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Five Urgent Conversations About America

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(How to spice up your summer picnic with nasty argument)

Summer's here and the time is right for...escape? Just because most Americans are in search of harmless diversions and mindless distractions doesn't mean the downward spiral we call "society" becomes any less urgent. We can turn off our televisions and shut down our computers but the war, poverty, oppression, and environmental devastation continues apace...with or without our recognition. Thus, if you agree that time is of the essence, here are 5 topics guaranteed to make you least likely to be invited to the company softball game.

1. Democracy: The next time you and your crowd are charring the flesh of tortured animals on a grill, why not spark a discussion about democracy? Start with this question: Why has every American president been a white man? Good follow-ups: How can American presidential elections be deemed fair when only "major" candidates are allowed to participate in debates and only those who raise $200 million dollars are considered "major" candidates? Why are the vast majority of congressional elections uncontested? Why are elections held on a Tuesday instead of over a weekend? Why are Americans voters not given a "none of the above" option? Why weren't American women allowed to vote until 1920? Who counts the votes?

2. Slavery: Imagine you're on line to plunk down (at least) ten bucks to endure Adam Sandler for two hours when you turn to your friends and announce: The land of the free and home of the brave was built on the backs of African slaves.

3. War: In the midst of an undeclared war against a tactic (terror), you might wanna remind everyone at your family reunion that during the previous "Good War," the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japanese civilians, rescued Nazi war criminals, firebombed Tokyo, Dresden, and dozens of other cities, turned away Jewish refugees who were fleeing the Nazis, interned over 100,000 Japanese-Americans without due process, and fought that vaunted war against racism with a segregated army.

4. Environment: Lying on the beach is the ideal time to ponder why it might not be wise to take a dive into the waves. As you rub on the suntan lotion, wonder aloud about how every lake, stream, and river in America has been poisoned. Just before you start some "light" beach reading, tell your companions about the pesticides, the food additives, the GMOs; the dams, the SUVs, and the nuclear power plants. For added fun, ask the guy on the next blanket if he's aware there are few, if any, cod left in Cape Cod.

5. Economics: Crack open a cold one and pose this query: Why isn't there a labor section to counter the business section in every major newspaper? As your picnic mates stare at you in shock, catch them with details of corporate welfare, wage disparity between men and women, the gap between rich and poor, and the inner workings of NAFTA, the WTO, IMF, and World Bank. Bonus points for: The American people own public airwaves and public lands...but do not control any of it.

Of course, summer is also an excellent time to provoke lively banter about the brutal dictators propped up by the U.S. or the number of democratically elected governments America has helped overthrow. Or you might wanna try: Two million Americans are imprisoned in nursing homes against their will and another 40 million are without health insurance. There's also the death penalty, prison-industrial complex, broken treaties, Gitmo, and depleted uranium...but my all-time favorite summer conversation starter is this: "Hey, do you guys realize that we're standing on stolen land?"

Remember: If you don't bring up these topics, who will?

Mickey Z. is the author of several books, most recently 50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
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Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
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