Monday, June 26, 2017

What’s A Realistic Goal for Cutting CO₂ Emissions?

Last week the 29th anniversary of James Hansen’s historic appearance before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health & Natural Resources passed by virtually unnoticed.  Hansen, a climate scientist with NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, testified back on June 23, 1988, that “Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming.”

Hansen added, ''It is already happening now.’’

The year of Hansen’s testimony—1988—was warmer at the time than any other year in the global temperature records, which began in 1880.  Now, it doesn’t even make the top ten.  So far our new century has seen 16 of the top 17 warmest years ever recorded, with each of the last three years setting a new all-time record.  That is not a natural progression.

For 29 years now we have been officially on notice that global warming is taking place and poses serious threats to life as we know it.  And for 29 years, as global temperatures have climbed, we have been unable to muster a serious response.

The core science linking the greenhouse effect and global warming can be summed up in three logical steps:
  • Carbon dioxide (CO₂) and other greenhouse gases trap heat by absorbing infrared radiation.
  • The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is steadily increasing, so more and more heat is being trapped, thus warming the planet.
  • Human production of carbon dioxide is almost entirely responsible for the increased carbon dioxide levels, and hence for much of the warming.

All three of these steps are easily verifiable.  They are based on settled physics and indisputable measurements.

When air sampling began at the remote Pacific island of Mauna Loa, back in 1958, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at a level of 280 parts per million (ppm).  This year the CO₂ level reached 410 ppm.  That is a 48% increase of heat-trapping CO₂ in less than 60 years, and the level is still climbing.  Look no further for a reason the world is heating up.

Most people now understand that we need to transition away from CO₂-producing fossil fuels and adopt clean, renewable forms of energy that don’t load the atmosphere with more greenhouse gases.  What they may not be aware of is how quickly we need to cut greenhouse gases, and how deep those cuts must be.

Here’s the problem.  The ocean, plants on land, and other carbon absorbers can only take up about half of the CO₂ humans are currently producing each year.  The other half goes into the atmosphere, where different portions last for differing amounts of time.  The brutal, seldom-discussed reality is that twenty percent or more of the CO₂ humans produce annually will remain in the atmosphere for tens of thousands of years.  That 20% annual addition, on a human scale, is close to permanent.

So to stabilize CO₂ levels in the atmosphere, most of the goals and timelines being set by governments at all levels don’t come close to doing the job.  Even ambitious-sounding goals actually result in dumping more and more gas into the atmosphere, where a good deal of it will remain long term.  

The numbers are simple and straightforward.  If we cut CO₂ emissions by 20%?  Then 30% will still go into the atmosphere, CO₂ levels will keep on climbing, and more long-term warming will be locked in.  Cut emissions by 40%?  Then 10% will still worsen the problem.  Every year we don’t cut emissions to 50% of current levels, we’re making things worse.  Much worse.

In short, the minimum realistic goal is to cut CO₂ emissions by 50%, and the realistic timeline is as soon as humanly possible.  Then we can taper down toward zero emissions.  We can’t afford to settle for cuts that are easily palatable.  Our realism should be rooted in physical reality, the real-life consequences of continued greenhouse buildup.  The deadly heat waves, drying out of soils, increased flooding, more violent storms, mass migrations of plant and animal species, melting of ice caps and glaciers, and all the rest of it.

What we think of as “other issues” keep pressing themselves on us.  Health care.  Terrorism.  Poverty.  Immigration.  Hunger.  

The fact is, global warming will worsen every one of these dramatically, on a planetary scale, and will do irreparable harm in many other ways.  Global warming is the biggest, most comprehensive threat the world faces.  Dealing with it must become the number one priority on our political agenda. 

© Tony Russell, 2017

Monday, March 13, 2017


I’m sitting in front of my computer reading part of an interview last Thursday with Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency.  The article includes a photo of Pruitt, with a placard in front of him reading “Hon. E. Scott Pruitt.”

Before being named to the EPA post, Pruitt was the Attorney General of Oklahoma.  In that position, one of his main accomplishments was bringing fossil fuel corporations and lobbying groups into the Republican Attorneys General Association. He also acted as a conduit for Devon Energy, Oklahoma’s largest oil and gas firm, when he sent a letter to the EPA accusing it of federal overreach.  His contribution was the signature; attorneys for Devon Energy actually wrote the letter.

The Republican AG group welcomed its fossil fuel funders by forming a nonprofit called the “Rule of Law Defense Fund.”   The fund had the deliberately vague purpose of pursuing “issues relevant to the nation’s Republican attorneys general.”  Pruitt is a board member.  The organization has received at least $175,000 from the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners super PAC.
That is the background for Pruitt’s astonishing statement in his interview: “… no, I would not agree that [carbon dioxide is] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.  ... we don’t know that yet  ... we need to continue debate and continue the review and the analysis."

This is a familiar industry line.  First with the tobacco industry, now with the fossil fuel industry.  “We don’t know that cigarettes cause cancer.”  “We don’t know that burning oil and gas and coal causes global warming.”  “The science is uncertain.”  “We need further studies.”  Et cetera.  What is so sickening is hearing these words from the head of the EPA.

Debate, review, analyze ....  What they really stand for is delay, delay, delay.  The longer an industry fights off action, whether it be on smoking or climate change, the longer the money rolls in… and the more people die from lung cancer or unprecedented flooding or heat stroke or climate-driven drought.

We do know that humans' burning of fossil fuel is driving our current global warming, and have known it with certainty for decadesThere are few things more firmly established in modern science than the primary role of human-generated carbon dioxide in causing the planetary warming we’re experiencing.  Pruitt might as well have claimed that there is no proof that Earth is round, that we need to keep debating and reviewing and analyzing that issue.  

But there’s no money in pushing a flat Earth agenda; there’s plenty of money available for people like Pruitt, who will swap their integrity for a few lies about climate change (and the high positions and salaries that reward their willingness to spread those lies in front of cameras).  

What are the consequences of lies about global warming?

Rising sea levels moving steadily inward on beaches and coastal plains around the world.  More intense, deadly heat waves that have already killed thousands.  The death of coral reefs and bleaching of many more, even in the most remote, pristine areas of the planet.  Ever larger and more intense forest fires, thousand-year floods, and mega-droughts.  The looming extinction of untold numbers of plant and animal species.

And that’s just a brief sample.  What Pruitt and this administration are furthering is death, loss, suffering, and destruction across a wide swath of the planet—while their supporters cheer on the madness.

This is Esau’s trading of his birthright for a mess of pottage that long since turned foul and rotten.  I’m thinking again of that placard in the photo of Pruitt.  We use the title “the Honorable” so routinely.  So cheaply.  Few things could be more dishonorable, and more despicable, than carrying lies for such a morally indefensible cause.  

© Tony Russell, 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hypocrisy or Democracy? The DNC Has a Fateful Choice

The Democratic National Committee will choose a new chair at its February 23-26 Winter Meeting in Atlanta.  That choice will be a fateful one.  

Despite being the smaller party, Republicans hold the country in an iron grip.  Their dream of dismantling New Deal social programs is within reach.  They’re racing to accelerate global warming by mining, drilling, and burning all the fossil fuels they can lay their hands on.  They seem bent on stripping millions of families of health care, threatening more millions of immigrant families, and demonizing 3.3 million Muslims who are our fellow students, co-workers, neighbors, and friends. 

A lot of responsibility for that falls on the DNC’s shoulders. The party’s collapse this past election was obviously a stunning rejection of Hillary Clinton.  But the rejection wasn’t just personal, it was systemic.  Millions of voters were turned off by the party’s hypocrisy and the DNC’s subservience to corporate money.  

Let’s tell it like it is.  The DNC gamed its own system, killed enthusiasm, and drove huge numbers of newly-engaged voters out of the campaign.  They ushered Hillary Clinton into the nomination and the party over a cliff.

What needs to be fixed?

Don’t underestimate the problems.  The less difficult fixes are managerial, and even those will require major effort to accomplish.  But after one of the most humiliating defeats in U.S. history, all of the candidates for chair agree they need to happen.  Those fixes include:

  • reviving the 50-state (plus 7-territories) strategy; 
  • pouring substantial resources into making the party competitive in state and local levels; 
  • contesting races up and down the entire ticket rather than beginning and ending at the top; 
  • supporting, not starving, progressive candidates; 
  • listening to the grassroots.  

Publicly, that’s all the candidates are willing to discuss.  The corporate wing of the party wants to keep it that way.  What they don’t want is to own their part in the problem.

It was the corporatists who abandoned Howard Dean’s 50-state approach, sucked the money and support away from downticket efforts, and sought out lobbyists and big-dollar donors—and they don’t intend to change their ways.  

The corporatists’ basic pitch in framing the DNC’s choice of a new chair is a bureaucratic two-step.  1) The party needs to bury its “philosophical differences” over big donors (i.e., keep on living off corporate handouts), ignore the outrageous abuses of the last campaign, and unify.  2) The best fit for heading the rebuilding job is a good manager who will reach out and rebuild the party at its lower levels. 

In other words, their recipe for success is a better-run version of the status quo.  

Why is that not enough?

That argument may sound plausible.  But it won’t work. In fact, it’s actually a recipe for further disaster. 

Young people, working class people, and people of color deserted the party in droves this last election.  Even the shock of a Donald Trump administration won’t be enough to bring them back unless there is major systemic change—starting with the chair. In their encounters with the Democratic Party last primary season, attempts to squelch them were every bit as ugly and undemocratic as Republicans’ efforts to suppress minority votes. They’ve had it with the cynicism and hypocrisy of corporate Democrats.

Beyond that, there are structural problems plaguing the DNC like multiple cancers--the caucus system, the superdelegate system, and the core issue destroying the party: its dependence on donations from corporate lobbyists. 

What really needs to be fixed? 

The DNC is sick.  It has an addiction to corporate money.  And your dealers don’t stop coming around just because you’ve lost your house, been fired from your job, and been rejected by your kids.  You’re the dealers’ mealticket, and in their own way, they’re as sick as you are. 

As any addict or member of an addict’s family will tell you, recovery begins by acknowledging that you have a problem.  That was Bernie Sanders’ role in the last campaign.  He was the unlikely young boy who blurted out—in a Brooklyn accent—that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes.  The wonder wasn’t just that Sanders couldn’t be bullied or bought; it was that he actually talked about Wall Street and corporate money as corrupting democracy.  He broke the party’s sick silence.  It was the greatest contribution he could have made to the party—and the party turned it down. 

Once the silence was broken, volunteers poured into Sanders’ campaign.  His massive support via small donations was unprecedented.  Hundreds of thousands of those same folks, along with other energized, passionate people, are now out jamming airports, filling our cities’ streets, and hounding members of Congress.  They’re pouring millions of dollars into the ACLU.  Do the powers-that-be in the DNC actually believe that managerial fixes will satisfy people’s demands for change?  

As crazy as that sounds, they may.  Never underestimate addicts’ ability to delude themselves. 

How do things look at the moment?

Early on, Keith Ellison, a strong progressive and early Bernie Sanders supporter, was the clear frontrunner to become the new DNC chair.  But the party’s Clinton/Obama corporate wing, threatened by the prospect of real reform, pushed Tom Perez into the race.  Perez, ex-Labor Secretary under Obama and one-time prospect to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate, is now Ellison’s main competition.

Unfortunately for Perez, he had a temporary lapse into frankness.  He told county leaders in Kansas, “We heard loudly and clearly yesterday from Bernie supporters that the [party’s primary] process was rigged, and it was. And you’ve got to be honest about it. That’s why we need a chair who is transparent.”  

His straight talk was quickly followed by a humiliating flurry of tweets in which he claimed he “misspoke” and that “Hillary became our nominee fair and square, and she won more votes in the primary—and general—than her opponents.”  

That Clinton won more votes is obviously true; that she won the nomination “fair and square” is a lie.  Emails released via Wikileaks, as well as the debate schedule, the stacked deck in debate questions, and the abuses in party caucuses all confirmed the process was rigged. 

By now we all cringe each time Kellyanne Conway debases herself by excusing or lying about yet another vile thing Donald Trump has said or done.  But here’s Tom Perez doing the same thing, flip-flopping at Clinton’s command. 

The speed with which Clinton//Wall Street forces were able to pull Perez’s strings and jerk him back into line is all we need to know about his fitness for the job. The last thing the DNC needs is a male version of Debbie Wasserman Schultz at its helm.  Nevertheless, Perez now claims he has the support of at least 180 DNC members.

Keith Ellison has been low key, presumably because he’s trying not to poke a stick in the eye of people he’ll need to work with if elected.  But Sam Ronan’s late entry into the race is a plus for Ellison because the young Ohio vet is making Ellison’s case for him, putting 2016’s rigged nomination front and center and demanding the DNC hold itself accountable.

Ellison’s bid has also been bolstered in the last few days by a strong endorsement from Ray Buckley, who dropped out of the race.  Of key importance here is that Buckley is not only the chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, but also President of the Association of State Democratic Chairs and Vice Chair of the DNC.  He has been engaged in Democratic politics since he was eight years old and is widely respected.  His endorsement carries a lot of weight.

If the DNC blows this one, it can kiss the party’s future—and ours—goodbye.

What can you do?

Call your state’s members on the DNC.  If you can’t find out who they are, get their names and contact info from your state’s Democratic Party office.  Don’t put it off; time is short.  Tell the DNC members what you want and who you support.  Let them know the public is watching, and expects real reform.

© Tony Russell, 2017

Monday, February 20, 2017

“I’m Going to Have to Wear That Phrase Like Sackcloth”

“Kellyanne, good gracious!  What’s wrong with you, honey, you look terrible!”

“Please, I don’t need to hear that.  I already know.  I’ve been having trouble sleeping, and I get up in the morning exhausted. Everybody at work is going non-stop, and it makes me look like a slacker to take time off, but I had to take a break.”

“What’s the matter, sweetie?  What is it?  Are you ... you and George aren’t having problems, are you?”

“No, no, nothing like that.  George and I are fine.  He’s been great.  It’s... it’s my job.”

“Oh, we’ve been so proud of you, Kellyanne.  You were always such a hard worker.  Picking blueberries all those summers.  We knew you’d make something of yourself.  And you have.  First the president’s campaign manager and now Counselor to the President!”

Awkwardly:  “That’s the problem, really.  I’m not proud of myself anymore.”

“Why in the world not?  You’ve worked hard for everything you’ve got.  You’re an American success story, honey.  You earned a law degree, you started your own polling business, and now you’re working in the Oval Office!”

Eyes turning downward, her voice quivering:  “Right.  And I felt good about those things and about myself.  But now, every day, I have to go on TV and lie in front of millions of people.  I cringe.  I toss and turn for hours every night wondering what stupid lie I’m going to have to go out and defend the next day.”

“What are you saying, Kellyanne?”

“Oh, I shouldn’t be telling you these things, but you’ve always been there for me.  Please don’t repeat this to anybody.”

“You know you can depend on me, Kellyanne.  What is it, child?”  

“He just makes things up, he contradicts himself, he exaggerates so much that he’s like a three-year-old.  It was sort of fun for a while.  It was lively and different from all those canned speeches and scripted talking points, you know?   But he can’t help himself; it’s like a disease.  He lies nonstop.”

“Well that’s his problem, isn’t it?”

“That’s not how it works.  I’m his spokesperson.  What am I supposed to do when he claims he had the biggest inauguration crowd ever and there are all these photos that show huge empty spaces on the Mall?  When he claims thousands of people were bused from Massachusetts to vote in New Hampshire illegally, but there’s zero evidence to support that claim?  When he says that he’ll release his tax returns when the audit is completed, and then after the election says he won’t release them?  When he says that Mexico will pay for the wall and then it turns out we’re going to pay for the wall?  He lies about important stuff and he lies about trivia!  And then I have to go on TV and double down on the lies.”

Sympathetically.  “Have you been going to confession, Kellyanne?  Don’t you think it would help to unburden yourself and do an act of contrition?”

“I’ve thought of it, but I’ve been avoiding it.  What am I going to say?  That I know I’m sinning, but I’m going to keep on doing it because that’s basically what my job consists of?  That I go out and lie, day after day, in order to defend a president who lies, day after day?”

“Come on, Kellyanne, this isn’t like you.  Buck up.  You can figure your way out of this.  You were Phi Beta Kappa in college!”

“Don’t remind me.  When I came up with that phrase ‘alternative facts,‘ I thought it was clever.  Now it just sounds idiotic.  When people hear my name, that’s what they think of--that cheesy way to recast a lie.   I’m going to have to wear that phrase like sackcloth for the rest of my life.  Then there was that horrible ‘Bowling Green massacre’ fiasco.  And that Fatal Attraction skit on Saturday Night Live to top things off.” 

“I saw a clip of that, Kellyanne.  I thought it was mean.  You’re nothing like that woman.”

“It stung.  But the bottom-line is, it’s true.”

“What do you mean it’s true?  You’d never go after somebody with a knife.  Don’t be silly.”

“Of course I wouldn’t attack anybody with a knife.  But I’ve been acting just as crazy as Glenn Close in the film.  I’m attached to this man who uses me but would drop me like a red-hot horseshoe if it suited him.  I’m sick enough to go out and humiliate myself time and time again, for his sake, when I don’t mean anything to him.” 

“Is it really that bad?”

“It’s worse.  Have you been watching when I go on TV news shows now?  I’m a laughing stock!  I start to offer some explanation for the latest whopper from the White House and TV hosts just cut me off.  Or giggle uncontrollably.  Do you know how embarrassing that is—to have some veteran TV person unable to stop giggling because what you’ve said is so ridiculous?  I’ve even been banned from Morning Joe—Morning Joe, for crying out loud—because of my ‘propensity to bring forth falsehoods on multiple occasions’.” 

“Oh sweetie, that must really hurt.”

“I’m starting to go numb.  When somebody acts as if what I’ve just said is nonsense, I don’t even have a comeback.  I catch myself staring at them for a minute like ‘Don’t make me do this again, will you not?  Please?’”

“Kellyanne, it sounds as if you hit rock bottom when you reached the top.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s like that monkey trap, where the monkey sticks her hand through a hole to grab a banana and then traps herself because she won’t let go.  Maybe you need to start asking yourself what your success is worth.”

© Tony Russell, 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

“If We Could Change Ourselves”: The DNC and Transformational Change

The Democratic sweep of 2008 built on an overwhelming public hunger for a shift in the direction the country was moving.  In a skillfully crafted campaign, Barack Obama presented himself as the personification of hope and change.  He and the party turned pent-up demand for a more equal society and a less belligerent foreign policy into a smashing victory.  Obama swept into office along with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.

Yet as soon as he was inaugurated, Obama installed a Wall Street-selected cabinet and economic team, and chose Rahm Emanuel—an abrasive cynic, former investment banker, and pipeline to donors and powerbrokers—as his Chief of Staff. The new Democratic administration failed to deliver the kinds of change people had voted for, and its Congressional majority rapidly eroded.

The Republican sweep of 2016 drew on an even greater public hunger for a change of course.  Donald Trump ran as a bull-in-a-china-shop outsider who would break up a rigged system, shred trade agreements that had devastated American factories and their workers’ lives, and “Make America Great Again.”

By contrast, Hillary Clinton ran as the embodiment of the status quo.  She  downsized voters’ expectations, preaching incremental change in tiny steps.  And instead of an inspirational campaign slogan, she offered “I’m with Her”--a tone-deaf choice that focused attention exclusively on herself.

The new Republican administration, like the 2008 Democratic administration, immediately set about disappointing the voters who put it into office.  But unlike Democrats in 2008, Republicans are bulldozing their brutal agenda through with the throttle wide open.  It’s change on a mammoth scale, but it’s not the change people were hoping for.  Instead it’s a return to the robber barons‘ heyday at the turn of the last century.

So whether the Democratic Party recognizes it or not, the election of a new DNC chair pivots on a double-barreled question:  Will the DNC offer change, and what kind of changes is the party willing to commit itself to? 

The first part is easy: Change is coming.  The second part is what the election of a new chair is all about.

Will it be a limited, strategic change that mainly involves reinvesting in local and state party structures?  That’s the kind of change the party’s establishment wants.  That’s what they’re offering with Tom Perez.  It’s what they were offering with Jaime Harrison too before he dropped out and threw his support to Perez.

The change Perez and Harrison represent is from the top down.  Perez was recruited by Obama and Clinton insiders once it looked as if Keith Ellison was going to win the DNC job. Perez appears to be a decent guy, but his constituency is the insiders, the lobbyists, the big donors, and the network they’ve built up inside the DNC.  Harrison, also a likable and capable person, is a lobbyist with The Podesta Group, formed by Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta and his brother.  The Podesta Group is the primary funnel for corporate cash into the top levels of the DNC.

Keith Ellison represents transformational change, change from the bottom up.  He voices the hopes and dreams of ordinary people as well as the overwhelming majority of young people.  He represents a bridge between what the party is and what it needs to become.  The party needs him, or someone like him, in ways it may not appreciate.  

Ellison is on the right side of history.  He’s on the right side of opportunity, equality, and salvaging democracy.  He’s on the right side to draw in fired-up citizens eager to be put to work. He’s on the right side in terms of holding the party together. 

Contrast Ellison’s openness with that of Marcel Groen, chair of Pennsylvania Democrats, who responded to the groundswell of emails and calls he was receiving in support of Ellison by announcing his support of Perez. Groen wrote, “You don’t want 300 people calling you and telling you what to do.”  

You don’t?  

That’s a head-scratcher.  Isn’t input from the grassroots what the party is now claiming it wants?  

Being flooded by calls from energized, passionate people should be an organizer’s dream. It’s the key to rebuilding the party at the county and state levels.  It’s democracy at work.  And you respond by thumbing your nose at people, telling them to shut up and get lost?

That kind of rejection is more than spiteful.  It’s also short-sighted and counter-productive. It alienates people who are fired up to do good work, and it instantly pulls the plug on a vast reservoir of untapped energy.  It opens the door to numerous challenges in Democratic primaries, and maybe even to the development of a vote-siphoning third party. It shouldn’t have to be said that for people who are claiming that party unity is critical, this is not the way to go about it.  

Gandhi once wrote, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”  That’s true not just of individuals; it’s true of political parties as well. 

© Tony Russell, 2017

Friday, February 19, 2016

“If Sand Can Glow in the Dark”

Corpse in street of Nagasaki, the day after the atomic bombing
Photo by Yosuke Yamaha
August 10, 1945

We were about ready to get started with our book group when the doorbell rang again.  “Pardon me,” I told the others, and hurried to the door.  When I opened it, I stood there for a minute, unable to recognize the person standing there.

“Well, aren’t you going to let me in?” came a plaintive voice.

“Liz!” I exclaimed.  “I couldn’t figure out who you were!  What’s with the dark glasses and the head scarf and turned-up collar?  Are you on the lam from the cops?”

“It’s not funny,” she said, as I took her coat and hung it up.  “How would you feel if you were a Republican nowadays?”

“Oh Liz,” I said, giving her a quick hug.  “Come on in.  It’s not your fault.  Nobody is blaming you for all the vile things your candidates in the presidential debates are spouting.”

She stepped into the living room as tentatively as a kid dipping a toe in a lake in December.  But she brightened up when the other women greeted her with a chorus of “So glad you could make it!” and other cheerful welcomes.  

“Thank you all so much,” she said with relief.  “I was afraid I was going to be a pariah.”

“I know things have really been going downhill,” I said, “but has something pushed you past the tipping point?”

“I guess you haven’t seen the news this morning,” Liz said.  “The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks all these white supremacists and other hate groups.  They’ve been doing it for years now.  This morning they released a report linking the extreme anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric pouring out of our GOP primary debates with attacks on Muslims and a major growth spurt among hate groups.  God, I’m so embarrassed.”

“You shouldn’t take it personally,” said Lynn gently.   “We know what kind of person you are.  When Donald Trump says that people coming here from Mexico are basically drug dealers and criminals and rapists, we know you feel the same way we do--that Trump’s claim is a hateful, despicable, racist lie.  And when he says he would bar all Muslim foreigners from entering the United States, we know you’re as appalled as any other decent person.”

“I appreciate your support so much,” said Liz miserably.  “But after he said those things, plus the insults and bullying and boasting and all kinds of crude sexist comments about Carly Fiorina’s face and blood coming out of Megyn Kelly’s ‘wherever’--what happened?  He went straight to the top of the party’s polls.  I couldn’t believe it.  I kept asking myself, ‘What’s that say about the GOP I’ve belonged to for over twenty-five years?’”    

“I feel for you,” said Nora.  “When Marco Rubio got all hysterical claiming that Obama was dividing the country because the president went to a mosque in Baltimore and talked about inclusion, I thought the top of my head would blow off.  Obama tries to pull people together and Rubio accuses him of trying to divide us.  That’s grotesque.  It's Orwellian doublespeak if I’ve ever heard it.  No offense, Liz,”  she added quickly.

“I have to say that when the Republican candidates tried to outdo each other on how they would torture suspected terrorists, I couldn’t help but think of you.  In a sympathetic way,” Ann added as Liz flinched.

“I did too,” I admitted.  “When Trump said ‘I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,’ and Chris Christie said waterboarding isn’t torture and he would use it, and Marco Rubio threw in that he’d ‘haul captured terrorists to Guant├ínamo Bay’ and ‘find out everything they know,’ I just had to turn off my TV in disgust.  I said to myself, ‘I hope Liz isn’t watching’.”

“Thanks, Patty,” Liz murmured.  “Unfortunately, I was.”

“I guess I bottomed out when Ted Cruz gave his plan for fighting the Islamic State," said Ruth.  ‘We will utterly destroy them.  We will carpet bomb them into oblivion,’ he said.  Doesn’t he understand that he’s talking about wiping out whole cities of men, women, and children?  Or doesn’t he even care?  I kept thinking, ‘Poor Liz.  How can she handle being associated with men like these?’”

“Of course he understands!” said Lynn.  “After Trump said that to fight terrorism you need to take out their families--and he said it three times, just for emphasis--it was like they were in a contest to see who could be the most bloodthirsty.”

“Well in that case, Cruz was the winner,” said Nora.  “He got as extreme as you can get when he talked about going nuclear, and gloated about it.  Remember when he said, ‘I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.’  This is the favorite candidate of evangelical Christians, mind you, bragging about his eagerness to obliterate whole populations with atomic bombs.  These guys don’t seem to have any boundaries.  I don’t mind telling you, they scare the hell out of me.  I shudder to think of one of them actually becoming president.  I can’t imagine being in your place, Liz.”   

Liz bowed her head.  “A huge chunk of the people in my party are eating this stuff up.  It just floors me,” she confessed.  “Where are the normal, sensible people that made me a Republican in the first place?  It’s as if I walked out of my childhood home and wandered into a facility for the criminally insane.  I feel so guilty.”

“You haven’t done anything wrong, Liz,” said Nora kindly.

“Oh, I should have spoken out, I know it.  But I kept telling myself, who would listen to me?  I’m a nobody.”

“Nonsense,” said Dorothy firmly.  “If there’s one thing we all agree on, it’s that we’re each a somebody, not a nobody.  You didn’t create this mess, but you’re caught up in it.  We all sympathize with the situation you’re in.  But it’s time to stop feeling sorry for yourself and decide what you’re going to do about it.”

© Tony Russell, 2016

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

"It Really Is Not a Big Deal"

Photo by Eugen Nosko
from Wkimedia Commons

Four of us got there early for choir practice--Shirley, Mabel, Serena, and myself--and while we were waiting we fell to griping about our husbands, something that’s been known to happen when a group of women get together.

“I could just strangle Andy,” Shirley said.  “His blood pressure keeps going up and up.  It was 165 over something last month, and the doctor told him he really needed to lose weight, change his diet, and get some exercise.  I’m scared to death he’s going to have a heart attack.  But Andy just shrugs it off.  He says your blood pressure is either going up or down at any point in time, so it's really not a big deal.”

“Huh,” said Mable.  “You know what?  Rodney told me almost exactly the same thing when I got after him about his weight.  He waved it off.  Claimed your weight is always either going up or down at any point in time, so it really isn’t a big deal.  When I mentioned that his only seems to go one direction--up--he just repeated himself and heaped some more mashed potatoes and gravy on his plate.”

“Gee, that’s funny,” said Serena.  “Lou’s cholesterol has climbed up over 240, and our doctor wanted to put him on some medication and an exercise program.  But Lou brushed him off.  He said your cholesterol is always going either up or down, so it’s not really that big a deal.  I told Lou that when it gets up as high as his is, it’s definitely a big deal, but he just sat there watching that TV.  I’m not sure he even heard me.”  

“Hmm.  You know what?  I’ve been getting that same excuse from Ace,” I volunteered.  “He’s been dragging around, having headaches, and losing weight, but he won’t do anything about it.  His blood sugar level was 190 when we checked it yesterday.  I’m afraid he’s going to have foot problems or go blind if he doesn’t start taking care of himself, but he just pretends nothing's wrong.  Where are they getting all this nonsense?”

“I came right out and asked Lou,” said Donna, “He’s been following the presidential primaries really closely.  And it turns out that when Dr. Carson gets asked about global warming--the way the planet keeps getting hotter and hotter--he just says....”

I guess the light went on for all of us simultaneously.  Before she could finish her sentence, we all chimed in:  "... the temperature's either going up or down at any point in time, so it really is not a big deal."

© Tony Russell, 2016

Monday, June 29, 2015

Golden Calf, Bronze Bull

Arturo Di Modica, Charging Bull
Photo by Cap'n Surly, via Creative Commons

When the people had lost their way, their leaders called on them to rise up early and make their way to Wall Street, bearing burnt sacrifices, and to lay their communion offerings at the hooves of the bronze bull erected there.  

They invited the people to eat and drink and indulge in revelry, at their corporate sponsors’ expense.  Men and women alike, giddy with visions of wealth and domination, crowded around to stroke the bull’s gleaming scrotum, all the while giggling and joking drunkenly.  “This is your god, who brought you up out of the wilderness,” their leaders told them.  “Let the good times roll!” 

Then the Lord said to Francis, “I have seen these people, and they are a stiff-necked people.  They steal from their brethren and plunder my creation, then call themselves creators of wealth.  They treat the world I have given them as their private preserve, made for those with the quickest hands to grab the most for themselves.”    

“They have turned away from what I commanded them, and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a bull. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘The market is our god, and the bronze bull is his image.  He is the pure energy of greed run free, able to trample all in his path.  The market is the answer to all questions, the solution to all problems, the measure of all things.  All power and praise be to the market!’”

“The smoke from their sacrifices, in exhaust fumes and emissions from belching smokestacks, has reached even heaven,” said the Lord.  “Now leave me alone, so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.  Let the seas rise and flood their coasts, droughts scorch their crops, fires turn their forests to ashes, heat waves fell them in their cities and fields, and violent storms flatten their houses and business places.  Let them become nations of helpless wanderers, with no place to lay their head and call home.” 
But Francis sought the favor of the Lord, and tried to avert his wrath.  “Turn away from your fierce anger,” he pleaded.  “Relent, and do not bring such disasters on your people.”

The Lord heard Francis’s plea, and said, “I shall stay the full force of my righteous anger for a spell.  You have but a brief moment in time; let us see whether you can recall the people from their idolatry and blasphemy.”
Francis turned and hurried down the mountain, with the text of an encyclical in his hands, pages inscribed on both sides, front and back.  He spoke to the people, trying to summon them back to the God who had given them the land and the sea and the air they had fouled and despoiled.  He thundered against the worship of money and markets.  He shone the light of truth on an economy that widens inequality and tosses aside billions of people like soiled disposable diapers.  “Such an economy kills,” he proclaimed.  “The culture of prosperity deadens us.”  

And Francis warned the idol-worshippers that a system with a selfish ideal as its foundation is like a house built over a worked-out mine shaft.  “Those who dwell therein are poised above the abyss,” he cried.  “They are doomed to indifference.  They turn deaf ears to the cries of the poor and lose their ability to weep for other people’s pain.”

But the leaders at the church of avarice would not be swayed.  They understood the mesmerizing power of bombast joined with paranoia, so they took to their iPads and talk shows, calling Francis “a meddlesome egoist and an ideologue,” who dared to speak out against the god they had forged.  “He does not preach the true religion,” they complained.  “He is an adherent of a modern pagan green religion.”  “His rantings are nothing more than Marxism, nothing more than communism.”

The people listened and pondered these things, while God waited and looked on.  

© Tony Russell, 2015