Thank You, Right Wing Conspiracy

Good morning, lovers of the planet and democracy (yes, we’ve been watching Thom Hartmann). To listen to Democrat officialdom and their media mouthpieces, you would think our nation faces the biggest crisis since the Civil War whose end we will commemorate next month.

Yeah, you would think that.

But let’s think, instead, like Abraham Lincoln. Let’s think, instead, like Dr. Martin Luther King. Because what the Right Wing Conspiracy — and yes, there clearly IS such a thing — has given us planet huggers all the tools we need to shut down THEIR favorite project, the Trans-Pacific Pipeline (TPP). Here we have a secretly negotiated international pact to silence local initiatives against despoliation of basic labor and ecological rights. Here we have a legally enforceable regime which makes it illegal for local government to function in support of its human citizens whenever any corporate “person”‘ — anywhere in the world — claims that local measure violates the corporation fundamental right to maximize profit.

Remember John Adams, and the long-ago “Alien and Sedition Act”? It’s back, and it’s bigger than ever.

But the trade-deal conveyor belt that is today’s federal government has learned it faces rising opposition to such deals. Hence the new device called “Fast Track,” which means the Congress only gets to vote a total bill up or down. It cannot revise, advise, or devise any alterations. Technically, this is the same requirement for ratifying  a treaty, but because a treaty requires a 2/3 majority for approval, negotiators work with a constant calculation of how to reach such a high number. Fast track happens before you know it, and calls only for simple majorities.

Both parties have sought fast track for some of their deals and opposed fast track for deals negotiated by their opponents. Meanwhile, the international left-right fringe objects to the entire regime of “trust me-hate them” secrecy and obfuscation. Unfortunately for us localists, we cannot see past the tear gas of social issues that the money lobby employs to keep us suspicious of each other instead of against them.

I recently had occasion to look at some newspapers from 1859 and 1860, prior to the election of Abraham Lincoln. Both North and South were already mobilizing troops and issuing statements about top priorities. Lincoln’s top priority was different: he intended to conduct his duties in such a way that the Confederacy would fire the first shot. This would allow him rally the North, but it would also prevent the South from claiming they had been invaded. When Sherman marched through Georgia, when Joshua Chamberlain fought through Virginia, the local population was, as the saying goes, “hoisted by their own petard.”

It is not my intention  that we abandon the injustices perpetrated as racial, gender, and generational bullying Lincoln did not intend to ignore the provocations from the South. But here is a chance to do what the Republicans say they want to do — enforce sound principles of governance, as they have articulated these principles themselves Democratic officialdom protests that these are tools they themselves need when they hold power. But the Dems who espouse these tools only want for themselves a lessened — moderated — version of the same privilege enjoyed by the greedsters. James Carville is wrong and Elizabeth Warren — and the Tea Party –Bill’s $25,000 cigars do tie directly to Hillary’s secret emails. The average American knows why Hillary is giving expensive speeches instead of eating rubber chicken and shaking hands with folks who made a real financial sacrifice to attend her event — not the price of a book, but wages foregone, babysitter paid extra for a full day.

Not for a moment do I take back my support for just jurisprudence and an end to bullying by frightened former elites. But in a tough fight, you take allies as they present themselves. The last month it has been the GOP right wing sharpening blades that we planet huggers and justice-seekers can now use to kill the TPP.

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Trees, Squash, Goldfish, and The Talented Tenth

Tom Schade has directed us to a marvelous sermon by Cynthia Landrum, which declares that the vertical “tree-planting” model of denominational growth does not fit with the “spreading squash” social patterns of today’s young adults. The new Millennial lifestyle challenges more than liberal protestant institutions: it gives us a framework for asking how middle class culture will recover from the social, financial, and ecological violence it has suffered since 1980.

When a gardener wants to plant a tree or welcome spreading squash, the first step is not to find and clear an “under-developed location,” but to gather seeds and uproot seedings with which to populate the new gardens. Our national mythology applauds this self-appointing first step, and truly, it is neither good nor evil of itself. And it isn’t voluntary as often as The American Dream asserts: too many folks wound up here due to violence, injustice, bad fortune.

This morning on Turner Classic Movies, Frank Capra unfolded the tensions that affect a family when “a rising businessman tries to make his immigrant parents assimilate.”  His protagonists are Eastern European Jews with solid social ties and skills from the shtetl (the father’s jokes, the mother’s pushcart business), and son Morris has new world ambitions. He sells papers. When his tenement burns, he organizes a fire sale. Eventually he is able to move his parents and sister to Fifth Avenue.  Mother loves it, but Father pines for the old friends with whom he joked and worshiped; Morris’s sister marries her childhood sweetheart and has a baby.

Here is the fundamental question: Will Morris treat that baby as an offshoot or as a weed?

That question, rather than race, religion, ethnicity, even gender, defines the class war that splits today’s global population.  So far, Morris has been imitating the Northern European American Dream, casting off old social and cultural ties to establish himself in a culture-free community of success stories. Capra announces the English vision when Morris swaps his family’s Ellis Island name, Goldfish, for the English-sounding, “Finch.”

In Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America, Eugene Robinson describes a transnational 21st century elite which does not battle, but rather appropriates, the most successful achievers in all demographic groups. Together they build a network of social bubbles wherein to encounter only each other while jaunting through every landscape and culture on the blue marble. This is the real class war: not between particular cultures, but pitting various Beta cultures — the followers, the familial, the local, the traditional — against universalizing Alphas.

Could he really mean, the Goldfish vs the Finches? To prove that Alpha culture isn’t the same as English culture, I offer a series on Masterpiece Classic,  “Lark Rise to Candleford.” Here we see plenty of very English Beta folk, hoping for any progress that increases security, convenience, amusement. At the same time, they examine with suspicion any novelty that eradicates (uproots) their social fundamentals. The premise of “Lark Rise to Candleford” is that these are people for whom life’s markers and measures are physically smaller but much more intensely felt. And why are those little Beta events felt so strongly? It’s not that Betas feel so much, but that Alphas feel so little. (As Exhibit A, I offer Lady Mary Crawley, who demonstrates every Sunday that some women can eat their own flesh and blood for breakfast more quickly than most males can swallow a Happy Meal.)

Finches appear on both sides of the class war divide; that happy discovery seduced New England settlers into an honest belief that they could engineer a nation which would prosper the offspring of Alphas and Betas. Our parent denominations, in their heydays, valued those now-despised “Big Donors” because everyone worshiped together, shopped locally, traded regionally at most, by which means many an industrialist rescued many a floundering parish. Unitarianism and Universalism flourished before the true Age of Alphas, by fostering what W.E.B. DuBois called The Talented Tenth: “the preachers, teachers, physicians” and local artisans who strengthen themselves in order to support weaker tendrils, nourish aspiring volunteers shade fragile seedlings from hot sun. But when plunder capital gutted local economies landscapes began to wear out, our English-based culture reverted to its ancestral model of self-preservation. “Strike out toward more fertile fields,” we told our young people, tempting them to uproot themselves by paying for enjoyable four-year colleges. (I won’t bore you with the details of how this pattern arose because of the particular way feudalism broke down in England, as compared to its death patterns in Germany and, most famously, France. But it’s an interesting story for another time.)

So contrast this English-based American Dreams with the versions lived and love by African Americans, Asian Americans, Roman Catholic and Jewish families. These cultures may alter their theologies and marital boundaries, but they still see reaching up and spreading out as mutually supportive. Cast upon these shores by Old World violence, and therefore not imprinted with voluntary self-amputation, these cultures relish family reunions, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, wakes and funerals, Quinceañeras, Eid-al-Fitr, and Lunar New Year.  How different are their sprawling feasts from those tiny nuclear families dotting college graduations.

WASP culture defines success as having the resources “to send our children away,” while everyone else is saving their money “to show our children where they came from,” and, if possible, “spend more time with the rest of the family.” My own belief is that Unitarian Universalism will reach its stratosphere by aggressively multiplying and strongly supporting a regular calendar for each age group to return, to remember, to commemorate, to rededicate. “Prophetic vision” means nothing to me; I see it as a fancy disguise for that ancestral call to either uproot oneself, or if that’s not possible, torch the landscape one cannot escape.

Perhaps this religion has reached its apex of population penetration in Vermont because, although  our children usually have to make their money somewhere else,  we’re too small to forget them, and so fond of them that they strive to “make enough money to settle back home in Vermont.” Vermont has maple trees, Vermont has squashes, and it’s probably no coincidence that we also have the only legislature in the nation that has mandated universal compost collection by 2016. This is a state without weeds (Emerson’s name for a plant you don’t want where it is). What we try to uproot is the Alpha mutation, that anomaly in every species that gorges itself without ceasing on other people’s products, and decapitates every social network that threatens to limit Alpha self-perpetuation.

And yes, we were originally mostly English.

Valley Fever

Valley Fever

Not quite 48 hours ago, I considered the possibility that wetland insects were God’s way of protecting us from destroying natural floodwalls. And then comes this week’s New Yorker, with an article hinting that God has provided the same kind of cautionary warning for desert-dwellers. You can’t see an aquifer disappearing, but perhaps rising sickness among your family and friends would cause you to move on.

Or maybe not.

Proving once again that “nobody ever went broke underestimating the American intellect.”

Which raises this question:

How much of our dreadfully high national health bill comes from our insistence on building and living in ecological niches for which we were not intended?

Recreating Wetlands Is No Quick Fix

Recreating Wetlands Is No Quick Fix

Any place in the northern part of the country, wherever people like to go fishing, boating, camping, you will see the following slogan: 

“Black Flies: Defenders of the Wilderness.”

What if it’s true?

I do not know what the hell possesses me to worry about the biting insects of summer when an unusual onslaught of ice has kept me in the house for most of the last month, avoiding the broken wrists and ankles that have plagued my more adventurous winters. Or maybe being trapped at home by ice has brought up those bemused recollections of hurrying out to the lake, the ocean, the shoreline — and spending the whole time complaining about the mosquitoes and flies. 

And as a historian, I’ve come across several things lately about the eradication of old bug-borne diseases by eradicating the environments in which they live and breed — in order to live and breed in those redesigned environments ourselves.

And then, the hurricanes hit. The rivers have risen, the ice jams are breaking, and while the southern and western US is saying good-bye to its aquifers, over on Hispanola, they’d love to sell us the spare. 

I am a religious writer, a minister, and so I will not shirk this term: maybe when God set up various niches with interrelated living components, perhaps She was more intelligent, more far-sighted, more scientifically grounded than we humans have been, with our short-term, de-regulated attempts to redo what God gave us. I am starting to see this in the fact that we are running out of drugs to protect our bodies from the diseases of environments into which we’ve inserted ourselves. We are running out of food to feed ourselves while living on ecosystems not meant to sustain our heavy-use patterns. And we certainly are running out of water in a lot of these same locations, even as we’ve lost the ability to hold back salty water we can’t use, in places we now claim it has — literally — no business being. 

Maybe it’s not the water that has no business being there. Maybe, if we adjust our insurance and tax rates to more accurately reflect the costs of some of these structures, the market — the real one, the one that rests on science — will direct us to simply turn the wilderness back over to the black flies. Instead of going broke trying to remove them and fight their diseases, we’ll honor mosquitoes as God’s way of reminding us that swamps are not for people and our accessories.