HUMAN RACE: headed where?

That question has been reduced by science to maybe just three rational possibilities, none consistent with any of the popular religious faiths:

  • Extinction of our own making
  • Extinction by a celestial accident, such as that befalling the dinosaurs
  • Survival of our own making for an uncertain period of time, but extending far beyond that projected for us by climate change

Our survival hinges, of course, on far more than solving climate change. It calls for a plan that puts care of the earth first, and the care and comfort of ourselves second. It must be executed faithfully. That would be a faith I could keep with every breath.

But our existence continues to run largely, relentlessly in the other direction, pulled by forces of our own making. Three are easily strong enough to sink us; in fact, any one of the three might do it alone, if untamed. One is the absence of population control. Closely related to it is poverty. The third is unharnessed and reckless wealth.

The latter takes many forms. It might be the least relentless of the three in the short run, but it’s also the least excusable. The guilty should all know better. It is powered by various combinations of conceit, ignorance, arrogance and greed.

First and foremost, those of us who live well in today’s world live too well, for the good of the planet. The instinct that has been labelled the territorial imperative plays a large roll. We draw mixed pride, comfort and security from real estate. Our home may fit a very small plot – but it’s ours! For most Americans and our families, it’s part of our identity. And, most of the time, much bigger than our conscious mind recognizes. We can’t seem to get away from the old saw: a home is our castle. Our appetites form its moat.

So, the first solution is up to us who live well, to live less abundantly. That doesn’t have to mean living less well. It means living better by living smarter and simpler. With a sustained, conscious effort, it could and can be done. It must be done, if we’re going to beat pollution, waste, and climate change. A wealthy businessman whose mind I’ve learned to admire said to me in the 1990s that the biggest challenge facing the business world in the 21st century would be waste management. When will corporate America and the multinationals see it?  My view is that they have less than this century —much less — to grasp it, and meet it aggressively.

In the meantime, the rest of us have a pressing responsibility to live more wisely, ever more conscious of acts that weaken the environment and the earth. Let me start by acknowledging my own hypocrisy and my failure to put the earth first.  As an octogenarian I’m too old to move again, to shrink the territorial claim, but I am determined within the year to reduce us to one car. I remember the big dream when WWII ended, “a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage.” One car! Can you think of one stroke that would do more to correct climate change than cutting gasoline consumption by half? It might do wonders for the health of the earth, as well as our own. Only the very lame would not benefit from riding bicycles and walking more. It’s by discipline and exertion that we earn our liberty. Better choices come the same way. Without them, extinction can’t be far away.

Frank Mensel — March 2014

SECRETARY HAGEL: One-Man Bipartisanship, and Grit Too

Republican opposition to the president’a choice of a former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, for secretary of defense was puzzling at the time to many Washington watchers. It’s far less so now.

As the GOP feared, Secretary Hagel is not the hawk that their hardliners expect in that role.  Because he is a Republican, they feel betrayed by his willingness to rein in military spending and take wind from their sails on their most reliable plank, the never-ending arms race. In late February, the Associated Press reported, “Looking beyond America’s post-9/11 wars, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel . . . proposed shrinking the Army to its smallest size in 74 years, closing bases and reshaping forces  to confront a ‘more volatile, more unpredictable’ world with a more nimble military. . . . He said the priorities he outlined reflect a consensus among America’s military leaders, but Republicans in Congress were quick to criticize . . .”

That consensus is widely questioned by Republicans in Congress who count on mindless calls for more defense, not less, to keep them in office. Unless they sing this one-note hymn, they are likely to face a Tea Party challenge in the Republican primaries. In the Tea Party, there’s no room for consensus, no room for bipartisanship, no room for the spirit of the Founding Fathers.

Afloat on the checkbooks of such billionaires as the infamous Koch Brothers, who are oligarchs verging on anarchists, the Tea Party has become the tail that wags the dog they’re making of the House of Representatives.  Will timid Republicans stand by and let the Tea Party destroy first the GOP and then the America once known as the land of the free and the home of the brave. Where are the brave today in the Republican Party?

May they draw courage from the example of Secretary Hagel, who puts country first, leaving ideologues to stew in their rancid brew. Who better than a Republican secretary of defense to show Republicans the global reality of the 21st century?  He shows them what too many white, male conservatives have misplaced or lost:  grit.

“This is a time for reality,” said the secretary, while emphasizing the sea change that technology has produced in military preparedness. While the Pentagon’s budget is as large as the combined arms spending of the ten nations next in the race, the competition today from China and Russia is focused on technical prowess, not force size. Keeping a technological edge will provide more security than ground forces can.

Still, his budget request has prompted the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard McKeon, R-CA, to declare, “What we’re trying to do is solve our financial problems on the backs of our military, and that can’t be done.” Other Members of Congress are alarmed that Hagel plans to phase out various military bases, which are sacred cows in the states that have them.

Still the Congress knows budget deficits and the national debt cannot be reduced as long as the discretionary funding each fiscal year goes half to defense and half to all the domestic needs. That imbalance will keep us falling farther behind the global leaders on a broad range of needs, from health sciences to education and workforce development, to basic research and new technology — the source of the edge that is Hagel’s focus. His GOP badly needs his grasp of reality, and not the tunnel vision of Tea Party drum-beaters.

Frank Mensel — March 2014

TEXAS’ War on Women

Every time I’m about to admit that I’ve become a Texan, headlines erase that inclination. They remind me that Texas is not only big on the Tea Party ― seeing itself as the TP’s birthplace ― but also that it leads the war on women.

It bears that honor now almost by default. Is there another State that thinks less of its women than Texas? If so, there are legions of Texas health care workers who’ll be hard to convince.

These are the health workers who deplore and resent the loss of two-thirds of the Planned Parenthood Clinics that were shuttered by the Good’ol’Boys who control the legislature and the Capitol in Austin. A majority of the Texas women who most need access to contraception now cannot get it within reasonable driving distance. This blight is most devastating in southern-most Texas, the triangle between Brownsville, Laredo, and Corpus Christi.

In the most poverty-stricken area, around Brownsville, the only family planning left in play is provided by volunteer Latino women, prompting one doctor to remark, “It’s sad that Texas doesn’t care about its women.”

Texas is leading the nation in the growth of both jobs and poverty. Some analysts see both irony and poetic justice in the job growth, fueling the gradual recovery from the Great Recession, which has been the fallout of the dishonesty of the Bush-Cheney White House, a Texas duo with a reckless appetite for war. It is bound to be judged by history as the most destructive presidency in American history, saddling the people with unprecedented debt. The duo is an embarrassment to clear-thinking Texans.

But it is Austin and the Good’ol’Boys who control the Capitol that deserve the larger credit for the unprecedented poverty. Americans living in poverty today far outnumber those that were so stricken in the Great Depression, and Texas is the leading showcase, despite its surge in the labor market. Yet the Republicans ruling the Legislature don’t see it, or prefer to ignore it ― they’re too concerned about women making choices for themselves. Rather than allow it, they make abortion so restricted that the population of unwanted children, poverty, and gangs can’t help but go on growing. They gift-wrap it in billowing bluster. Austin lawmakers long ago raised bluster to an art form.

Too many of the jobs coming into the market now are minimum-wage, which is no longer a living wage in America. It hasn’t been since this century began. It epitomizes the war on women, for obvious reasons. Even in the best jobs, women still trail men in pay at the same job. Women are a large majority of the nation’s single parents, too many of them in jobs that pay only the minimum wage. Could Congress care any less about children and the debt-ridden future they face?

Today’s minimum wage is obviously contributing to the spread of poverty. It goes on growing as a weapon in the war on women. President Obama has jumped it to $10.10 per hour for workers under federal contractors, in effect challenging Congress to match it for everyone. But it’s choking the Republicans in Congress, notably the Tea Party band who are running the House.

Minimum wage could be a pivotal issue in the 2014 Congressional elections. It should be. It should bring women and progressives to the polls in droves. It’s an opportunity to both raise and level the floor of opportunity, the original promise of America the Beautiful. But don’t count on Texas to help.

Frank Mensel ― March 2014