COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | CAROLYN CHASE
Cut To The Chase

Operation End Extremism

I read the following blurb in an email fromThe New York Times:

"Invoking War to Ease Rules -- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has begun a campaign it calls, portentously, 'Operation End Extremism.'"

I think -- yes! That's it. That's what we really need right now -- a movement to end extremism. Let's go see what this is about. The moment of hope began to fade when I tuned into the fact that it was a Senate Committee. Environment and Public works -- an odd place to go after extremism, I think. But wait. It turns out the extremism they mean are environmental protections. The extremists they mean, it seems, include me.

The psychological term "projection" comes to mind. Who better to identify extremist views than extremists themselves?

It turns out this "Operation End Extremism" is an effort to use the war to exempt the military from any and all environmental regulations. These are the same regulations that the real environmental extremists -- persistent polluters big and small -- also seek to reduce or exempt just about anything and everything they can get politicians to exempt them from. With war, the political moment could finally be at hand to liberate the military from being responsible for their conduct here at home.

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and the Pentagon are claiming that "the laws governing air pollution, toxic waste dumps, endangered species and even marine mammals -- most of which have been on the books for decades -- interfere with training and readiness exercises necessary for national security."

John Dingell, a senior Democrat in the House, but hardly an environmental absolutist, put the matter as well as anyone. "I have dealt with the military for years," he said, "and they constantly seek to get out from under environmental laws. But using the threat of 9/11 and Al Qaeda to get unprecedented immunity is despicable."

Not only despicable but, as it turns out, largely unnecessary. A General Accounting Office report last year found that "environmental regulations had not damaged military readiness."

Do the forces of the empire really need to increase exploitation of the environment even more -- to increase its military might -- even more? Aren't recent demonstrations of massive "shock and awe" sufficient proof of our power to deploy? Do we really need to go after assaulting more of the weak and more of the earth here at home?

It appears that those in such vaunted positions of power believe that we do. These are sad days for America, very sad days. I worry about how we are going to deal with the real extremists in power today. Extreme people with extreme power is extremely dangerous.

So I'd like to propose an obvious extension of "Operation End Extremism." How about putting an end to the kind of extremism that believes that any kind of damage is acceptable as long as those in power can find a way to profit while others fall behind?

How about putting an end to the kind of extremism in governmental service that believes that their interpretation of God's will and their rightful beliefs is superior?

How about putting an end to the kind of extremism that pretends to listen but does not authentically engage?

These are the kinds of extremism that pose real dangers to our democracy and our future, not the already limp standards and weakly enforced environmental protections in this country.

But what Congressional Committee, what Legislature, is willing to convene hearings for a real "Operation End Extremism"? One that's not a witch hunt, but seeks to balance the voices in our democracy such that government "of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Can the people reclaim their democratic political legacy from the forces of our own tendencies to become an evil empire? In my estimation, our own government needs a little democratic axis-kicking of its own.

The political systems do still exist for people to organize and participate. How many peace marchers will channel their energy to support candidates by volunteering? Or donating -- even small amounts? Or running for office themselves? The only way for government of the people to persist is for the people to use their numbers -- time and money and voices -- to achieve change.

If the people who are marching will work in and support the democratic political system, then they can achieve change. But if they go home to their usually comfortable lives, then we will continue to get the government we deserve. One that is demonstrating a scary willingness to govern and use power from the extremes, rather than with the restraint and sensitivity that really great powers demand.

Regardless of our beliefs about war and this war, we must surely turn to rebuilding a world that can achieve peace without the extremely wasteful and terrorizing means of massive destruction -- regardless of the weaponry.

Let's go after that form of extremism. If war isn't extreme, I don't know what is. Beyond "shock and awe" where is Operation Workable Peace?

"For it isn't enough ... to talk about peace.

One must believe in peace.

And it isn't enough to believe in peace.

One must work for it."

-- Eleanor Roosevelt


Chase is editor of San Diego Earth Times and chair of the mayor's Environmental Advisory Board. E-mail her at carolyn.chase@sddt.com.

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