Al Griffin

The Tea GOP learned to vote against its own interests by believing those narrative lines. They voted to break up unions and supported Right to Work after Big Money spent big money to teach them how to vote. Tea GOPs would do it again, too, because it appears they haven’t connected the dots: Right to Work weakened unions that stood between management and worker to secure benefits, shorter work weeks, and higher pay. Now that each of those has flatlined or begun to plummet, Tea GOPs simply deny and blame someone else--usually Democrats, immigrants, and/or the poor--anyone but themselves and certainly not Big Money.

The Tea GOP has also learned not to trust their brothers, leaders, or themselves. They envy the pennies that any other guy takes from what they perceive to be their entitlement to get ahead while remaining blind to the truth that their own pennies buy precious little these days. Utility companies charge more. College tuition has soared out of reach and well ahead of the rate of inflation. Homes, cars, red meat, fresh produce, and clothing cost so much that many American workers cannot afford to buy those, but seeking to increase profit even more, Big Money moved its production to other countries where workers have no benefits, work longer hours, and expect little income in exchange for their labor. Still the unemployed worker blames immigrants for stealing jobs that actually no longer exist. Big Money wants them to remain uninformed, deaf and blind to the truth that Big Money cares nothing for their ability to seize the American Dream. Big Money is thoroughly narcissistic; it feeds itself and lets the common man starve.

So pundits, please, stop admonishing the GOP Tea Party. It’s not listening. It doesn’t care, and no one would miss it if it imploded. The Tea GOP is a false front, a façade masking the real machinery, and that machinery believes it can state, repeat, declare, and lie without consequence. It can afford billboards, direct mailers, slogans, catch phrases, entire networks, and vituperative media personalities with extra layers of flesh thanks to the many pounds of flesh they have carved from their opponents in a spirit of righteous zeal. Big Money has 501 c4s to spare and hungry scholars who will produce, upon command, whatever study Big Money needs. Like the legendary Mafia, patronage buys friends and commands unwavering loyalty. Those scholars hope to, one day, become "made men and women, sitting at board room tables on floors high above the people they harmed by their reports and missives.

The Tea GOP and GOP Tea can spew, spit, spin, and sully. It can block, refuse, obstruct, reject, and fret. It can shut down the government and lead us all over that fiscal cliff, but it will endure as long as its members are spineless and ambitious. They exist to serve Big Money and hope to curry enough favor to step from politics into the private sector and a six-figure salary of their own. That's the new American Dream, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the public good.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Syria in September

As the talk shows endlessly hypothesize about what the U. S. should or should not do for the world in Syria; as Congress questions two veterans of foreign wars, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and debates resolutions; as at least one senator demands to know what the outcomes will be as if the strategists hold crystal balls; and as citizens weigh in, I find myself torn.

Yes, the world should never again ignore the suffering and torment of people. Innocent men and women in Rwanda held fast to the hope that the U. S. would intervene to save them. We didn’t and up to one million men, women and children were slaughtered.

We intervened in behalf of the world during WWII, but not before Hitler invented and implemented the final solution. At least six million died then.

Our footprint has also fallen in Bosnia, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Laos, Cambodia, and countless other places.; for our costs in Iives lost, disrupted, and irrevocably altered, the world has not always judged our interventions kindly. In Japan, for example, our use of firebombs took about 100,000 lives and left many survivors without shelter, food, or clean water. During an interview for the documentary, Fog of War, one of the architects of the firebomb raids, Robert McNamara used the firebombs as a cautionary tale about the use of force. Even in war, McNamara explained, proportionality must be a significant consideration. In other words, later in life, McNamara believed that killing 100,000 and leaving as many more to suffer in order to break the Japanese morale and will to fight was wrong; the death toll was out of proportion when considering the results.

McNamara was also the Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. When McNamara began to urge President Johnson to withdraw from Vietnam, Johnson asked McNamara to resign, and he did. Nevertheless he shares in the blame for the U. S. presence in Vietnam because of his first seven years as Secretary of Defense. Worse, he shares the blame for the use of napalm, first deployed against Japan and in Vietnam. Napalm and Agent Orange not only burned buildings and forests, they scorched the earth and melted the flesh from human beings. Both were chemical agents that enhanced the destructive, killing power of fire.

And therein lies my dilemma about Syria. How can we claim to stand on higher moral ground when we have deployed chemicals against enemies after the world agreed, we’re told, not to use them?

Mustard gas was a weapon of choice in World War I. Its horrors informed Wilfred Owen who concluded in Dulce et Decorum Est

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Few survived the gas, and those who did were forever disabled, teaching the world to eschew chemical warfare, but its use has persisted, and our hands are unclean. We cannot claim the higher moral ground against a despot who has used chemical gas against his own people, at least until we admit our own violations and invite the world to join us in swearing off such cruel attacks. They are not and cannot be delivered without human collateral damage. Chemicals fall upon the guilty and the innocent, the perpetrators and the victims as do drones, the source of much Middle Eastern hatred for us and our might. If we wish to lead the world, shouldn’t we lead the world in peace rather than hypocrisy and chemical weapons? 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lessons from Loss

To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel that inspired this blog, is a rich story about many things, foremost among them: loss. Atticus has lost a wife, the mother of his two children whom he nearly loses after losing a case against Tom Robinson, not because the defense was inadequate, but because Jim Crow prejudice ruled the jurors. As a consequence, Helen Robinson loses a fine husband and provider.

Artistic Still from the Film, To Kill a Mockingbird

Bob Ewell also loses the last shreds of an illusion that he is somehow superior to anyone or anything left on this planet when Atticus Finch brings forth the truth to all of Maycomb. Atticus allows Tom Robinson to speak in his own defense and say that he, a black man in the segregated South, felt sorry for a poor white woman in charge of uneducated, filthy children afflicted with lice and no woman to call Mother. Stripped of any claim to respect or influence after Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson conspire to reveal the truth about Mayella’s isolation, desire, and need, Ewell nearly takes Atticus’s children from him.

Young Jem Finch loses full use of his arm after Ewell’s attack, but more important, Jem loses much of his childish naïveté. He once thought all citizens of Maycomb to be fine, upstanding people. His neighbor, Boo Radley, is the single exception in Jem’s world view. Boo is a recluse with a colorful past made more daring and dangerous as that past becomes the stuff of legend.

Boo saves Jem and Scout from Ewell. Boo risks his own safety and exposure to rescue two children in need. Boo proves himself to be more than a good neighbor; he proves to be a hero, forcing Jem to acknowledge that the faces of neighbors are not so easily read or trusted. The twelve men who heard the evidence against Tom Robinson knew Tom to be innocent, but they voted to convict, they voted to uphold a lie, they voted to lift up an unwashed white family above the clean black one. Those jurors showed Jem that evil dwells within the hearts of men when they believe in lies and tell them to themselves.

"After the Storm," Moore, OK 2013. Photo by Al Griffin

We too have lost our childish naïveté. We cannot believe that our neighbors have our best interests uppermost in their thoughts and foremost in their actions after looting in Moore, OK in May, 2013. We doubt our safety in densely populated cities after poor Kitty Genovese was stalked and slaughtered as she screamed for help and her hearers stayed safely inside. Some of us know better than others that terrorism is not an invention conceived in foreign lands. Here, in the U. S., colonists preyed upon Native Americans and the KKK oppressed Black Americans. Colonials and the KKK resorted to depraved acts in order to advance their agendas and uphold their causes.

"March on Washington" (1963) by Bruce Davidson

But having lost our naïveté, have we, as Jem Finch did, gained insights as well? I hope so.

I hope that we believe more people have our best interests uppermost in their thoughts and foremost in their actions than there are people who would harm us. Surely the number of people who step up to offer help in times of crisis have convinced us that more good and little evil lives in our hearts. Ask the citizens of Moore, OK; of New York City; the Jersey Shore; Haiti; and countless other places on earth.

I also hope we have become convicted about the rights of all our citizens to live, prosper, and pursue their dreams. Last week’s commemoration in honor of the march on Washington fifty years ago suggests otherwise. Many are still in economic need. Wages are still unequal. Unemployment among Black citizens is still too high, and few in Congress have the information or the will that would lead us to solutions rather than to a continuation of the status quo.

Yet the number of speakers and attendees on August 28th lead me to believe that thousands have become convicted. May they advocate, as Atticus Finch did, by word and deed, by living an honest life, one that aspires to progress in spite of any obstacles in their paths. We are all or should be imperfect machines in search of perfection.