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Drifting Toward Catastrophe: A Seven-Headed Beast

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By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

[ The temptation is great to stick to the minor, more gossipy items in the political news. The Larger Issues (here are seven) are damn difficult to deal with. Are there political leaders ready to take them seriously? Or do we continue slouching toward a kind of national suicide? ]<

Sometimes when I'm on a photo shoot, I change my camera focus to close-up, which puts me just inches, say, from the inside of a flower. I can spend much time in-tight like that, marveling at the complexities of a leaf, pistil, stamen, occasionally even a bumblebee inside stuffing its pollen sacs.

Sometimes when reading the news, I find myself caught up in the close-up mode: deep into the details, the news-of-the-day stories, the gossip, the momentary winners and the losers, the minutiae of daily political life.

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In both instances, while one learns much in the close-up mode, it's also important to pull back, to see not just the trees and flowers, but the forest and the contextual landscape. To see what it is we citizens are really talking about, and fighting about -- the deeper content. Pundits and politicians are more comfortable in close-up mode. The large issues are much more difficult, complex, even scary to deal with.

But it's those grand issues that will determine our future, America's future, the planet's future. Who's up and who's down in the polls are, in that sense, distractions from the more meaningful realities.

That's what I find so discouraging these days. This country, humanity, the globe are rushing pell-mell to disaster, mostly by neglecting what needs to be done while we're diddling with the political minutiae. This tendency to avoid the obvious larger questions reminds one of the thrust of Albert Einstein's famous quote:"The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe."

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Consider the following seven areas of concern. No doubt, you could add many more to the list.

FIXING A BROKEN SYSTEM

1. Every so often, unfettered capitalism nearly collapses into itself. President FDR realized that truth in the Great Depresssion and saved the capitalist system by introducing major reforms into the mix. Now 70-plus years later, after the unbridled capitalism of the Reagan/CheneyBush era, where greed and rapaciousness were encouraged to run amok, it's clear that once again the system requires major reforms to save it. Obama, who put into power noted de-regulators who helped lead the economy into near-collapse (Summers, Geithner, Bernanke, et al.), doesn't appear to have the will or desire to fight this battle other than with rhetoric. And thus the economy continues to "drift toward unparalled catastrophe." Americans' anger directed at corporatist greed and abuse of power, and at the politicians who benefit from that system but do precious little to help the hurting middle-class and the poor, is diluting the power of the American Dream. As we slide further into a Second Great Depression this year and next, that anger is going to spill out in more and more ugly, and likely more violent, ways.

The U.S., which should be leading the world in innovation and marketing in fields such as non-fossil-fuel energy, stem-cell research and other scientific advances, is lagging way behind and may not be able to catch up. China and India and Brazil, among others, benefit big time, as the U.S. slips further down the list of vibrant, economically secure and growing societies. Part of the reason America can't move quickly in these areas is that a third of the country is caught up in fundamentalist-derived fear and suspicion of science, egged on by political conservatives, who benefit by this Know-Nothing foundation of their base voters.

Why is this system continuing as-is? At least one major reason is that the short-term (often quarterly) bottom-line rules. Profit is all and it must be immediate so that shareholders continue to buy into the corporation and the capitalist system. There is no room for consideration of long-range consequences of short-term actions. And there is precious little concern for something known in most Western societies as "the public good."

Usually, the often-xenophobic and racist elite philosophy behind this selfish attitude is disguised and hidden. But every so often, we get to see what really is going on. Just the other day, the Republican candidate for governor in South Carolina, Lieutenant-Governor Andre Bauer, explained why he didn't want the state providing benefits to those less fortunate, such as free or reduced-price meals in school cafeterias:

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"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed," Bauer said, according to the Greenville News. "You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better."

This philosophy of rationalized selfishness and racism helps explain why the many thousands of poor, mostly black Americans were ignored and left to their own devices post-Katrina in New Orleans under the "compassionate conservatism" of George W. Bush. At least 1300 citizens died from such neglect.

IMPERIALISM IS SO 20th CENTURY

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Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)
 

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