Rusty Nelson

Rusty Nelson

This is not for Memorial Day, but it’s being written over Memorial Day weekend, a time I’m at odds with many neighbors, extended family members, fellow veterans and fellow people of faith. In spite of solidarity in our anti-war community, I feel hostile and oppressed when the dominant culture prattles on about “ultimate sacrifice” and other fabricated concepts used to enhance the fantasy that the Pentagon is the author and finisher of our freedom, that every flag-draped corpse represents the best America has to offer, that dying in a murderous effort against another culture is a sacred gift to humanity.

This year I’m remembering how long it can take to change the way we think about an enemy (inherited or manufactured), our security, or the survival of posterity. American patriotism has been reinforced by short wars and abundant glory for relatively few U.S. casualties. Now mired in a second long war, our country must learn to see military victory, glory, and propaganda as what they are: Lies. Oxymorons. Aberrations. Distractions.

Full disclosure: I added aberrations to my list because it’s a fine acronym. I’ll want to write about L.O.A.D. in the future. Meanwhile, don’t wait for my permission to use it in your own observations.

Without further distractions, let’s seize the subject of distractions, focusing briefly upon two items from which we are constantly distracted by anxious calls to arms. Climate change and health care are treated quite differently by the spin meisters of the status quo, but both are key elements in contemporary culture wars. No advocate for climate change or against health care will find a popular platform, but prominent spokespersons may be found for undermining the science that shows climate change to be a human-caused hazard to our planet, or for limiting health care for significant portions of the U.S. population.

Exempting mainstream media, for the moment, from its own L.O.A.D., proponents of social justice should consider two recent topics of guest opinion pieces in the Spokesman Review.

First, there was the Baumgartner and Ozzie show. A state senator and the sheriff had a column to tell us everything big corporations want us to know about the Millennium Terminal, coal and oil rail traffic through Spokane, and the jobs that will magically fall off the trains with a few benevolent grains of coal. A rising tide raises your ship, if not all ships,and if the water is unfit for drinking, we can buy some from the world’s richest family or the predatory Swiss corporation increasing its interests in the Northwest. Air good enough for millionaires is good enough for you. The sheriff will take care of you if anything bad happens, but what could go wrong? Your elected representatives know what’s best for you and your family, so don’t be silly and worry about little things like spoiled air, a ruined Spokane River, increased trans-Pacific pollution, or climate change. Air and water can trickle down to the masses as our corporate masters see fit. The economy (THE Economy, not your economy) trumps ecology, and you’ll have your pie in the sky, bye and buy.

In fairness (and balance?), the SR followed with a May 29th commentary by Dr. Ethan Angell, submitting that “Coal trains put health at risk.” The piece was apparently written to express concerns most of us have about being injured in the death throes of the coal industry and the export frenzy that threatens a large part of the earth, not to refute assertions of big business presented a week earlier. Only apologists for Big Energy could fault Dr. Angell’s tone or statements, and he was neither shrill nor smug in his writing, neither mocking the absurdity of “clean coal” nor suggesting criminal charges to stall the corporate theft of our healthy environment.

Medical credentials seem to be helpful in obtaining access to media on controversial issues, although I confess I’ve written for that space. On May 28th, the SR published an opinion piece by our friend Cris Currie about the path to universal health care in the U.S. Cris identified himself simply as a registered nurse, while many of us know him also as an outdoors enthusiast, environmental advocate, pioneer mediator, writer, and traveler. In these capacities, he might not have been allowed to point out the corporate abuses of a health care system that dotes upon the privileged and excludes the most vulnerable. Our elected officials, Democrats and Republicans alike, are determined to keep the interests of insurance companies front and center in any discussion about health care access and costs.

These issues have for years been subject to legislative ridicule, denunciation, and L.O.A.D. The dire situations could be well mitigated by long-overdue attitude shifts on military spending, but there are buffers in place to specifically prevent the simplest budget solutions, and citizens will have to become more involved for progress to be made. The top barrier to just solutions is common to the even larger problem of perpetual war. As our Veterans for Peace weekend guest Elliott Adams pointed out several times, the one thing we can say about every American war of the past century is that a few people made a lot of money.

A very few people making an awful lot of money can hold universal health care at bay for decades. We have our hands full trying to grasp almost-reasonable costs of minimal health insurance coverage or trying to maintain the compromise called Obamacare.

A very few people making an awful lot of money can keep coal and oil trains running through Spokane until we all go up in smoke. Baumgartner and Knezovich imply our economy depends upon the poor fossil fuel magnates continuing to make a lot of money until they’re all protected by bankruptcy and China completes its transition to renewable energy.

Until politicians and plutocrats agree to help heal our planet, life-affirming citizens are going to have to take their keys away, or at least withhold their licenses. Railroads and health care companies must find a way to serve people instead of corporations or be stopped in their tracks. All of us need a nurturing environment more than earth-killing service jobs. We all need health care. No one needs health insurance, except within a contrivance that ensures the prosperity of big business.

I, for one, can’t hold my breath until robber barons grant me the health care and the pure air and water to which they feel entitled. The press has been alerted, whether or not it decides to rise to the occasion. The railroads have been notified through citizen action in Everett and Anacortes. Spokane officials are showing interest in stopping the flow of coal dust, extra diesel fumes, and explosive Bakken crude along our river. Direct Action Spokane is considering urgent actions to forestall an imminent catastrophe.

If we do nothing we lose, and we lose big. If we do something, many others will do something, perhaps bigger and better. Maybe we’ll get a leash on climate change, inspire and empower more and younger people to work for our planet and each other. Nonviolent people power has accomplished amazing things, and we need more. Universal health care will be easier when we end our dependence upon fossil fuels, and then we’ll have world peace in our sights.

If this too seems fantastic, consider what we’ll have if we don’t try.-RN