Archive for November, 2008

Change Comes From Us

November 29, 2008

posted by Susan Stark

It will not be a happy holiday for the friends and relatives of Jdimytai Damour, who was trampled to death by shoppers at a Long Island Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

Unfortunately, this is what our culture has come to. People being sacrificed for the latest gadget while others in Haiti and Afghanistan wonder where their next meal will come from.

People bought the slogan of “Change” from Barack Obama, but the word “Change” was also the slogan of a one Bill Clinton back in 1992, and we didn’t get much change from him.

Ultimately, change comes from us, and us alone.

In this post, I’m going to list numerous ways we can change our our lives for the better, starting with our immediate surroundings. I did something similar on this blog soon after Earth Day, and it looks like I need to do it again. But this time, I’m going to add more information.

Let’s start by changing what and how we buy things:

1) Buy things that are USED, rather than new, as much as possible. For instance, the computer that I’m typing these words on is used. So is my TV, my fan, my lamp, my furniture, and many other objects in my room. Most of my clothing is used. To be fair, however, it is not always possible to buy used in all cases, but it’s worth a try.

2) When you have an item (or items) that you longer want or have use for, but can still be used by someone else, don’t throw it away. Sell it or give it to someone.

3) There is a website you can go to buy and sell used items. It’s called

At this site, there is also a “Free” column.

4) There’s another website that’s extremely useful in reducing waste:

At this site, you obtain or get rid of items for free.

5) If you have electronic appliances that are no longer working, you can recycle them:

You can also do a google search on recycling e-waste in your local area.

6) If buying something used doesn’t appeal to you, try to make sure that your consumption is Fair Trade. That is, that your obtained goods are environmentally friendly, with unionized or cooperative labor. I’m a hypocrite when it comes to this, because Fair Trade items are generally more expensive then items made in exploitive conditions. Which is why I go the used-item-route as much as possible. But for those of you who can afford it, there are these websites:

7) In regards to Christmas shopping, everything that I mentioned above applies. Buy used gifts and/or Fair Trade gifts, and wrap them in recyclable paper (the comix section of newspapers makes great gift-wrapping). Buy a plastic Christmas tree (or even better, a used plastic Christmas tree) that you can use year after year. Same with Xmas decorations. And for godsake, don’t trample anyone to death. You don’t need that latest iPod, or whatever gadget Jdimytai Damour had to lose his life over.

8) A brilliant way to cut down on waste and and have fun at the same time is to go to a Really Really Free Market. If there is no such activity in your area, you can start one yourself. This is where you and others bring items that you don’t want anymore to a common space, and then take items out of that collection that one might want or need. It’s basically a big party dedicated to the concept of mutual gift-giving. Buying, selling, or bartering are forbidden at these events. It’s all gift-giving and gift-taking.

9) For the really adventurous, there is Dumpster Diving. Dumpster diving is rescuing what ends up in the garbage. You would be amazed how much other people throw things away. I have personally found many useful items, everything from stereos to bookshelves to bathtowels, in peoples’ trash.

Now we come to the section of Change Comes From Us dedicated to Reducing Energy Consumption And Saving Money On Your Energy Bill:

1) Make it a rule in your household that the last person leaving a room must turn off the lights before leaving.

2) Install night-lights in the hallways of your home so you don’t have to turn on the overhead lights. Night-lights use less energy.

3) Unplug all electrical appliances when they are not being directly used. Appliances use energy even when they aren’t on. The difference will show up on your electric bill, and you’ll be reducing your “carbon footprint”, that is, your oil, gas, and coal consumption.

4) Find out if there are any public transportation facilities (train or bus) where you live, and use them as much as possible. Even if you live out in the country, there is sometimes a county bus system you can use.

5) Start using a bicycle, scooter, or walking to anyplace nearby. You’ll keep in shape and save on gas.

6) If you have a gas-guzzling automobile, go online to see if you can’t get your car modified to use less gas per mile.

7) It is now wintertime, when we use a great deal of energy to heat our homes. Instead of jacking that thermostat up to kingdom come, dress in layers of clothing instead. I regularly dress in two layers of clothing during winter, minimum. I use more if it’s really cold. However, if you have an infant in your household, be careful when taking this advice.

8) When summertime comes around, use a fan instead of an air conditioner. Fans use a fraction of the energy that air conditioners use. Take cool showers instead of hot ones. And if you’re really hot, run your hair under cool water, then wring it out so that it’s merely damp. This should keep you cool for a couple of hours.

One last thing: While it seems a lot of effort to reduce energy consumption, you will, I repeat, will save money.

Now we come to the last section of Change Comes From Us. Presented here are miscellaneous things we can do to change things from the bottom up:

1) Do you by any chance have a lawn? If you do, turn it into a vegetable garden instead. It’s a better use of soil than simply growing grass.

2) Health care. Universal health care is pretty much a pipe dream here in the United States. No politician will touch it for fear of incurring the wrath of the health-industrial-complex (HMOs, drug companies, etc.). But you can get together with like-minded individuals and start or join what is called a Health Care Collective. That is, seeing what you can do to start a free clinic in your community, or finding health care professionals willing to provide free, reduced, or sliding-scale health care, or starting a community health insurance program. Here are some examples of this:

3) Free schooling. You can get together with like-minded individuals in your community and set up a Free School, which Wikipedia defines thusly: A free school, sometimes intentionally spelled free skool, is a decentralized network in which skills, information, and knowledge are shared without hierarchy or the institutional environment of formal schooling. The open structure of a free school is intended to encourage self-reliance, critical consciousness, and personal development.

4) See if you can set up a time-barter system in your community:

I don’t want this post to be too long, so I’ll stop here. Cut and paste this post and pass it on. It’s better than getting trampled to death.

Susan Stark

Cartoon for November 29, 2008

November 29, 2008

It’s only a matter of time before start reverse-faking their resumes.

Cartoon for November 27, 2008

November 27, 2008

Hillary Clinton, architect of the Iraq War, is Obama’s secretary of state. Obama says “America doesn’t torture. It was only a matter of time before Obama let us down, but this is unprecedented. And not even one liberal in the cabinet. And Larry Summers! And…

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: What’s with the Somali Pirates?

November 25, 2008

Strange Inaction in the Indian Ocean

I’m the loudmouth pundit. I’m supposed to have the answers, or at least pretend to. This week, however, I’m baffled. Confused, even. So I’m turning the tables to ask you, dear reader: Why aren’t we bombing the crap out of Somalia’s pirates?

I don’t get it. You can’t build a house in Waziristan or throw a wedding in Afghanistan without drawing a blizzard of Hellfire missiles. We bomb aspirin factories, hospitals and schools. We employ bad-ass Special Forces types and psycho mercenaries who set up freelance torture operations and supervise mass executions. We Americans have our faults, but wimpy pacifism isn’t one of them. So what’s with these pirates?

In June 2007, a French warship witnessed the Danica White, a Danish merchant vessel carrying a crew of just five men, being hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The French, reported the Navy Times, “could not cross into Somali territorial waters to offer help.” Which is confusing, what with Somalia being a failed state without a viable central government and all. Who was going to stop them—the Somali coast guard?

Somalia’s territorial waters? Sacrosanct! Invade Iraq, invade Afghanistan, try to overthrow the president of Venezuela, send CIA agents into the Iranian desert to case their nuke plants, blast cars on highways in Yemen, no problem. But for God’s sake, leave Somalia alone! National sovereignty matters!

An American dock landing ship was also on the scene of the Danica White shipjacking. “The USS Carter Hall fired flares and several shots across the bow as well as several disabling shots at the three skiffs in tow,” said a navy spokesman. Across the bow? Why didn’t they blow them to smithereens? “But the hijacked Danica White made it into Somali waters and the Carter Hall had to back off and watch,” reported Navy Times. “We’re observing them at this point,” said the navy spokesman afterward. “It’s ongoing.”

There’s a lot of observing going on off Somalia. At this writing, at least 14 ships and 250 crewmembers are being held “a few miles off a 230-mile stretch of Somali coastline between Xarardheere and the town of Eyl,” reports The New York Times. These include the Sirius Star, a thousand-feet-long Saudi oil tanker, and a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying enough Soviet tanks, anti-aircraft guns and other weaponry to get you a start as a respectable warlord. An international flotilla, including American navy ships, are watching the situation—and doing jack.

We know why George W. Bush never tried to catch Osama bin Laden; he must have been worried he’d be captured alive and talk about his relationship with the CIA. But what do the Somali pirates have on Bush, the president of Ukraine, and the king of Saudi Arabia? What explains their reluctance to rain hot death on these privateers? Do the pirates plant hot Somali babes to seduce heads of state?

While we’re asking questions, why don’t ships that ply the pirate-infested waters south of the Gulf of Aden take security precautions? “For insurance and safety reasons, most crews on commercial ships do not carry weapons,” says the Times. Weird. You’d think the Ukrainians might have at least been able to break into their own cargo to shoot back.

So far the most delicious coverage of this uncharacteristic display of military restraint has been a Times article bearing the headline “U.S. Urges Merchant Ships to Try Steps to Foil Pirates.” The U.S. Navy, it said, was encouraging ships that travel near Somalia to employ “measures that did not involve the use of force” to avoid getting taken over. “The techniques,” said the paper, “include complicated rudder movements and speed adjustments that make it hard for pirate speedboats to pull alongside, as well as simple steps like pulling up ladders that some ships leave dangling for an entire voyage.”

Complicated rudder movements. Ladders that hang off the side of the ship. Duh.

It’s like seeing someone walking around with money falling out of their pockets. Maybe they want the pirates to come aboard. I’m no pirate, but even I would be tempted to take over a ship with a skeleton crew, unarmed “for insurance and safety reasons,” dangling its ladders. Such teases!

I understand why the Somalis do it. Piracy is big business in Somalia. In fact, it’s the only good business. Kenya’s foreign minister says Somali pirates have collected $150 million in ransoms so far this year. “All you need is three guys and a little boat, and the next day you’re millionaires,” Abdullahi Omar Qawden, an ex-captain in Somalia’s navy told the Times. What I don’t understand is why we, and so many other countries, put up with it.

In the old days, seizing a ship marked by a national flag was an insult and act of war. In 1803 pirates of the Barbary States, city-states along the north coast of Africa in the Mediterranean that were nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, captured the U.S.S. Philadelphia and held its crew hostage. President Thomas Jefferson asked Congress for and received authorization to dispatch sailors and marines to the port of Tripoli, where the ship was being held. To deny its use to the Tripolitans U.S. forces burned it and captured the city. It was America’s first foreign military operation.

We’re killing Afghan brides. We’re paying off Somali pirates. What has happened to us?


Cartoon for November 24, 2008

November 24, 2008

Everyone’s getting a bailout. Just not people who need them.

Cartoon for November 22, 2008

November 22, 2008

Now that they’ve been defeated, the same Republicans who called liberals anti-American traitors are talking about the benefits of bipartisanship.

Cartoon for November 20, 2008

November 20, 2008

At Obama’s insistence, Joe Lieberman gets to keep his chairmanship of the homeland security committee. Is there nothing one can do to have to pay a price for defaming Democrats?

Speaking of questions, I’ve been looking at the lists of people being considered for top spots in the incoming Obama Administration. Not…one…leftie. (Like Robert Reich.) Not one.

I expected change to be something I couldn’t believe in, but I thought they’d cover it up a little better.

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Republicans, Not Conservatives, Are In Trouble

November 17, 2008

Some readers will be surprised by the tenor and tone of this week’s column, which offers friendly advice to conservatives depressed by the election results. No matter. I’ve always been a contrarian. When I hear conventional wisdom, especially the kind that declares an ideological movement dead after one election, I’m skeptical. Besides, some of my best friends are conservative. (Don’t get me started on neoconservatives, though.)

A Philosophy Without a Party

* Conservatives betrayed by GOP
* Traditional conservatism still popular
* Rigid laissez faire dogma rejected by voters

Conservatives think the election results prove that conservatism is in trouble. Actually, conservatism is fine. It’s the Republican Party that’s in trouble.

To be sure, the GOP got killed in Congress. But the presidential results aren’t nearly as alarming. The difference between Bush’s “big win” in 2004 (51 percent of the popular vote) and McCain’s “stunning defeat” in 2008 (46 percent) was that 2.5 percent of the electorate changed their minds. Besides, it remains to be seen, says Montclair State University political science and law professor Brigid Harrison, whether the “high level of young voters, African-Americans, highly educated white voters and a disproportionate amount of women forming a new kind of coalition” will come together in future elections to support Democratic candidates more typical than Obama.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s posit that Obama represents a dramatic political realignment and repudiation of the Republican Party. Certainly, Republicans do face massive demographic challenges, mainly as an influx of Latino immigration and naturalization turns places like Arizona, Colorado and California’s Orange County from red to blue. The GOP may well have to get used to losing. But that doesn’t mean conservatives do.

In the United States, conservatism is a philosophy without a party. Take Ronald Reagan, considered the patron saint of late 20th century conservatism. Coupled with extravagant military spending, Reagan’s tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations increased the national debt from $700 billion to $3 trillion, transforming the U.S. into the world’s biggest debtor nation. Under Reagan, William Voegeli wrote in The Los Angeles Times in 2007, “government did nothing but expand. In 1981, the federal government spent $678 billion; in 1989 it spent $1.144 trillion. Factoring out inflation, that was an increase of 19% in real spending. Republicans never expected that Reagan would leave office with a ‘federal establishment’ one-fifth larger than when he arrived.”

George W. Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative,” but conservatism was as absent from his governance as compassion. He has increased the federal deficit from $3.3 to $5.9 trillion. Add in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—estimated at $2.4 trillion as of 2007—and he will have put the country a staggering $5 trillion deeper into the hole. He hired 180,000 federal employees for a new cabinet-level department, Homeland Security, all to make you take off your shoes at the airport.

Conservative? Not these guys.

For the sake of my long-suffering conservative friends as well as the country, it’s time to unravel the conflation of conservatism and the Republican Party.

Why do I care? Simple: America needs conservatives—real conservatives. Deficit hawks, America Firsters and get-that-dang-guvmint-outta-my-bizness types are essential watchdogs of fiscal responsibility and personal freedom. Moreover, ideological diversity sparks intellectual innovation.

Traditional conservatism—to state the obvious, is there truly any other kind?—is, despite its flaws, an philosophy attractive to those who value the ideal of rugged individualism. Most recently articulated by Barry Goldwater after he retired from the Senate, conservatism is centered around small government, particularly on the federal level; its size, scope, and powers are kept to a minimum in order to reduce infringement upon personal liberty, keep taxes low, and thus encourage investment and free enterprise. Fiscal responsibility is the order of the day. Budgets must be balanced. Deficits are anathema.

Conservatives believe that free markets create opportunities for hard-working people to succeed. They won’t help you get ahead, but they’ll keep nosy bureaucrats out of your hair while you’re figuring out how to do it on your own. It’s a bit Darwinian, but consider the advantages: you’re free to do whatever you want in your personal life. As Goldwater said when asked about gays in the military: “You don’t need to be straight to fight and die for your country, you just need to shoot straight.”

If Bush had been a conservative, he wouldn’t have cut taxes without reducing spending. He would have been an isolationist. As Pat Buchanan says, America Firsters don’t rush off to invade countries like Afghanistan and Iraq that pose no threat to the United States. Bush certainly wouldn’t have authorized NSA’s domestic spying program, gotten rid of habeas corpus, or infringed states rights by taking control of the National Guard away from state governors.

Conservatism is far more appealing to the average American than the bastardized form that has driven Republican policy for more than half a century. In 2008 voters rejected neoconservatism, an arrogant brand of “exceptionalism” dedicated to preemptive warfare, defending Israel, and empire building at the expense of all else.

Republicans use pretzel logic to market themselves to conservatives. In 1988, Allan Ryskind, editor of Human Events, told The New York Times that Reagan had deliberately increased the deficit in order to starve future Democratic administrations of money. “It has certainly put a lid on the welfare state,” he said. “The Democrats have sort of trapped themselves because they’ve said this is all terrible and horrible and that closing the deficit should be the first priority. The fact that they’ve said the deficit is such a problem,” he added, “prevents them from proposing new spending programs.”

Of course, it would also prevent Republicans—who remained in power until 1993—from cutting taxes, a principal tenet of conservatism.

Bill Clinton disappointed the Democrats’ liberal base, rewarding their support by pushing through welfare reform, NAFTA and the WTO. But if liberals feel used by the Democrats, conservatives have been raped by the Republicans.

This isn’t to say that traditional conservatives don’t need to change, in several areas. One is their intellectual separation of government spending into two categories: non-military and military, the latter of which is untouchable. Spending is spending, whether it’s on welfare queens or Halliburton. Another area is laissez faire, one of the few places where conservatism intersects with Republicanism.

When times are good, most Americans favor a small government that stays out of their lives and leaves them be. When a hurricane strikes, however, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps dogma goes out the window. Similarly, government should run in the black during an economic boom. When people start losing their homes, however, they look to their government for help. Conservatives should think of themselves as firefighters. Most of the time, you never see them. Firefighters don’t break down your door with an ax unless there’s a fire. But you’re damned happy to see them when there is.

As much as Americans hate paying taxes, they hate do-nothing government more. (Besides, they’ve been burned so often on tax-cut promises that they no longer believe them.) One of the lessons of 2008 was that voters aren’t happy to let the marketplace work its magic if the world is falling apart.

A political party that stays out of people’s business while being nimble enough to jump into the fray during emergencies might just stand a chance. So might a conservative movement that refuses to vote for a party that repeatedly betrays them.


Cartoon for November 17, 2008

November 17, 2008

For the mainstream media, the center feels so…right.

Cartoon for November 15, 2008

November 15, 2008

A new president takes over. Will he prepared for the looming threat of attack?