Where the Grickle Grass Grows: COP26 & A Special Conversation

Grickle Grass

At the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows and no birds ever sing excepting old crows … is the street of the Lifted Lorax.
From The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Today’s news is filled with articles about the COP26 Glasgow climate agreements. Among the discussions was talk about saving global forests, so essential to biodiversity, carbon reduction and our climate. But, unfortunately, the Glasgow agreements aren’t really “agreements.”

Ellen Milligan quoted attorney Matthew Townsend in What’s In a Pledge? COP Declaration Is More Goodwill Than Law, “These declarations are what they say on the tin – they’re declarations of intention. I would not treat them lightly but they’re not legally enforceable.”

Young climate activist Gretta Thunberg’s assessment to the effort to get global leaders to save our planet, the only we home we have:

“The #Cop26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah.”

The discussions and reports reminded me of a conversion a good friend of mine had awhile back. Those who have been following our blogs may recall that in September we had the opportunity to communicate with my friend [who still wishes to remain anonymous], who had just returned from the mysterious, Secret Island in the Mediterranean visited centuries ago by Odysseys on his Odyssey. It is the place where the gods and philosophers share their thoughts with visitors. In September, we discussed my friend’s dialogue with Thomas Jefferson.

So, it was natural that I asked my friend if any other visits could be of interest. I was pleased to learn that on a recent trip he had a conversation about our taking care of our Mother Earth with William O. Douglas, the longest serving judge on our Supreme Court and a strong advocate of First Amendment Freedoms. Justice Douglas arrived at the Secret Island in 1980. The Justice and my friend discussed The Lorax, Dr. Seuss’s 1971 book, which became a CBS “Cat-in-the Hat” production in 1972 and Universal Picture’s 3D box-office sensation in 2012.

We join their conversation …

Friend: Your musings in your 1960 book, My Wilderness:

It struck me that man sometimes seems to try to crowd everything but himself out of the universe. Yet he cannot live a full life from the products of his own creation. He needs a measure of wilderness, so that he can relax in the environment God made for him. He needs life around him in order to experience the true measure of living. Then only can he get a full sense of the glory of the universe.

. . . reminded me of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, when all the Truffula Trees were chopped down by the Once-ler. His crowding out nature started, as Dr. Seuss wrote, with but one tree, “no cause for alarm.” And then the chopping became Once-ler’s business, he invented his Super-Ax-Hacker, and – wham – the trees were all gone!

Douglas: That was Thoreau’s concern when he said, “In the wilderness is the preservation of the world.” Even in my time, I knew, when I wrote,

The wilderness areas are essential to our long-term welfare.

Friend: The Lorax and Once-ler had an argument about that. The Once-ler wouldn’t stop chopping, and he shouted at the Lorax,

Well, I have my rights, sir, and I’m telling you, I intend to go on doing just what I do! And for your information, you Lorax, I’m figuring on biggering and biggering!

Douglas: I faced up to this sort of thing in My Wilderness. In my day people like Once-ler complained about removing natural resources from the wealth of our nation by “locking it up in the wilderness.” I was concerned when I wrote:

I thought of the solitude of those places and the sacred quality of the undisturbed wilderness. An attempt to put dollar signs on these natural wonders is, I thought, a mark of our submission to the fleshpots, of our great decline. We deal with values no dollars can measure. This is a matter of the spirit beyond the expertise of appraisers of property.

Friend: Today we know our cause goes beyond the spirit of the wilderness so essential to our emotional health – we know that nature’s resources are finite and their destruction changes the balance of nature, adverse to our climate, biodiversity we need for the earth’s systems, and our health. But, how right you were – you wouldn’t be very popular today in some circles. “Green” – taking care of our planet – in the minds of many on the far-right [who we think are the far-wrong] has become the new “red” – you remember the McCarthy days in the 1950s, when he found a communist in every corner, particularly in Hollywood. No sooner had Universal Pictures come out with its 3D version of The Lorax, then Lou Dobbs, on Fox News, accused Universal Pictures of spreading “indoctrination paranoia” that brainwashes kids into hating capitalism. Dobbs broadcast:

Now, an “Unmentionable” — a story you won’t hear anywhere in the liberal national media, or nearly all of the national liberal media. Hollywood is once again trying to indoctrinate our children. Two new films out this year, plainly with an agenda, plainly demonizing the so-called “1 percent” and espousing the virtue of green-energy policies, come what may.

Douglas: I was concerned about that sort of thing in 1958 when I wrote in The Right of the People.

Dissatisfaction with existing social, economic, political, and moral conditions can normally be more eloquently expressed in a movie than in a scholarly polemic. …

Friend: A few years ago the far right concocted “Climategate,” using some email exchanges among scientists to “prove” climate change was a “hoax.” That became the battle cry of those who championed the abuse of our earth under the guise of progress. Today, a lot of people are still confused about what is right and what is true. Social media is flooded with conspiracy theories and fake news, not only about caring for our earth but also about our democracy and everything sacred.

Douglas: Freedom is not for the Light-Hearted or the Uninformed. I also wrote in The Right of the People:

Constitutional provisions sometimes have given little protection. This is particularly true where great numbers of the people have forgotten the values which those provisions are designed to protect and their leaders have failed to refresh their recollection. [During the McCarthy inquisitions in the 1950s] we have witnessed a virtual witch hunt that has had a paralyzing effect on students, teachers, scientists and writers. The unorthodox becomes suspect; the nonconformist is clouded with suspicion like a subversive. We have forced our scientists to lead guarded lives. ‘The gossip of scientists who get together,’ Dr. Robert J. Oppenheimer once said, ‘is the life blood of physics.’ We have discouraged gossip by confinement of our researchers to strictly orthodox channels. We have been the victims of the tyranny of a few …

Everywhere authority has resented discussion as hostile to its own sovereign rights. A great risk to any age is the tyranny of the majority. Freedom of expression is the weapon of the minority to win over the majority or temper the policies of those in power. The philosophy of the First Amendment is that man must have full freedom to search the world and the universe for the answers to the puzzles of life. …

Friend: I was shocked when the University of Florida recently tried to block three of its professors from testifying in court against actions of the state that, the professors reasoned, were dangerous and exceeded constitutional limits. Fortunately, there was a public outcry and the university changed its mind.

Douglas: Reminds me of another earlier concern I expressed in The Right of People:

The spirit of inquiry must be allowed to dominate the schools and universities. Universities should not be transformed as in Nazi Germany into loud speakers for men with political power. Every American should be working toward a civilization of dialogue, where instead of shooting each other when you differ, you reason things together. … Madison said, ‘A people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.’ …

Friend: As true today as when you penned those words in 1958. The Lorax gives us a powerful, necessary message about our responsibilities. Dr. Seuss’s widow, Audrey Stone Geisel, responded to Dobbs:

I think any and all talk about the environment cannot be written off as propaganda. [The Lorax], both book and film, has a message for its young readers. I think its very much there and it really should be. I don’t see that as political, especially, but I suppose it is because everything is political in some way or other. [Our environment is] one of the most essential things that we have and we should treasure it.

Douglas: I closed The Right of the People with a quote from Pericles:

We regard a man who takes no interest in public affairs not as a harmless but as a useless character.

Friend: Dr. Seuss clearly saw that caring for our environment was in the realm of public affairs. The Lorax left a pile of rocks with Once-ler with one word carved into the stone: Unless!

Friend: Finally, the Once-ler, once one who didn’t know and didn’t know he didn’t know, understood:

“But now,” says the Once-ler, “Now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

Douglas: Our Democracy wasn’t build by bystanders. Our Founders were upstanders. That’s what we need – a lot of upstanders! A lot of people who care a lot!

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For further contemplation:

Those who know and know that they know – they are the wise – follow them.
Those who know but don’t know that they know- they are misguided – enlighten them.
Those who don’t know and know they don’t know- they are students – guide them.
Those who don’t know and don’t know they don’t know – they are fools – avoid them.
Unknown

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Democracy of Dollars is now available in electronic, paperback and hardcover on line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and other online book sellers including Apple Books.

Opinion Polls & Whisperers – and Our Devotion to Our Constitutional Democracy

A Stubborn Ox Whisperer – Botswana

On November 8, 2021, CNN released a poll concluding that majority of Americans don’t think Biden is focused on our nation’s most important issues. The poll was completed before Congress finally approved the basic infrastructure bill, the prime first step on Biden’s agenda, so it may not have had as much negativity if the poll had been taken today. But, regardless, Biden’s press, and his approval numbers, have been less than stellar for the past few months.

The prime issue seems to be that folks think Biden isn’t paying enough attention to our economy. This may be more a story-telling issue than an actual fact. Catherine Rampell wrote in The Washington Post: The economy is actually pretty good. Here’s why Biden has had difficulty selling that. Rampell relates the feelings of Americans to the shortage and prices of goods exasperated by the COVID pandemic slow down’s upbeat recovery. I can sympathize with that. My auto lease is about up so I stopped by my Kia car dealer today to talk about leasing a new Kia hybrid. Turns out there are none in stock. The manufacture can’t keep up with pent up demand now that buyer’s optimism has kicked in in spades. So, it’s not a good day to drive a hard bargain with Kia.

Rampell philosophizes that the pent-up demand that can’t be met is causing inflation and inflation is the real issue:

“My own view is that inflation is real, it’s painful, and it’s unhelpful — both economically and politically — to pretend otherwise. A better strategy than snarking or denying the economic pain (as Trump might have done) is to present a plausible plan for addressing it.

“That seems to be what Biden is attempting. While highlighting some encouraging hiring trends, he acknowledged Friday that ‘there’s a lot more to be done’ and cited the need to ‘tackle the costs that American families are facing.’ He took credit for economic progress (which his pro-vaccination agenda, above all else, has helped with). But he also said that more work, including on inflation, remains.”

In my earlier blog, Is Biden our Cat Whisperer??, I pointed out that success in winning with mavericks takes patience and persistence , not a whip. I postulated that Biden was our cat whisperer, herding his Democrat cats down the path to the future he envisions in his agenda. That sort of leadership doesn’t get good press with journalists who are in a hurry to write about results or with a public accustomed to responding to an authoritarian’s leadership whip.

It turns out Biden has had to be a “stubborn ox” whisperer in addition to being a cat whisperer. His quiet persistence has succeeded in getting us the first phase of his infrastructure legislation passed without cracking a whip or insulting legislators as Trump would have done – in fact, he even picked up a few Republican supporters.

And don’t overlook that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell bragged about the infrastructure bill to his Kentucky constituents. He said he was “delighted” by the infrastructure bill, despite the barbs of Trump and a few members of Congress, like Marjorie Greene. McConnell should rejoice. It’s almost like old times, when legislative negotiation and cooperation were in vogue.

The infrastructure law adds about $566 billion in new money, spent over 5 years. Among its items, the bill dedicates $110 billion to roads, bridges and surface transportation; $65 billion to passenger and freight rail; $39 billion to mass transit; $25 billion to airports; and $17 billion to seaports. The law also adds some items that have come to be important parts of our infrastructure, including $65 billion for network broadband communication; $50 billion for improving water quality and supply; $73 billion for electrical power grid updating; $43 billion for climate change and storm resiliency; and $15 billion for electric school buses, zero-emission ferries and national electric-vehicle charging infrastructure. (I might note that Governor DeSantis vetoed a Florida bill that gave local communities the right to put in electric vehicle charging stations.)

Despite the fact that all these improvements benefit Floridians, as Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy and other Floridan Democrats tell us, the Florida Republicans in the Legislature don’t see it that way. The deniers like Congresswoman Greene, who are against every sort of public good, still flood the internet with false claims about the infrastructure bill.

Robert Reich summed it up in his blog, “The week ahead: the fate of Bidenomics – correcting the false claims of the media.” He wrote, “The media (not just Fox News but several mainstream reporters and commentators) are spinning several falsehoods about where things stand right now.” He then discusses 6 critical points of media misinformation, not just from Fox News, but also from the New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN. For example:

“1. ‘Democrats are in disarray.’ This has been a trope of CNN and the New
York Times. To the contrary, Democrats have worked hard to come to a series
of agreements that are likely to result in a considerable portion of Biden’s
economic plan being enacted. (If you want to see a party in real disarray, look
across the aisle at the Trumpers and the few courageous Never Trumpers.)

“4. ‘The Democrat’s social and climate package is a vast overreach.’ The New
York Times editorial page is saying this, reflecting its increasing role as
mouthpiece for corporate and Wall Street Democrats. It’s utter rubbish. Every
measure in the package – paid leave, childcare, pre-K, Medicare dental and
hearing benefits, lower prescription drug prices, and the climate initiatives —
is hugely popular. Poll after poll shows them supported by 75% to 88% of
Americans, even in the districts of conservative Democrats. A majority of
Republican voters support them. Enacting them would put the United States
on par with most other rich nations, which already provide them.”

So, let’s join McConnell in being delighted with the infrastructure bill’s first step, and let’s be more patient, more thoughtful about the media’s messaging, and a little less bitchy.

Above all, Republican or Democrat, let us remember that our democracy will not survive without our dedication to the truth and to our Constitution. And, as Liz Cheney put it, none of us can be bystanders.

Democracy of Dollars is now available in electronic, paperback and hardcover on line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and other online book sellers including Apple Books.