Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

The Round House by Louise Erdrich. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, NY. 2012. 321 pgs.

The Round House courtesy of Harper/Collins

The Round House courtesy of Harper/Collins

Louise Erdrich’s books are generally set on a fictional North Dakota reservation and in nearby Argus, and are narrated in turn by a recurring cast of characters created from her Native American (she is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) and German-American roots.

The Round House, 2012 National Book Award winner, relies on a sole point of view, that of a now adult Native American Joe Coutts who is looking back on his tumultuous and horrifying thirteenth summer. On a Sunday afternoon, Joe’s tightly knit family of three (his father, Bazil Coutts is a tribal judge) begins to unravel after Joe’s mother, a Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal enrollment specialist (a job that causes her to “know everybody’s secrets”) receives a phone call. When she later leaves to retrieve a file from her office, the nightmare begins.

The writing is exquisite: lyrical (the powwow scene was particularly evocative to me), mythic (we are told many of grandfather Mooshum’s deeply meaningful dreams), metaphorical (The Round House itself is both symbolic and real). Joe sometimes seems wise beyond his 13 years. Other times he’s just a clumsy adolescent. Feels like just about the right mix for thirteen.

But to me what holds stage front and center is the blisteringly honest deepest-soul anguish resulting from the brutal rape of Joe’s mother and its impacts on their family as well as the helplessness of tribal law in the face of nonnative violations on tribal land and the absence of federal judicial intervention. The combination’s results are devastating.

This is not a subtle story. It is a clear and awful testament to our  longstanding institutionalized indifference to crimes against women, particularly Native women. As Joyce Carol Oates notes in her New York Review of Books piece (March 7, 2013): “In fact, it is estimated that one in three Native American women living on tribal lands are raped, or sexually assaulted, in their lifetimes, more than twice the number of nonnative women. A high percentage of these rapes are committed by nonnative men, and are rarely prosecuted. In 2011, the Justice Department failed to prosecute 65 percent of all reported rape cases on tribal lands, and it is estimated that a low percentage of rapes are actually reported.”

This book is a particularly urgent and moving in light of the recent arguments in the US House of Representatives over reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). One of the key provisions Republicans attempted to have removed was the empowerment of tribal courts to prosecute and issue protection orders against non-indigenous persons accused of assaulting Native American women in their native communities.

Thank God they did not prevail. I call on all those 138 Representatives who voted against VAWA to read The Round House and then ask themselves this question: What if this were my wife, my mother, my sister, my daughter? What then?

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Wow…some politicians are actually uttering these words: Climate Change is Real!

Here’s New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his last minute endorsement of President’s Obama’s re-election after Hurricane Sandy laid NYC low (quoting from the New York Times 11/1/12):

Lower Manhattan 10/29/12 photo courtesy of Damon Dahlen, AOL

“Our climate is changing…And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

On November 8, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said after the November 6th election extended the Democratic majority in the Senate: “Climate change is an extremely important issue for me and I hope we can address it reasonably. It’s something, as we’ve seen with these storms that are overwhelming our country and the world, we need to do something about it.”

Even President Obama made a passing reference to it in his re-election acceptance speech on the night of November 6th: “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

I imagine a lot of people who know climate change is happening in real time are thinking they’ll believe that Washington will manage to do anything about it when they see it. For sure one of them, Bill McKibben, isn’t waiting.

Do The Math logo courtesy of 350.org

Climate activist and author, McKibben was arguably the first voice in the wilderness speaking about climate change in terms folks could understand in his groundbreaking book, The End of Nature, published in 1996. With several more books, multiple speaking tours, direct actions, and teaching he’s continued to lead, calling for action on global warming. In 2008, he and others founded 350.org, an international effort to bring climate change front and center on the world political stage through citizen action. His most recent push—a 20 city nationwide biodiesel-fueled bus tour called “Do The Math” (math.350.org/)—started November 7th to a sold-out crowd in Seattle. Described as “TED-talk meets concert tour” there are two goals: to get universities and churches to divest portfolio investments in petroleum companies (following the lead of the South Africa divestments used in the 1980s as an anti-apartheid tool); and to re-ignite grassroots activism for the next stage of the climate battle.

Do the Math—Seattle courtesy of 350.org

Two universities have already pledged to divest. And one attendee at last night’s Los Angeles event told me she’s ready to get arrested if that’s what it takes.

Sounds like McKibben’s message just may be working.

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I know I’m over a month early but there are too many signs not to recognize that Spring is in the air.

Pacific Tree Frog courtesy of kjfmartin at Wikipedia Commons

The wonderful frogs we call “peepers” (they’re really Pacific Tree Frogs) have begun to hunt for mates, chirruping from the nearby wetland.

Birds have also begun their predawn serenades. The robins and redwing blackbirds are flocking.

Skunk Cabbage Bloom © SR Euston

Last year we noted spring flowers in April. This year, we’ve already seen pussywillows bursting and the first shy woodland yellow violets. Even the skunk cabbage has begun to send out sensuous buttery blooms. Quince have begun to flower.

As our local year turns its back on winter and faces towards the equinox (as does most of the US) in other parts of the world this has been a bruising season.  Europe has had record smashing cold with snow in Rome, and subzero weather in the east. Istanbul has had snow, so too, the mountains in Libya and Algeria. Japan has had blizzards.

Climate scientists aren’t surprised. For them, and most of us sentient beings, these wild gyrations only underscore the urgency of addressing global climate change now. Meanwhile politicians pass state laws requiring the teaching of denier “science” and presidential hopefuls madly scramble to put distance between themselves and climate reality. Of course the federal government, by refusing to address the issue at all, just adds to my pervading sense of frustration and gloom.

Pussywillows © SR Euston

Hal Borland, in his 1957 book Countryman: A Summary of Belief, makes this wry observation: “I used to think that strangers to the open country made so much noise because they feared the silence and the human loneliness. Now I have my doubts. I suspect that they are afraid they may meet themselves coming around the mountain or through the woods. They know how dangerous they are and how little they can be trusted, especially when they are surprised or frightened.”

Still, he reminds me, Spring is coming, and the world does go on regardless of us: “I am, by the simple fact of being alive and sentient, a part of something magnificent and vastly more enduring than the human crowd. I am a participant in Spring.”

Amen to that.

In the Wetland © SR Euston

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Gathering Hope Tree © SR Euston

It’s nearing the end of day 48 of Occupy Wall Street. Yesterday (remarkably to me) 10,000 Occupy Oaklanders managed to bring the Port of Oakland to a standstill. Although there have been clashes  and arrests there, as well as in other locales around the nation and the globe, overall this massive public demonstration has proved peaceful. It’s obvious that at its core this a nonviolent movement of passive civic resistance and, if necessary, disobedience.

At first the condescending voices of the self-appointed pundits and prophets, those “grown-up” plutocrats, tried in order to: dismiss, brush off, smirk at, marginalize, and demonize these “99%ers” as they have come to be called. (In our little town a letter writer to the local paper fell back on that old 50s’ saw—socialist/marxist/communist. Good grief.) Now the “wise men” are demanding “a plan” and, in the absence of a piece of paper (what no PowerPoint?), expect this (currently) loose cloth of fellow citizens to unravel in short order.

I would suggest the opposite: that the fabric of resistance is growing stronger, the stitches knitting together closer and closer. As we watch the debacle which calls itself our Congress continue to do nothing to ease national and international economic distress, it seems logical that more, rather than fewer, Americans will demand action. We will expect a new civic engagement toward positive action.

In 1995, at the beginning of the Gingrich congressional era, Gathering Hope, summing up nearly two years of citizen dialog about the state of the nation and the power of envisioning the future, stated the following:

America is entering an extraordinary time of uncertainty and challenge. Our democratic institutions are failing in multiple ways to ensure our own security, our children’s future, and the future of the planet itself.  

Understanding the role of power is essential to understanding our current situation. Large, complex, interlocking institutions of power (including corporations, international financial systems, and government) operate within a dehumanizing value system summed up as “modern market individualism” that is inimical to economic and environmental justice. 

A just and sustainable economy in balance with earth ecosystems demands transformation of all institutions toward a responsible democracy. A reformed, legitimized government must restore trust and pursue energetically its role as protector of the commons, guarantor of justice, and trustee for the future. 

The path to a sustainable future requires a renewed citizenship of responsibility. Intense individualism must  give way to care for the commonweal, for the future. We must envision a new social compact which affirms the claims of community and posterity on all our actions.

To this might be added today:

Unless we do, the future—our children’s future—will trail into narrowing corridors of no return.  

Here are the closing words of Gathering Hope. Perhaps it will serve as one of many jumping off points for the movement to come.   Ann

This Citizens Call ends where it began, with a reaffirmation of a civic democracy in which we as citizens proclaim a rendezvous with a new destiny, that of a just and sustainable future. We further affirm our confidence in the power of citizen deliberation, in the need to question power and the necessity of searching for truth in public life. In these affirmations, we accept the challenge of a participatory citizenship that demands that the boundaries of the possible widen, so that we today can say to the future that we have done all we could do.

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In the early 1990s, with the environment in rapid decline, the idea of sustainability emerged. The term implied this question: How does society pass on to future generations a reasonably whole environment and a reasonably stable and fair economy, all within the framework of social justice?

Gathering Hope © SR Euston

In 1993, Ann and I with several others founded an organization with a presumptuous mission: to understand what it meant to be a “sustainable society”. Pretty quickly, it became apparent that sustainability meant lots of things to lots of people. Almost everyone agreed that “sustainability” or “sustainable development” was a good thing, which only reinforced the need for better understanding of this significant but amorphous idea.

Happily, The Sustainability Project (TSP) attracted the involvement of some leading lights in the nascent sustainability movement.

At the time, the high-minded idea of “civic discourse” was in the air. Talking through public decisions, listening carefully, paying attention to facts. Initiatives aimed at local sustainability were active. TSP set out to get a better handle on just what a sustainable society might look like. We applied the model of “civic discourse” as our means of engaging citizens.

The Sustainability Project received a handful of grants. We sponsored a series of two day workshops across the country, with abundant participation by grass roots activists, writers, academics, and folks from the private sector. The question posed at each workshop was both simple and profound: “What is sustainability and how do we as a society achieve it?”

A couple of years into the dialog project, we published a document summarizing the findings of these workshops, Gathering Hope. It represented a big dose of civic optimism in the  face of vast countervailing forces.

Today, sustainability is not much more than a commercial “branding” for products of dubious value. Nonetheless, society is more and more experiencing the inexorable effects of non-sustainability, the reaching of tipping points over which institutions have no control. It’s indeed frightening. The world economy and the earth’s atmosphere are in fact near such tipping points, and many are finally waking up to this fact, politicians and most economists the giant exceptions.

We are now in a time of extreme uncivil discourse. Current political talk about the future is surreal, adolescent and selfish.

This situation was dire in 1995. But the darkness of the shadow hanging over public life, the blackness of its intent, is now truly threatening the legitimacy of our political system, to say nothing about our earthly environment.

Those camping out on Wall Street are engaged in what the document Gathering Hope called “spontaneous politics”. It’s the hope that lies just beyond the fading hopes of my generation.

It will, of course, take more than spontaneous politics to move forces that have captured our political and economic systems. The next steps are critical. From protests and confronting power in the street, to dialog among ourselves, to coalescing around simple but profound demands for new kinds of political organization and power.

It’s all so profound, and yet politics and the media are making a full court press to discredit any and all who question the systems that are hurtling us all into a future without hope for most people or for a sustaining environment.

Let’s hope for the best, do our best, and keep faith in the ability of American “democracy” to redeem itself. If this be revolutionary, so be it.  Stan Euston

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For all intents and purposes, U.S. climate action—at least any that is meaningful in face of the enveloping climatic chaos—is dead.

The Waxman-Markey House bill, after being beaten almost to death by big oil, big utilities and big coal would grant mostly free carbon credits to the most polluting industries, making a joke of the cap and trade system that’s supposed to make pollution more and more expensive, thus encouraging alternative energies and efficiencies. And of course there’s no talk of conservation, that most economical and simple of carbon reduction strategies. What’s more, big coal and its political beneficiaries get billions to research “clean coal” technologies. The nuclear industry, already reaping billions from federal assistance, would get more.

Worse is the reported current version of the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill. It would strip EPA of its powers under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions, and possibly prohibit states like California from implementing their own stronger regulations. EPA regulation and enlightened state initiatives like California’s are last resorts for powerfully regulating and reducing significantly and quickly the CO2 and other greenhouse gases that are the cause of climate change.

The door to U.S. leadership on climate has closed.

Now international action will at best be tepid, nothing robust enough to forestall those scary possibilities of abrupt climate change that in the space of a few years, for example, could devastate world food production. Think of it. Grain harvests from Kansas, or the rice harvest in Bangladesh, failing. Not a few very serious thinkers and scientists warn of these possibly cataclysmic possibilities. That is, of enough warming to cause a cascade of wretched events (strangely called positive feedback) that truly threaten our hi tech interconnected world of hair- trigger financial markets, just in time inventory systems, and finely balanced international food supply. And this abrupt climate change would not be measured in centuries or even decades, but possibly in several years.

The Obama administration came to Washington on promises of taming the morally withered whirlwind of power, influence and money that controls so much of  Washington. Until now at least, it looks as if the whirlwind has tamed the administration, and the hopes that Obama brought for American leadership on climate have receded further into the distance as the clock ticks on.  SRE

Remnants of a Collapsed Society © SR Euston

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I’m appalled by all the folks who are never challenged when they talk about global climate change as though it were some scientific conspiracy cooked up by a bunch of rich climatologists to keep their jobs. We hear this rant from sources as diverse as the TV weatherman (If Global Warming Kills Us, Blame the Weatherman http://industry.bnet.com) to my own local postman.

Meanwhile Greenpeace reported yesterday that Koch Industries, a little known but enormous, privately held company with interests in everything from mining to oil and gas, has invested $25 million in a highly organized climate denial machine. (http://motherjones.com.)

So to see this month’s (April 2010) Scientific American cover touting a “Special Report: Managing Earth’s Future. Solutions for a Finite World. ”  and its accompanying articles on Bill McKibben was a breath of fresh air.

The Special Report is particularly and graphically chilling. It sets out what experts consider our eight biggest problems and posits threshold points beyond which we head at Earth’s peril. Three—biodiversity loss, a disrupted nitrogen cycle, and climate change—have passed those tipping points already.

But what to do? Sadly, not one expert mentions that we’re all going to need to change dramatically and but quick. They all present the standard worn-out nostrums: policy shifts, dietary modifications, land use planning.

So it was with relief that I continued on to the next article, “Breaking the Growth Habit” by Bill McKibben, a visionary whose first book, The End of Nature, proved a seminal jeremiad about our self-destructive path.

This article begins: “New planets require new habits….We simply can’t live on the new earth as if it were the old earth—we’ve foreclosed that option.”

In more excerpts from McKibben’s new book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet due out this month just in time for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, he argues it’s time to move beyond our adolescent belief in unlimited growth. We need to grow up and start jettisoning. Not just our consumer lifestyle that equates more stuff with more success, he’s talking about rethinking 21st century complexity, now a tightly wound interlocking societal system, whose every bump and ripple is, quite literally, felt around the world. Remember 2008’s financial meltdown?

It’s going to be painful, this change. As he puts it, “Painless is just delay. You know, pay me now or pay me later.”

What does he recommend to get us moving in the right direction immediately? “Pricing carbon to reflect the damage it does to the environment.”

In plain terms that means more expensive gas, higher home heating bills, more expensive grocery items. In fact higher costs, period. Is it worth it? I know what I think. How about you?

For more go to: www.ScientificAmerican.com/mckibbenQA

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