Can the World be SAVED?

How do we go about saving a world, most of which is unwilling to take responsibility for its fate? That question is never far from my mind. Yet no answer comes quickly or easily. What I see and feel is the imperative of reason.

It should tell us where responsibility lies, and how to apply it.

Science has been growing in influence, as it should and must. But it is not yet proving a match for superstition, which for far too long has been the hydra-headed monster ruling human affairs, mostly in the form of numerous churches. The proliferation of religions is the surest evidence that they are man-made. It expresses painfully the willingness of too many people to let others do their thinking for them. It’s an attitude that has fed ignorance and stupidity throughout history, as it undermines both principle and serious faith.

Nor is science close to a match for corporate power, which has surged on globalized commerce, and boosted by the Supreme Court’s egregious 2010 Citizens United decision, ruling that corporations are people, enjoying full First Amendment rights. Nothing was farther from the Founding Fathers’ minds than corporations. It’s ridiculous to think the Founding Fathers would see them as people.

The greatest gift the universe has given humanity is intelligence, the power of reason. How can we think of ourselves as the literal children of the Creator when we default on the persistent exercise of the greatest gift​? It’s by neglect of this gift that we reap ignorance and stupidity, and by its pursuit that we are rewarded with knowledge and science.

From it comes the strength to cope with reality. Yet reality is not easy to deal with because it swims in facts, which also are not always easy to face. It’s easier to turn to faith, and look to churches for answers. It may also explain the growing abundance of ideologues in politics, which is made more challenging by both the growing complexity of the world and the rising threats to human existence.

Is it the evangelical movement that has given us the Tea Party, pushing hard and profiting from propositions they can’t prove. As many a scholar or philosophy and religion keep reminding us, religion is fact free. Whatever troth any faith claims as inspired truth is woven of entirely synthetic threads.

It’s difficult to see anything in the Tea Party that looks inspired. Or is rooted in science.

Take its unrelenting demand for smaller government. How does smaller government cope with the needs of a steadily growing nation?  If California should choose in its November election to break itself into six states, or five more, it can only mean more federal government, with 10 more senators and the trappings that go with the office. Texas could be tempted to follow suit, since its constitution allows it enact itself into five states. All such new state governments could only mean more government overall, more state payrolls, more loads of state regulation, and a larger federal system in the bargain.

The government we have seems unable to man up to the menace of climate change.  A shrunken Tea Party government would be helpless to meet it.

So the Tea Party holds no promise of saving the world. Are the evangelicals up to it? Hardly, with so much of their energy devoted to harassing women who claim the freedom to choose. Why can’t they see that unfettered procreation and legions of unwanted children are as much a threat to a sustainable world as climate change? But then, science and the Tea Party will never be bedfellows.  Nor will science and the evangelicals.

It’s appalling ― yes, shocking ― that there are no serious plans in circulation for saving the world. None, of course, from any churches. None would be expected since most churches are bent upon getting us to another, better world, for which the universe, in all its vastness, offers no evidence. The Hubble is showing vastness as far away as 13 billion light years ― an expanse that boggles even the ablest minds. How much proof do we need that our tiny sun and tiny planet leave us on our own?

I keep supporting the Council of Concerned Scientists in the hope that they will step forward. But no luck yet. If the substantial network of the better minds of science are as concerned as they profess to be, they ought to have a plan. For starters, how about a dozen essential steps we must face and make to sustain a healthy planet, without which we can’t possibly endure.

Even serious business minds are recognizing that two challenges must be met to keep life worth living: clean water and clean air, both sufficient for the long term for at least the population already in place. It can’t be easy with the ice caps and glaciers melting relentlessly away. What will the great bastions of progress, North America and Europe, do when there are no glaciers to keep their rivers working through the summers? The threats to the groundwater supplies are also multiplying, around the world.

Scientists and science have to do more. More than the larger knowledge of what’s already going on, they must push for better estimates of what’s possible. They must pull no punches on reckless waste of resources, including the senseless extravagance that the selfish fat cats heap upon themselves. There’s no place in a mature and caring world for “we do it because we can!” Such fools ought to see that such behavior darkens the future even for their own kin. Only Andrew Carnegie got it perfectly right when he said, “the rich man who dies rich dies in disgrace,” then acted accordingly.

In the quest of pushing humanity to face up to reality, science must do more to bring colleges and universities along. Scientists must speak bluntly to fellow scholars. Help them see that the stakes in every discipline have become global. It’s a responsibility far bigger than tenure ― though, admittedly, tenure has served discipline well, but not without regulation.

American universities are doing too little to match American talents to global needs and market demands. Higher education is the best hope of softening corporate power that is both making its own rules for global commerce and, with Supreme Court complicity, trampling on the Bill of Rights. The law profession has become so inbred, so intrenched in its own technical domain, that it has lost sight of the Constitution and the rule of law. What we have instead is rule by the profession of the law. Its idea of self-regulation through the Bar Association is hardly different from letting the patients run the asylum.

One of best business minds I’ve known stressed to me in the last century that a grave challenge free people will face in the 21st century is waste management. How prophetic he was! The back alleys of every city are a sickening sight. We may keep the collector trucks on schedule, but who’s going to pay for repaving the roads and preserving our water, sewer and power systems? Outdated  and failing systems breed more waste.

The best I find myself able to do is challenge students to live better by living simpler. Much simpler. Capitalism must spread wealth more than it concentrates it. It’s that simple. I keep my showers to three minutes or less, and just three a week. We’ll soon be a one-car family.

Consumer economics no longer answers our real needs. Actually, it never did. Real needs are about living in harmony with the earth and our environment. That environment today is hurting for attention, for repair.  Hurting badly. The economy of survival is the economy of greening up, of reversing the harm that our carbon-centered living has heaped upon the planet. It’s an economy that easily could drive more jobs than excessive materialism has ever given us. It’s the challenge that holds our fate. It means reinventing our homes, our appetites, our agriculture, our communications, our transportation, our way of life. The exploding technology that we are mastering is more than ample for the job, if we are.

It’s rising power of problem-solving is undoubtedly ample for making us best-friends with nature. All we must do is get out of our own way. Again it’s a challenge at which the USA must lead. It means reordering our priorities. Our national security increasingly lies there, and not in the wasteful, endless arms race. It will mean nothing to still stand as the lone superpower, if we stand in a wasteland.

That means taming corporate power by redirecting it. Let corporations prove they really are people, as the Supreme Court casts them. Let them prove that they are more than market manipulators, or matchless arms makers. That they can team with science and technology to give us a livable world, a world where two things always matter most, in this order:  earth and people. The multi-nationals have grown power bigger than nations wield. They’re making the rules now in global commerce and intercourse. Surely they understand reality: unless they prove they are people by putting mankind first, by making the bottom line serve that priority, there’ll soon be no world to spare them.

If our existence has taught us anything, it’s that life requires discipline to work positively. Discipline in every phase: self, family, community, job, government, business, the arts. It must start with each of us taming and recasting our appetites, putting others, the greater good first. More guns can’t and won’t save us. The real hope lies in science, in proving it right by working with it, by letting it lead us away from ignorance and superstition, away from rigid, top-down orthodoxies and ideologies, and into a state capable of working facts into favorable actions and ends. Favorable to both earth and man.

Frank Mensel ― August 2014

DDay: Who We Are

As the western world joined us in the commemoration of DDay, the words “who we are” were raised often. They sum up perfectly why American forces were afloat on the choppy currents of the English channel leading the Allied forces in the costly invasion of France, whose success would spell the doom of Hitler’s murderous Axis. Germany and Italy would fall in just ten months, and Japan four months later.

Victory transformed America dramatically. It rose from the crippling unemployment and poverty of the Great Depression into the unifying grip of war and sacrifice, shouldered by an unprecedented partnership of private and public enterprise that became the industrial giant that decided the war. Its output made DDay possible, and ultimately successful. The war effort as a whole, as much as any event since the Revolution, was written in “Who We Are.”

Seventy years later, it asks how much are we the same”Who We Are.” The sacrifice in 1944 was plain to see: freedom must endure. It was an imperfect freedom then. It’s an imperfect freedom today. But how are the battle lines different today than they were then?

The victory in WWII was clearly a victory for WeThePeople. The war ended with more than 16 million Americans in uniform, almost 15% of the population. It was a victory for the Founding Fathers. A victory for the Constitution. More than a handful of nations, emerging from the war, made our Constitution the model for writing their own.

But in the 21st century, the battle lines on freedom have been redrawn, and they challenge us to prove anew “Who Are We.” Against the painful memories of the reckless Twenties and the Great Depression, the war taught us that the common good is the reward of finding common ground. It showed us that the America envisioned so richly in the Preamble of the Constitution was reachable.

The wish on everyone’s lips, as the GIs poured home, “a car in every garage, a chicken in every pot,” was soon eclipsed by bigger dreams, as college degrees and homes on loans were defining a bullish new middle class, working up a life style on a scale without precedent. The United States was quickly the envy of the world, as much for its matchless breadbasket as for its surging middle class. These successes repeated in the postwar world would show again “Who We Are.”

Now, in the 21st century, we find ourselves fighting very different wars, yet wars that again test “Who We Are” with much less clarity than the conquest of fascism. Terrorism and extremism are hitting us in many forms, from many directions, as often at home as abroad, by shifting mixes of ideology and ignorance.

Looking back on DDay from another century, what better occasion than this to give new clarity to “Who We Are?” It could well prove our best weapon against terrorism, extremism and corruption.

The extremists of religion and politics are just as determined as Hitler was to make the world dance their dance. To overcome this menace, the Free World must come together, showing “Who We Are” in anthems that bind freedom to science, because its revelations are the vista by which mankind will survive, or it won’t. Just as the West must eradicate corruption and condemn decadence, the Muslim world must expunge Jihad, once and for all. Claims of divine authority are not “Who We Are,” because they are void of fact. Only as science buries superstition is the world redeemable.

And, the world must unite in taming corporate power. Nations acting separately lack the power to do it. They must come together for a new DDay, one determined to universalize the rule of law, in a common code to which all subscribe. One that walks the talk of justice and equality.

In praying for the success of the DDay invasion, FDR said the mission was to “set free a suffering humanity.” He called it a “righteous cause,” riding on a spirit that must “never be dimmed.”

Among nations, there is no cause more righteous than rule of law, nor any cause presently less true to its spirit. Nowhere in practice does it live close to that spirit. That spirit is not winning in the courts of western nations, and even less so in the rest of the world.

In the United States the law amounts in practice to rule by the profession of the law, in which justice stands second to the prosperity of the profession. It has roots in the Victorian model, in which justice was measured by the wealth and prominence of the practitioners. Lawyers often were the most prominent and wealthiest members of Victorian society, with doctors a distant second.

As American courts go about their business, the results most often favor the side that’s most heavily “lawyered up.” Which is just what the profession prefers: the quality of justice ought to reflect the size of the purse. To keep it an insiders’ game, it is consistently woven around technicalness, keeping principle and the Constitution on the shelf.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the spread of corporate power. As it distorts capitalism and erodes our middle class, it threatens the Constitution as much as it mocks it. Capitalism succeeds over time only if it spreads wealth more than it concentrates it. But corporate power does the opposite. It engenders oligarchy and inequality. As a result, the equal protection so emphatically promised in the Constitution remains unfulfilled in the 21st century. Could there be a more righteous cause today in both the USA and the world? Nothing would do more “to set free a suffering humanity,” if it were the heart of every legal code around the world.

The elections of 2014 and 2016 will go a long way toward telling us whether WeThePeople still hold sway, or the Supreme Court has sold us out to oligarchy. In the infamous Citizens United decision, the court let technicalities win. The 5-4 ruling held that corporations are people, simply because they are formed by people. Can anyone show me how a corporation that resembles a person? Or that embodies any senses or sensibilities? I’ve yet to meet anyone who swallows other people, or bleeds profits. But why would we expect the Court to vote against corporate power? It’s the most lucrative work the lawyers get. After all, the Justices are lawyers, every one. The profession eschews humanity, as it builds its refuge in technicalities. Yet the growing power of women in the profession is bound to give it more humanity. The law may yet “establish Justice,” as the Constitution promises.

Clearly, the next DDay is overdue. The ever righteous cause of equal protection must rise around the world, to free still more suffering humanity. To rectify humanity’s oldest crime against humanity, the enslavement and exploitation of women. Women must build and steer the armada, with enlightened men gladly manning up as needed. Hope is growing, with American women pointing the way. As they grow their majority of college enrollment, they today claim three of every five new bachelor degrees. As they rise in number and rank in the workforce emerging from the Bush-Cheney recession, they are the changing face of  the new middle class. More and more, they are Who We Are.

Frank Mensel — July 2014

RR: The Giant He Wasn’t

President Reagan has come to a unique distinction among the past presidents. No other president comes close to the relentless play his memory and image are getting from Republicans determined to deny and distort history. They are counting on their campaign to immortalize him, to anoint him with sainthood, to give him a place in history that is at odds with history. But the roadblock that they can’t conquer will always be there: He personified political paradox, swimming in contradictions and ironies. His favorite words: “Trickle down.” At last, a demigod of corporate power, Wall Street, the One Percent. The only president seemingly who didn’t know that the pulse of democracy is trickle up, not trickle down.

One of the large ironies of his political career lay in his ardent devotion to the Democratic Party for most of his Hollywood years. It made his political success an enduring contradiction of real conservatism: fiscal responsibility had long been the hallmark of Republican faith. It died without the funeral it deserved because the GOP couldn’t face the embarrassment.

Yet none of the contradictions he practiced was larger than his incessant claim that “government is not the solution, government is the problem.” He knew better, of course. He knew that the great advances that the nation made in the 20th century were largely the products of public-private partnering. The towering example was the Allies’ complete victory over the fascist Axis, led by American industrialization that dwarfed anything the world had seen before. It was the crowning gamble of the FDR presidency, whose vision and dividends would keep the USA tracking to become the lone superpower well before the turn of the millennium.

I remember as a boy the excitement that swept Utah County when ground was broken on the eve of WWII for the new USSteel works that would replace the old Geneva swimming resort on the edge of Utah Lake. It came from FDR’s desire to put more basic industry inland, out of range of Nazi submarines and Japanese bombers. It was consistent too with the initiatives that FDR had chosen to fight the Great Depression.

Victory in WWII would play out as the ultimate public-private partnership. It’s a history that neither Reagan worshippers or Tea Party zealots can change. It topped a series of public-private partnerships that would go on forging two incomparable, interlocking rewards: American economic and military supremacy and an unrivaled middle class that was the envy of the world. Other important strides that sprang from FDR’s vision include, but are by no means limited to, the vast expansion of basic infrastructure, notably waterworks and sewer systems, revival of the South also through dams that provided both river management and huge new lakes afloat in booming recreational pleasures.

But these historic lessons were lost on RR and his camp. Accustomed as they were to  Hollywood living, they were dimly aware at best that the thriving middle class was the workhorse that  in the second half of the 20th century was at last making America the fulfillment of its dreams of life, liberty, and happiness.

What they were aiming for instead was an America that would work to their advantage. Sadly, RR’s insistence that “government’s the problem” would not only contradict history but also his own politics. It would slacken those great lessons and rewards. Their motive and ideal were one and the same:  trickle down. Their America would become one that rode the twin rails of privilege and advantage, working together as hand and glove. Each was its own reward.

The camp that came with him to the White House was light on conservatives and deep in a new breed becoming popularly known as neoconservatives, or neocons. The contradiction of Reagan they embodied was approaching government “the problem” as something else: a work to be molded to their liking, to their benefit.

They moved boldly to choke conservatives with their own petard, by ramping up defense. Always-arms-happy Casper Weinberger was given the Pentagon, and as secretary of defense he immediately ordered production of a score of new weapons systems. Reagan fans will always insist that this buildup of arms hit the Soviet Union with the competitive pressure that sank it. But the larger truth found the USSR unable to rise from the ravages of World War II and the devastation left by Hitler’s armies. The endless American shipments of essential supplies that enabled the Red Army and a bitter winter to stop Hitler cold had long since ceased. The largest country on the planet was left too poor to resuscitate either its bumbling bureaucracy or its basic industry. Beyond co-opting captured German scientists into helping it produce its own atomic bombs, it had no chance of making itself competitive in the economic boom that followed the war. My dear late-wife Carol, watching TV news, remarked several times, “How do the Russians imagine competing, when they can’t grow good potatoes two years in a row, or build a car that isn’t junk after 10,000 miles?”

But against this history, the neocons loved the arms race too much to give it up. Most of the new arms on which the Reagan White House was accelerating production were delivered on budget-busting cost overruns, with huge profits lining the pockets of the makers, who then were doubly happy that they were Reagan boosters. All as intended by the neocons.

Who were conservatives to complain?  How dare they think they could have their cake and eat it too? With more defense their first priority in the Cold War, they would have to swallow the cost. Thus, in stunning contradiction of the Grand Old Party’s oldest and dearest plank, the national debt would double under President Reagan.  History must have blinked twice: the national debt doubling under a Republican president! Absolutely unthinkable — until it happened.

Untraceable in the red ink was RR’s war within the war. Col. Ollie North was given the basement of the White House to orchestrate the secret war that zealous reactionaries were promoting to sink a small commie beachhead in Central America. Congress was never consulted, the Constitution be damned! It was easily the most impeachable gambit ever made by a president. But the rather recent embarrassment of the fatally criminalized Nixon presidency left both the public and the Congress without stomach to dig at the Reagan-North crimes.

The neocons were succeeding in spades. Government was the clay with which they were making it a monument to themselves — in the image, of course, of RR. The federal payroll was much bigger on RR’s last day in office than on the first. And, lots and lots of the red ink he was spilling was ending up — one way or another — in the pockets of the Bohemian cronies and allies of his California days.

Spilling on too into the 21st century has been the lingering misdirection of “trickle down.” It came to an abrupt pause in the Bill Clinton presidency,  whose years of job growth showed promise of a middle-class revival. But that hope was dampened by the non-election of George W. Bush, who was handed the White House by a 5-4 vote of the right-leaning Supreme Court, which had rejected Democratic pleas for a recount of the Florida returns that could have put Vice President Gore in the Oval Office.

While Bush II pledged a reign of “compassionate conservatism,” he invoked priorities that quickly turned the pledge hollow. Certain Congress would show good faith by granting his first wish, he won a code-wide tax cut that no one else was pressing for, thus keeping faith with Reagan on “trickle down” but targetting all the compassion on the rich. With Vice President Cheney at his elbow, pointing the way, he would prove a match for RR also as a warrior.

They had the attack on Iraq in mind even before they took office. They needed only the word of one unreliable observer who claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (MSD) in the works to launch the invasion. They had first wooed Congress into neutrality with lies they used Secretary Colin Powell to tell the United Nations. Their strike on Baghdad treated the world to a show of military “shock and awe” unlike anything it had seen before. The president took to military uniform on a carrier deck to declare with banner “Mission Accomplished.”  More than a decade later the “shock and awe” lingers on in rising national debt, which for the second time was doubled under a Republican president. Unthinkable — until it happened.

Between that unconscionable Iraq War and the Great Recession — larger in every way than the Great Depression — that the deceitful Bush-Cheney reign of “compassionate conservatism” handed on to President Obama, their presidency is bound to be remembered as the most destructive in American history.

Yet its bloodline flows clearly from the “trickle down” that RR and the neocons have delivered in spades. It has given us an endless string of budget deficits, but for Clinton’s second term, and a future of growing inequality, an insecure middle class, an endangered  ecosystem, relentless extremism of both political and religious bents, and spreading oligarchy that turns cherished capitalism on its head.

The 21st century already is showing us that TD, oligarchy, smaller government and evangelical fervor, singularly or combined, form no defense against terrorism, the Mafia and like gangs, corporate power, Wall Street abuses, or climate change. A true list of serious threats and risks is much longer, obviously. All are fed in one degree or another by our assorted appetites.

Capitalism is driven to oligarchy by ego and greed. Marx counted on capitalism never working the way it’s meant too for its own success. Capitalism becomes the snake that swallows itself when it concentrates wealth more than it spreads it. Great wealth is no guarantee of security for the long run. Consumer economics no longer holds the promise of the good life.

Nature is rewarding our wasteful ways with a trickle down of its own. As the polar ice caps keep trickling away, every inch that the oceans rise erases trillions of dollars in coastal enterprise and property values. As the glaciers also trickle away, safe water supplies will become increasingly problematic on every continent. The serious minds in science, business and economics are telling us this century has grave challenges coming hard in waste management and pollution control. Will our answer be an epidemic of drug addiction? Or will we find it in the NRA and Second Amendment?

So much for the legacy of Ronald Reagan and TD. Stubborn revisionists can’t sweeten it. Still-eager neocons and the endless arms race can’t redeem it. They, not he, are at fault. An endless arms race was not his wish. Military muscle was his answer to the Cold War. But it has played on into a conspiracy of arms-makers and gun-nuts that ironically threatens freedom itself.

Its price has become more than a chronic string of budget deficits. It dogs the Tea Party with hypocrisy because it makes smaller government unworkable, since it claims one half of the discretionary spending of the annual federal budget. It equals the combined military budgets of the other ten largest nations. Such might makes its own engine of fear. It keeps us fearful, though we know instinctively that military muscle is not the cure for terrorism.

Rarely recalled in the lessons of leadership that FDR gave America and the world in the triumph of democracy over WWII fascism was his manifesto of the Four Freedoms: freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The desired fruits of American democracy were never better uttered, yet always left to WeThePeople and the Constitution to defend. It is terribly sad that the Supreme Court in its narrowing grasp of law, in its preoccupation with technicalities, can’t realize this. By opening the Bill or Rights to corporate power, as it did in 2010 in Citizens United, the court has lessened the people’s claim on the Four Freedoms, and reinforced TD.

Ronald Reagan could hardly have imagined that wealth and privilege would set the stage for a 21st century global showdown between  corporate power and terrorism. Fear will grow and so will guns, both fed by the NRA and the gun-makers who swell the NRA budget. The gun nuts can see only their own right to pack heat. But what about the folks without guns, who are nearly two-thirds of the nation’s households? They keep no guns because most fear them — as they should — since the fatalities from use and misuse of guns approach the highway toll every year. When will they bring a class action against the NRA for infringing their freedom from fear?

Second Amendment fever has helped TD grow the arms race and corporate power into the ultimate double-barrel shotgun. But all the firepower in the world won’t defeat terrorism. That’s a battle of the spirit. Have consumer economics and material comfort so soften free people that they can’t outlast the extremists? Or make peace with the earth?

All the wealth in the world won’t tame global warming. The rich can run, but they can’t hide. They can’t buy off science, either. If the oceans rise ten feet within the century, as some scientists foresee, most of what passes for wealth today will drown. The oceans — not the churches, not the scientists — will have the last word. Unless, of course, people of every stripe vastly modify their ways of life. May we learn that to live better is to live simpler, and survive? The odds are long, and the time is short. So short.

Yet science estimates that our solar system and the earth could well live another five billion years. With the oceans taking charge, they may yet make another start. Let the earth rest a million years, then Adam and Eve might get another chance. It’s been the opinion of a brilliant psychiatrist friend that “Our race has been one of God’s failed experiments.”  Surely God deserves another chance – if He wants one. Or needs one. The Hubble is showing us a universe whose vastness suggests God may have bigger things to do. Real TD has only one source — the universe.

Frank Mensel  —  June 2014