We have no future. Our ideals are being ground beneath the dead weight of our own empire. We walk in darkness. You are standing on my foot.
That's pretty much the year in review. I could do my usual thing and trot out a litany of horrors culled from the papers from the past 12 months, but, Jesus, it's a big stack.
Here's one picked at random, a November Associated Press report of a scientific study asserting that global warming will have a "devastating effect" on the western United States within 25 to 50 years, including Colorado River reservoir levels dropping by over a third and electricity generation dropping some 40 percent. So much for your electric car. The article notes that this study is the "rosiest" of estimates from climate scientists. This story was buried on page A34 of the Los Angeles Times, where most environmental stories wind up, you know, the ones THAT AFFECT EVERY SINGLE ONE OF OUR LIVES AND DEMAND OUR FULLEST PARTICIPATION IF WE ARE TO AVERT DISASTER.
Earlier this year, I talked with Nobel Prize-winning UC Irvine scientist F. Sherwood Rowland. He had been a member of the National Academy of Sciences panel from whom the White House had requested a study on climate change. The panel concluded, as other scientists have, that global warming is real, is accelerated by human activity and most likely will be horrible. It was this report Bush chose to ignore when he dumped a campaign promise and gutted pollution rules on power plants this spring.
Rowland made a matter-of-fact observation that global warming's effect on your life might depend on your economic status. The affluent would be able to move or rebuild, while the rest of us are toast. Incidentally, California had its worst drought on record in 2002, while, globally, lots of non-affluent folks died in heat waves, including a record 1,030 in one May week alone in India. And, wow, here's another study from June, linking global warming with epidemics!
It's handy that the same folks who got rich causing global warming will be the ones best positioned to skirt its effects. We get accused of promoting "class warfare" talking like that, but, as this year has made abundantly clear, a one-sided class war has been raging with unprecedented vigor in this country. If you're in any doubt as to which side is waging it, consider how more of this nation's wealth flows to the rich each year, as the poor grow poorer and the middle class vanishes.
There was the tax cut, half of which went to the richest 5 percent. Our nation's domestic policy, such as it is, seems solely devoted to rewarding Bush's biggest backers in the energy and pharmaceutical fields (including the slipped-in clause in the Homeland Security bill shielding Eli Lilly and others from your legal recourse when their vaccines bung you up). There were mega-millions in subsidies to corporate farms, while we will foot the $4 billion bill for cleaning up their toxic runoff in California. A UC Berkeley study finds that one of the runoff chemicals is causing male frogs to turn female. So take heart, lonely guys, you may get to play with some tits yet. Your own.
But since you're indirectly paying for the chemicals causing it, doesn't that make it prostitution? And isn't that bad? Ask John Ashcroft, who had the FBI spend millions of dollars and 13 months investigating prostitution in New Orleans, resulting in 12 arrests—less than one hooker per month. That's when Ashcroft wasn't fighting Oregon's right-to-die law or prosecuting folks for medical marijuana.
Isn't there something else Ashcroft is supposed to be doing? I have a hard time keeping track, now that the government is making everything a secret, including its inability to protect us despite the billions we spend on defense and intelligence. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the same crew who tried to block the Freedom of Information Act during the Ford administration, have this past year succeeded in establishing a government not by, for and of the people, but one that's beyond, forsaking and obfuscating the people. Policy is made in secret, foisted on us, and blocked from oversight. As noted above, we walk in darkness.
The list of things our government won't let you know grows daily. At the same time we're bitching about Iraq's failure to fully account for their weapons programs, our government has been taking a Marks-a-Lot to the documents they've given us so we won't know the names of all the American corporations who have helped arm Saddam Hussein. And though we do know Saddam lacks nuclear warheads or the missiles to deliver them, Bush is deploying a missile-defense system that heretofore hasn't exactly worked, despite billions of our dollars spent, and we may never know how much it continues not to work because those tests are now classified, too.
Goddamn it, I could fill this paper with the odious things that have transpired this year and not touch on them all—how wildlife protections have been forsaken; how government contracts will be given to corporations who unpatriotically hide their assets offshore; how the White House, in Senator John McCain's words, undertook a "systematic undermining" of campaign-finance reform, prompting McCain to "assume all future assurances and promises by this administration to be quite possibly insincere."
I can't stop! Just this month, the Bush administration announced its willingness to use nuclear weapons and land mines in Iraq. At home, thousands more people were rounded up by the INS (with some 500 to 700 in SoCal alone) the week before Christmas on suspicion of being swarthy.
Maybe this is the idea: to so deluge us with reprehensible stuff that we become numb to it.
We have no future! Why do I keep saying that? Because the only thing that keeps the future from being just another damn day is our ability to dream of something better and the will to bring it into being.
There used to be the presumption, borne out by experience, that each generation would have it better than the one before it. Fiction imagined the future. Science created it. Utopia ho!
The 1960s Star Trek episodes seem hokey today—the Enterprise's computer is clunkier than your laptop, plus we're now armed with the knowledge that velour is not the fabric of the future. But it did have a utopian vision—the better tomorrow—that we don't. The Earth they left behind wasn't rife with land mines and social inequities.
Science fiction, which had rightly anticipated so many things, turned dark decades ago, with grim, totalitarian, post-apocalyptic imaginings. And damn if that isn't the future, or lack of one, we're slouching into, where our selfish short-term portfolio matters more than the world we leave our children.
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The future starts now, if we're going to have one. Take a bus. Buy green. I don't know about voting Green next time. Democrats have to realize they need the Greens onboard, and the Greens need to bite the bullet and throw their support behind a progressive Democrat. It is with sadness that I ask you to repeat after me: Ralph Nader will never be president.
But maybe he could get a cabinet post if things shake up enough. I suggest pushing for this reach-across-the-aisles ticket: John Kerry and John McCain. Kerry's a deep guy, one of the better products of the Vietnam generation, and McCain echoes the best qualities of Barry Goldwater: not someone you'll necessarily agree with, but more honest, compassionate and fed up with the system than most folks on the Hill. Just to keep things fun, he and Kerry could agree to switch places on the ticket when they run for a second term.
Not likely? But how likely is it that the Greatest Nation on Earth would have a doofus like Bush running it? A man of whom a Republican senator opined this year after meeting with him on the economy, "He's engaged. But it's all surface engagement—all kinds of wisecracks, snortling and nicknames." That was the word in the paper: "snortling."
Imagine a responsive government because you and your neighbors vote and write and protest and make it respond. Imagine our state getting out of its cash hole by releasing nonviolent drug offenders from prison. Imagine greener cars with chia dashboards. Imagine hybrid tricycles, linking leg power and electric motors. Imagine a mass-transit system of log-flume rides connecting the Southland. Hop onboard, and let's splash our way into the future, ever so far away from this sucky year.