The most frequent phrase I hear from my friends and neighbors these days is "The world’s gone crazy." I can’t argue with them.
Internationally, with a Japanese nuclear power plant near meltdown, we are debating ways to clean it up and make nuclear power safer. The U.S. has provided high-tech weapons to any nations or tyrants with money, oil or scarce metals, and is presently saving civilian lives in Libya with Tomahawk missiles, while killing Afghan children with unmanned drones. Israel is planning an artificial island for tourism and trade off the coast of Gaza while killing Palestinians and confiscating their land. Here in the U.S. Rep. Peter King held hearings on how Muslims threaten our safety and freedoms, and the House Judiciary Committee prepared a bill to put the words "In God We Trust" on all federal buildings. Congress and the President are playing "Streets and Alleys" with budget cuts and government shutdowns. Obama wants to let multinational corporations pump up our oil, sell it on world markets and keep the profits.
Nationwide, governors are using revenue shortfalls – caused by tax cuts for the rich – as a weapon to kill collective bargaining rights for public employees. (Rationale: if they’re not at the table, they can be on the menu.) The governor of Maine has taken down and hidden a mural depicting the history of labor in Maine.
State legislatures, egged on by tea partiers who want to drown all government in bathtubs, are introducing assorted crazy bills: authorizing the use of helicopter gunships to shoot wild pigs (KS), to require all adults to own guns (SD), to allow businesses to refuse service to married gays (IA), to make killing abortion-providers justifiable homicide (SD), to ban sharia -based law in a state with 200 Muslims (OK) and to require payment of all state debts in pre-1965 gold or silver coins (GA)
So, as a crazy citizen on this day dedicated to fools and folly, I’d like to make a few equally crazy proposals. In no particular order:
- Post the annual income/net worth after the names of all public officials, political figures, executives, writers of op-eds, experts interviewed by media, etc.,. e.g.: Barack Obama ($3,220,592/$10,110,978.)
- Address both renewable energy and personal fitness with hand or pedal-operated generators and chargers for TV sets, computers, audio equipment, and small electronics. All ages could benefit; time would be saved and energy consumption reduced by not driving cars to gyms and fitness centers. Fitness-freaks might also support an ad-free TV channel that gets its revenue from excess power fed back into the grid.
- Similarly, develop power-assisted pedal technology for family cars, vans, and busses – with pedals for all passengers.
- Instead of trying to capture and prosecute Julian Assange, the CIA could hire him and put him in charge of spying on U.S. civilians, or finding Osama bin Laden
- Bradley Manning could be sent (or sentenced) to the Pentagon to find out where all that missing money has gone; or to the FEC to uncover corporate interference with elections; or to the GSA to uncover waste, duplication, abuse and fraud.
- Develop far-out innovative ways to solve real world problems, like the task-allocation algorithms derived from the distributed problem-solving, multiple interactions and decentralized control practiced by ant colonies or the collective, democratic decision-making practiced by swarming honeybees
- Women could deny sex, Lysistrata-style, to male warmongers and anti-abortionists until they change their behaviors. That could reduce population, improve women’s health, and might even end some wars.
- Minimize our use of banks and credit cards; using cash whenever possible. It would leave fewer tracks and will make it harder for predatory private marketers or public officials to find out how we spend our money.
.... readers may make up more crazy ideas.
Meanwhile, we blame each other, scoff at others, flagellate ourselves with mea culpas, propose unstudied and untested remedies, judge our neighbors to be lazy, stupid, greedy or criminal; we tolerate or demand cruelty, torture, or assassinations of selected bad guys. We address problems we don’t want to pay for by passing the costs off to those with less money and less power; what we can’t solve with money we fix with military hardware. We’re running on remedies cobbled together by wealthy individuals or corporations with private agendas and investments.
Our nation is not broke financially – there is plenty of money. But it’s broke through structural and systemic failures of society and how we do democracy.
Our society is broke when we are not outraged by Newt’s infidelities or scornful of Donald Trump’s arrogance but thoroughly enjoy them, and reward them generously. It’s broke when we tolerate Gitmo and the torture of an accused but untried soldier, or cheat our teachers and safety officers of their rights.
Our democracy is broke when only half of us vote. It’s broke when we are willing to send workers away from the bargaining table in order to give tax-breaks to the rich. It’s broke when people believe that cutting taxes creates jobs, despite no evidence that it does and ample evidence that it doesn’t.
I don’t know what to do about it. I am perennially suspicious of Grand Plans – like "trickle down" – which don’t work and have serious unintended consequences. And yet, I don’t see how we can manage the world without some overarching common moral values, some universal common goals, and some worldwide consensus that we humans are all in this together, and that it is possible to live together without killing one another.
How crazy is that?
This column will appear in the Kent Ravenna (Ohio) Record-Courier on Sunday April 3, 2011