Do You Know What Your Candidate Stands For?

W.J. Astore

So many people vote for a Democrat or Republican without having a clue what their candidate stands for. Politicians are adept at refusing to take positions; profiles in courage they are not. This is one big reason why I respect Matthew Hoh, candidate for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina. He takes firm stances based on his personal convictions and principles. Here, courtesy of INDY Week in North Carolina, is an article that details these. Not surprisingly, the Democratic and Republican candidates chose not to answer these questions.

My suggestion: Find a candidate in your district who’s willing to go on the record with strong stances that you believe in. If you can’t find such a candidate, write someone in, or don’t vote for that office, or (big ask) consider running for office yourself in the future, or consider joining new parties that seek to break the corrupt hold on our politics that the Democrats and Republicans have enjoyed for far too long.

Candidate Questionnaire: Matthew Hoh, US Senate

Name as it appears on the ballot: Matthew Hoh 

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Age: 49

Party affiliation: Green

Campaign websitehttps://www.matt4senate.org

Occupation & employer:  Disabled veteran

Years lived in North Carolina: 9

1) What are your primary concerns for the State of North Carolina?

I have been to all parts of North Carolina throughout the campaign, and the three things I hear everywhere are healthcare, housing, and drugs. 

Millions of people in NC live without healthcare due to being uninsured or underinsured, while more than 20% of NC adults are in collections for medical debt. Housing is unaffordable across the state. Home prices are out of reach for most working families, while rents have increased at a criminally staggering rate of 25-50%. Individuals, families and communities, particularly Black, Latino, and Native American communities, have been devastated by the War on Drugs. Every day 12 North Carolinian lives are lost from fatal overdoses. At the same time, the mass incarceration and prohibition policies of Republicans and Democrats have ruined lives and wrecked families, destroyed neighborhoods, and sustained cycles of crime. 

These are the same issues I see in my life. My family, friends and neighbors suffer and are hurt by these deliberate bipartisan policies. I’m running to make sure there is a voice in this race for Medicare for All and not for for-profit healthcare; that there are meaningful, affordable housing policies that are not simply tax breaks and subsidies for developers and banks; and that we end the War on Drugs and treat substance abuse and addiction as public health matters rather than as crimes.

2) What in your background qualifies you to represent the people of this state effectively? What would you cite as your biggest career accomplishments?  

I’m a disabled Marine Corps combat veteran. I live paycheck to paycheck, often solely on my veteran disability payments. Due to my disability, I went five years unable to earn an income. This, more than anything else, has prepared me to represent working families in Washington, DC.

In 2009, I resigned my position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest over the escalation of that war. I’ve worked in Washington, DC with members of Congress and their staff for over a decade on war and peace, veterans issues and foreign policy. I’m very familiar with how Congress and the DC establishment operate, and this, perhaps, is the best explanation as to why I am running with the Green Party and not as a Democrat or Republican. 

Locally, I have done peer support in the veterans and homeless communities.  

If elected, what three policies would you prioritize and how would you work across the aisle to enact those initiatives? 

I believe there are Democrats who are willing to break with their party and support meaningful climate and healthcare legislation (not giveaways to the fossil fuel industry and healthcare insurance companies such as the Inflation Reduction Act and the Affordable Care Act.) At the same time, some Democrats and Republicans are willing to reduce the bloated military-industrial complex, rein in the gross violations of constitutional rights and liberties by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and end corporate subsidies. I look forward to working with progressives and libertarians on ending the War on Drugs, protecting and expanding civil liberties, particularly LGTBQIA+ rights, and ending our militarized foreign policy.

To accomplish this, I will work in a manner similar to how Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have operated these past two years. However, rather than my efforts being for the benefit of fossil fuel companies and hedge fund managers, as with Senators Manchin and Sinema, my efforts will be for the working and middle classes. I have said repeatedly: no one will get $15 billion aircraft carriers unless our people get healthcare.

3) More than 1 million Americans have died due to COVID-19 and millions more are struggling with astronomical medical bills. Do you believe the American health system is working? What is your plan for making sure health care is affordable and accessible to all American citizens? Are you in favor of a single-payer option?

I’m running because I have many people in my life, people I love, that must check their bank account before calling their doctor. Around a third of all COVID deaths occurred due to people’s inability to afford medical care. That is a consequence of our for-profit healthcare system and a legacy of the Affordable Care Act. Before the pandemic, tens of thousands of Americans were dying each year as a result of not being able to pay for healthcare. I support Medicare for All, which would provide people with affordable and quality healthcare under a single-payer system. This would save our society hundreds of billions of dollars annually while ensuring everyone can get the healthcare they need. I’m also in favor of canceling all medical debt.

4) What factors are fueling the country’s growing political polarization and how will you work to mend it?

Politicians in both parties have increasingly relied on culture war rhetoric to maintain voter loyalty, despite taking millions of dollars from corporations who couldn’t care less about issues like LGBTQ rights or religious freedom. Additionally, partisan gerrymandering has increasingly resulted in noncompetitive districts, denying voters the chance to support candidates from other parties. I support reforms like ranked-choice voting, proportional representation for legislatures, and public campaign financing. These improvements would take the pressure off voters not to “split the vote” and allow them to vote for candidates based on issues and policies and not party identity.

Rent, property taxes, and home sale prices have generally been rising over the past several years. What, if anything, should the federal government do to address this growing affordability crisis?

The federal government plays a dominant role in housing as it backs loans and mortgages, subsidizes development and construction, and provides grants to developers. This allows the federal government to institute rent control, which should be done. Public banking would allow working families to qualify for home loans based on their rental histories. Corporations, banks, and investment firms should be banned from purchasing single-family homes. Housing policy, like other areas of the economy, needs a reversal of the decades of bi-partisan support for corporations, banks and the wealthy at the expense of the working and middle classes. Our homeless epidemic, a massive moral failing, is the direct consequence of this choice to prioritize profit over people.

5) Do you believe the federal minimum wage should be increased? If, by how much? If not, why? 

I support a federal living wage that annually increases to match inflation and the rising cost of living, particularly housing costs. That would currently equal around $22 an hour. I fully support the right of workers to organize through unions for higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions. Additionally, we need to incentivize employee ownership, cooperatives and workplace democracy.

6) What specific policies or programs do you endorse or would pursue to combat inflation?  Do you foresee the US heading into a larger economic recession and if so, what is the best way for Congress to address it?

Food and energy price increases are a result of climate change and war. Droughts, floods, and wildfires will continue to impact our economy, as will foreign wars, while our dependence on fossil fuels will keep us at the mercy of US and foreign oil companies. We need a Real Green New Deal to address these causes. 

Supply chain shortages, resulting from decades of infrastructure neglect, are another reason for inflation. Most significantly, however, the current inflation rate is driven by corporate greed and price gouging, not labor costs or productivity issues. Fed interest rate hikes, meant to cause unemployment and which will fully push us into a recession, are not the answer.

Economic inequality has devastated the working and middle classes. This has resulted from deliberate policies over decades meant to ensure those at the top not only remain at the top but see their wealth grow. Working families have been squeezed to the point that 60% of us now live paycheck to paycheck while a third of families can’t make ends meet, with that number rising to more than half of Black and Latino families. I’m  the only candidate in the race for US Senate calling for Medicare for All, rent control, public banking, universal public education from pre-K through university, including vocational and trade schools, and living wages adjusted annually for cost of living increases. These measures will substantially and fundamentally address economic inequality and establish healthcare, housing, education and jobs as human rights.

7) The US Supreme Court issued a ruling this summer overturning Roe v. Wade. Do you believe abortion should be a fundamental human right? If elected, would you support a federal ban on abortion? What role, if any, should Congress play in restricting or expanding access to abortion?

Abortion, like other reproductive rights, is healthcare, and healthcare is a human right. Abortion is ultimately the sole decision of a woman. Like all other forms of healthcare, abortion should be available through a universal single-payer healthcare system available to all people without cost at the point of service. Abortion should be available without conditions and judgment. We must ensure women and their families have all the resources they need for healthy and productive lives, and we must protect abortion seekers and providers from violence.

8) Please state three specific policies you support to address climate change.

Ban fossil fuel extraction techniques and infrastructure, such as fracking, offshore drilling, and oil and gas pipelines. Invest in green energy tech, industry, transportation, agriculture and infrastructure to decrease and end our dependence on fossil fuels. Support training programs to help workers in fields like mining and farming transition to high-paying jobs in sustainable energy and agriculture. These and other actions to mitigate the climate collapse and to assimilate to our changing world, particularly transforming and strengthening our economic and societal infrastructure, are key elements of the Green Party’s Green New Deal. 

9) What more, if anything, should Congress do to regulate firearms?

I carried rifles and pistols in combat. The American people have the right to use firearms for self-defense and hunting. Still, measures like background checks, proper training standards, and mandatory waiting periods need to be implemented so that these weapons don’t end up in the hands of people who plan to harm others. A thorough in-person licensing and training program should be a requirement for possessing a firearm, especially outside the home. These measures must be consistent across states. We must also work to dismantle the gun lobby, whose continued obstruction of common sense gun regulations puts us all in danger.

Prohibition and poverty are and have long been, the primary root causes of crime. End the decades-long, failed, counterproductive and shameful War on Drugs. We must address the deep state of poverty by ensuring all people are paid a living wage and have healthcare and access to free public education from pre-K through college (including trade/vocational programs.)

10) Are there any issues this questionnaire has not addressed that you would like to address?

Environment: I’ve lost track of the number of NC communities that can’t drink their water. The poisoning of our air, land and water by corporations backed and protected by Democrat and Republican politicians is a mass environmental catastrophe that has caused immense environmental harm, devastated wildlife and sickened and killed North Carolinians.

Immigration: My grandparents were immigrants. If any other nation were treating people at its border the way the US treats people at its southern border, we would decry it as a crime against humanity. The bipartisan Democrat and Republican border policies have not only been failures but are massive human rights violations. We must treat all people with dignity and address the systemic reasons why people leave their home countries.

This nation needs immigrants to grow and develop our economy. There is no reason we cannot achieve an immigration policy that treats people humanely, allows for a pathway to citizenship, and provides economic benefits to our society. It’s simply a question of choosing to do so rather than continuing decades of racist fearmongering for political gain.

Democracy: Voting should be expanded, strengthened and made more inclusive. We need to make voting more accessible and easier for individual voters and we must update and modernize our political process.

A Pew poll found that 70% of Americans support the need for more political parties. Voters should have more options. I support ranked choice voting, proportional representation, abolishing the electoral college, ending gerrymandering, establishing term limits and fighting continuously to get money out of politics.

This past summer, the North Carolina Green Party and my campaign had to go to federal court to participate in this election. This was necessary because of a well-funded legal campaign by the Democratic Party to keep the Green Party off the ballot. At all levels, the Green Party prevailed (multiple county boards of elections, NC State Boards of Elections, Wake County Superior Court, US District Court and US Federal Appeals Court); however, the effect on our ability to participate in elections and to represent voters who otherwise would not be represented was dramatically impacted. Voter suppression occurs in multiple forms by both of the major parties.

Reparations: I support Black and Indigenous-led efforts to provide reparations.

Joe Biden’s Failure to Raise the Federal Minimum Wage

W.J. Astore

When Joe Biden was running for president in 2020, he promised to raise the federal minimum wage for workers from $7.25, where it’s sat since 2009, to $15 an hour.  Today, despite his promise and surging inflation, the federal minimum wage remains at $7.25.

My Democratic friends tell me that Biden wants to keep his promise and that it’s not his fault that nothing has been done.  Senators Manchin and Sinema are obstructing him.  Senate parliamentary procedures are roadblocks too.  Poor Joe Biden.  He’s the “leader of the free world,” the most powerful person in America, but his powers are limited by recalcitrant members of his own party, who are blocking Lunch Bucket Joe from helping workers across America.

I’m not buying it.  Occam’s Razor applies here.  Since 2009, the Democratic Party hasn’t raised the minimum wage because the leadership hasn’t wanted to.

Sure, Democrats say they want to do it.  But I trust Americans are familiar with politicians and the sincerity of their “promises.”

Consider the promises made by Barack Obama and Joe Biden to codify Roe v. Wade into law; indeed, Obama in 2007 said it would be his top priority as president, only to backtrack when he took office.  Biden in 2020 made similar promises but accomplished nothing.  But I’m sure it’s not their fault.  They tried but something or someone was always in their way.

Sadly, Democrats like Obama and Biden are compromised, corrupt, and, with respect to helping workers, not that much better than the MAGA Republicans they profess to despise as enemies within.

Consider again the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t gone up since 2009.  Obama/Biden had nearly eight years in office to raise it above $7.25 but they never did.  When Bernie Sanders ran his insurgent campaign in 2015-16, he made a “radical” proposal to raise it immediately to $15.  Hillary Clinton countered with $12 to be phased in over time.  Under much pressure, she eventually gave unconvincing lip service to $15.  She lost the election, of course, to a trumped-up celebrity apprentice and failed casino owner.

Despite this history, my Democratic friends tell me I simply don’t understand separation of powers in the U.S. government.  Presidents Obama and now Biden truly wanted to raise the federal minimum wage but were hamstrung by Congress and members of their own political party.  Interestingly, my Democratic friends rarely mention how their party is aligned with big business and corrupted by big money (as is the Republican Party).

There’s a clear reason why the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour: Establishment Democrats are simply against raising it.  Sure, they always promise to, but then something always goes wrong.  Just as Lucy always promises to hold the football so Charlie Brown can kick it, only to pull it away every time Charlie goes to kick it.  She doesn’t know why; it just happens.

Once again, the $15 football is swept away when Charlie Brown goes to kick it (Joey Waggoner)

I come back to the words of Thucydides: The strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must.  Powerful people and institutions, either in or aligned with the Democratic Party, are against raising the federal minimum wage, including Joe Biden. My proof is the total lack of results since 2009 in raising that wage.

Few things would help women and minority workers more than a $15 minimum wage, simply because women and minorities have more of the jobs that don’t pay well.  Unfortunately for them, they can’t hire big-money lobbyists or make huge campaign donations to the Democratic Party.  In America, where money is speech, they simply don’t have the money to have their say.

Assuming Biden runs again in 2024, I’m guessing we’ll hear another promise about a $15 minimum wage.  And then, assuming he wins, we’ll hear yet more excuses about how Joe just can’t get it done because of the filibuster or whatever.  Just think Charlie Brown, the football, and the American worker landing flat on his back as promises for fairer wages yet again go unfulfilled.

Biden Tackles Student Debt — and Misses

W.J. Astore

At long last, the Biden administration has taken a modest step on student debt relief. Biden announced yesterday a plan to forgive up to $10K in student debt (assuming you make less than $125K) and up to $20K if you received a Pell grant. It’s a start, right? Naturally, Republicans framed it as yet another government giveaway to the undeserving, which makes me think more highly of Biden, at least for a moment.

Why am I disappointed in Biden’s action? Let’s take a look at his own website and its promises on student debt relief:

So, Biden had promised “immediate cancellation” of a minimum of $10K, with no preconditions and no need to jump through paperwork hoops. That “immediate cancellation” still hasn’t come (you must still apply and wait for “relief”), and “immediate” took 18+ months, timed so as to win some positive feeling in this fall’s election cycle. So be it. Something is better than nothing, right?

But look at Biden’s second big promise. He was going to forgive all tuition-related student debt for many students, especially minority students. I’ll repeat that: all student debt. His latest announcement doesn’t come close to his own stated goal.

What people tell me is this: Too bad. The Republicans wouldn’t give students any relief whatsoever, so the Democrats deserve your vote because they gave $10K in relief. Be happy with that, shut up, and vote blue no matter who.

Color me unconvinced. Student debt in America sits at $1.7 to $1.9 trillion. Biden just canceled about $200 billion of that debt, or just over 10% of it. As I said, it’s a start, but it represents a half-measure at best when you compare it to Biden’s own stated promises and goals.

In the past, Senator Joe Biden helped to secure legislation that prevented student debt from being discharged during personal bankruptcies. So even if you go bankrupt (and the leading cause of bankruptcy in America is medical bills), you still owe all the money on your student debt. As far as I know, that hasn’t changed. Thanks for that too, Joe.

For the cost of the F-35 jet fighter over its lifetime, Joe Biden could cancel all student debt in America. Instead, he chose to nibble at the edges, canceling about 10% of it, while fully funding the F-35, new nuclear weapons, and announcing yet more military “aid” for Ukraine.

Is this really the best the Democrats can do on student debt relief? Is this the best our country can do? Say it ain’t so, Joe.

For the lifetime cost of this warplane, you could cancel all student debt in America.

A Modest Plea for a Sane Defense Budget

The Pentagon will never be forced to make choices if Congress keeps shoveling money its way

W.J. Astore

In the tradition of the U.S. Army, which talks about BLUF, or bottom line up front, here’s what I consider to be a sane defense budget for the United States: $333 billion.

I arrived at this figure by complex math. The U.S. population currently sits at just under 333 million. A reasonable figure to spend per person on national defense is $1000. Hence my figure for a sane defense budget.

How does this immense sum compare to other countries’ budgets? Russia’s defense budget (before its war with Ukraine) hovered around $70 billion a year. China’s defense budget hovered around $245 billion. So my “sane” defense budget easily surpasses the combined budgets of Russia and China, America’s main rivals, or so our military experts say.

Other countries that spend impressively on defense include Germany, France, and the U.K. But note that these are American allies; their spending should serve to lessen the need for our own.

Now, I wish to stress my budget is about defense, as in defending the U.S. against all enemies, foreign and domestic. My budget is not about projecting imperial power around the globe; it’s not about full-spectrum dominance; it’s not about spending more than a trillion dollars over the next thirty years on unneeded nuclear weapons, or more than a trillion to buy and maintain more underperforming F-35 jet fighters.

Again, my sane budget is not a war budget, an imperial budget, or a budget to enrich U.S. weapons makers. It’s a budget intended to DEFEND our country.

So, let’s now compare my sane budget to the actual “defense” budget planned for FY2023. It appears that budget will likely exceed $833 billion, more than half a trillion higher than mine!

What could America do with half a trillion dollars? Think of how many good-paying jobs we could create, how much better our country could be, with safer roads and bridges, more alternative sources of energy, improved schools and hospitals, a cleaner environment. How about drinking water without lead in it? The list is long because we have so many needs as a country.

It wasn’t that long ago that $300 billion was considered more than enough for national defense. But since 9/11 the budget has spiraled upwards as the U.S. government pursued forever wars like Iraq and Afghanistan that ended disastrously. Things are now so bad that the Pentagon can’t even begin to pass a basic audit. Send a small army of accountants to the Pentagon and the brass surrenders instantly.

$333 billion is still an enormous sum of money, yet there will be many who’ll suggest this figure isn’t close to being enough for the brass, all those wearing stars who call the shots. My response: try it. If it doesn’t work, you can always boost the budget. But if you really want the Pentagon to think creatively, cut the budget to $333 billion and watch the real wars begin within the five-sided puzzle palace on the Potomac.

Shouldn’t Anyone Who’s Sane Be a Peace Activist?

W.J. Astore

Shouldn’t anyone who’s sane be a peace activist? And shouldn’t we question the sanity — or at least the motives — of anyone who’s constantly advocating for more spending on weapons and war?

How do we change the narrative?  How do we return to Christ’s idea of “blessed are the peacemakers”?

The obstacles are many. The national security state is immensely large and incredibly powerful. The mainstream media is a big problem since it’s been captured by corporations. The few political candidates who advocate for a different path, such as Tulsi Gabbard or Dennis Kucinich, get smeared as useful idiots for the “enemy” or dismissed as impractical dreamers by that same corporate media.

Surely, we need many things to effect meaningful change. We need public funding of elections. We need better education focused on questioning and challenging authority. We need better and braver leaders — but will they simply be assassinated like JFK, MLK, and RFK?  Among others?

We need to speak up, and we are. We need to enlist religion when we can.  True Christianity — true religion — is our natural ally.

We need, as peace activist John Rachel reminded me, to connect cuts in military spending to helping people — that is, we need real peace dividends, “peace checks,” if you will. Rebates to the American people tied directly to much lower spending on wars and weapons.

We need to remember what Master Po said in “Kung Fu”: fear is the only darkness. And thus we need to come into the light.

We need to stop buying guns and start reading books. I once read: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” I don’t recall blessings being bestowed on weapons and the makers and owners of the same.

There are so many things we need to do.  Most of all, I think, is that we need to respect life and our planet, because if we don’t, the human experiment is going to come crashing down, and too many other forms of life on our planet will be driven to extinction by our own myopic selfishness and folly.

You’ve heard the saying, Power concedes nothing without a demand. We need to demand an end to fear, an end to folly (as with nuclear “modernization” at a cost of $1.7 trillion, never mind the unimaginable costs of a nuclear war).

We need to demand peace.

I think the planet’s oligarchs know the danger.  So they work to keep us divided, distracted, and downtrodden.  (As I’ve written about here.) If we’re kept divided by partisan BS and rumors of war, distracted by infotainment and the like, and downtrodden by medical and other forms of debt, menial work at starvation wages, and so forth, it’s difficult for people to unite.

We need to unite anyway. Unite to save our planet from ourselves and our destructive impulses. From our greed and selfishness.

There was a time when we humans congratulated ourselves as being made in the image of God. When we saw the earth as God’s creation that we should revere. How do we regain reverence for each other and for this wonder-filled planet of ours, a planet that keeps surprising us with its glories?

We need a collective awakening. A mass movement. One that recognizes that peace is normal and that war is insane, one dedicated to exploration of the world around us rather than its exploitation. One that demands the best from our minds even as it touches our souls. Perhaps that’s overly mystical or utopian or just plain fuzzy, but we need something like it or things are going to get far worse for ourselves and our planet.

Joe Says No

Joe Says No

W.J. Astore

Clearly, the unofficial motto of the Democratic Party in 2021-22 is “Joe says no.” And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s President Joe Biden or Senator Joe Manchin.

Joe, as in Biden, says no to ending the Senate filibuster. He says no to Medicare for all. He says no to a single-payer option for health care. He says no to a $15 an hour minimum wage. (I know — it was allegedly the Senate Parliamentarian who said no here, except this person is both unelected and easily fired.) President Joe says no a lot, even though his campaign promises and pledges included a $15 federal minimum wage, a single-payer option, and so on.

Joe, as in Manchin, says no to the Build Back Better program. He says no to more affordable prices for prescription drugs. He says no to extending child tax credits. He says no to paid family leave. (Joe said family members on leave might go hunting instead of caring for their kids.) Like President Joe, Senator Joe says no to reforming the Senate filibuster.

Joe and Joe say no a lot, especially to policies that would help working Americans.

What do they say yes to? They say yes to massive spending on weapons and wars. They say yes to fossil fuels, including offshore oil drilling, fracking, and coal. They say yes to corporate agendas and corporate lobbyists and corporate cash. They say yes to higher drug prices. They say yes quite often, actually, but not to us.

When the Democrats lose the presidency in 2024, Joe Says No should be their epitaph. No to the workers, no to the middle class, no to helping the less fortunate — and no to a fairer, more just, America.

(With thanks to my wife for coming up with the pithy, Joe says no, slogan.)

When Is the Moon Not the Moon?

W.J. Astore

Last night, I got outside with my camera and took this shot of the moon.

It reminded me of one of my “genius” moments as a kid. In the playground, I recall looking up at the moon in the daytime. What is that thing, I asked myself. See, I associated the moon with the nighttime sky; I didn’t know it came out in the daytime as well. So what was that strange object in the daytime sky? Tapping into my little kid brain, I guessed I was seeing a reflection of the earth.

I don’t know when I got sorted out on this. Maybe my older brother, the amateur astronomer with the Tasco telescope, straightened me out. Still, given the way things are going on this earth of ours, we could use a smaller earth close by to escape to. I had one as a kid, if only in my imagination.

I’m still amazed that we went to the moon in 1969, more than a half century ago, and we haven’t gone further into space since. Sure, our probes have, and remarkably so, but I’m astonished that humans haven’t yet been to Mars, a difficult but achievable mission. In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” humanity was already visiting Jupiter and witnessing the birth of the star-child twenty years ago! Obviously, 2001 should have been 2101. Maybe in 80 years we’ll visit the outer planets, assuming we haven’t nuked ourselves back to the Stone Age.

For some reason, I was thinking of the movie “Planet of the Apes” yesterday and its jaw-dropping ending. In the U.S., we seem far more intent on building new nukes than exploring space. We have a mania for destruction, a mania for weapons and wars, thus the ending words of Charlton Heston in that movie were and remain all too appropriate and haunting.

I wish we had a shadow earth, an unspoiled one sitting in the sky, shining down on kids in playgrounds across the world. But we don’t, so we had better wise up and take better care of this one. Unless you want Charlton Heston cursing you out.

America Is a Sinking Warship on a Melting Iceberg

W.J. Astore

More sweltering heat, wildfires, and other extreme weather and weather-related events remind us that global warming and climate change are here to stay. When I taught about global warming a decade ago, most scientists were predicting harsh events in 2030 or 2040. Yet here it is, the year 2021, and we’re already seeing the implacable face of Mother Nature, shaking her head at our naughtiness and thoughtlessness vis-a-vis her planet. She won’t be appeased by our excuse-making or our lying or our attempts to pass the buck. As we bicker, she acts.

Mother Nature: Implacable (Josh Addessi at Blogspot.com)

Climate change is here to stay with a take no prisoners vibe, notes Tom Engelhardt in his latest post at TomDispatch.com. Tom’s message is clear: we’re reaping or about to reap what our “leaders” and corporate elites have sown for us, a much hotter, much less hospitable, planet. As Tom puts it, we’re about to witness, and indeed are already witnessing, a climate Armageddon in slow motion. Check out his article for all the grim details.

Here’s the thing. A half-century ago, America’s wonderful fossil-fuel companies knew all about this threat. More than 40 years ago, President Jimmy Carter tried to persuade America to conserve fuel and live thriftier, more meaningful, lives. But America rejected Carter’s hard facts for Reagan’s sunny optimism (or, put bluntly, his lies) and so here we are.

After Carter, the Democrats swiftly moved to the right and embraced those same fossil-fuel companies. Democrats may have made fun of Sarah Palin and her “drill, baby, drill” message, but that is exactly what Presidents Obama and Biden decided to do: drill, baby, drill. A recent article puts it well from The Guardian: Joe Biden has approved two thousand (!) drilling and fracking permits. Not exactly a green new deal, is it?

President Obama was even worse, notes David Sirota at The Guardian. He loved to boast of how he made America the world’s number one oil producer. He even asked Americans to thank him for it! Remind me again how the Democrats are so much different on this issue than the big bad Republicans?

Here’s the kicker. Even as America’s leaders acted to accelerate fossil fuel production, despite all the warnings about climate change, they squandered $6 trillion on the Iraq and Afghan wars, money that would have made a dramatic difference in preparing America for climate change while also facilitating alternative energy sources, which also would have created millions of “green” jobs in America.

I think a key inflection point for America came in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago. If America had invested its peace dividend into creating a cleaner, safer, better world, perhaps by leading the way, as Carter had suggested, in solar energy and in efforts at conservation, we truly could have been a shining city on a hill, a beacon of sanity. But we chose more weapons and more war. We chose more fossil fuel consumption. Indeed, we chose more consumption (and more guns) in general.

And thus we are where we are today, caught on a sinking warship on a rapidly melting iceberg. OK, perhaps it’s not the most clever metaphor, but you try coming up with a better one when you’re typing in a room at 87 degrees with 73% humidity. Must keep that image of an iceberg in my head …

Must keep cool …

When Mother Earth Dies, We All Die

W.J. Astore

Back in March, Tom Engelhardt had a stimulating article at TomDispatch.com on the wounding of planet Earth. He also made mention of the Covid-19 pandemic. And as I read his piece, I thought of Mother Earth suffering from a human-made pandemic. A virus of humans. A human-made flu of fevers (heat waves and fires), chills (freezes in the South), coughs (turbulent weather), thirst (droughts out West), and pain (nearly everywhere).

But, sadly, there’s no vaccine for Mother Earth. All we humans can do is relieve the symptoms by changing our behavior.  Mother Earth is already infected with us; now we need to leave her alone, let her rest, allow her to recover. But we don’t.  We keep stressing her with our actions (and inaction on climate change) and making her symptoms worse.

The only problem: When Mother Earth dies, we all die.

We’re on the fast track to dystopia, which puts me to mind of a recent Splinterlands trilogy written by John Feffer. His latest and last volume is called Songlands, which he writes about here at TomDispatch.com. For a dystopic trilogy, I found it strangely uplifting, for Feffer still sees hope in humans who are willing to sacrifice to save our planet. I urge you to check it out.

It’s amazing to me that ultra-rich billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are saluted for their “investment” in space exploration, as if we humans are going to save ourselves by building stations on the moon or Mars. If Bezos and Musk truly wanted to give back to humanity, they’d be focusing on reducing consumption here on Earth while fighting for preservation and conservation. But their space trips are really ego trips, and their fuel has always been money.

Here’s hoping humanity rejects the “final frontier” nonsense of Bezos and Musk and turns its attention to what really matters: the health and welfare of this wonderful yet fragile world of ours.

For if we refuse to honor Mother Earth, it may be the last sin we humans commit.

Make-Believe America

A flight of fancy

W.J. Astore

We lose a lot of imagination as we become adults. We become limited. I remember playing make-believe as a kid, when the only limits were those of my imagination. As adults, we’re supposed to be hardheaded and realistic, perhaps even cold-hearted. The world’s tough; don’t be a dreamy fool. But what if we used a bit more imagination in America? What if we returned to the days of make-believe?

Here’s a few aspects of my make-believe America:

* All workers make a living wage with raises pegged to the rate of inflation and cost of living.

* Everyone has “free” health care as a human right.

* Everyone has a home of some sort, i.e. there are no homeless or “unhoused” people living in the streets.

* Prison populations are small, with only the most violent offenders locked away for long terms.

* Climate change, recognized as a problem in the 1980s, is being controlled with massive investments in renewable energy sources.

* Nuclear disarmament, begun with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, will be complete in 2021 after thirty years of dedicated effort.

* No one leaves school with massive amounts of student debt.

* Corporations are not citizens, money is not speech, and all political campaigns are publicly funded.

* Wars are universally reviled and are only fought for defensive purposes via a Congressional declaration. Thus America hasn’t fought a shooting war since 1945.

* The U.S. political scene has a range of “major” parties and a wealth of choices, including a socialist or people’s party and a Green party, along with Libertarians and Populists and Progressives.

* The top priority for most Americans is sustainability and the environment: preserving the planet for future generations.

* There is no such thing as a billionaire, since a progressive tax code ensures an equitable distribution of resources.

* People are respected for who they are and what they do, meaning that racism, sexism, ageism, and other forms of discrimination are largely unknown.

* “Hero” is a term used to describe peacemakers and helpers, the most compassionate and giving among us, the ones fighting hardest for equal rights, fairness, and justice.

* Government is completely transparent to the people. Meanwhile, people have privacy and autonomy.

* Most drugs are legal, and essential medicines like insulin are affordable for all.

Well, I did say this was the land of make-believe. What do you say, readers? What’s in your land of make-believe?