Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Madam Jane predicts the future: "No Country for Old Cows..."

(This photo is of Madam Jane pointing toward the Future while wearing her totally stylish -- but second-hand -- United Houma Nation T-shirt)

I have gone to the grocery store and purchased a quart of milk so many times during the course of my life that it would take me quite a while to add all those times up.

When I was around eight years old, my mother would give me a quarter and I would walk down to the Capuchino Food Mart, buy some milk and then walk back home. We lived on Park Blvd in Millbrae and the Food Mart was five blocks away. And my mother would always let me use the change to buy a piece of Fleer's Double Bubble.

Nowadays I just walk across the street to the Berkeley Bowl and buy my milk there. I've lived next to the Bowl for the last 28 years. I know every aisle layout by heart. I know all the clerks. And, hopefully, I will be buying a quart of milk there once or twice a week for the NEXT 28 years.

"Sorry but that's not going to happen," spoke up Madam Jane.

Excuse me?

"At the recent presidential primary debate in Cleveland between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, they talked about healthcare and fair campaign practices and being stalwart friends of Israel and NAFTA and the new Bush-McCain clone. But neither one of the debaters mentioned milk."

Milk? Huh? What were they supposed to do? Debate the merits of low-fat milk vs. fat-free?

"Let's take a closer look at that quart. What does the future hold for milk?"

Cheerios and oatmeal?

"First of all, what about the grass that cows eat? Does it need to be pollinated in order to re-seed? And if so, will it need to be pollinated by bees? Bees are in big trouble right now because of insecticides and paracites and all the bees in North America may be dead in a few years. That means that we will no longer be able to buy any fruits or vegetables that are bee-pollinated."

But grass is wind-pollinated. I think.

"Now let's talk about the weather changes coming up. Can you walk to the store to buy that quart of milk when there is five feet of snow on the ground? Or will your store still get supplied with milk during a tornado? Or can they get cows to produce milk in 145-degree heat?"

So you put the cows in a barn with air-conditioning and central heating.

"And where is the gas and electricity going to come from to run the A/C?"

The Middle East?

"And how will the milk get to the store? With gasoline and diesel prices averaging $20 a gallon?"

I don't like where this is going.

"And what about inflation? It's now rising at 1% a month. Pretty soon you will need a wheelbarrow to take all the dollars that you will need with you to the store to buy your one quart of milk."

Could I use a suitcase?

"And what about the milk itself? With our pastureland being all drained of soil nutrients and the cows being sickly from various diseases, you might as well pour water over your cereal. And as for sitting down at the kitchen table to eat it? Your home will be gone. Foreclosed upon. Did they mention that at the debate?"

Okay. So you are saying that in the course of just a few years, our world will be falling apart and even the simple reality of popping over to the grocery store to buy a quart of milk will no longer exist? "Pretty much."

Hmmm. No wonder nobody mentioned all this in the debate. They would never get elected if they had.

"So what should I do to prepare for this?" I asked Madam Jane. "Buy my own cow?" M.J. did not find that amusing.

"In order to change the future, you know what to do. Everyone knows what needs to be done. Stop over-consuming. Start recycling on a massive scale. Stop wasting insane amounts of money and fuel on 'war'. Appreciate what you have now, take a photograph of it, remember it fondly and then move on. Get ready to change toward a very different future -- one that is do-able but only if we start NOW. Decide what is more important -- democracy, good health, the ability to read and write and living in a society governed by the rule of law -- or a few more years of material bliss, followed by chaos. Gear down for the long run."

And stock up on powdered milk?

PS: Here's Woody Smith's excellent report on the debate between Hillary and Obama:

As I type this I am watching the Cleveland debate on MSNBC. Following are my running comments:

The first seventeen minutes were consumed by an unusually pointless and contentious exchange regarding health care. Hillary could not be pinned down on how she would enforce her mandates. Obama could not be pinned down on how those who opt out of his plan would be covered. All of this is inevitable because we seem to be compelled to avoid advocating the actual correct solution to our health care woes, which is to expand Medicare to the entire population and expand its coverage to cover all non-elective health procedures and products in their entirety. As long as private insurance remains part of the equation, all proposals will be nonsensical and partial and all debate will be the equivalent of arguing about the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin, as we saw tonight.

Then Tim Russert decided to play gotcha with Hillary on NAFTA. You must understand that Tim Russert is a loyal employee of General Electric, which not only has a HUGE stake in NAFTA and other international trade agreements but has an even greater stake in ensuring that the Republicans retain possession of the White House, and I think that the Republican intelligentsia (such as it is) views Obama as the easier opponent to beat. But it certainly would be best if Hillary could honestly own up to her former support for NAFTA if for no other reason that it is so well documented on the record. She should state the obvious, that it is a very complex issue and its effects were very difficult to foresee, but now she recognizes her support as a mistake. At least she was clear in her intent to alter trade agreements significantly. Obama was more straightforward but he's not married to one of NAFTA's prime movers, so he has a built-in advantage on that subject -- the advantage of having no record to defend.

When the discussion turns to trade agreements, we have a really good line that we ought to stick to. "These trade agreements have only succeeded in exporting American jobs and expertise while importing third-world wages, and the result has been protectionism for multinational corporate profits at the expense of the American worker."

On Iraq (and Afghanistan), I am very disappointed in the increasing equivocation that I perceive in both of our candidates' stand against this tragic and ruinous war. This is a winning issue and we need to be forthright and crystal clear in our opposition.

Now it's the break, and I do like the way Hillary goes back into Tim Russert's face when he asks such loaded questions and gets so argumentative. Maybe to some it makes her appear petulant, but she's pointing out something about the treatment Russert subjects Democrats to routinely and I find it welcome and refreshing.

Both Russert and Brian Williams seem to be attempting to provoke the maximum level of internecine bickering, often, merely to provoke nastiness, harping on negative things each has said about the other during previous campaign appearances. They started right back on this tack after the break, but both candidates deflected it nicely with good humor and mutual kindness, and Obama turned it nicely against the current administration.

(Aside: I always find myself calling Hillary Clinton "Hillary" and Barack Obama "Obama." This is not meant as any disrespect to Hillary via untoward familiarity, and somehow "Clinton" to me means her husband. And I simply don't think "Barack" sounds or looks right standing alone. In other words, don't read anything into it. I am genuinely undecided between the two candidates and will wholeheartedly support whichever one wins our nomination.)

Hillary was right to point out that currently privileged industries and classes -- the "special interests" -- will not willingly forfeit or even compromise their privileges. Happily, Obama agreed. Russert then played gotcha with Obama on campaign financing. Obama should answer straight here and say that when he stated his desire to stick to public financing he had no idea his fundraising would be so successful, and that he is not so stupid as to forgo such an advantage now that it is on his side. He should then go on to advocate exclusive and total public financing of Federal campaigns and make it a plank in his platform. To liken it, as Russert did, to John McCain's acceptance of public financing and then ignoring the limits during the Ohio primary was blatantly unfair. Obama never accepted public financing during this campaign, while McCain is now clearly and unequivocally breaking the law even despite the fact that he doesn't need to, having clinched the Republican nomination already. What does he think he needs the money for?

And then Russert, behaving not like a moderator in a debate but like a prosecutor cross-examining a hostile witness, turned on Hillary about her tax returns. He really should try to learn his place. And then he tried to brand Obama with Louis Farrakhan because Farrakhan endorsed his candidacy. Like somehow Obama can control Farrakhan. What a real slimeball Russert can be! To her great credit, Hillary chimed in to support Obama against the clear implication from Russert against Obama of antisemitism. You want antisemitism, go talk to St. Ralph [Nader]!

....Now Brian Williams is accusing Obama of being a liberal! Great gobs o' goo! Stop the presses! I really wish he was a liberal. And, as icing on the cake, he quoted a rating by the National Journal. To them, Joe McCarthy was a liberal.

Now I am really bored. What on earth does Vladimir Putin's hand-picking his successor have to do with the race for our nomination? Why is Russert harping on this? And why aren't either Hillary or Obama pointing out that the risks of Russian adventurism are much higher when our military is consumed by Iraq and Afghanistan rather than being reserved for needs more closely related to American security and the security of our allies?

When asked what vote he most regretted, I liked Obama's mention of his failure to oppose congressional intervention in that ridiculous Terry Schiavo case. I like someone who can recognize and admit mistakes, because the presidency itself is a brutal learning process.

Brian Williams then took a last stab at provoking a fight, this time frontally, asking each to critique the other. Obama didn't take the bait and fell to platitudes about Hillary's worthiness and his desire to bring us together (as I make the gesture of pushing two fingers in and out of my throat). Hillary, oddly, spoke about her campaign in the past tense. Now, what am I to make of that? Even the tone of her voice was one of resignation. It almost sounded like a concession.

Hmmm. Both of these fine people are so much superior to their opponents that I feel really bad about what is going to happen to whichever one prevails for our nomination. The Republicans will be far more savage even than they were the last time or the time before, because they have to be in order to have any chance to win. If you're dishonest, when you don't have the players, you fall to cheating.