(Permanent Musical Accompaniment To The Last Post Of The Week From The Blog’s Favourite Living Canadian)

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA—Above the main doors of the state capitol building here are carved the following words:

The salvation of the state is the watchfulness of the citizen.

For a week out here, I’ve watched what happens when citizens get watchful. It is entirely possible that, at one time, our old friend the Keystone XL pipeline, the continent-spanning death funnel and current conservative fetish object, would have sailed to completion. But some citizens got watchful and they noticed that TransCanada, the energy behemoth, was not acting in good faith at least in presenting the economic effects, and that their state government apparently didn’t care very much about that, so they organized, and sued, and marched, and sued some more, and marched some more, and they finally jammed up the project to the point where President Barack Obama squashed it. Then the election happened, and the Keystone project got energized again because Americans elected a vulgar talking yam who doesn’t care to know very much about anything. The citizens sued again, and they marched again, and, this week, they brought almost 500,000 public comments to the offices of the Nebraska Public Services Commission, all of which asked that the Keystone XL pipeline project be killed really most sincerely dead for good and all.

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They may not win. It’s still a pick ’em on whether the PSC will come down on their side or not. But their movement will go on because it lives up to the words carved into the capitol of their state. Consider, by comparison, the presidential election last November. If it was nothing else, and it really was Something Else, it was a stunning example of what happens when citizens stop being watchful, when they don’t take the time to consider what they are doing and in whose benefit they may be acting. It was a stunning example of how badly representative democracy functions on automatic pilot. People did not vote at all, or they voted out of a desire to hock a loogie at all the things they’d been taught to hate and fear. They handed the country a president*at whom many of them look as though he were a cobra in their sock drawer. A watchful citizenry doesn’t elect El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago. It laughs him off the stage.

Imagine if all the people who voted for him were as involved and as energized as the coalition that’s been fighting this pipeline for eight years—a fascinating mix of Native peoples, ranchers, farmers, retirees, environmentalists, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, and plain old don’t-give-a-damn types who suddenly realized that their land and their water and their livelihoods were being sold out from under them. Yes, Nebraska went for the president* with nearly 60 percent of the vote, and that was a shame. I suspect many of the people fighting the pipeline the hardest may have voted for him. America can be a puzzle sometimes.

I’ve watched what happens when citizens get watchful.

But the past week was a blessed relief from the incredible carnival of fools now playing out in our national politics. It is one battle among hundreds, but it is being fought with all the right weapons, especially that much-derided one…politics. It was refreshing to be around.

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The salvation of the state is the watchfulness of the citizen.

I guess I’ll remember that.


There’s a lot of talk these days of “The Madman Theory,” the tactic dreamed up by Henry Kissinger on behalf of Richard Nixon by which an American president would scare adversaries to the negotiating table by doing something so savage and inhuman that those adversaries come to believe the president is likely to do anything. I’d like to make a couple of points on that.

First, it was nothing more than a convenient measure of how big a pair of sociopaths were the two people who thought it up. It resulted in the infamous Christmas bombing of North Vietnam in 1972, the largest bombing raid undertaken by the United States since World War II. And, having unleashed fire and fury on the villages and cities of North Vietnam, Kissinger and Nixon wound up agreeing to pretty much the same terms President Johnson might’ve gotten four years earlier, had the Nixon people not ratfcked the Paris Peace Talks.

Second, the Madman Theory only makes sense if the United States is not governed by an actual madman, and, well…



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