Make no mistake about it, what we’re witnessing here is a catastrophe on multiple levels.
It is, of course, a political catastrophe for Democrats, who just a few weeks ago seemed to have Republicans on the run over their plan to dismantle Medicare; now Mr. Obama has thrown all that away. And the damage isn’t over: there will be more choke points where Republicans can threaten to create a crisis unless the president surrenders, and they can now act with the confident expectation that he will.
In the long run, however, Democrats won’t be the only losers. What Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question. After all, how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation’s economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can’t.
“I suppose people can go through an entire lifetime without questioning God and a religion that they were born into (out of no choice of their own), especially if it doesn’t have much of a say in their lives. If you live in France or Britain, there may never be a need to renounce God actively or come out as an atheist. But when the state sends a “Hezbollah” (the generic term for Islamist) to your school to ensure that you don’t mix with your friends who are boys, stops you from swimming, forces you to be veiled, deems males and females separate and unequal, prescribes different books for you and your girlfriends from those read by boys, denies certain fields of study to you because you are female, and starts killing indiscriminately, then you have no choice but to question, discredit and confront it - all of it. And that is what I did.”—“Why I Don’t Believe”, Maryam Namazie (Iran), human rights activist
“Routine, repetition, tedium, monotony, ephemeracy, inconsequence, abstraction, disorder, boredom, angst, ennui - these are the true hero’s enemies. And make no mistake, they are fearsome indeed, for they are real.”—Advance Tax Substitute Teacher, The Pale King, David Foster Wallace
As though anyone in Louisiana (1) knows what this is about, (2) is on the Internet, (3) has computers, (4) cares about the federal government or the US after the past decade, (5) is willing to talk to David Vitter!
“Society can give its young men almost any job and they’ll figure how to do it. They’ll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for. … Soldiers themselves are reluctant to evaluate the costs of war, but someone must. That evaluation, ongoing and unadulterated by politics, may be the one thing a country absolutely owes the soldiers who defend its borders.”—Sebastian Junger, War, as quoted by the wonderful been thinking…
“My public statements about jury nullification were not the only political statements that Mr. Huber thinks I should be punished for. As the government’s memorandum points out, I have also made public statements about the value of civil disobedience in bringing the rule of law closer to our shared sense of justice. In fact, I have openly and explicitly called for nonviolent civil disobedience against mountaintop removal coal mining in my home state of West Virginia. Mountaintop removal is itself an illegal activity, which has always been in violation of the Clean Water Act, and it is an illegal activity that kills people. A West Virginia state investigation found that Massey Energy had been cited with 62,923 violations of the law in the ten years preceding the disaster that killed 29 people last year. The investigation also revealed that Massey paid for almost none of those violations because the company provided millions of dollars worth of campaign contributions that elected most of the appeals court judges in the state. When I was growing up in West Virginia, my mother was one of many who pursued every legal avenue for making the coal industry follow the law. She commented at hearings, wrote petitions and filed lawsuits, and many have continued to do ever since, to no avail. I actually have great respect for the rule of law, because I see what happens when it doesn’t exist, as is the case with the fossil fuel industry. Those crimes committed by Massey Energy led not only to the deaths of their own workers, but to the deaths of countless local residents, such as Joshua McCormick, who died of kidney cancer at age 22 because he was unlucky enough to live downstream from a coal mine. When a corrupted government is no longer willing to uphold the rule of law, I advocate that citizens step up to that responsibility.”—
askjerves: Everyone should read Tim DeChristopher’s pre-sentencing comments (through that link to Yes! Magazine above). And then everyone who’s outraged should do something. Something with more impact than reblogging or signing an e-petition. Like getting loud or maybe getting arrested. We’re losing to the greedy rich who simply don’t care about the health of most humans, or the well-being of future generations. We’re losing because we’re complacent. One guy goes and does something heroic, and a lot of us clap our hands and nod approvingly and like and reblog, but, so far, very few others are following suit, or doing anything else that might compromise our own comfortable lives.
I interviewed DeChristopher last year, and one thing he said really stuck with me. He said:
You know how Gandhi said you have to “be the change you want to see in the world.” Well the change that most of us wish to see is a carbon tax, but our leaders aren’t doing that for us, so Gandhi’s call is then for us to be the carbon tax. What does that mean—to “be the carbon tax?” To cost the fossil fuel industry money in any way that we can. Getting in their way, slowing them down, shutting them down. Doing whatever we can to be that tax. It forces our leaders to make a choice—to either be more explicit in their war on the young generation, to to get serious about stopping climate change.
So what to do? My friend and mentor Bill wrote this today, about DeChristopher and a mass action planned for DC in late August.
And it’s time for you to take the same kind of responsibility. In a few weeks, those of us at tarsandsaction.org will be gathering in Washington DC for two weeks of civil disobedience against the proposed Keystone Pipeline, that will carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta down to the Gulf of Mexico. Jim Hansen, the NASA climatologist, says that if those tar sands are fully exploited it’s “essentially game over for the climate.” If those words don’t inspire you to act, nothing will — and so far more than a thousand have signed on, meaning this will be the largest civil disobedience action in the history of the country’s climate movement.
This action won’t be as risky as Tim’s. People are signing up to come to DC for three days. On the first they’ll attend nonviolence training, and on the second they’ll sit down in front of the White House. No one knows for sure how the police will react, but the legal experts say jail time will likely be measured in hours, not years. Still, it’s a very real way to say to President Obama (who will make the Keystone decision all by himself) that this is the great moral issue of our time.
Watching our system deal with the debt ceiling crisis — a wholly self-inflicted crisis, which may nonetheless have disastrous consequences — it’s increasingly obvious that what we’re looking at is the destructive influence of a cult that has really poisoned our political system.
And no, I don’t mean the fanaticism of the right. Well, OK, that too. But my feeling about those people is that they are what they are; you might as well denounce wolves for being carnivores. Crazy is what they do and what they are.
No, the cult that I see as reflecting a true moral failure is the cult of balance, of centrism.
Think about what’s happening right now. We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating — offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion.
So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent — because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship.
The reality, of course, is that we already have a centrist president — actually a moderate conservative president. Once again, health reform — his only major change to government — was modeled on Republican plans, indeed plans coming from the Heritage Foundation. And everything else — including the wrongheaded emphasis on austerity in the face of high unemployment — is according to the conservative playbook. What all this means is that there is no penalty for extremism; no way for most voters, who get their information on the fly rather than doing careful study of the issues, to understand what’s really going on.
You have to ask, what would it take for these news organizations and pundits to actually break with the convention that both sides are equally at fault? This is the clearest, starkest situation one can imagine short of civil war. If this won’t do it, nothing will.