We reach the checkout and -- what then?

Shannyn Moore

There's an exasperating question that's been asked for years now, millions of times a day, all across the country.

"Paper or plastic?"

After doing our due diligence by reading labels, counting calories and fat grams, and rejecting high fructose corn syrup, we were presented with this new choice at the checkout.

Do you want paper (kill a tree, high carbon footprint) OR plastic (made from petroleum, blows around and gets tangled in our scenery)? It's a grocery-store Catch 22.

They tried to make us feel better by putting circular green arrows on the bags, telling us the paper ones contained recycled content, and the plastic ones could be recycled. But most people just wanted to get their goods from the store, to the car, to the house to get dinner ready and kids to bed on time.

Eventually, some consumers got around the devil's-bargain shopping bag choice by not choosing. They started using reusable bags made of durable materials. It must have been at least 20 years ago when I first heard, "No, I have my own bags," as a triumphant shopper flopped on the counter two bags she'd made from old dish towels.

In order to have a choice she wanted -- she had to invent it. When enough people wanted her choice, reusable shopping bags became an industry. And that's how it usually works.

Eventually, municipalities across the country began hearing from constituents who wanted their choice recognized. No more plastic shopping bags allowed. The reasons made sense. America throws away the equivalent of 12 million barrels of oil a year in unrecycled plastic bags. Think about that the next time you hear people cry for "energy independence." And nobody likes seeing those plastic bags hanging in trees along the highway or floating in waterways when you'd rather be enjoying the scenery.

My own hometown assembly in Homer recently voted to ban plastic bags. The mayor vetoed it.

Most of us aren't really wrapped up in the paper vs. plastic vs. reusable bag controversy. We have bigger things on our minds.

You're rolling along, pushing the cart that is your life. You select a college to attend or pick a trade and toss it in the cart. You peruse your job choices; maybe give a spouse and a few kids a squeeze. Your choice of car and neighborhood fall somewhere down near the bottom of the rack.

And then once every few years, a smiling face at the checkout counter asks, "Republican or Democrat?"

Face it, most people don't really end up making that choice. Most people just don't vote. Often, the reason they give is, "They're all the same." They aren't. Just because you don't like the choice, it doesn't mean they're the same. Sometimes, words like "socialist" are thrown around. I assure you, socialist is not one of our options at checkout. Considering banker bonuses and the Dow's four-year high, Obama is kind of a crappy socialist.

On the presidential docket, your choice at the checkout has been Vulture Capitalism on steroids with a side of transvaginal probe, or spineless centrism with a little drone warfare thrown in for good measure.

Well? Which one?

And here's the secret -- corporations who are running the show don't care which "bag" you vote for. They own the store, so either way they've already won. They get to sit in the booth behind the mirror and watch the debate over paper vs. plastic rage on. Occasionally they get a good chuckle out of a lady with a homemade dishcloth bag.

Many people across the political spectrum wind up disappointed on some level about their choices when election time rolls around. Until enough people decide the choices they've been given are unacceptable and participate in creating new solutions, they will continue to hold their nose and vote -- or skip it all together.

The tea party, though corporately funded, has attempted to create an alternative choice based on "patriotism" but shuns the notion of the commons our founding fathers embraced and promote extremist views instead. The occupy movement, almost a year old, has tried to expose the corporate influence over our elected officials and the financial practices that brought us to the brink of ruin, but lacks hard-nosed organization. Neither can get meaningful leverage because of the toxic transfusion now running in the veins of our electoral system -- Citizens United. What were once elections are now well-funded auctions.

Change won't be easy. President James Madison once said, "History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling money and its issuance."

I think he was kind of a homemade dishcloth-bag guy.

Shannyn Moore can be heard weekdays from 6 to 9 p.m. on KOAN 1020 AM and 95.5 FM radio. Her weekly TV show can be seen Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. statewide on ABC affiliates KYUR Channel 13 in Anchorage, KATN Fairbanks and KJUD Juneau.

Shannyn Moore