Sunday, December 26, 2004

Part of the Solution?

Gladin: Facing a low point in American history
by:Susan Gladin

Disappointment comes in different forms, and this week it was that my truck wouldn't start for the very first time. It was about time for the 5-year-old battery to give out, but the slow grind of the engine symbolized the end of an era. This truck is no longer new.
When the big truck was purring again, I made the mistake of turning on WUNC while I drove to town. Every click of the tuner brought more disappointments, and these of grave proportions. I learned that our earth will warm more in the next century than it has in the past 10,000 years, and that the ocean level at our state's shores will rise by a whopping 18 inches, flooding most of the areas we refer to as "the beach."
Then the voices of Dan Eagan of the Washington Post and Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union told of newly released FBI reports of prisoner abuses at Guantanamo where detainees were tied to the ground in the fetal position for 24 hours. On orders that originated in high places, prisoners were given no water or food and had to defecate and urinate on themselves. Some of those detainees have since been found to be innocent. I don't know why the American people have not taken to the streets to shout to the world, "THESE ARE NOT OUR VALUES!" Instead, our government tells us to be patriotic and go shopping.
I did go shopping -- for groceries -- and my disgust continued as I perused the shelves and bins full of poisons disguised as foods. Pick up any box, bottle or can, read the label, and there among the names of preservatives you can't pronounce, you'll find "high fructose corn syrup." This is a cheap sweetener that is highly suspected in the obesity epidemic in our country. We're the only nation in which the poor people are fat. But if someone tries to diet, they're faced with aspartame, an artificial sweetener suspected in a host of neurological problems.
I heard that peanuts are one of the most heavily pesticide-contaminated foods. But peanuts are darned good for us. Fish is good for us, too, but the radio says we can't eat much tuna or salmon for fear of mercury toxicity. A lot of the fish we used to eat, like cod, are now gone from our shores because we've taken and taken without letting the breeding grounds replenish.
Taking and taking seems to be the core American value. Have you seen those little Christmas books that people fill out called, "What I Want?" What a way to celebrate the birth of the One who called us to turn away from wealth and greed. Some have tried to turn religion into a consumer product. They say we can feast like vampires on the blood of Christ, and all we have to do is believe. "Take," their Jesus says, and never mentions the poor or the meek.
Driving home, the radio brought Howard Davidivowitz, an investment banker who told that the economy is "gonna get worse." We're running on fumes, he warned, because both the consumers and the government have borrowed (taken) beyond their capacity to repay. "[Do] you understand that our economy is operational only because the Japanese and Chinese are buying our bonds?" he asked. I hadn't understood it was that bad.
Later I listened to a story about a new danger from pharmaceuticals -- this caused by failures at the National Institutes of Health, where scientists are allowed to take consulting fees from the manufacturers of the drugs they are studying. Science and advertising got confused by Dr. H. Brian Brewer, and a potentially dangerous drug (Crestor) made it to the market with high acclamations and few warnings.
And then came the news that the 22 soldiers who were killed in the mess hall blast in Mosul did not have the most rudimentary security measures protecting them while they dined there in Iraq. The yearly increase in our military budget is greater than any other nation's entire military budget ... yet we didn't provide the most basic security for our soldiers.
So you can see that the faltering truck is the least of my disappointments. I am not going into 2005 with a fist full of naïve resolutions, nor with a heart full of optimism. No, I think 2005 will be a low point in American history, and the downward spiral will continue until enough citizens muster the gumption to do something.
I was merely disappointed by my truck but am devastated by the greed that has raped our environment, threatened our health, bankrupted our economy, abused our prisoners, poisoned our food, and failed to protect the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend us.
But mostly I am disappointed in myself. Over the past few years I have tried to do the things that could make a difference in some of these issues. But in the end I lost heart, gave up and went shopping.


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