Dec 13, 2013
Truthdig Radio: Keep McChrystal Retired
Posted on Apr 13, 2011
Now, Truthdig readers will recognize the wicked wit of cartoonist, artist and all-around madman Mr. Fish. Setting down his pen to pick up a mike, Fish brings us this special report from the front lines of political discontent.
Mr. Fish: Virtual democracy. [Which is the title of the essay presented below.]
Will Rogers said, “Democrats are the only reason to vote for Republicans.” Jay Leno said, “If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates.” Groucho Marx said, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read.” All of those quotes are true, and I mention them here because we are about to enter the 2012 election cycle, when truths will become scarce and quotes by candidates will only be worth repeating later on, to indict the speaker as a liar when he or she runs again in the next election.
Why so cynical? Well, let me answer by reading something I wrote on April 13th, 2007, exactly four years ago. It was right before the 2008 election cycle, and I was just as hopeful about that outcome as I am about this one. Here’s what I wrote.
When it was over, Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, spoke to me and all the other people involved through a laptop speaker and said: “Tonight was a historic event.” Everybody in the room clapped while I sat on the rug picking cookie crumbs off my pants, and feeling a little bit embarrassed by the pronouncement, figuring that a truly historic event should be more self-evident than needing to be pointed out—“We’ve done something historic tonight!”—twice in a row.
The event took place at the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign season, and was to be, according to the email invitation that I’d gotten the week before, the “very first Virtual Town Hall meeting.” It promised to involve thousands of house parties across the country. It would give hundreds of thousands of people, via the Internet, the chance to “hear directly from candidates” and to “inject [progressive perspectives] into the debate early” so that presidential hopefuls “know where we stand,” thereby allowing us to “shape what issues count in ’08.”
There was mention of participants getting a “front-row seat,” and “hearing the candidates answer questions straight from MoveOn members’ mouths,” the old dynamic of not being able to “connect with presidential hopefuls face-to-face” being “turn[ed] on its head.” The description read like an impossible promise, like it was being hawked by a sideshow huckster peddling a fantastic stunt that was wildly appealing, not because of the triumph that its success would inspire but rather because of the perverse thrill that its failure would guarantee.
As if I were signing up to watch a pair of Siamese twins play tennis against each other, I entered my name and phone number onto the online invitation and was promptly given the Pasadena address where I’d need to go in order to “make history” with my “fellow progressives.”
With my prerequisite laptop in hand, I arrived at my host Yuny P.’s house dressed like Richard Lewis, all black, like an exclamation point, and sauntered into a living room the color of pancake batter and decorative hotel soap; puce and tan and waiting room white. A half-dozen large, soft-spoken women rested on sofas and in chairs, appearing as if they’d been poured into their immense t-shirts and Fila sneakers by a pastry chef, none of them wishing to meet my eyes. They looked like the moms of the hipsters that I wanted to hang out with. Smiling hard into their peripheral vision, I considered reaching for my car keys and putting on my best oops-I-forgot-to-turn-off-the-oven face, when I was grabbed suddenly by Yuny, a Latina grandma in slippers with a face like the moon. “You brought your computer!” she said. “Good!” She turned me towards a TV the size of Damien Hirst’s shark tank and asked, “Can we get the computer inside the television so that everybody can enjoy it?” Although I was dressed in black, I wanted to tell her that I was not a witch.
“Well,” I said, “what kind of cords do you have?”
Yuny bent down next to base of the gigantic picture tube and replied, “I have red, yellow and … white.”
The fictional oven that I had forgotten to turn off called to my head like a siren as I shrugged my shoulders.
Two excruciating hours later—after the Virtual Town Hall had been revealed to be nothing more than a pre-recorded collection of brief statements made by seven democratic presidential candidates to give MoveOn members, we’ll call them virtual progressives, the chance to experience the comedic hijinks of Bill Richardson saying mah-slums over and over again and Hillary Clinton chasing her personal integrity around her own narcissistic political ambitions like Sambo’s tigers around a tree—I felt no more reassured as to the health and wellbeing of our system of self-government than I was prior to arriving. In fact, I worried that virtual democracy was being tested to replace real democracy and that, given the joy on the faces of everyone around me, it had a pretty good chance of succeeding.
On the way out, an awkward bald guy in glasses as thick as hockey pucks, his eyes I imagined having been destroyed by hours of scouring the Sgt. Peppers album cover for clues corroborating the death of Paul McCartney, stopped me to say that Dennis Kucinich was our best hope for peace in the world. “I tend to agree,” I answered. “Unfortunately, the presidential election is a beauty contest and Kucinich is too short and too funny looking to win.”
“He’s not short!” said the guy, a faint Klingonese accent buried inside his tongue like pantyhose and a garter belt beneath everyday clothes.
“He’s not?” I said.
“No, I’ve met him. He comes up to here on me.” He touched the bridge of his nose.
“Were you two dancing?” I asked.
“Nothing, I’d just heard he was short.”
“Maybe here,” said the guy, touching his upper lip. I left feeling as if the political viability of sustaining a healthy social democracy into the 21st Century was sinking. Or maybe I was just getting taller.
Sandra Postel: Thank you very much.
Peter Scheer: Can you just give us a broad view of where we stand with freshwater supply, agriculture, drinking water, and a global view of where we are now?
Sandra Postel: Sure. Well, of course water is finite; fresh water is finite. So there’s only so much there to meet everybody’s needs, and as populations have grown and economies have grown, we’re finding in more and more parts of the world that we’re not in a sustainable situation with regard to fresh water. We’re already overtapping the limited supply that’s there. And so in more and more places, or in areas where rivers are running dry, groundwater is being depleted, and there’re all kinds of signs that we’re not in a sustainable balance with our use of fresh water. The biggest single user around the world of fresh water is agriculture; 70 percent of all the water that we extract from rivers and lakes and groundwater goes to irrigated agriculture. So growing food is a very water-intensive, of course necessary, but a very water-intensive activity. So that’s a big concern as populations grow, and you know, we’re 7 billion now, heading toward 8 billion by 2025. And much of the world is also experiencing a rise in income, and that’s a very good thing, but one of the first things people do when they have more money in their pocket is to expand their diet options, and that often includes eating a lot more meat. And many want to eat, you know, have diets that are more like what Americans are accustomed to, which includes a lot of meat in their diet. And meat is a very water-intensive thing. So the demands are going to increase to meet the food and the changing dietary needs of this expanding population. The other piece of this, of course, is what this is doing to the aquatic environment. You know, there is only so much water; it has to meet human needs and all the ecosystems’ needs. So we’re seeing increasing stress on ecosystems as well.
Peter Scheer: How does the climate crisis affect this?
Sandra Postel: Well, climate is a big added stressor on water. If we look at water stress around the world now, it’s going to likely become magnified as climate change unfolds. We’re going to see more droughts in dry places, more floods in places that are already experiencing floods, as well as some new places. So there’ll be—we’re already beginning to see that we’ve moved outside the normal range of extremes, if that makes sense. There’s a normal boundary of extreme weather, and we’re already moving outside that boundary. So these extremes are likely to get more extreme, and that’s really complicated for water, water managers and for our use of water.
Josh Scheer: And to get back to the point about the money, though, because climate change, Peter, it’s important. But on your website we talk about gasoline, and people probably don’t know that, how much water goes into gasoline, airline travel, and also with luxury items like bottled water, and how much that kind of impacts the needs of water around the world, right?
Sandra Postel: That’s right. You know, we think about the water that comes out of our tap—and that’s important, this is our local watershed, where our drinking water comes from—but water flows through our lifestyle every day to the tune of 2,000 gallons a day, if you’re an average American. And more than half of that is our diet, and then 35 percent of that water use is in energy. Thirteen gallons of water goes into a gallon of gasoline. The biggest single user in terms of water withdrawals in the United States is the thermoelectric power industry. Coal plants and nuclear plants. We’ve seen in Japan, in the crisis going on in Japan, how much water it takes to cool thermoelectric power plants. And the same is true for coal plants. So there’s an awful lot of water going to cool these plants, and that’s water taken out of rivers; it often goes back into the same river, but it’s at the same time changing the flow of and depleting, you know, depleting supplies in areas where they’re sometimes very much needed. So yes, absolutely, our footprint is a big piece of this. And that’s also an opportunity for us to do something. You know, it’s more than just turning off the tap when we brush our teeth. It’s thinking about our diet, thinking about our energy use, and connecting all those dots, because the nice thing is, if we save energy we’re saving water; if we save water, we’re saving energy.
Josh Scheer: Explain to the Truthdig audience, because maybe—or the KPFK audience as well—can we talk about water scarcity, and what it is, and then what are the two types, physical and economic? Because I think a lot of people … kind of stay within their own zone, they don’t realize that a lot of people are dying in the world because of unhealthy water.
Peter Scheer: Let me just add that according the U.N.—you probably have your own figures, but according to the U.N. 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity.
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