Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Thank you, John Edwards

No, not thanks for dropping out. Edwards' dropping out of the race today seems sad but not bad. As he said, he was "stepping aside" to "to let history blaze its path." And in doing so, he called himself, if not a liberal, then at least "a proud progressive."

Now, the Democratic Party will make history with either Clinton or Obama, not another white guy, no matter how well meaning. "A man of the people" rarely wins.

And so as the dueling Clinton/Obama show leaves Edwards in its dust ups, let's keep in mind what John Edwards has doggedly stood for in this campaign:

*** Edwards has called for (and pledged to) the withdrawal of ALL combat troops from Iraq by January 2010. Clear enough? That's as close as any candidate has come to saying "get out now". (Clinton and Obama have been vague, at best, leaving the door open to extended stays.)

*** Edwards supports truly universal health care for all Americans, no matter what, with an honorable plan not dependent on employment or insurance but on citizenship. (The other candidates have not committed to ANY universal health care plan.)

*** Edwards is for the outlawing of PACs and, in many roles, lobbyists in Washington; he would decisively put the covert interests of corporations in check. (This sort of stance is true populism and brave indeed. Whether they take PAC money or not, neither Clinton nor Obama have focused on the corruption of government which corporate influence causes; they have been much more reluctant to alienate their power base. Edwards took more risks, which clearly hurt his fundraising.)

*** Last summer, Edwards offered the most sure-set agenda for curtailing and perhaps even controlling global warming and other pervasive, truly global problems. Edwards has gone on record against licensing ANY new coal and nuclear power plants. When it comes to the environment, Edwards has been the closest thing this election has seen to Gore.)

*** A relentless focus on poverty and our nation's neglect of the poor. (By comparison, Clinton and Obama move in elite and lofty circles and don't even symbolically get their jeans on and their hands dirty. Edwards, like Jimmy Carter before him, has more than once helped to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Indeed, Edwards has in many ways been the Carter of this campaign, not the most judicious power player but the earnest and passionate "man of the people.")

And so, thank you John Edwards. Now you have the chance to prove your quest is not about lawsuit slickness or name-brand ego but about serving the people. Perhaps the next administration will offer you that chance.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Caroline, Teddy & Me

Over the last few months, here at ABN, I sure have given it up for John Edwards. But those days are waning, as is Edwards' candidacy. Call this my transition period.

I tend to go for the edgy fighter, and this round with his pushing of a truly progressive agenda and his good ol' fashioned down home tone, John Edwards has been that fighter. But as we know, the edgy fighters tend to inspire passions but not primary wins. My enthusiasm for Howard Dean you know, but I've got a long history of going with the edgy fighter.

In '76, Eugene McCarthy was my first love of candidates, and he remained a hero of mine through several election cycles. Back in '76, I was anti-establishment, anti-normal, anti-government pork. Thus, Reagan was attractive, as well, in '76. I was swinging all over the red, white and blue political map. In 1980, by then seething at the ruinous Reagan revolution, I actually volunteered for and voted for the independent John Anderson. And in 1984, I was predictably a Gary Hart kinda guy. By then, we'd had a string of mild-mannered lambs, I felt, trying to carry the middling Democrats: McGovern, Carter, Mondale? I could have slept through those candidacies, with Dukakis to come. I needed more fire power, more risk.

And so John Edwards, whom I've seen as the Howard Dean of the 2008 election. And perhaps Edwards will play a role, even an inspiring and/or significant role in the politics of the future. But, as of just the last few days, I've joined the tide turning toward Barack Obama.

Caroline Kennedy, who is just a few months younger than I and on whom I've had a crush most of my life, elegantly and very simply endorsed Obama in the Sunday New York Times. And today, to much fanfare and with a commanding dose of "legacy", big Teddy endorsed Barack.

I also admire RFK, Jr, environmental lawyer for the NRDC, and he's sure edgy, getting edgier all the time (did you see his bile-spewing rant at Live Earth?), and he's supporting Hillary Clinton. Still, I think what Caroline and her "liberal lion" of an uncle have to say about Obama has won me over: we need Barack to inspire this nation and the world, in part by putting the Clintons behind us. And so now I see it: Obama IS the candidate to most inspire us to move forward. Hearing tell of the Bill Clinton skirmishes of late have had a lot to do with my shift toward Obama. It's just not the '90s, please! That's the past, and really, a lot of us want the future. The Kennedys have voiced it well: it is more about vision and inspiration than it is about resume.

I can't support Hillary Clinton because I believe she supports ongoing imperialist operations in the Middle East. And I was not a big Obama fan because, though he was against the Iraq war, he was not anti-establishment/anti-lobbyist enough for me, and I think Edwards is. But to support Obama is to go beyond the edgy/angry fringe to move the whole middle, and that 's making more and more sense to me.

Please, Barack, bring Edwards onboard in some capacity (actually, I think that is a done deal; Edwards is still in to best play the cards and deligates he's been dealt). And if Barack would like to offer Bill a prominent position in his administration, fine, but let's not have Bill living in the White House again.

Been there done that. Thank you John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Thank you John Kerry and John Edwards.

Barack here and now.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bono, Bill, Gore, Dean, Davos

Once a year, a month after Christmas, the world actually revolves not around Bethlehem or London or New York, Washington or Baghdad or Mecca, but around Davos. This is the week of the annual World Economic Forum, which draws the likes of capitalist kingpins and political rock stars -- and even some elected officials of the first tier. Also some of the most connected "independents". It's the Sundance of running planet Earth.

Bono is there (again). Bill Gates is there (again). And so is Al Gore. Gore's A-list attendance once (again) brings up the specter of a Gore candidacy back in the United States -- or at least (hey, throw us a crumb!) a Gore endorsement of someone who is actually running for something besides Tech Geek Guru Superman Savior of the World.

Well, as for the candidacy, after being elevated to Nobel Laureate status, Gore is learning to sit more comfortably on the highest of fences.

And as for the endorsement, won't happen. Gore learned his lesson by endorsing Howard Dean early in the '04 cycle (he actually busted that move way back in 2003, even before Howard made the cover of Rolling Stone).

But (again), the pundits (or some) are chattering on about the elephant in the Green Room.

And (again), here's my take, in brief, as stated today at the Cafferty Files on

IMAGINE: In 2000, Gore briefly considered Edwards as his running mate. I think Leiberman was a mistake (and I am certainly not alone in that). I propose that if Gore had gone with Edwards, Edwards would be running for president this year, but he would be running as the incumbent Vice President. Moral of the story: both Gore and Edwards remain important to the progressive movement, and I hope that Gore and Edwards stay in the ring, if not in the race.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sundance? Meanwhile In Utah...

This says a lot about America and, I suppose human beings in general: The Sundance Film Festival gets more attention each year than any other "news story" in Utah, probably ALL OTHER news stories in Utah COMBINED.

Meanwhile, the wild red rock and "slick rock" lands of Utah are some of the most amazing lands on Earth. And they look so weird and austere and even foreboding that you might think they were safe from plunder. But no, not as long as there are valuable minerals in them there rocks -- and underground. And so the plunder tends to go on with some vocal local outcries but very little said beyond the state itself. No Utah land story has even come close to the Yucca Mountain stage of infamy.

The national parks are fairly well protected, but the shady Bureau of Land Management seems to operate as the go-between in Purgatory. The BLM is often a lot like the Army Corps of Engineers with fewer bulldozers and ballistics techs (the modern swords in this battle), but the BLM has the almight Pen, and as we know, the Pen can be mightier than the sword, supposedly. Well, the BLM often signs away protections with the stroke of a pen, paving the way, as it were, to plunder. Bring in the dozers and dynamite!

Right now, the BLM is once again set to sell out our public lands for company-friendly song and dance. The Wilderness Society is asking that we stand for protection, not plunder, of Utah's priceless and gorgeous public lands. The Society sent out a blah-blah "I'm worried/I'm concerned" letter to send in, but I scrapped that and, one stroke more broad and blunt, got right to the point.

Here is what I wrote to BLM Director Jim Caswell:

Director Caswell, please show President Bush and his administration that there is a great deal of public support for protecting our public lands -- and only industry interests in plundering OUR land. Yes, the BLM land, too, just like the national parks, BELONGS to the American people, and yet we, the public, are often marginalized in the process of what happens to our land, even things which are harmful and permanent -- maybe especially when it comes to things which are harmful and permanent. So PLEASE do what you can to make us PROUD of the wisdom and protections the BLM is providing for US.

Thank YOU!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

From Windbags to Grocery Bags

We're just past the ides of January, and it seems the politicians are getting windier by the day, especially Mitt, who, like his hero Reagan, will offer up whatever silken-voiced windbag pleasantries it takes to bring on the smiles, the false hopes and the votes. Let's get back to the kind of bags we can really use every day.

The Sierra Club's Green Tips today deals with that most pervasive and telling of environmental debates. No, not nukes, not whales, not even global warming. Ah, friends, green and not so green, it's the one that precedes all those, in fact. It's the ever persistent paper, plastic or "neither" debate.

"Neither" has come to mean, ideally, "I don't need a bag, thanks." If you can carry your stuff out of the store without a bag at all, please do. Just say no to any bag. But for most, "neither" now means you've brought your own bag, and you'll be using that one instead of the store's "throwaway" bag.

But when we say "neither" and indeed use our own bag, we are still not using nothing. We're not off Scot free. There's no free lunch. The bag we bring is still made of either plastic or cotton in most cases.

Often, the thinking on this debate and the choices we make are superficial. Let's keep in mind some aspects almost always left out of stories about "throwaway" vs. "reusable" bags.

It's been said that we have lost the game (and a healthy future for ourselves and others) if we drive a car to the store and think that our choice of bags is making a significant difference. And that is true. The bag game is a game. The fossil fuel game is for keeps. Still, we make some of these smaller choices to feel we have any control at all over the challenges we face, and in that way, any little bit helps.

I use store and reusable bags, and I always refuse a bag if I can carry out my purchases by hand or in my arms. More importantly, I can walk to my grocery store and do about half the time when I need to go on days I work at home (which is sometimes weeks at a time), and I recycle all bags and everything else I can, picking up the cans and trash of others as I walk to and fron the store.

But I still consider these things:

Reusable bags are not as recyclable as paper and plastic bags. Reusable bags are often made of plastic themselves, about as much plastic as 20 (Earthwise) to 70 grocery store bags (watch out Whole Foods!). At least we can recycle most store bags, hoping they are truly recycled and hoping that that process is a net gain, meaning that it saves energy.

Many busy stores actually don't prefer people bring their own bags for two reasons: store security AND because the store's own bags are faster to fill with purchases and easier to slide out of the way at checkout.

Cotton bags are popular for being anti-plastic, but cotton is not an environmental freebie, either. It takes plenty of fertilizer and energy to produce and ship those cotton and other reusable bags to the store. (The new thin plastic bags such as Earthwise are more efficient to produce and ship.)

Now here's an irony: sometimes, "green" consumers make a special trip to shop for reusable bags or order them via mail, creating even more shipping. Also, many of us already own plenty of reusable bags (say 2-4), and so getting more, even as gifts, is overload. My sister gave me three for Christmas, and I had four already. I'd like to give some as gifts myself and might re-gift a few of these, but I'd want to be absolutely sure the recipient would regularly USE the bag. Otherwise, the reusable bag might either be clutter or get thrown away -- another irony. (To really take advantage of reusables, you've got to reuse them many, many times, and so far, reusables have not saved the stores or the consumers ANY money or resources, as the costs to produce and buy the bags and the landfill/cleanup costs for conventional throwaways are going up.)

And lately, some retailers have turned the bags into a style issue so as to jump on the bandwagon and SELL MORE BAGS. Clearly, this is about the store manufacturing something more you something you are willing to buy, even when the really "green" answer is always "less". The only real way to tread more lightly and win the green game is to do with less, including buying less stuff you might put in a bag -- and most importantly, a lot less driving to the store. Our CO2 debacle is dumped in the landfill, but is also written on the wind, and we have yet to see if any politician's rubber will really hit the road. Meanwhile, what matters most? Every gallon of gas we burn bites us in the ass. Every mile we drive counts against all of us.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It's About A Lot More Than Time: Click to See the World Clock

At her blog "Warming in the Desert," here at Blogger, Denise said that Peter Russell's World Clock gave her vertigo. And I would have to agree. Please go see this thing.

Thanks Denise for putting me onto this one. Those numbers spinning give me "vertigo" as well. Or not well. In fact, I need to sit down, or it's a good thing I AM sitting down. I am sitting down, I think. And which way out of this spiraling, spinning, escalating predicament. It's a planetary pickle, for sure.

And I must remind our dear readers of one of the most profound things I heard said in 2007: "As long as the human population is increasing, NOTHING is sustainable."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

And Then There Were Three

Today's Michigan primary and Nevada Democratic debate effectively made both the Republican and Democratic races three person events.

Tonight's Michigan results made it a Republican One, Two, Three: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Father, that would be Comeback Senior Citizen McCain in New Hampshire. Son, that would be Mitt in Michigan. And the Holy Ghost? Why, that's Huckabee in Iowa, of course. And so it is the top three candidates, One, Two, Three.

Now, if only the Democrats would see the advantage of spreading things out like this. It's all coming down to South Carolina, really, the state in which John Edwards was born. If he doesn't win there, he is effectively out as a presidential candidate, just as Romney, the prodigal son, might have effectively been out if he'd come in a weak second tonight in his boyhood state of Michigan.

The Republicans have done what they could to sustain suspense. It would help the Democrats to do the same by voting for John Edwards in South Carolina. Nevada would be nice, but South Carolina is the Edwards firewall. We still need Edwards in the race, partly because there's a crowd over at the GOP. And no matter how many headlines they can muster, Hillary and Barack will start to look a little lonely in late January or February if it's just the two of them up there on the stage.

I watched the Democrats "debate" in Las Vegas tonight (sadly minus Kucinich, who got axed at the last minute). It's the first "debate" I've seen since 2004. And really, these things are more collective and even collaborative interviews than they are classic debates. There was more making nice tonight than there was divisiveness or even stubborn differentiation. Yet we needed all three (and Kucinich would not have hurt, which shows that the Democrats really still do need at least three candidates to carry forward their aura of diversity).

Edwards offers a gutsy, emotional call to populist arms the other two can't match. We need him to uphold the populist wing of the Democratic Party at least 'til spring.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"Recession" is not a religious term


We NEED a recession.

A recession is consistent with what we need for our long-term well being.

If consumption, pollution, sprawl, debt, extravagance, waste and inflation are the enemies of our long-term well being, then a recession is the answer to those things.

You can't have it both ways -- constant growth AND conservation.

And conservation is the basis of retaining some of what is left.

And so, as gently as we can get it, let's welcome a recession, one step in heading toward the end of rampant, wanton capitalism as we know it.

You've seen the yard signs that say "War is not the answer."

Well, clearly, as Americans seem to know it and champion it and hail it as a religion, capitalism is not the answer, either.

And so, let's enjoy this adjustment against cancerous growth. Put the reins on the spoiled. Get serious about redistributing the wealth. Recession: bring it on.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Prodigal Father: Kerry Endorses Obama

As I've said here more than once, I've been an Edwards man myself. I like the guy's pounding of the corporations, taking up the mantra, if not quite the mantel, of "corporate greed" as the root of all evil. There is a lot to be said for that line of attack. John Edwards is the Howard Dean this round.

But now, with John Kerry endorsing Barack Obama today in South Carolina, Edward's birthplace, the corporation-backed middle-of-the-roaders are taking aim at the past and further isolating Edwards. I think Edwards' new fire-branding rhetoric makes the staid yankee Kerry uncomfortable, and to boot, Edwards is not currently holding public office. He is no longer a fellow senator.

Kerry does well to choose to endorse an active senator. That's his own best power play. Edwards can't do him any favors now, and no matter what, Obama can.

Back in late 2004, Bill Clinton only reluctantly campaigned for Kerry, right at the end, and so Kerry can leave the Clintons behind with a fairly clear conscience, even if she is a senator from a neighboring state. They can work together again, if need be, as fellow senators. And now, at least for a while, Kerry gets to seem like the prodigal father, the big guy who set Obama up on the national stage, something neither the Clintons nor Edwards ever did for him.

Many will say that endorsements are irrelevant or even harmful. But an endorsement for your candidate is plainly preferable to having that endorsement go to another candidate. A well-placed endorsement is just that much better.

The more cautious Kerry may feel Al Gore was wrong to endorse Howard Dean before the Iowa caucuses. If you carry the mantel, wait to pick not a firebrand but an energizing team player. And if you can be patient, wait to pick a winner, not necessarily THE winner but at least A winner. We'll see if pre-South Carolina is good timing for Obama in '08.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Most American New Year's Resolution of All

Human beings the world over want to lose weight, get trim and fit, improve their looks and well-being, improve their education, increase their reading, spend more "quality time" with friends and family, and accomplish a fairly predictable array of life goals.

But the most American New Year's resolution of all?

What do you think it is?

I'd say it's to "get organized," aka "reduce clutter," "get rid of stuff," "unload junk".

After spending the holidays buying and accumulating stuff, you may have noticed, if you have entered most any big store this week, that the plastic storage containers are prominently displayed. Target's got them on sale. The Container Store is having a field day. Or should I say a "How Do I Put All This Stuff Away Day"?

'Tis the season.

Just as gym memberships are a hot buy in January, so are ways to store stuff. But as a New York Times article points out, in the wake of the December onslaught, ours is not so much a storage problem as it is a widely occurring personal problem, indeed a phenomenon of human nature and First World Culture, nowhere more evident than in the good ol' U. S. and A.

Actually, hoarding and accumulating so much stuff was not a very American problem until this culture really started to ratchet up, if not perfect, advertising, affluence, and the spread (some would say "sprawl") of an insatiably materialistic middle class, soon after World War II. The shift from Great Depression to Storage Unit Suburbia deeply and pervasively ingrained in most of us Americans the desires for new and more things more than ever before. 60 years later, the urge to consume and hoard is on the verge of becoming an officially recognized and defined mental illness. Americans didn't invent materialism, but as a culture, we have been crested a hoarding wave at a particularly precarious time for the health of the planet and ourselves.

The rich have always accumulated things. It's not that the rich are different, it's that they are the same as the rest of us, of every class, except that they have more money. We are no different than the rich; given the chance to get more, bigger and best, most humans jump at the chance. The monastic rich are rare. The tread lightly affluent are rare. With human nature being what it is, self-imposed deprivation is never going to be a dominant trend. Thus, the limits to greed and growth do generally have to come from the top down, not the bottom up. We can't expect the poor to lead the way. We don't envy the poor (or ourselves if we are poor, as I am, no matter how much humility or righteousness we might at times feel). I myself don't envy the rich, either, except for their money.

We might think, oh, if we had that kind of money, we'd do it differently, but of course history shows that most of us would do it the same. Swimming pools and 42" televisions and Hana Montana tickets and Nintendo and SUVs and luxury cars and room additions are quite popular. They always will be.

But they will never seem very mature, much less wise. Wise people see the big picture and the far-reaching consequences of certain desires. The wise ask themselves more about need than want. Fads are for kids. And no matter how stylish or elegant, putting desire and immediate gratification before long-term good just looks goofy. But people are what they are, acquisitive busy-bodies, and no matter what country or culture we live in, this is majority rule, and so most stack up stuff and pile it up all around us.

It's all going to the landfill. It's just a matter of time.


TOMORROW: Another take on this acutely American orgy of materialism, a take both more familial and personal. Be there.

In the meantime, get out a cardboard box, and start putting stuff in it to give away -- or to sell on eBay!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Lawrence Walker's Blog "A Better Nation" Careens (Gracefully and w/Care) Into 2008

New year's greetings and salutations (and effervescent though a bit groggy thanks) to you, dear readers of A Better Nation, you, my pointedly pontifical and precious public, my adoralicious audience. Thank you from the bottom of my virtual mail bag.

In the past four years, since this grand and mighty (make that slightly mighty) blog was born, we have worked together, as a national and even planetary consortium for change. We have righted the wrongs and fixed the ills of this nation we love, the good ol' (and not so good new) U. S. and A.

We have shined our lights (key fob flashlights and frugal LEDs) on the powers that be and brought them to their knees, at least to their proverbial (and some would say, imaginary) knees. We have banded together, like the good brothers and sisters that we are indeed not, to act like family, with our own set of American family values. We have gotten the lead out and led the way.

I support you in your hour of needing me, Mr. ABN, your humbly omnicient reporter and culture critic. I've been there for you to criticize. And criticize me you have, more often than not. Yes, like the true patriots you are, you have really given it to me, and I have taken it like the beguiling blogger man I am.

In the chin.

Virtually, that is, in the virtual chin.

And in the gut, too, in the gut I have taken your blogger body blows.

And I have taken up arms, your arms, your virtual arms, as it were (or is?), and run with them, flailing. But not failing. No, we, the Royal WE, as in YOU with ME, have succeeded in keeping this thing going, in making this a better nation than it was when we still had the last four years ahead of us.

Now they are behind. US. Or we are behind them. But not behind the eight ball, even though it is '08 (and though I am not the first, surely, to try that pun). We refuse to be back there (behind the eight ball). We're not suckers, and we refuse to succour ourselves. We stand up straight (if not tall, unless we are tall) for the measly blogger facing up, in some small, piddling, inconsequentially infinitesimal way, to the might that makes wrong seem right. We stand together (or surf alone, in the privacy of our own homes, in a slouching towards virtual togetherness), yes, we do this together or alone as the BNP, the Better Nation People, we silly supercilious magnificently magnanimous mongrel menagerie, we, yes you, we/us hobnobbing hobos of the webby world, we like no one else. And there are a lot of them.

At other times, we stand, at other times (as in the kitchen and at the car wash), and yet, we here while here at A Better Nation, we tend to sit, alone, scattered, fingers splayed or poised, hovering over quivering keyboards, pulling from our quivers our poisonous quips, persistent, wayward, poised to stay a bit or surf onwards against the tides, we the few, the proud, the perseverant (sp? people? I defend my use of that perse-something word, even if, as may be the case, it is not one).


And SO, I say to you, dear reader(s), Happy New Year and OH (8) GREAT DAY to each and every ONE (1) of you.

And you know who you ARE.