Recent Local Blog Posts

An open letter to Jon Tunheim

Works in Progress - Sun, 10/11/2015 - 8:51pm

Congratulations on the Ryan Donald decision

Dear Mr. Tunheim,

I was pleased today to see that the prosecutor’s office had finally come to a decision on the May 21 shooting of Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson. It’s about time that we get some results from that investigation. I noted with more than a little irony that while the two young men were the ones who had to go to the hospital with gunshot wounds and the officer had none, they were the ones who had the assault charge levied against them.

Your determination that the officer in question, Ryan Donald, acted “in good faith” make me seriously question your definition of “faith.” I understand the officer was responding to a report of stolen goods, as well as assault, and that the officer “feared for his life” at the brandishing of a skateboard. He felt so threatened that he felt shooting blindly at the victims (and they are victims, regardless of whether they were also in the wrong) was the fastest way to end the conflict.

I do not have a problem with our police officers being equipped to engage in street-battles if necessary, and having access to high-powered weapons and ammo, as well as tactical gear and bullet-proof vests would probably save a lot of people’s lives in the case of a zombie outbreak or a Trump rally. However, this is 2015. Non-lethal means are available. Bean-bag guns, tazers, net-guns, tranquilizers, and other means are available. Given the burden on the taxpayer to already pay for and support the police through various taxes, it makes much more sense to exhaust non-lethal means to end an altercation first, rather than to create an additional burden on the taxpayer by filling up emergency rooms and hospitals with bullet-riddled suspects. Had the officer better training or been more skilled at hand-to-hand combat, perhaps he would not be afraid of a skateboard, or perhaps he would have been more confident in his ability to be able to disarm the young men and take away their perceived “weapon”.

Or perhaps, the problem lies in the readily available lethal means the officers carry on their hips which seem to be more of a go-to in a stressful situation than the ability to think rationally. It’s no secret that the police force turns away the more intelligent applicants, those who might hesitate to use force in a situation like the one that occurred on that fateful day. I understand the reasoning behind this, to a degree. However, in light of the decision of the Prosecutor’s Office today, I would like to say that questions still remain.

Questions like: How is it that we are hiring police officers who are unable to deal with 21 and 24-year olds? These young men weren’t MMA fighters. The Officer claims that Chaplin was holding him while Thompson rushed him with a skateboard. Then he shot Chaplin, the man who was holding him. He didn’t shoot Thompson, the man he claimed was actually brandishing a skateboard at him. He shot the unarmed man that was holding him, which caused the pair to run away. His story is that after they ran away from bullets, they came back. It was only at that point he shot the man with the perceived weapon, the only possible moment that would have been justified in the entire altercation for use of deadly force. After that, he shot at the unarmed 21-year old again. Three rounds of shots fired, two of them at an unarmed man when non-lethal force could have been used.

The shooting was not justified. The officer had his reasons, but that’s not the same thing as being justified. The reasoning was poor. They weren’t good reasons. If scared little police officers are going to pull their gun whenever they feel like their lives might be in danger, then we need to remove the guns from our police officers. I think as a culture, we’re all a lot more on board with hundreds of people getting pepper-sprayed, bean-bagged, or tazed than we are with another single unarmed suspect having metal literally forced through their organs. Because as citizens of the United States, we do have second amendment right to bear arms.

Because this system of police brutality, and the justification of their violent actions is reaching a point that’s really starting to scare people. And, as you well know, scared people with guns tend to shoot other people a hell of a lot more often than not.

Benjamin Ortlip is a local stand-up comedian, Evergreen State College Alumni, and US Air Force Veteran. He has lived and taken part in the Olympia community for over five years. He is currently employed.


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Any pope in a storm

Works in Progress - Sun, 10/11/2015 - 8:48pm

Does Francis offer a safe harbor?

The last time I read an encyclical I was a teenager attending St. Edward’s Seminary in Kenmore, Washington. The encyclical was called Rerum Novarum, written by Pope Leo the XIII in 1891.

The priests told us about Leo since we were going to be priests in parishes made up of the Catholic working class. Leo said workers should get to have unions, but need to give up any ideas of class conflict or socialism. He wanted to reduce poverty and maintain class harmony. I was never sure about that.

I left the seminary after four years, returned to my Irish-Catholic family, completed my degree at Seattle University, thanks to wages I obtained due to one of those unions, and left for two years to live in a Turkish village.

When I came back to the US in 1967, Archbishops from New York to Seattle were blessing Catholic soldiers being sent overseas to kill Vietnamese. I never went to Mass again, declined their Induction Order and didn’t read any more encyclicals, that is, until now.

I’m not too sure why I read it. This summer Eastern Washington, a place I love, burned. A spiritual place I grew up with, Mt. Rainier, exposed its ribs. I was starting to get pissed off. Maybe like most people, I’m looking for any signs of leadership faced with Capital’s drive to extinguish the Earth.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Romano Guardini

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, focused his doctoral studies on the work of a philosopher and theologian, Romano Guardini. Pope Francis cites Guardini’s book, The End of the Modern World, in his encyclical. I picked his book up and read it. Here’s something that Guardini wrote in his closing chapter:

“Before all else, then, man’s depth must be reawakened. His life must again include times, his day moments of silence in which he collects himself, spreads out before his heart the problems which have stirred him during the day. In a word, man must learn again to meditate and to pray. How, we cannot say.”

He continues, “But in any case, he must step aside from the general hustle and bustle; must become tranquil and really “there,” opening his mind and heart wide to some word of piety or wisdom or ethical honor…”

On care for our common home

I thought I’d give this a try with Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home.

Francis lists all the problems we’re experiencing in his opening chapter: pollution, waste, warming, water depletion, loss of biodiversity, privatization, migration, global inequality, speed up and poverty caused by an irrational confidence in “progress and human abilities,” a “throwaway culture,” current models of production and consumption, the lack of a leadership and culture capable of responding, global summits that produce “superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern” and an omnipresent digital world that “can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.”

Francis concludes there are signs of a breaking point and that “our common home is falling into serious disrepair.”


One of the things Francis wants to repair is the idea of Dominion. The idea that God’s grant of dominion to man “has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature” is not a correct interpretation, he says. The biblical reference to “tilling” implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between humans and nature. He concludes that the Bible has no place for “tyrannical anthropocentrism.”

He also wants to assure us that while the Judaeo-Christian tradition demythologized nature and denied its divinity, this tradition still emphasizes human responsibility for nature. Given this he says, “we can leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress” and realize there are serious consequences for society “when nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain.”

I’m glad he made this argument. He’s the theological Naomi Klein and that’s fine. However, his analysis of the cause of the “ecological crisis” is what got my attention; and, in this, he owes a debt to his intellectual mentor Romano Guardini.

Technical prowess and power

Pope Francis focuses on our “technical prowess” that has given a very few people more power over humanity than ever before. This “one dimensional paradigm” lays its hands on things “attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us.”

He then relies on Romano to show the intent of this paradigm. “.’.. it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race’” but “‘ in the most radical sense of the term, power is its motive…’”.

In his book, Romano focuses on the new dangers that “arises from the factor of power;” the power that the modern world mobilized to conquer nature which now with its logic and force is ending that modern world. Those dangers include the danger of violent destruction by “people who set their hopes on war” and on greater power bringing “the temptation to take the short cut of force.” Yet, neither the Pope nor Romano see power itself as the problem. The question is, says Romano, “is man still a match for his our works?”

Decisive action and dialogues

The Pope’s encyclical shifts into his elements of “Integral Ecology,” followed by his suggestions for “Lines of Approach and Action.” Integral Ecology argues we face one complex crisis “which is both social and environmental.” This requires a culture that is “a living, dynamic and participatory present reality,” that can focus on the daily relationship between living spaces and human behavior and invoke the “principle of common good” so that it acts as a call “to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.”

The Pope’s integral ecology also emphasizes intergenerational solidarity. “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to the coming generation debris, desolation and filth.” He continues, “The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by decisive action, here and now.”

The decisive action the Pope calls for is a series of “dialogues.” Dialogues with the international community to pay for the costs of transition from fossil fuels. Dialogues on politics so that citizens control political power, otherwise it will not be possible to control damage to the environment. Dialogues on transparency so that decision making is “free of all economic and political pressure” and the precautionary principle can be used to protect the most vulnerable with a limited ability to assemble incontrovertible evidence.

Redefining progress and redirecting power

The Pope also calls for a re-definition of our notion of progress. The financial crisis of 2007-2008 provided such an opportunity, but it didn’t happen. “It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster.”

Finally, the Pope says the majority of the planet profess to be believers. “This should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor and building networks of respect and fraternity.” He concludes by saying we need to keep in mind that ‘realities are greater than ideas.’

One of those realities, however, is the question of power and whether humans, in a new relationship with nature, can curb it or shape it toward a new notion of progress that recognizes limitations as well as the poor. Power, says Romano, is “the ability to move reality” and the challenge is for man “to employ power without forfeiting his humanity.”

Romano doesn’t think contemporary man can do it, but sees a new “human structure” where man will not have power over nature, but over his own power and the Pope seems to agree. The Pope says we human beings are above all the ones that have to change. We must gain an “awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and a future to be shared with everyone.” It’s the basic questions of an organizer… who are we, where are we and what’s our vision.

The power of 1.2 billion Catholics

I don’t know if those questions are a “safe harbor”, but let’s say Pope Francis can get the 1.2 billion Catholics, half of the Christian world, to exercise their power and “move reality” to confront “the very few” who are responsible for the social and environment crisis he has outlined. That would be something to see.

But, as one of my old friends, another Irish-Catholic said, “ I understand that he is a spiritual leader, but for me to have even a sense of engagement the Papa and all the rest of the hierarchy need to get rid of the robes, slippers, pope mobiles and all other accoutrements of wealth and privilege and ‘take to the streets.’ Less preaching, more doing.”

Dan Leahy is a resident of Olympia’s Westside.



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Identity politics and the Republican candidates

Works in Progress - Sun, 10/11/2015 - 8:42pm

Recognition in America

As do all good conservative and reactionary parties, the Republican Party always arrives a few years too late for the departure of the train of transformative ideas. Perhaps because of this axiomatic intellectual postponement so characteristic of the party, or to be more precise, because of the class interests the party represents, the Republicans’ current version of electoral identity politics reflects the duplicity of their political organization, but also constitutes an invitation to reflect on the complex issues of race and class in America today.

The new Republican public face

In general, each major political party in the U.S. has the membership it deserves, and every four years we witness the introduction of their best new debutants to the electoral market of the presidency (granted, a few of these candidates such as Donald Trump have been dress rehearsing for more than one cycle). The official public appearances of the newest ‘face of the party’ came via the last televised debates, which appear to be organized as the contemporary digital emulation of a prehistoric ominous circus. There are of course different ways to look at and interpret this event. The most common is to scrutinize the contradictions present in the political and rhetorical performances of the candidates. Nothing wrong with that, just the opposite: if contradictions and inconsistences have a harvesting season, it surely occurs within the fertile grounds of the Republican Party debates, and is certainly worth noticing and reporting on. But as important as scrutinizing contradictory claims is noticing the new ‘optics” offered by the Republican Party to American viewers.

At first glance it appears that we are looking at a party that has successfully solved most of the issues of identity politics and representation, turning itself into a true multicultural entity. This is what we saw on television: besides the traditional ‘white male elements’, we find a black contender in the figure of respected neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a female gender representative in Carly Fiorina, and two second generation Latino candidates in Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. The semiotic symbolism of this new ensemble seems to suggest that the Republican Party represents most Americans. The look of the new ensemble has been carefully crafted to help whites (a group who never has experienced a representational deficit), as well as women, blacks, and Hispanics feel comfortable voting Republican, because they are “represented” in the candidate team. The circus of the debate represents politics at its worst, implying that the national electoral process must be based or motivated on the visuals of group identity rather than an analysis of the issues.

How does the American memory work?

Borges, the great Argentinian fabulist, once wrote the story of “Funes the Memorious”, a young character who is crippled as a result of a horseback riding misfortune, but simultaneously develops an infinite capacity for remembering everything in excruciating detail while remaining incapable of grasping abstract ideas. The advocates of identity politics (on both the right and the left) seem to conveniently forget two fairly recent events that help elucidate a significant challenge to current renditions of identity politics: the 2008 presidential election of a black man, as well as his re-election in 2012, have had very little impact on improving the quality of life of African American people. On the contrary, their collective condition (as well as that of the 99 percent of people in the country) has deteriorated and the inequality gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. The emergence of the “Black Lives Matter!” movement during a black presidency constitutes a caustic reminder about the limitation of identity politics within a capitalist state.

After years of long and painful struggle, the just and undeniable rights of LGBTQ people finally seem to have gained recognition, as demonstrated by the ruling on June 26, 2015 by the US Court that guarantees the right of same sex couples to marry in all 50 states of the union. As important, and immediately necessary as this ruling is, it nevertheless occupies a space in society that neither challenges nor alters the economic and social conditions of inequality in America. Yes, now a black person can be elected president, and yes, gay people can get married, but the dispossessed 99 percent continue to be dispossessed. If we overemphasize identity politics and forget class politics, we will overlook the real political problems and material conditions of the country in which we all live. We need social changes able to affect both the deep economic structures of society as well as its cultural practices and institutions; otherwise, we will end up in a situation similar to that of the Borges’ character, able to remember everything (formally recognize every identity group) but able to understand nothing (how society really works).

The latest float in the parade

If history is an indicator, and empirical evidence has any value, it does not seem an exaggeration to state that the Republican Party (followed closely by the Democrats) have been directly responsible for designing, constructing and operating the social injustice model present in the American system. Issues related to class disparity and misrepresentations of identity politics have permeated both sides of the tragic-boring dichotomy of American politics. Most of the reforms seeking to challenge this situation have emerged from grassroots organizations frequently located outside either political party. To be clear, the key issue is not that historically, women, blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, or LGBTQ people lacked recognition. The critical thing is that in the process of gaining recognition, each group has been identified, known, accepted, cynically cherished, and acknowledged as an integral part of the American capitalist system, which in turn is, and has always been, mostly interested in their economic or cultural exploitation. What have never been completely recognized, for any group that has struggled for recognition in the U.S., are their humanity, their rights, and the economic injustice of their situation, nor have those responsible for such conditions been identified.

If we look at society from a combination of class, political, and cultural perspectives, we should not be surprised to find that among the new representatives floating in the latest parade of Republican identity politics, the black candidate (Carson) opposes the rights of Muslins to be elected, a move that amounts to advocacy for a theocratic state (Judeo-Christian), or that the two Latinos oppose amnesty and citizenship rights for the sons and daughters of immigrant workers, or that the woman on the team (Fiorina), sabotages the right of other women to have control over their own bodies. Most importantly, none of them ever questioned the structural roots of inequality in America localized in a faulty economic model. If there is a group identity that all the eleven republican debutants share, it is not determined by race or ethnicity, but by being the latest sycophants of big capital. If we do not act to change this absurd reality, in four years we will see the parade again filled with floats carrying new but similar debutants into the electoral market.

Enrique Quintero, a political activist in Latin America during the 70’s, taught ESL and Second Language Acquisition in the Anchorage School District, and Spanish at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He currently lives and writes in Olympia.






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Identificación en Estados Unidos

Works in Progress - Sun, 10/11/2015 - 8:39pm

La política de identidad y de los candidatos Republicanos

Como sucede con todos los buenos partidos conservadores y reaccionarios, el Partido Republicano siempre llega años después de la partida del tren de ideas transformadoras. Tal vez debido a este atraso intelectual axiomático tan característico de dicho partido, o para ser más precisos, debido a los intereses de clase que el partido representa, la versión actual de las políticas de identidad electoral de los republicanos refleja la duplicidad de su organización política, pero también constituye una invitación para reflexionar sobre las complejas cuestiones sobre raza y clase en los Estados Unidos de hoy.

La Nueva Cara Pública Republicana

En general, los dos partidos mayoritarios en los EE.UU. tienen el tipo de miembros que se merecen, y cada cuatro años somos testigos de la introducción de sus mejores nuevos debutantes en el mercado electoral por la presidencia (de acuerdo, algunos de estos candidatos como Donald Trump, han ensayado este ritual más de una ocasión). Las apariciones públicas oficiales de ‘la nueva cara del partido’ llegaron al público a través de los últimos debates televisados, los cuales parecen estar organizados como la emulación digital contemporánea de un circo prehistórico siniestro. Por supuesto hay diferentes maneras de ver e interpretar este evento, el más común es escudriñar las contradicciones presentes en las actuaciones políticas y retóricas de los candidatos. No hay nada malo con eso, todo lo contrario: si contradicciones e inconsistencias tienen una temporada de cosecha, esta sin duda tiene lugar dentro del fértil terreno de los debates del Partido Republicano y vale la pena reportar su contenido. Pero tan importante como el escrutinio de las afirmaciones contradictorias de sus candidatos es el analizar la nueva “óptica” ofrecida por el Partido Republicano a los espectadores estadounidenses.

A primera vista parecería que estamos ante un partido que ha resuelto con éxito la mayor parte de los temas de la política de identidad y representación, habiéndose convertido en una entidad genuinamente multicultural. Esto es lo que vimos en la televisión: además de los tradicionales “elementos masculinos blancos”, encontramos un contendiente negro en la figura del respetado neurocirujano Ben Carson, un representante del género femenino en Carly Fiorina, y dos candidatos latinos de segunda generación en Marco Rubio, y Ted Cruz. El simbolismo semiótico-político de este nuevo conjunto parece sugerir que el Partido Republicano representa la mayoría de los estadounidenses. El aspecto de este nuevo conjunto ha sido cuidadosamente diseñado para ayudar a los blancos (un grupo que nunca ha experimentado un déficit de representación), así como las mujeres, los negros y los hispanos, a que se sientan cómodos votando por el partido, porque están “representados” por uno de los candidatos del equipo electoral. El circo del debate representa la política de identidad en su peor momento, porque implica que el proceso electoral nacional debe basarse o ser motivado, por los efectos visuales de la identidad de grupo en lugar de un análisis de los problemas esenciales.

¿Cómo funciona la memoria de América?

Borges, el gran fabulista argentino, escribió una vez la historia de “Funes el memorioso”, un personaje joven que está paralizado como consecuencia de un desafortunado paseo a caballo, debido al cual desarrolla al mismo tiempo una capacidad infinita y atroz para recordar todo detalle, pero es incapaz de captar ideas abstractas. Muchos de los defensores de la política de la identidad (tanto en la derecha como de la izquierda) parecen olvidar convenientemente dos hechos bastante recientes que constituyen un reto importante, pero al mismo tiempo ayudan a dilucidar las actuales políticas entorno a la identidad: la elección presidencial en el 2008 de un hombre negro, así como su re- elección en el 2012, han tenido muy poco impacto en la mejora de la calidad de vida de las personas afroamericanas. Por el contrario, su condición colectiva (así como la del 99 por ciento de las personas en el país) se ha deteriorado y la brecha de la desigualdad entre ricos y pobres sigue creciendo. La aparición del movimiento “Black Lives Matter!” mientras un presidente negro dirige el gobierno, constituye un recordatorio cáustico sobre la limitaciones de la política de la identidad dentro de un estado capitalista.

Después de años de larga y dolorosa lucha, los justos e innegables derechos de personas LGBTQ, finalmente parecen que han ganado el reconocimiento que se merecen como lo demuestra la sentencia el 26 de junio 2015 la Corte de Estados Unidos, que garantiza el derecho de las parejas del mismo sexo a contraer matrimonio en los 50 estados de la unión. Tan importante, necesaria e inmediata como es esta decisión, sin embargo ocupa un espacio en la sociedad que no desafía ni altera las condiciones estructurales económicas y sociales de desigualdad en América. De acuerdo, ahora un ciudadano (a) negro(a) puede ser elegido(a) presidente. De acuerdo, ahora si la gente gay puede casarse y es positivo, pero por otro lado el 99 por ciento de desposeídos siguen siendo desposeídos. Si enfatizamos la política de identidad y nos olvidamos de la política de clase, vamos a pasar por alto los problemas políticos reales y las condiciones materiales del país en el que todos vivimos. Necesitamos cambios sociales que puedan afectar tanto las profundas estructuras económicas de la sociedad, así como sus prácticas e instituciones culturales; de lo contrario, vamos a terminar en una situación similar a la del personaje de Borges, capaz de recordar todo (reconocer formalmente a cada grupo de identidad), pero incapaces de entender nada (cómo funciona realmente la sociedad).

El ultimo Carro Alegórico del Desfile

Si la historia es un indicador, y la evidencia empírica tiene valor, no parece exagerado afirmar que el Partido Republicano (seguido de cerca por los demócratas) han sido directamente responsables del diseño, construcción y operación del modelo de injusticia social vigente en el sistema Americano. Las cuestiones relacionadas con la disparidad de clase y las tergiversaciones de las políticas de identidad han impregnado ambos lados de la trágica y aburrida dicotomía del sistema partidario estadounidense. La mayor parte de las reformas que buscan desafiar esta situación han surgido de las organizaciones de base ubicadas con frecuencia fuera de estos partidos. Para que quede claro, la cuestión clave no es que históricamente, las mujeres, los negros, los latinos, nativos americanos, o personas LGBTQ carecían de reconocimiento. Lo fundamental es que en el proceso de obtener dicho reconocimiento, cada grupo ha sido identificado, conocido, aceptado, cínicamente apreciado y reconocido, como parte integrante del sistema capitalista estadounidense, que a su vez es siempre ha estado interesado en su explotación económica o cultural. Lo que nunca ha sido completamente reconocido, para cualquier grupo que ha luchado, y continua luchando, por reconocimiento en los EE.UU., son su humanidad, sus derechos, y la injusticia económica de su situación. Tampoco han sido identificados los responsables de tales condiciones .

Si entendemos a la sociedad a partir de una combinación de clase, política y perspectivas culturales, no hay que sorprenderse al descubrir que entre los nuevos representantes que flotan en el último desfile de la política de la identidad republicana, el candidato negro (Carson) se opone a los derechos de musulmanes para ser elegidos, una medida que equivale a la defensa de un estado teocrático (judeo-cristiano), o que los dos latinos se oponen a la amnistía y derechos de ciudadanía para los hijos e hijas de los trabajadores inmigrantes, o que la mujer en el equipo (Fiorina), sabotea el derecho de otras mujeres a tener control sobre sus propios cuerpos. Lo más importante, es que ninguno de ellos jamás cuestiona las raíces estructurales de la desigualdad en América localizadas en un modelo económico defectuoso. Si hay una identidad de grupo que todos los once debutantes republicanos comparten, no está determinada por la raza o el origen étnico de los mismos, sino por ser los mas recientes públicos aduladores del capitalismo. Si no actuamos para cambiar esta realidad absurda, en cuatro años vamos a ver el desfile nuevamente lleno de carros alegóricos que llevan nuevos pero similares debutantes al mercado electoral.

Enrique Quintero, un activista político en América Latina durante la década de los 70, enseñó ESL y adquisición de segundas lenguas en el Distrito Escolar de Anchorage, y español en la Universidad de Alaska Anchorage. Actualmente vive y escribe en Olympia.



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Dangerous Stories

Works in Progress - Sun, 10/11/2015 - 8:35pm

When the Republican candidates talk about climate change

Ever since I watched the Republican’s presidential debate on September 16, I’ve been experiencing existential arthritis. My sense of purpose feels stuck—it’s hard to get up in the morning and think life has meaning after listening to hours of righteous declarations backed not by reason but by ideological commitments that will kill us all if they ever get enacted.

Over the course of the hate-mongering asides about falsified videos, outlandish descriptions of how to build a bigger wall, and seeming agreement that “all war, all the time” should become the new slogan on our currency, right next to the image of Rosa Parks, climate change entered the picture only twice. Once when Marco Rubio said he’d brought his own bottle of water, and a second time, when Rubio, Chris Christie, and Scott Walker all argued—in their own ways—that nothing should be done about climate change.

I confess. In a fit of depression due to my arthritic existential condition, I find succor in the Netflix series “Madam Secretary,” about a woman who, with her loving, smart, and handsome husband is raising three teens while serving as Secretary of State. In my nearly favorite episode so far, Bess (as she is affectionately known) reams out the Chinese ambassador for pursuing oil drilling in the Amazon basin. “You have kids,” she says to him, raising her voice. “What kind of future are we leaving them?”

At least the protagonist of “Madam Secretary” is worried about climate change. She clearly recognizes the implications that our current lack of action will have on her kids: their existential conditions will be shaped by floods, droughts, shortages of water and food, massive migrations, and armed conflict, all the time. In other words, although she hasn’t said this yet, it’s reasonable to infer that our current failure to address climate change will bring about windfall profits for defense contractors, proportional only to the misery created for millions of others on our heated planet.

Let’s do nothing

Contrary to the ten House Republicans who have signed on to a call for action on climate change, the three presidential contenders who spoke to the issue in the September 16 debate all argued that we should do nothing.

Some might argue that progress has been made in that both Marco Rubio and Scott Walker claimed to shed their titles as climate change deniers. “Skeptics” is their preferred term, especially since they are skeptical of all measures proposed by the federal government that would have any impact on the economy. (It’s hard to know what this actually means, since doing nothing will create a healthy climate for the weapons manufacturers and private security forces, given expected levels of global flooding, drought, and crop failures. I think they mean they are skeptical of any measures that would affect the profits of corporations funding their campaigns—but they weren’t that specific.)

Marco Rubio argued that regulating carbon emissions from coal plants “will do absolutely nothing to change our climate.” Christie said that regulations would have no effect on the drought in California. (On her website, Carly Fiorina attributes the drought in California to “liberal environmentalists.”) Scott Walker, no longer in the running, agreed that regulations would do little, so why have them at all?

Rubio’s second argument for doing nothing was that the Chinese aren’t doing enough. Why behave well if someone else is acting badly? (This from an avowed religious man—part Mormon, part Catholic, part evangelical Christian.) Meanwhile, even while Rubio reverted to the trope of avoiding leadership at all costs, the lead Chinese climate negotiator was meeting his counterpart from the U.S. in Los Angeles, to announce actions in both countries aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Both President Obama and President Xi Jinping are working towards completion of a deal at the United Nations summit meeting in Paris this fall.

Knowing one thing and doing what works best for you

In a September 18 article posted on the New Yorker website, Bill McKibben calls attention to a series of articles released by Inside Climate News, (, showing that as early as 1977, Exxon knew that “its main product would heat up the planet disastrously.” What was Exxon’s response to its scientists’ research? Fund extreme climate-denial campaigns, borrowing strategies (and strategists) from the tobacco industry.

The success of the oil corporations is evident today. As McKibben points out, the Obama Administration has given the oil industry permission to drill in the Arctic, is considering ending a ban on oil exports, and is likely to grant rights for offshore oil drilling along the Atlantic. Corporate power wins again. The argument presented by Rubio, Christie and Walker to do nothing in fact is an argument in support of big oil. And it comes at all the expense of all the rest of us.

But then again, never underestimate us: I-732

The Carbon Washington campaign to get a carbon tax on the 2016 ballot (assuming the WA State Legislature fails to act) announced mid-September that it had reached the 200,000-signature mark, ahead of predictions and completely on target. Carbon Washington’s I-732 staff and volunteers collected 70,000 signatures in August, from people who support the implementation of a carbon tax modeled after the one enacted in British Columbia.

I-732 would put a tax on fossil fuels ($25/ton), affecting individuals and businesses. To reduce the impact on individuals, I-732 would also lower the state sales tax by 1%, fund a tax rebate for working families, and reduce the Business and Occupation tax. The goal is to tax more of what we want less—fossil fuel consumption, and tax less what we need and want more of—individual consumption, business activity, while also providing support for low-income, working families. To make it onto the ballot, Carbon Washington organizers want to get a total of 330,000 signatures. (If you haven’t signed the petition yet, and are or would like to become a registered voter in WA State, check here or here to find out how you can sign, and help gather more signatures.

The Republican presidential candidates might want to ignore the reality of climate change, but not all Republicans do. Eleven Republican representatives (at least five of whom are Catholic) signed onto the “Environmental Stewardship Resolution” on September 17, just ahead of Pope Francis’ Congressional speech. That action, plus the 200,000 Washingtonians who have signed in support of a statewide carbon tax, along with the hard-working volunteer signature gatherers, are helping to remedy my existential arthritis.


Emily Lardner lives and works in Olympia, Washington.

The post Dangerous Stories appeared first on Works in Progress.

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