Friday, November 12, 2004

The Social Scientist, Environmentalist, Activist, and four more years of Bush

Bush’s win may be because of the 3Gs- God, Gays, and Guns. I tend to think it was because Republicans had what Philippine Congressman Ronaldo V. Puno has always emphasized: grass-roots politics, prioritization of organizational structure, good data management systems, and first class strategizing and mobilization. Puno is the campaign strategist par excellence credited with winning the 1992, 1998, and 2004 Philippine presidential elections for candidates of all stripes. A September 2004 Inquirer feature on him noted that aside from working for Marcos apparatchik, ex-local government minister, and former Samar Congressman Jose Rono; Puno spent five years as consultant to big-time Washington lobby and campaign strategy firm Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly. There, he worked with firm partner and Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater. Puno revealed how the Republican Party manual provided instructions on every aspect of on the ground coalition building, information management and dissemination, logistics planning, and getting the vote in and counted.

Clearly, the Republican Party raised hundreds of millions of dollars, spoke with one voice, directly engaged the religious-fundamentalist, conservative, big business, and rural vote, and had outside supporters who engaged in character assassination. They were disciplined, committed, and driven to get the vote no matter what it entailed.

Elections are like marketing campaigns. Both have their own internal logic and procedures. Running and winning an election may be both moral and amoral. It takes organizational skill for both legal (grass-roots, information management etc.) and extra-legal efforts (disenfranchising voters, machine counting anomalies, trending etc.). Days after Kerry conceded to Bush, few options remain despite the largest Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to investigate ( the discrepancy of exit polls being accurate for paper ballot-states and inaccurate for touch-screen voting-states including Florida and Ohio, the retroactive alteration of news organizations’ exit polls to coincide with the voting machines, and access to electronic voting machines computer logs and other documents from 3,000 individual counties and townships. The lesson twice running is that one must learn how to guard one’s votes.

If Bush’s 51% win over Kerry’s 48% of the vote is an indicator of the nation’s divide, the next four years will be difficult for nearly half of Americans. Actually, the next four years will be daunting for all Americans and consequently the world. Consider the following (for those still in the dark):

· Economy. Matt Patsky, partner of Winslow Management Co. (minimum investment $3 Million), a pioneer in green investing, billionaire George Soros, and even Stephen More, president of the conservative Club for Growth are worried sick at the breakdown of fiscal discipline in Washington and the literal bankrupting of the country. Running unprecedented deficits, according to Patsky, will ultimately affect the markets in a profoundly negative and significant way, especially if foreign investment in the U.S. moves out because of declining confidence in the U.S. economy (Grist 2004);

· Religion. Conservative Christians have already voiced their call to President Bush to implement the conservative agenda soonest. Richard Viqueire, “the dean of conservative direct mail”, and others such as Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Culture of Life Foundation, Phil Burress and others expect a “revolution” to pass amendments banning embryonic stem-cell research and abortions and, and importantly, to remake the Supreme Court with conservative Antonin Scalia replacing the ailing Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist (Kirkpartrick/NYT);

· Safety nets and Big Business. Conservative strategists are pushing for the further dismantling of the country’s welfare and safety nets such as repealing the estate tax, radical tax reform, privatizing Social Security and other government services, expanding health care and investment savings account, restricting medical and other liability lawsuits, weakening unions by imposing new disclosure requirements, etc. (Economist, Kirkpartrick/NYT);

· Science and Environment. Early this year, the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists came out with a 46-page document (http:// entitled “Scientific Integrity in Policymaking An Investigation into the Bush Administration’s Misuse of Science”. The document castigates the Bush Administration for a slew of actions including: a) suppressing, censoring, and/or distorting climate change research, mercury emissions from power plants and multiple air pollutants; b) distorting scientific knowledge on reproductive health issues, HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, and airborne bacteria; c) misrepresenting evidence of Iraq’s aluminum tubes; d) manipulating evidence on the Endangered Species Act, scientific process on Forest Management, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) rulemaking on “Peer Review” processes; e) undue industry influence on the Lead Poisoning Prevention Panel, Work Safety Panel, and unqualified or conflict of interest issues in the Senior Advisory (Science) Role to the President, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Reproductive Health Advisory Committee, Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, and National Institute on Drug Abuse; and f) Dismissal of Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Panels, National Nuclear Security Administration Panel, Arms Control Panel, among others.

Renewed efforts to open more of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Tongass National Forest, the Rocky Mountain Front, etc. to oil exploration and drilling and/or logging etc. have already began or are expected.

· Foreign Policy. An exit strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan is not in the offing for the near future. On the contrary, with a new mandate, Bush has vowed to take an even more hardline stance against insurgents in both countries, so expect more casualties on both sides. The prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, reports of a study estimating 100,000 Iraqi casualties to date. Of course, we know of the over 1,000 U.S. dead military men, but no one seems to know of unintended consequences of war such as the sexual harassment of an estimated 10,000 U.S. military service women serving in Iraq (National Public Radio).

Europe and Asia anxiously await how Bush will address the nuclear plans of Iran (which claims to be surrounded by nuclear-tipped states) and bankrupt North Korea. Paul Weyrich of the conservative Heritage Foundation calls for a national debate on the U.S. foreign policy.

The world also awaits U.S. action (or inaction) on the Kyoto climate change treaty, the International Court of Justice, international human rights commission, Darfur crisis, etc.

Notwithstanding the depressing looks and jokes of migrating to Europe, Canada, or an island in the Pacific, progressives and even compassionate conservatives have much work to do.

For one, as economic anthropologist Jim Greenberg and others have noted, progressives and social scientists will need to resolve their anathema of engaging people and organizations that do not share their views. In fact, Rabbi Michael Lerner encourages progressives to wear their religious/spiritual Left on their sleeves in recognition of millions of Americans who “feel betrayed by a society that seems to place materialism and selfishness above moral values”. Lerner, national co-chair of the interfaith organization Tikkun Community in SF, exhorts Democrats to get over their elitist self-righteousness and contempt for those who voted Bush. Insightfully, he notes that the last time Democrats had real social power was when they linked their legislative agenda with the spiritual politics of the late Martin Luther King.

Thus, progressive and socially-conscious scholars should be able to engage the religious conservative and understand what their concerns are. Republicans seem to be good at listening or appearing to be listening to these groups. Progressives, actually fundamentally good listeners, should be able to do so as well.

Others urge progressives to work with compassionate conservatives to reign in the perceived war mongering, deficit-growing, environment-bashing, labor-exploiting agenda of the neo-conservatives clique in the administration.

Out of power, Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia, and of
1% for the Planet, a program that donates 1 percent of companies' profits to grassroots environmental organizations, suggests that everyone should put their hopes in civil democracy. He urges all to be active in one of the 100,000 NGOs worldwide working on ecological and social sustainability.

Anthropologist Richard Nelson; John Passacantando, executive director of
Greenpeace USA; Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club; Laurie David, trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council and cofounder of The Detroit Project; Julia Butterfly Hill, founder of the Circle of Life and two-year redwood tree sitter-protester; David Orr, Chair of the environmental studies program at Oberlin College and author; Martha Marks, founder and president of REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for Environmental Protection; Alison Deming, author and associate professor in creative writing at the University of Arizona; Christina Wong, recent winner of the 2004 Brower Award for young environmentalists and University of California-Berkeley conservation and resources studies major; Peggy Shepard, cofounder and executive director of WE ACT For Environmental Justice (West Harlem Environmental Action); Paul Hawken, environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and best-selling author, founder and director of the Natural Capital Institute; and, Scott Sanders, the author of numerous books, including The Invisible Company, Writing From the Center, and Staying Put, all urge everyone to organize and speak up, when no forests are left behind, when the air and waterways are choked, when human and labor rights are violated, when power is exercised and responsibility ignored. Speak up not only as individuals, but also as institutions (Grist 2004).

Thus, progressives will need to act. They say that every generation has to suffer from war or economic dislocation and must rebuild from the destruction. However, many will need assistance, even those one disagrees with. Progressive convictions must be put into action. If the deficit and economy further worsen, protected areas cleared for exploitation, disasters occur because of environmental degradation, minority, women, and immigrant labor continue to be exploited, more lose health coverage, more suffer from preventable illnesses, more casualties in Iraq occur, and the problems of the nation become systemic; civil society must be robust enough to not only push for meaningful change, but also support those sectors and persons adversely affected. As a Chilean anthropology graduate student asked, how will Americans respond when society's contradictions demand resolutioin?

Sometimes it is in engaging those that are the weakest, as well as those we differ with that meaningful change can be achieved. I know it is possible when I look into the eyes of a dear friend, a still active 75-year old Filipino Jesuit priest who became a 50-year missionary to Japan right after World War II.