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Facing Our Demons -- Or Not
| Political Waves

Standing back from our political situation, I think of the Laurel and Hardy schtick where Ollie turns to Stan and says, "Here's another fine mess you've gotten us into." Blubbering, Stanley wheezes out little peeps of distress, squinches up his face and scratches his head.

We're Ollie. We're Stan. And this fine mess is the result of decades of policies and decisions by Reagan, Bush the Elder, Clinton and Bush the Younger. Obama is the newest engineer on our runaway train, but he doesn't seem to have any magic tricks to offer us. Most presidents don't have to deal with both domestic and foreign firestorms at the same time, and you can tell that Obama would rather be flying at jet speed, not careening along on rickety, old paradigm tracks toward the cliff looming ahead. Doubtless there are some mornings when Obama peeps, squinches and scratches, too; perhaps most mornings.

In order to free Congress for big legislation like health care and energy reform, Obama chose to 'move on' from Bushy criminal investigations, thus taking on ownership of the fine mess we're in. The obvious result of GW's hubristic tenure -- hyperextending militarism and the free market right to the edge on warring, spending, borrowing and deregulating -- is that we're now over the edge on every front. Government has always kept the worst projections and assessments from the public in order to keep the economy calm and the people compliant. The good news is that, coming off several decades of denial-binge, the public now recognizes that facts trump political rhetoric. The bad news is that the political system is so hamstrung by partisanship that it can't move more than baby steps at a time, impeded by those who think "the good old days" of American dominance and expansion are still an option.

In this country, "where seldom is heard a discouraging word," we lie to each other and to ourselves to preserve that sunny Reaganesque illusion. Believing lies is our national version of Prozac. Not wanting to know is a sedation overdose that has now landed us all in the emergency room. Because we still don't want to face the truth, we continue to slap band-aids on national wounds to our treasury, liberties and ethics that gush like BP's failed pipes. Each day that passes makes a dire situation more critical.

Let's take Afghanistan. Our longest war, longer than World War II, Vietnam or Korea, with nothing to show for it. A TRILLION bucks spent. Imagine what that money might have done at home. In this obscene amount of disappeared American treasure, Osama bin-Laden has accomplished what he set out to do on 9/11. Americans no longer support a military presence in Afghanistan, but politicians are too heavily invested in solidifying our footprint to retreat. Obama's decision to escalate reflects more the need for militarism to prop up our economy than any need to destroy Taliban and al-Qaeda. Whatever this war was designed to do, the mission had already failed under Bush's indifference. Now it looks like a familiar cartoon, and if Osama's the Cwazy Wabbit you know who that makes us? Y-y-y-yep.

Most citizens do not have a stake in this struggle except as it impacts the national coffers. My young cousin serves in Afghanistan and each Sunday I hold my breath as I read the names of the week's dead. The list gets longer with each viewing. The consensus is that a solution there is not military but political, yet even more than most Mideastern countries, governance in Afghanistan is a matter of institutionalized graft and corruption. It is also the world's most prolific narco-state and so fractured into tribal entities that President Karzai himself is not safe to roam his own country without pockets full of cash to bribe war lords and tribal elders.

Self-sustained security in Afghanistan is the American priority, yet all attempts to train a national police force have failed. Police training has become a cottage industry; trainees collect their monthly pay and almost all graduate. More than 90% of them are illiterate and 15% test positive for drugs. Reports are rife with accusations of corruption, extortion, assault and rape by police, not to mention their passing of weapons and ammunition to the Taliban. Ultimately, we cannot force these people to be something they aren't and obviously have no desire to become.

As the war loses favor with Americans, we hear pleas not to abandon women to violently repressive fundamentalist rule, but the U.S. has done little to assure civil rights, and there are more female suicides now than before we began this mess eight years ago. Worse, the Taliban are no longer the simplistic fundamentalists they once were; they are now as corrupt and brutal in pursuit of cash and weapons as the Islamic insurgents. Fleeing an area as it is secured by American forces, the Taliban quickly repopulates after soldiers move on. We have no hope of succeeding unless we permanently occupy. Speaking of the failing Kandahar operation, General McChrystal said in exasperation, "When you go to protect people, the people have to want you to protect them."

Why do we stay? As we analyze the political reasons for such an endeavor, we seldom mention the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline that is expected to be operational by 2014. The Pentagon recently sweetened the pot by releasing a geological estimate of the region. It turns out Afghanistan is sitting on the richest collection of minerals since Midas. I'll let Jon Stewart do the heavy lifting on this topic, and do note the animated gleam in the eye of the pundits that speak of it, reverently. Obama insists we'll draw down next year, but ... well ... perhaps we'll stay a little while longer!

The Gulf disaster is another place where we're not facing reality. Obama tried to soothe us this week, holding BP financially responsible and taking charge of coastal restoration, but intuitively we know that whatever gets done won't be enough. While I have sincere compassion for those who earn their living on the Gulf, they have the option of moving and recreating their lives; dying wildlife does not. I'm less concerned about where the money goes than about what the oil will do to the entirety of the 11th largest body of water in the world. No one can assure us of that outcome.

Obama also made a pitch for alternative energy, green industry, and was promptly accused of 'playing politics' with a national disaster. Huh? Are these people brain damaged? Even now, they demand a return to off-shore drilling. We're like a nation of drunks, demanding one more year of ecocide in order to feed our addiction. Some of us still won't admit we've got a problem and are still willing to wage war in order to sustain it. We need an intervention. Until we get one, we'll remain in this fine mess.

With any drilling deeper than 1,000 feet, the danger of destabilizing hydrate gas, such as methane, is well known, with a history of disaster. According to a 2009 report to MMS, "From 1980 to 2006 there were 165 blowouts in U.S. waters, with over 500 worldwide, and hydrates were the main contributor." Drilling this deeply is playing Russian roulette with the environment, but we simply won't accept this truth. When it comes to energy, I get the feeling that if we fueled our cars with nuclear waste, each of us would simply wear a Hazmat suit and carry iodine tablets in the glove box.

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