Tomorrow is Earth Day, a great American tradition that started 45 years and -- like a lot of great American traditions -- is more honored in the breach than in the observance. So far in 2015, we've shown our love and appreciation for Mother Earth by contributing to the hottest year since humans started keeping track, thanks to our flair (flare?) for creating greenhouse gases. Joe Biden's in Philadelphia right now, hailing Earth Day Eve by calling for more renewable energy (yay) and better infrastructure to keep exploiting fossil fuels (meh).
I was already thinking about Earth Day when I read this shout out from the great author Naomi Klein for a speech given at the 1970 inception by the iconic investigative journalist I.F. Stone, who pointed out that it's kind of silly to talk about saving the planet when so many of our tax dollars are wasted on killing machines (Apologies for the dated Nixon reference, although that's kind of what we do here at Attytood):
We are spending, on new weapons systems alone, more than ten times as much, in this coming fiscal year, in the Nixon budget, than we’re going to spend on air and water. We’re spending a billion dollars more a year on space than all our expenditure on natural resources. The priorities of this government are lunatic—absolutely lunatic. And we’re not going to save the air we breathe and the water we drink without very many fundamental changes in governmental policy and governmental structure.
I woke up today expecting to blog about other things, but when I read this on my way into work I was so floored that I knew I wanted to post it here. It's a subject that needs to be on the front burner in the Philadelphia's mayor's race -- but it probably won't be. It's an issue that is too sensitive and also too complicated, with no one solution, no quick fix. And the sum is made up of many moving parts.
There are 36,000 missing black men in Philadelphia, according to a new study.
Let me back up a bit. They're "missing," but we know where a lot of them are. Some of them are in the ground -- dead at a ridiculously young age, thanks largely to violence but also to other hazards of urban living, from bad food to bad air. Many more are behind bars, part of the American diaspora that has given this nation the highest rate of incarceration of any developed nation.
The 2016 candidates for the White House are off and running, and to say that it's been underwhelming would be an overstatement. On the Republican side, it feels like the same 8 or 9 candidates that we had at this point in 2011, just with different names attached. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is running against herself...and I'm not sure that she's winning (although the wretched Maureen Dowd may drive a sympathy vote). The candidates' policy views seem largely driven by consultants and focus groups (the exception may be Rand Paul...proving it's possible to be unpredictable and bad!). No wonder that we're fascinated by what looked like a police-stick-up-video of Hillary's secret Chipotle run.
I'm wondering if it's even possible over the next 19 months for someone from either party to say something new and intelligent about the Middle East. Or even acknowledge the obvious -- that our frequently bomb-driven blunders over the last six decades have helped an already, dangerous unstable part of the planet get even more dangerous, and more more deadly. What's happening right now in the Mediterranean is immoral and unconscionable:
ROME — Hundreds of people were feared dead on Sunday after a ship overcrowded with migrants capsized in the Mediterranean, as the authorities described a grisly scene of bodies floating and sinking in the warm waters, with the majority of the dead apparently trapped in the ship at the bottom of the sea.
There's only one thing that's clear today about Doug Hughes, the 61-year-old mail carrier who flew a gyrocopter onto the lawn of the U.S. Capitol in a political stunt yesterday: He's lucky to be alive. When Hughes breached the no-fly zone around the key government buildings in Washington, he was met by agents with their assault weapons drawn, and some officials wondered why he wasn't brought down with lethal force.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who never met a war he didn't want to start or a terrorism suspect he didn't want to detain or execute without a trial, said this: “He should have been subject to being shot out of the sky. I don't know why he wasn't, but our nation is under siege. Radical Islam is a threat to our home land. There are probably radical Islamic cells in our backyard already."
Yo...to paraphrase another famous aviation incident, the Hindenburg crash, where is the humanity? What Hughes did was certainly foolhardy on some levels -- he was fully aware that he was potentially committing suicide-by-National-Mall-cop, and others could have been hurt in the crossfire. Personally, I'm happy that Hughes is alive, happy his mission ended without violence. Graham's comments suggest the greatest threat to America remains his own rich inner fantasy life of Muslims under every bed.
So Tuesday was celebrated across the nation as Equal Pay Day, the day into this not-so-new year that an average female has to work to make as much as the average male worker did last year. Yes, it's a complicated problem, but yesterday was a pretty good day to talk about the all-too-real issues that women face in the American workplace. But apparently the stagecoach carrying news of this event has yet reach to reach the denizens of a backwater town called Harrisburg, Pa.
You see, few problems weigh more heavily on women and their efforts to stay afloat on the job than the lack of guaranteed sick time. Like most things in 2015 America, it's a dilemma that a lot of folks who work in glass office towers or suburban office parks don't even know exists, but it devastates neighborhoods where people work in certain low-wage industries where sick days are a distant dream.
Single moms trudging to work when they're seriously sick, for fear of losing income for the week or losing their current job for good. It's one of the factors that gives Philadelphia the highest rate of deep poverty of any major U.S. city. Not to mention a reason why female pay lags.
You really can buy anything in America in 2015 -- even things you would never guess in a million years that someone wanted to buy. Who knew, before this weekend, that if you donate enough money you can even become a quasi-cop and go chasing down criminals and assorted poor people in your spare time?
That's what was going on in Tulsa, where a 73-year-old reserve sheriff's deputy named Robert Bates now faces manslaughter charges for making the mistake of a lifetime -- literally the lost lifetime of his 44-year-old victim, the late Eric Harris. Harris was the target of a sting operation for allegedly illegal firearm sales, although he was unarmed at the time of his attempted arrest. He initially ran from the lawmen who wrestled down and subdued him, only to see Bates shoot Harris to death after thinking his loaded gun was a Taser.
It turned out that Bates had spent only one year as a professional lawman, on the Tulsa city police force way back in 1963-64, when America's new president was Lyndon Johnson. Since then, Bates became a successful insurance agent and, in the words of the New York Times, a "civilian police enthusiast."
Much of America's history has been defined by the quest to determine and then extend our civil rights. In my lifetime, that effort has including pushing for equal schools and for racial integration of public facilities, for the right of every qualified citizen to vote, for equal rights for women, for the disabled, and for gay people, among others. Big issues, big struggles.
The right to breathe seems like a no-brainer.
But recently I'm starting to wonder. Across America this winter, marchers took up the cry of "I can't breathe" when a police officer on Staten Island used a banned chokehold to kill a suspect whose primary offense was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Now, there's an uproar about a shocking case (OK, many not shocking...there's been so many like this) in Oklahoma in which a part-time deputy reached for a Taser and pulled out his gun instead, shooting a criminal suspect to death. As the man lay dying on the pavement, he told deputies that he couldn't breathe.
I can't remember exactly who, when, or even what channel it was the other day when I heard them talking about Hillary Clinton running for president. Heck, if they moved all the talking heads talking about Hillary on the airwaves to just one 24/7 cable news channel, that would drastically reduce the air time now given over to rumor, idle speculation and the occasional rare nugget of factual information about the woman who would be our 45th president. Anyway, one of the professional pundocrats was arguing that the Democratic frontrunner faces tough sledding -- that she was derailed in 2008 because she represented the past in what became "a change election," and now the 2016 election will be about change all over again.
If you think like a TV pundit racing from Green Room to Green Room, that actually makes sense. In a recent Wall Street Journal poll, just 32 percent of the nation thinks that America is on the right track, a number that's held fairly level through most of the last two presidencies. The public rates its leaders poorly as well -- Congress has approval numbers lower than pretty much every group besides ISIS, and the flood of folks volunteering to join the Islamic State makes me wonder even about that. (Has anyone ever gone on Twitter and pledged allegiance to Congress?) President Obama's supporters do a jig when his numbers eek up to 50 percent. Beyond the numbers, many have given up on the American Dream. The nation, outside of its trusty hedge-fund operatives, hasn't seen a raise in close to a generation, and breaking the career circle of life for the 99 Percent seems based more on who you know than what you can accomplish.
Still, having said all that, I don't think 2016 is a "change" election, not at all. In fact, if Obama could run for a third term, I think he'd win and get the same 52-53 percent that he got the first two times, maybe even slightly better as the nation's demographics continue to evolve. I just don't see much evidence that the American voter is looking for change next year.