Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day: A Retrospective, A Reflection...and A Warning

The year was 1990. It was a happy time. Vanilla Ice was shattering hip-hop’s monochromatic glass ceiling, we were training the Taliban, not hunting them, the A-Team was safely confined to television, not being tragically re-imagined for the big screen and wars in Iraq lasted months, not years.

Sure we had environmental problems but they were solvable, if not quaint problems like acid rain, deforestation, oil spills and holes in the ozone layer. Yet somewhere (maybe in Burlington, Vermont, maybe not) a group of hippies packed the ninth bong of their morning session, inhaled and hatched a plan. The plan was simple…take Earth Day global. And so they did.

Blogger’s Disclaimer: I made that up. The idea to go global was hatched by an environmental activist named Denis Hayes. But my version is much more least I think so.

Earth Day was born in 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson (no, I did not make up that name) in an effort to raise awareness about environmental issues in the wake of an oil spill that ravaged the coast of Santa Barbara. It started as a grass-roots effort to increase global consciousness and stimulate change. And what started out as a day celebrated in the United States by 2,000 colleges is now embraced by a majority of the planet.

And as it rolls around once again, I cannot help but reflect on it all. Why it started, the problems we had then, the problems we have now and whether or not this day has made much of a difference.

So here we are, forty-one years later and much has changed; but not necessarily for the better. We still have oil spills but now they occur a mile underwater and go on for three months. Deforestation is no longer something we oppose, just something we accept. Acid rain still occurs but it gets much less press than our new quagmires like resource depletion, radiation contamination and global warming.

So has Earth Day served its purpose? My cynicism not withstanding, strides have certainly been made. Over the last four decades, laws like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act have been put into place to protect our natural resources and keep the term bio-diversity itself from becoming extinct. Recycling, solar power, the Kyoto Protocol; without the Earth Day movement, they may not have evolved as they have. 

And who knows…without Earth Day, our Floridian waterways may be devoid of sea cows. And where would we be then?

Would you really miss me?

But it just seems like environmentalists are always (and pardon the ecological analogy) swimming against the current. No matter how much evidence presents itself, the government resists taking action…as if irreparable damage to our natural world were some nagging predicament that those damn hippies just wouldn’t stop bitching about. And our elected officials rarely respond to bitching…or hippies for that matter.

But we do have problems and we need to solve them even if, as Al Gore so eloquently pointed out, doing so is somewhat inconvenient.

But is it me or are our problems getting bigger? And the bigger they get, the more complicated and difficult the prospect of changing them becomes. There is one problem in particular that does not get as much press as it should and it is one that is enabling and augmenting the litany of environmental issues that plague us. 


China had a population problem. And in a move that was heralded by many as Orwellian and inhumane, they limited a portion of its populous to one child per family. The policy has successfully curbed population growth by preventing approximately 400 million childbirths in the last thirty-two years. And other countries need to start implementing variations of this policy...or at least entertaining the notion. 

Because we have more people than food to feed them and in cities like New York, we have more people than square footage to house them. We’ve got more cars that guzzle more gas than we can drill, barrel, process and sell for anything less than $4 a barrel. And it doesn’t stop there.

With our natural resources diminishing, oil reserves being drained and our environment being continuously polluted while our population skyrockets, you can see the potential for things to get significantly worse.

And on this Earth Day, dare I ask what we are doing about it? Well, the bad news is that the GOP is still operating under the ‘Global Warming is a myth’ precept. They illustrated this during the recent budget showdown when they tried to attach a provision to the budget that would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to...wait for it...protect the environment by regulating CO2 emissions. And the worse news is that President Obama has been giving the GOP far too much of what it wants these days.

This year, the Earth Day Network is launching 'A Billion Acts of Green', the largest environmental service campaign in the world. Its goal is to register one billion green actions, large and small, before the Earth Summit scheduled for next year in Rio.

This pledge is a good thing. But it’s not enough. Grass roots activism will only go so far. We need bold initiatives from our government, regardless of how ‘inconvenient’ taking action may be in these trying financial times. But what happens if nothing is done? Allow me to paint a few alarmist scenarios for you.

Option A) by 2017, the world’s population rises to eleven billion and in efforts to feed everyone, geneticists engineer a three thousand ton mega-cow that is pumped full of so much Human Growth Hormone that it breaks Barry Bonds homerun record. (the accomplishment is shunned by Coopers Town but to little protest) 

Soon after, the GOP’s belief in the benign nature of global warming is proven wrong when the polar ice caps melt entirely. Those that survive either use the mega-cow as a floating landmass they call home or take to the seas; growing gills and mullets and drinking their own urine to survive.

Option B) The population continues it’s mathematical ascension and as it does, our oil, water and natural food sources evaporate. Poverty and unemployment rates rise and with a fiscally paranoid government in place, nothing is done to invest in clean, renewable energy or even fuel-efficient automobiles for that matter. America continues to fall behind the rest of the world in terms of energy, education and economic growth.

Once this happens, we delve even further into a polarized abyss of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ The ‘have nots’ will die off and the ‘haves’ will survive but not for long. Due to the numerous detriments inclusive in their diets, cancer and diabetes become permanently embedded in homo sapien DNA and within thirty years, the average life expectancy drops to seven. Eventually, it drops to zero.

The rest of the planet won’t fair much better. Third Worlders that don’t die from irradiated spinach will wade through cholera-infested and radically depleted water supplies in search of a disease-free drink but the only way to get one is to buy a bottle of water with money they don’t have in a city they can’t get to. Fertile, farmable land becomes extinct, as do vegetarians. Zen Palate goes out of business but no one cares. And without vegetables to feed on, all carnivores, starting with Texans and undeomesticated felines but spreading to all others, die off soon after.


Option C) We can join the Earth Day Network pledge and take one action in an effort to initiate change one small stride at a time. Then we can demand that our elected officials act NOW to curb the emissions of greenhouse gases and take better measures to insure that something like the BP oil spill NEVER happens again. But we cannot stop there. We need oil and coal taxes that will actually deter their usage and nudge us toward solar, wind and yes, despite Japan, nuclear power. Our classrooms must not only catch up to the rest of the world, but eclipse them so that future generations can lead the way toward a cleaner, sustainable future in a lush, fertile and harvestable planet.

Why? Because I want to drink cholera-free water, not my own urine. I want to eat free-range poultry, not a mega-cow scavenged upon by those fortunate enough to have survived an ecological holocaust. I don’t want to grow gills. I want to grow old with my children who can swim in the ocean and not be flammable afterwards. I want to believe in a better, cleaner tomorrow. And at some point, we have to start securing that for ourselves. Because if we don’t, we will have one pissed off Mother on our hands.

Click on the link below the image to join me. Happy Earth Day.


Saturday, April 9, 2011


I realize that most of you have lives and aren’t glued to CNN for hours at a time because you don’t want to miss Harry Reid’s monotonic address about budget negotiations. And I celebrate that. As you raise your children, advance your careers and lavish your spouses with either affection or neglect, I live vicariously through you. Yesterday, my lack of life enabled me to obsessively indulge in the latest piece of political theater and luckily for all of us, it had a happy ending.

The government shut down was averted and both parties rejoiced, lauding the achievement as “historic” and an illustration of “democracy at work.” And I’ll admit, the small victory (avoiding melt downs qualify as such in this Washington climate) made my heart swell and my loins tingle. Once in a while our government acts remotely competent and minimally functional and it makes me smile so.

But yesterday does not negate the fact that we still have a serious problem that needs to be addressed…coming up with a reasonable long-term plan to prevent a fiscal crisis. And let’s face it, we really need to one. Unfortunately, the plan that is getting all the press these days is a fucking awful one.

As a self-professed sidewalk philosopher, I always feel the need to ask questions and on my blog, I encourage my readers to do the same. So here’s a question for you…is it better to have a shitty plan or no plan at all?

I enjoy the op-ed section of the New York Times and it rarely happens but once and a while Paul Krugman and David Brooks sound off on the same page about the same topic. I get a similar thrill watching Paul Begala and David Gergen duke it out on CNN. Yes, I said ‘thrill,’ my life is that sad.

"I've got a plan. It sucks but it's a plan goddamnit!"
But I enjoy these showdowns because even though we all love our pundits to regurgitate and reinforce our own ethos, it is more valuable and stimulating to hear perspectives on both sides. And yesterday’s op-ed issue was House Budget Chairman Paul Allen’s budget proposal. Merely a week old, the proposal is already making headlines and here I am, caught in the middle of the hyperbolic crossfire.

Is it “Bold?” “Ludicrous?” A beacon of fiscal responsibility? A good starting point or the latest Republican attempt at class warfare? Who do I trust? Who do I believe? I’m not a fucking economist so what am I to make of all this?

Well, lets try and get through this together. We can only hope that reason and solidarity will help us navigate these murky waters successfully. So what does the budget propose? To reduce federal spending by $6.2 trillion over the next decade, during which it will also reduce the deficit by $4.4 trillion. Well, that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing does it?

Well, no. But unfortunately, trillions of dollars in spending do not magically disappear in the same manner as Charlie Sheen’s integrity. They go somewhere. And Ryan’s proposal, which the GOP is praising copiously, would take that money from very important places. First and foremost, this budget assumes that Obama’s health care overhaul will be repealed. So, that’s Allen’s version of forward thinking; repealing past laws that he isn’t very fond of. Not a good start but let’s not get too discouraged and press on.

After that, he proposes that over a trillion dollars be cut from Medicare and Medicaid spending. Here we go again. The Republican solution…fuck the poor and fuck the old. Fuck ‘em both. They’re a drag no matter how much money we shell out to them so maybe if we just stop paying for their health care, they will die off and we will be left with the Arian Utopia we all crave; a nation of young, rich, white, heterosexual Protestants. Then we can all traverse life with the comfort that Gay-Black-Poor Plague will not kill our babies while they sleep.

But don’t think that Allen is a heartless prick or anything like that. He does not want to entirely abolish Medicare, which, with an 85% approval rating, is one of America’s most liked programs. No, he just wants to replace it with vouchers that citizens can use to buy private policies. Well, that sounds just as good, no?

According to Paul Krugman, who cites the Congressional Budget Office in estimating that these vouchers will only cover one third of senior health costs, that would mean that the other two thirds, they would just have to come up with themselves. Krugman seems to think this is all a bad idea. And since he has a Nobel Prize in Economics on his mantle and I don’t, I’ll go ahead and take his word for it.  

On the flip side we have David Brooks, who is right when he claims that increasing taxes on the rich will not, in and of itself, cover our ever-expanding fiscal waistband. But the answer cannot simply be to cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, which Ryan’s plan once again suggests in hopes that the magical “trickle down” effect will manifest this time around…which is kind of like betting that the next book Snooky writes will win the Pulitzer.

Brooks is accurate in his claims that Medicare cannot cover the costs of every single new procedure that medical science introduces and that the more affluent cross-section of the populous should shoulder a portion of the burden of paying for our social programs with a slight increase in their tax rates. I agree with both statements.

But most importantly, Brooks is correct in claiming that until Democrats come up with a plan to counter Ryan’s, they cannot be taken seriously in matters concerning fiscal responsibility. David Gergen echoed these sentiments on Anderson Cooper’s program yesterday evening. So what is the Democrats’ plan? Well, that’s the problem. They don’t appear to have one.

And they need one if they want to not only muffle the populist anti-debt outrage that has already begun to spread from Tea Parties to voting booths, but also to avoid the fiscal crisis that will unfold if our debt goes unchecked and we don’t find a responsible way to insure our social programs’ long-term solvency. If anyone is curious about what happens when such measures are not procured, see recent collapses in Greece, Ireland and coming soon to a Euro-bail-out near you…Portugal!

So how are we to resolve this fiscal calamity without sacrificing our most cherished programs? And can we do it without resorting to ideological pissing contests and budgets packed with pork, riders and other gizmos?

The fight goes on. But no one ever wins.
Probably not. As even this budget standoff turned into a battle over party ideals. And is it me or does it seem that every time the Democrats pursue better health care, cleaner air and women’s rights, the Republicans counter with pro-life rhetoric, voodoo economics and tax cuts for rich people and corporations? Am I crazy? I hate to dualistically generalize like this but no matter how much I listen to David Brooks or David Gergen’s intelligent and valid counterpoints, I just keep tacking back to the same questions.

If our taxes pay for a compassionate welfare state we can be proud of, how can Republicans keep championing tax cuts that only make the rich richer and diminish the revenue that pays for our social programs? How can half of America keep voting for a party that wants to abolish Medicare and prevent the protection of our environment while failing to even try to improve the unemployment rate? I just don’t get it. 

What am I missing? Don’t people realize that this whole “trickle down” approach to the economy doesn’t work and that it has already failed us in the past? Don’t people want the government to take care of us by championing affordable health care, clean air and an economic policy that takes care of the average working citizen? Why would the Republicans try to attach provisions to a budget that opposes all these things? Don’t people see that? Don’t they care? And as always, it leads me back to the same question…


Sorry. I just…I get a little upset with my fellow Americans sometimes. Anyway, Paul Ryan’s plan is an atrocious one. But right now, it’s the only one on the table and it’s the only one that people are talking about. That needs to change.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Boehner: A Man of the People - Even the Fat, Poor and Lazy Deserve a Voice

The fat, poor and lazy people of this country have been silenced, discarded and left for dead without purpose, direction or a voice to call their own. But they now have a beacon to follow, a leader to shepherd them through these tumultuous financial times, a voice that echoes throughout the halls of Congress, a name for the droves of nameless, faceless citizens that have been cast asunder. And his name is John Boehner.
George W. Bush gave America “Compassionate Conservatism.” But apparently G.O.P. leadership felt such an approach was too…well…compassionate. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Boehner accidentally let loose his true thoughts on how to approach Americans who have fallen on tough time. His approach is, well, to not approach them at all. The majority leader of the United States House of Representatives has adopted more of a ‘Fuck them, it’s they’re own fault if they can’t get a good job or an education’ philosophy.

While on a coffee break, Boehner, who apparently is not aware of reporter/subject etiquette, dropped a little English when he thought they were off the record. After the reporter Matt Taibbi asked what he felt about young people, he shared his thoughts on that and more.

"Can't pay your student loan? Face it, your parents were lazy and you couldn't afford college. The world needs ditch diggers and you were born into a family of them. Can't pay your mortgage? Your house was too expensive and you couldn't afford it."

Love. So much love he has for the American working class. I can feel the fuzzy, snuggly affection for the ditch-diggers of America oozing out of his pores. Can’t you? But his love is not limited to the lowly ditch diggers that make up such a large cross-section of the American populous. John, much like myself, believes that the children are our future. And he exemplified this belief when he said, “The kids here [in the U.S.] are too fat, too lazy, too addicted to TV, fast food, cheap credit, and Facebook.”

Hmmmmm. Well, people do watch too much television. Facebook can be addictive and yes, McDonalds is a little more popular than it should be. But I am not so sure that this attitude is altogether helpful. I’m all for constructive criticism but he comes off as a little bit of a, what’s that word, cocksucker. Am I wrong? I have heard the ramblings of a cocksucker before and they sounded very much like that; harsh, apathetic, rooted in truth but completely unaffected by it.

Alarming as his comments were, he unleashed one little verbal nugget that filled me with hope and upon reading it, a light of clarity shone through me. All this time I have been worrying about unemployment in this country. Even though it recently dropped to 8.8%, I was still laboring under the fallacious impression that rampant unemployment was in fact, a problem. You know, something people were not necessarily happy about. ‘People need jobs and they want them’ I’ve always thought. Oh what a silly lad I was to entertain such childish notions.

But Boehner, in a quote of the ages, claimed, “I have news for you- there are plenty of jobs out there- the unemployed don't want them.” Ooooooohhhhhhhhhh, so that’s the problem! Eureka! It’s not that people CAN’T get jobs because the job market has shriveled up due to inferior education and the collapse of housing, banking, automotive and countless other industries. No you silly monkeys, it’s that people simply don’t want the oodles of jobs that are saturating this surplus of a job market.

Well, I don’t know about you but I feel enlightened and filled with an optimism I have not tasted since the summer of 2008; a sunny, happy time when predator lending and sub-prime mortgages only existed in science fiction books. Nobody knew who Fannie Mae or Freddy Mac were and housing bubbles were just something kids liked to play with. Twas a glorious time when automotive industries entrenched in 19th century technologies thrived and the general public actually believed that overhauling our tragically inefficient health care system was a good idea.

And since then, what has Mr. Boehner learned from a period that most economists herald as the worst recession since the Great Depression? That the unemployed don’t want jobs and that future generations of Americans are too fat and lazy to even deserve them.

So, is this the future of the G.O.P.? Is the G.O.P. the future of America? Is this the leadership this country needs to mend its wounds and repair its limping economy? Is this the attitude that is going to restore America’s dignity and virility in the world?

I hope voters are paying attention. Because our Congressmen exist to serve us, to advance our values and to realize our dreams. They exist to speak for those who cannot be heard. They are our voice. John Boehner is our voice. He is speaking to you and more importantly, he is speaking for you. Are you listening?