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As evident climate change rages — the US saw the highest temps ever in the 12 months ending in June — the world goes on with its little wars, petty politics and fixation on Hollywood scandals. As our forests burn, our lawns crinkle in the merciless sun, our crops wither and storms rage through the countryside, the news media babbles on about the symptoms, but almost no-one locks in on the issues and the decisions that are needed for climate management and mitigation.

As the US moves toward our Presidential election, the talk is all about jobs and the size of government, and not about energy policy and transportation and the things that will effect us all, for eternity. As the future of mankind goes at risk, we cut out the manned space program. Heads in sand.

Doth the world fiddle while the climate changes? Isn’t it time for a new politics, and for building hope for a new world? Following from the EPA:

Climate change affects everyone

Our lives are connected to the climate. Human societies have adapted to the relatively stable climate we have enjoyed since the last ice age which ended several thousand years ago. A warming climate will bring changes that can affect our water supplies, agriculture, power and transportation systems, the natural environment, and even our own health and safety.

Some changes to the climate are unavoidable. Carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for nearly a century, so Earth will continue to warm in the coming decades. The warmer it gets, the greater the risk for more severe changes to the climate and Earth’s system. Although it’s difficult to predict the exact impacts of climate change, what’s clear is that the climate we are accustomed to is no longer a reliable guide for what to expect in the future.

We can reduce the risks we will face from climate change. By making choices that reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and preparing for the changes that are already underway, we can reduce risks from climate change. Our decisions today will shape the world our children and grandchildren will live in.

but Independence Day is the commemoration of the adoption of the Declartion of Independence, on July 4th, 1776, by the Continental Congress.

Tonight on the network news, I listened to esteemed broadcaster Brian Williams refer to “July 4th” and the fireworks and the food, and never mention Independence Day, or its meaning in history and in the present day.

Christmas is on December 25th every year, but its meaning, whether religious or secular,  is in its name, not the date.

Independence Day is about where we came from and what our forefathers did, and wouldn’t it be nice, and meaningful, to discuss among ourselves and our children how we are part of that process? That little word, “independence,” is a cornerstone of what makes America and Americans what and who we are. A discussion of how “independence” and “interdependence” relate to us in our contemporary American and global culture might be a productive way to spend “the Fourth of July.” Just saying…

Happy Independence Day!

 Today’s Washington Post contains a reflective article by Woodward and Bernstein on issues around the Watergate breakin. On Meet The Press this morning, discussing that story, the authors commented that President Ford‘s decision to pardon Nixon was made in the best interests of the country, so we could “move on.”
I totally disagree.
I’ve always believed that the country would have been well-served, even if it would have been somewhat disruptive, to prosecute Nixon, like the 40 others were were convicted and served time over Watergate. Why? Because if everyday American‘s views of our Presidency had been further compromised by such a trial, we might have instilled a greater sense of humility in those subsequently elected or appointed to high office, hopefully including Congress. Substituting accountability for a “too big to fail” mentality when it comes to our nation’s political leadership would have provided a good object lesson on the value of honesty and the price of deceit for all those who came after.
President Johnson made a similar error when he failed to expose Nixon and Kissinger’s cynical overtures to the Thieu regime in South Vietnam before the election of ’68. Johnson learned that Nixon’s people had encouraged Thieu to back out of the Paris peace talks, which he did, promising that his government would get a better deal under a Nixon Presidency than a Johnson one. The result was that the war in Vietnam went on for another 5 years, with 22,000 more American fatalities. Johnson’s tapes revealed that he learned of the Nixon moves, but didn’t go public with what he called “traitorous acts” because Johnson was too concerned the revelation of these political machinations would have been disruptive to the American people. It might have been, and we might have saved many of the 22,000 American deaths that occurred because of Nixon’s election maneuverings.
Look at the economic disaster that the perverted governmental  “too big to fail” economic strategies regarding Wall Street have created. I believe that people can stand to benefit from more truth, transparency and accountability in government, and that the sense of humility those attributes would inculcate in our leadership is worth whatever temporary disruptions our society might incur.
It is high time to bring the era of Big Lies to an end.

Memorial Day is always a mixed bag for me. I do weep for those who served and suffered. But most of them were followers, even the officers, of political leaders who had made life and death decisions on their behalf, sometimes for very bad reasons. Of late, especially since Vietnam, those reasons have been somewhere on the scale between questionable and dead wrong.

When we had the draft, in the Vietnam era, one could have great compassion for the young who sacrificed their options in life to serve their country when called. Even those who dodged service gave up option then. Since the end of the draft, many who have served have done so just to get a job and some training that was not otherwise readily available for them. We can have sympathy for them that they made such a Hobson’s choice.

Today, as we honor those who served, and especially those who suffered and died in place of ourselves, and as we remember their families, we might best respect their loyalty to their nation  by questioning the motives and the thinking of those who are our political leaders today, as to their military strategies. Do these strategies justify the continued use of our military might, and are the American people being served well by these strategies and the people behind them?

The loyalties and sacrifices of generations of Americans who have served and supported the military are best served, I believe, by an engaged, questioning, demanding public,  that holds our leadership accountable for their strategies and decisions, and speaks out boldly on behalf of those who have served, are serving and those yet to be called.

America has too often been a nation of Forest Gumps, being led to the slaughter by cynical, distant leaders. Memorial Day should be about honoring those who serve by questioning those who lead. It’s not just about memories, but accountability. For a personal story about questioning and service, see my essay, “All That Glitters,” as presented to the Chicago Literary Club. http://www.chilit.org/Papers%20by%20author/Ebeling%20–%20All%20That%20Glitters.htm

I have long believed that too many evils for the future lie in the antiquated and dangerous Electoral College for electing our U.S. Presidents, that the U.S. Senate provides unbalanced representation to our populist democracy, that what this country needs is a different political structure than the dysfunctional two-party system that doesn’t seem to represent anyone who is enlightened, and that what the country needs is a new constitutional convention to straighten out our faltering republic and turn it into a modern, functioning representative democracy.

Then I read a wonderful essay under the heading title above by James Fallows, in the Atlantic Magazine of Jan/Feb, 2010, and in his conclusion, reprinted below, he explores all my concerns and reaching a conclusion that, in the end, is totally rational. He explains how, being practical rather than wishful, America can potentially rise again. Will we do it — that’s an open question, and perhaps an even bigger question, since he wrote his visionary piece over 18 months ago? For anyone truly interested in solutions, this is a most valuable analysis. Too bad the news media and our political leadership, notwithstanding The Atlantic, don’t share these tough perspectives. Read on…

“What are the choices? Logically they come down to these, starting with the most fanciful:

“We could hope for an enlightened military coup, or some other deus ex machina by the right kind of tyrants. (In his 700-page new “meliorist” novel, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, Ralph Nader proposes a kind of plutocrats’ coup, in which Warren Buffett, Bill Gates Sr., Ted Turner, et al. collaborate to create a more egalitarian America.) The periodic longing for a “man on horseback” is a reflection of disappointment with what normal politics can bring. George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower were the right men on horseback. With no disrespect to David Petraeus, their like is not in sight. In 1992, an Air Force lieutenant colonel wrote an essay for the National War College called “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012,” which began with the perceived failure of civilian politics to address the nation’s problems. The author, Charles Dunlap, who is now a two-star general, meant this as a cautionary tale. His paper began with this quote from John Adams: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Tempting as the thought is when watching the Senate on C-SPAN, we can’t really hope for a coup.

“We could hope to change the basic nature of our democracy, so it fits the times as our other institutions do. But this is about as likely as an enlightened coup. For a few hours on Election Day 2004, it seemed that America had a chance to correct the anachronism of its Electoral College. When exit polls showed John Kerry ahead in Ohio, there was a chance that for the second election in a row, a candidate might lose the popular vote but still become president. (A swing of 60,000 votes in Ohio would have put George W. Bush in Al Gore’s position from four years earlier, as the popular-vote winner who had to go home.) With each party burned, in sequence, we might have agreed on a reform. That chance has passed, and there is no chance for constitutional amendments to make the Senate more representative, since the same small states that would lose power can block any change.

“In principle, the United States could call for a new constitutional convention, to reconsider all the rules. That would be my cue to move back to China for good—pollution, Great Firewall, and all. As a simple thought exercise, imagine the fights over evolution, an “official” language, and countless other “social” questions. “I am perpetually disappointed by our structural resistance to change,” Gary Hart told me, “but can you imagine what would be put into a drafting session for a constitution today?” Kevin Starr said, “You would need a coherent political culture for such a session to occur”—and the lack of such coherence is exactly the problem—“otherwise it would turn into a food fight from Animal House.”

“A parliamentary system? This too would improve C-SPAN viewing. But not having started there, we cannot get there.

“A viable third party? Attractive in theory. But 150 years of failed attempts by formidable campaigners, ranging from Robert LaFollette to Ross Perot, suggest how unlikely this is too.

“We might hope for another Sputnik moment—to be precise, an event frightening enough to stimulate national action without posing a real threat. That kind of “hope” hardly constitutes a plan. In 2001, America endured an event that should have been this era’s Sputnik ; but it wasn’t. It doesn’t help now to rue the lost opportunity, but there is no hiding the fact that it was an enormous loss. What could have been a moment to set our foreign policy and our domestic economy on a path for another 50 years of growth—as Eisenhower helped set a 50-year path with his response to Sputnik —instead created problems that will probably take another 50 years to correct.

“That’s yesterday. For tomorrow, we really have only two choices. Doing more, or doing less. Trying to work with our flawed governmental system despite its uncorrectable flaws, or trying to contain the damage that system does to the rest of our society. Muddling through, or starving the beast.

“Readers may have guessed that I am not going for the second option: giving up on public efforts and cauterizing our gangrenous government so that the rest of society can survive. But the reason might be unexpected. I have seen enough of the world outside America to be sure that eventually a collapsing public life brings the private sector down with it. If we want to maintain the virtues of private America, we must at least try on the public front too. Rio, Manila, and Mexico City during their respective crime booms; Shanghai in the 1920s and Moscow in the 1990s; Jakarta through the decades; the imagined Los Angeles of Blade Runner —these are all venues in which commerce and opportunity abounded. But the lack of corresponding public virtues—rule of law, expectation of physical safety, infrastructure that people can enjoy or depend on without owning it themselves—made those societies more hellish than they needed to be. When outsiders marvel at today’s China, it is for the combination of private and public advances the country has made. It has private factories and public roads; private office buildingsand public schools. Of course this is not some exotic Communist combination. The conjunction of private and public abundance typified America throughout its 20th-century rise. We had the big factories and the broad sidewalks, the stately mansions and the public parks. The private economy was stronger because of the public bulwarks provided by Social Security and Medicare. California is giving the first taste of how the public-private divorce will look—and its historian, Kevin Starr, says the private economy will soon suffer if the government is not repaired. “Through the country’s history, government has had to function correctly for the private sector to flourish,” he said. “John Quincy Adams built the lighthouses and the highways. That’s not ‘socialist’ but ‘Whiggish.’ Now we need ports and highways and an educated populace.” In a nearly $1 trillion stimulus package, it should have been possible to build all those things, in a contemporary, environmentally aware counterpart to the interstate-highway plan. But it didn’t happen; we’ve spent the money, incurred the debt, and done very little to repair what most needs fixing.

“Our government is old and broken and dysfunctional, and may even be beyond repair. But Starr is right. Our only sane choice is to muddle through. As human beings, we ultimately become old and broken and dysfunctional—but in the meantime it makes a difference if we try. Our American republic may prove to be doomed, but it will make a difference if we improvise and strive to make the best of the path through our time—and our children’s, and their grandchildren’s—rather than succumb.

“I often think about how we would make decisions if we knew we would wake up the next day and it would be 75 years later,” Cullen Murphy, author of Are We Rome?, told me. “It would make a huge difference if we could train ourselves to make decisions that way.” It would. Of course, our system can’t be engineered toward that perspective. Politicians will inevitably look not 75 years into the future but one election cycle ahead, or perhaps only one news cycle. Corporations live by the quarter; cable-news outlets by the minute. But we can at least introduce this concept into public discussion and consider our issues and choices that way.

“What difference would it make? We could start by being very clear about our strengths, as revealed not simply by comparison with others but also through the pattern of our own rise. The mutually supportive combination of public and private development; the excellence of the universities; the unmatched ability to attract and absorb the world’s talent—these are assets we can work to preserve. We could reflect on how much more attainable our goals are when the world works with us—economically, diplomatically—rather than against us. We could not compel international obedience even if we tried, but everything we care about becomes easier if the American model attracts rather than repels. And a longer-term perspective would mean doing all we can to address the “75-year threats”—the issues for which we’ll be thanked or blamed two or three generations from now. Rebuilding the infrastructure, so that it’s an asset rather than a drag. Reinvesting in research, for the industries our grandchildren will found. Dealing with environmental challenges that will make all the difference in whether the world looks like hell.

“America has been strong because, despite its flawed system, people built toward the future in the 1840s, and the 1930s, and the 1950s. During just the time when Frederick Law Olmsted designed Central Park, when Theodore Roosevelt set aside land for the National Parks, when Dwight Eisenhower created the Pentagon research agency that ultimately gave rise to the Internet, the American system seemed broken too. They worked within its flaws and limits, which made all the difference. That is the bravest and best choice for us now.”

James Fallows is an Atlantic national correspondent; his blog is at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.
May 2017
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