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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

We Have Met the Enemy

Recently I was informed that a high school friend's father raped his own granddaughter when she was about eight years old. Catholic high school, it should be noted. This was shocking, even though the guy was a roundly disliked local businessman. No one suspected how well-founded their dislike for him was. I remember honking and giving him the finger once when he was pulling out of a shopping center, attempting to cut me off. Fond memory. Stopped him in his tracks. I had recently gotten out of the Army, filled with anger, well-off guy in his big car a perfect foil.

When I was told about the molestation I said the guy probably raped his daughter too, the girl's mother. I knew her. She was a decent person, but lived a troubled life. I never thought about it in high school or the years afterward, but of all my high school cronies, the friend whose father raped his granddaughter never had any of us over to his house. Not once.

I would never have written about this, but it fits with what I have been thinking about lately. We have been conditioned to think of the criminals among us as "others," as if we live in some binary divide between the law-abiding and the lower elements. The easy calculus is that the better-off - the well-dressed, better-looking and well-housed - are just plain better than everyone else.

This of course has always been pure bull manure. The rich have been as criminal as anyone else, and the richer, the more criminal. Gandhi took the extreme view, stating "If I take anything that I do not need for my own immediate use, and keep it, I thieve it from somebody else." I'm not so extreme, but there's no question that the income and wealth disparity in this country is criminal in nature. It is also institutionally protected. Our three branches of government - executive, legislative and judicial - have become a self-rewarding, self-perpetuating legal infrastructure that secures the skewing of the reward system to the already too-well rewarded.

When I was a graduate student in Economics it was a heady thing to be a "Marxist." It was easy. Karl Marx had an analytical approach, showed how Capitalism contained the seeds of its own ruin, that over time labor would be displaced at an increasing rate, that capital would become increasingly concentrated, and that profits would eventually disappear.

Marx's predictions after the fall of Capitalism were less interesting, so one could call oneself a Marxist without being a "Communist." I had varying views, but eventually found the entire study of Economics, with its emphasis on infinite growth, to be a complete waste of my time. I gave the field up when I graduated with a master's degree, though I returned to teach a couple of dismal times.

Nowadays I am more interested in the psychological aspects of mass societies. When the Bush regime was foisting its mayhem on the planet I didn't get pulled in to the "ideological" debate. It didn't seem ideological to me at all, except as a way of disguising what was really going on - a criminal operation. An organization of people doesn't steal an election, enable the worst attacks in the nation's history, deceive the country into two wars - yes, two - and usher in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression because of ideology. They do it because they are sociopathic criminals. Every one of them.

One of the difficulties of applying the terms psychopath and sociopath to the criminality of the rich and those in power is that the definitions are ambiguous, and biased in favor of the powerful.  Here's an example. George W. Bush doesn't quite fit the given definitions, but both psychopath and sociopath apply to him. Narcissist, remorseless, manipulative, amoral, ill-tempered, violent, addictive, irresponsible. Obama doesn't fare much better, with his drone attacks, more deportations than all previous presidents combined, prosecution of whistleblowers, enabling of Wall Street banksters, special ops secret wars and more. His response to the killing of children in "Gaza" by "Israel" is that "Israel" has the right to defend itself.

What may be the most important question of our time is how prevalent psychopaths/sociopaths are among us. Estimates vary from 3% to 8%. I suspect it is much higher. What is more important, I believe, is how prevalent these antisocial personality types are among politicians, CEOs, police, judges, the clergy, and others in prominent positions. Is there something about this kind of system that produces amoral, narcissistic leaders? Does power corrupt to the degree that it turns people into sociopaths, or are they beforehand?

This way of looking at mass society of course deviates drastically from "leftist" orthodoxy. According to the official "left" perspective all evil rests in the dynamic of capitalism. Any evils of other systems are because of various forms of "counterrevolution." The analysis goes nowhere, because it is more about rhetorical stance and peer group status than actually solving problems.

The psychological approach might lead to results. The sociopathy of power in mass society is common to capitalist, communist, socialist and mixed systems. It is the single factor that prevents us from having a distributive system, and also prevents us from dealing with the threats of climate change, empire, overpopulation, crime and social paranoia.

Maybe it isn't the mass system that produces psychopathy/sociopathy. It might just be the human condition. We are supposedly at the top of the evolutionary hierarchy. So superior that we have the capacity to destroy ourselves and all other life on this planet. They way we are going, we'll achieve our goal relatively soon.
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Here's a song. Here's another. This too.

For an update on what is behind the mass immigration of children from Central America ("U.S." meddling), click here. A similar explanation can be found here. Jon Stewart had this to say. Stephen Colbert also had something to say.

Here's an example of how interested our corporate media are in telling the truth. Here's another example.

How long can "Israel" continue killing the "Palestinians?" I offered this prediction in a comment on National Public Radio. It ruffled a few feathers. Here's another view from the New York Times. The New York Times is not above spinning the "Israeli" invasion, though, as this story makes note.

On the bright side, there is a grassroots revolution taking place. This documentary describes one part of it.

R.I.P. James Garner. Here's a song. Here's a clip with Clint Eastwood.

Friday, June 13, 2014

One Man's Deserter, Another Man's Hero

The day I was inducted into the Army, July 26, 1968, was one of those pivotal experiences where the past is left behind and I stepped into the unknown. After a few tests, an in-processing physical exam and swearing-in at the Chicago military induction center, a busload of us was taken to O'Hare airport for a flight to St. Louis, enroute to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training. While we were standing around at O'Hare waiting one of my fellow inductees told me he was tempted to catch a plane for "Canada." He wasn't just musing about it. He was very serious, was opposed to the war in "Vietnam," and wanted no part of the military. He saw me as a kindred spirit, since I had relatively long hair, not quite the length the Beatles had in their "Rubber Soul" phase.

I was mildly tempted, but wasn't against the war enough to desert the Army right after joining. I was eager to get through basic training and start the projector repair school I enlisted for. I never forgot that guy, though, and after that day I never saw him again. He may or may not have deserted, but I have no way of knowing other than never seeing him again.

Some of the trainees in my basic training class. I'm in the exact middle picture.During basic training a lot of my fellow trainees were having difficulty adjusting to military life, especially the ones who were married. They feared they would lose their wives, and the drill sergeants reminded them continually with call-and-response cadence calls about a mythical character "Jodie" who was fooling around with their wives and girlfriends. Some guys, married and not, cracked under the pressure of basic training. One guy went AWOL (absent without leave), another guy went catatonic, and others broke down in smaller ways. The guy in the bunk next to mine was a young lower-middle-class type from St. Louis who missed his wife dearly. He stopped following orders one day, and the drill sergeant for our platoon shifted into a mode where the situation was escalating towards MPs (military police) being called to take him away. He eventually gave in, and completed basic training with the rest of us.

I had my own situation where I refused to follow orders. One morning the company of about 160 trainees was "fallen out" with rifles and steel pots - helmets - at 3 a.m. to run in formation for about an hour, singing "I want to be an airborne ranger, live that life of death and danger." We completely soaked our fatigues in sweat, and then were marched to the air-conditioned mess hall for breakfast. After that we had a pretty easy day of doing makework tasks, but I started feeling weak.

By evening I had a fever, and was fading fast. We were all supposed to be cleaning our rifles and getting ready for the following day's inspection, but I went to bed. The trainee "platoon guide" and squad leader tried to order me to get back to work, but I told them I wasn't doing anything, and that I should see a doctor. They threatened me with "jail," as if they had the power to do anything beyond saying "left-face" or "right face," but I was too weak to get out of bed. They found a drill sergeant from another company to come in, and he put his hand on my forehead, then yelled at them to call an ambulance or they were going to jail. I had a temperature of 104 degrees, and spent the next three days in the Fort Leonard Wood hospital. Patients were required to sweep and mop their rooms and the hallway.

My proudest diploma
Projector repair school was pretty uneventful, at least as far as AWOL or desertion were concerned. The guys in my barracks were all opposed to the war, and they were like me in enlisting for an extra year in order to choose an electronics school of one sort or another, as a way of avoiding being in the infantry. When the eleven week school ended four of us from my class were sent to "Germany."

It was certainly better to be sent to "Germany" than "Vietnam," but it was a surreal place. Because of World War II and NATO there was a massive "U.S." military presence there. It's smaller now, but still huge. Military installations were former German army and air force (Luftwaffe) barracks, and had a kind of concentration camp character, with barbed wire fencing on curved concrete posts ala Dachau and Auschwitz to prevent unauthorized entry and exit.

The Army itself was a lot sleazier than what I had experienced in training. Petty harassment, "pulling rank," a lot of makework, tedious inspections all made for a tense and unfriendly atmosphere. Terrible food too, sometimes rancid. The animosity between "first-termers" - draftees and draft-induced enlistees - and "lifers" - career Army NCOs (non-commissioned officers - sergeants) - was palpable, and over time got worse. In "Vietnam" troops were killing their sergeants and officers by "fragging" - rigging or throwing fragmentation grenades at them.

Then there was desertion. For my first nine months in Germany I was stationed near the town of Kaiserslautern, a depressing place. Guys who were "short" - short-timers who were getting out soon - would fill out calendars to mark off the days they had left. Someone had made a mimeograph stencil of a short timer's calendar in the shape of a Playboy bunny with a grid drawn for 210 days to mark off. I had 1050 days left, which would have taken five calendars. It was so depressing to mark off days that I quit after about a week.

I had a monthly crisis where I felt I had to get away. I considered going to "Sweden," but that wasn't a very attractive prospect either. Though I hated the Army, going to "Sweden" would have been a very difficult step to take. It would be a crossing of the Rubicon of sorts, with no turning back. At least that's the way it looked. I trudged through, and after nine months got "levied" to Heidelberg to work as a projectionist in the conference room of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR). My projector repair MOS saved me.

Me in Heidelberg, summer 1970While I was in Kaiserslautern my office-mate and bunk-mate did desert. He went home on 30-day leave, and didn't return. I never heard from him, but was told he went to "Canada." He gave no warning about his intentions, but he hated being in the Army more than I did. Plus, he enlisted at the age of 17, most likely given the choice of the Army or jail for a marijuana arrest. He was from California, and a study of desertions would for sure indicate a higher desertion rate from there than other states.

Others deserted on their way to "Vietnam" after being "levied" from "Germany." Though it was reputed that many deserted by going to "Sweden," I don't remember anyone I knew or knew about going there. Desertions were rampant in the Army overall, though, especially "stateside," and mostly soldiers going to "Canada," which at the time welcomed them. The "Vietnam" war was unpopular all over the world, but our government pushed on.

The reason I am mentioning all this about desertion is of course the case of Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who may or may not have deserted his unit in "Afghanistan," was captured by the Taliban, and freed in a trade for five Taliban prisoners at the Guantanamo prison our government operates in "Cuba" against the wishes of just about the whole world, not the least of which is the government of "Cuba," on whose land the prison was built. You can't make this stuff up.

I have an easy answer to the questions raised about Bowe Bergdahl. If he deserted, he deserted from an illegal occupation of "Afghanistan" waged by Air Force National Guard deserter George W. Bush. We never had any legitimate business there. The "911" attacks would not have happened if it weren't for the ACTIVE negligence of the deserter Bush and his cronies in crime. The supposed purpose of the invasion of  "Afghanistan" was to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, but the effort to do that was minor compared to the overall obliteration of the Taliban, and the capturing and whisking away to Guantanamo of who knows how many.

Iraqi girl killed during the “Shock and Awe” campaign in 2003. This picture could be used to accurately depict what is going on in “Afghanistan” today.Then the deserter Bush ginned up the invasion and occupation of "Iraq," lying about Saddam Hussain's possession of weapons of mass destruction in order to justify his "Shock and Awe" invasion. About a million people are now dead because of the actions of the deserter Bush. And, of course, we are now seeing the inevitable result of the deserter Bush's phony war.

Bush showing his true colorsSo, should Bowe Bergdahl be prosecuted as a deserter? Hardly. We have yet to hold the deserter Bush responsible for his many murderous crimes, so to prosecute a troubled young soldier for walking away would bring hypocrisy to a new level.

Convicting him would be highly unlikely anyway. All we know is that he left his unit. At most that was AWOL. Technically, desertion is when a soldier doesn't return after thirty days of being missing. Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban before he had a chance to return, so his five years in captivity wouldn't count as time of desertion. He could always say he intended to come back, but couldn't.

More important than the fate of Bowe Bergdahl is the way the circumstances of his freedom are being portrayed in the news media, particularly in the "right wing" hate-o-sphere. The five Taliban prisoners he was traded for are depicted as the worst of the worst, more dangerous than humanly possible, likely to go back to "terrorism" against NATO forces, i.e., us.

In fact, the Taliban prisoners have been tortured for about thirteen years. They likely were "waterboarded" hundreds of times, forced to stand for days at a time, beaten, hung on hooks, had electric shocks applied to their genitals, had their fingernails and toenails pulled out, sodomized with broomsticks, whipped, flogged, put in stress positions, stretched, burned, and God knows what else. They would be of little use in leadership, planning or executing  "terrorism" against "U.S." forces. They won't even be released from detention in "Qatar" for another year. By that time "we" should be long gone.

Cheney being himselfWhat we could do to correct the wrongs of the past decade-or-so is to put the real criminals on trial: the deserter Bush, his henchman Dick Cheney (draft dodger), Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Ricardo Gonzales (remember him?), Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, and numerous others. There would have been no invasions and occupations of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq" if they hadn't cooked up their evil plans. Had the 2000 presidential election not been stolen there would have been no attacks of September 11, 2001. No one was held responsible for that crime either, and in fact the theft was enabled by the "U.S." Supreme Court. We can hold them responsible now.

This of course won't happen. Our "leaders" are too big to fail. Too big, at least, for themselves, which is all that effectively matters. Our ruling class does not hold itself responsible for anything. To do so would make their entire house of cards fall down.

It is falling down anyway, an unsustainable overstructure of wealth, greed, environmental destruction, increasing inequality, worker displacement and obsolescence, massive incarceration, bigotry and purveying of violence. Its days are numbered. We should be planning for its replacement.
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Other Army stories can be seen here, here, here, here, and here.

Here's an appropriate song. This too. Here's a song from Jesse Winchester, who went to "Canada" rather than submit to being impressed into military service. Arlo Guthrie sang this classic about the draft. And of course, veteran Country Joe McDonald. Phil Ochs. The Chad Mitchell Trio. Graham Nash. Bob Marley. Here's a song for the best day of the year.

I've been writing a bit here and there about the VA waiting list scandal. Here's a version that got published locally. I take no responsibility for some of the edits. I elaborated in a comment to a local story on the issue, and to a National Public Radio story.

On the most recent All Things Considered on NPR, the criminality of the invasion of "Iraq" is suggested.  A similar suggestion was made on PBS's News Hour.

Robert Fisk provides a good analysis of the "Iraq" situation here.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Gestalt

Common Dreams Week in Review
Every Saturday I get a "Your week in review" email from Common Dreams, a "leftist" news website. It has links to their top stories of the past seven days, though they call it my week in review. Even if I don't read all the stories I appreciate getting the email, because the summary itself gives a pretty good overview of what is happening in the world.

Of particular interest this week is a commentary by Chris Hedges, formerly of the New York Times, titled The Post-Constitutional Era. In it he argues that the steady erosion of our civil liberties has reduced the "U.S." to a fascist state. In particular he cites the refusal of the "U.S." Supreme Court to hear arguments in a suit of which he is the principal litigant, Hedges V. Obama, in regard to excesses of Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The provision permits the military to seize U.S. citizens and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers without due process.

Hedges goes on to say that the control by large corporations over the three branches of government - legislative, judicial and executive - have made our democracy a thing of the past. Regarding President Obama, he doesn't waste words:

President Obama once promised the American people that his administration would be the most transparent in history, but after years of fights with civil libertarians trying to obtain legal memos used to justify the president's overseas assassination program, an unprecedented pattern of prosecuting government whistleblowers, the targeting of journalists, and all the secrecy and obfuscation related to the NSA's mass surviellance programs made public by Edward Snowden, that claim is now met with near universal laughter, if not scorn, by critics.
Hurricane Sandy from space
At the top of the list of the Week in Review is "Screwed?" US Climate Report says Era of "Normal" Over, referring to the government's National Climate Assessment. The article's author, Lauren McCauley, summed up the report's findings thusly:

As a consequence of the nearly two degree Fahrenheit rise which occurred throughout the country over the past century, the report says, Americans are experiencing water scarcity in dry regions, increasing torrential rains in wet ones, increasingly severe heat waves, worsening wildfires, and the death of forests as a result of heat-loving invasive insect species.

And all of this is likely to worsen as average temperatures continue to increase. The authors, who were solicited by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, estimate that global warming could exceed 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the United States by the end of this century.
Occupy activist Cecily McMillan
These articles, along with the others in the list, form a pattern, or gestalt. The game is up. The civilization we thought we had is over. Except for the shouting, that is. And there will be plenty of that. How is it that effectively an entire society is unable to get itself out of this fix? As the Outrage and Protests Follow Guilty Verdict for OWS Activist story indicates, protest is futile. The powers that be will tolerate mild dissent, but when it gets serious, all bets are off.

It would seem that the power structure would be doing everything in its power to deal with climate change, but it is doing next-to-nothing, which is effectively nothing. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that the power structure is context-specific, and the context is that which keeps the power structure in place, which doesn't include protecting the environment.

The other factor, though, and more difficult to contend with, is that we are in a mass system, and in a mass system people function in organizations. No single individual matters independent of an organization or collection of organizations. Barack Obama may individually be the president, but he was elected and operates through a large infrastructure of committees, bureaus, administrations, agencies and departments. In other words, bureaucracies. He is attacked by posturing opponents in Congress and on television, as if he were a single operator. It's all for fun and games, diversion from what is really going on.

At best, it's just a desperate attempt to buy time. As climate change gets more serious the system will disintegrate. The overstructure will do whatever it can to remain in control, but it will eventually fail. It's not a pretty picture. The failure of the mass socioeconomic system may be a positive and necessary step in the progress of the human species, but it will be met with great pain and suffering. We should be able to do better. Maybe when the system starts breaking down we will collectively see the light. That's our best hope at this point. It's not much, but it is what we should prepare for.

Wherever a man goes, men will pursue him and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate oddfellow society - Thoreau, The Village
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Political cartoonist and writer Ted Rall offers a similar analysis.

For the Democracy Now report about Occupy activist Cecily McMillan click here.

Here's an update on our liberation of "Afghanistan."

Sometimes a musical gestalt can do what mere words can't:
Here's a great song. Brewer and Shipley. More Brewer and Shipley. The Reverend Gary Davis. The Grateful Dead. Richie Havens. George Harrison. The Beatles. More The Beatles. Even more The Beatles. Another Beatles. John Lennon. More John Lennon. John Denver. More John Denver. John Prine. More John Prine. John Denver doing the same song. Dwight Yoakam. Canned Heat. More Canned Heat. Bryan Ferry. Wilbert Harrison. Guess Who. Who. Hedgehoppers Anonymous. The Temptations. The Waterboys. Air from Hair. Walking in Space. Prince. Creedence Clearwater Revival. More Creedence. Even more Creedence. Dee Clark. Gene Kelly. B.J. Thomas. The Grateful Dead. More The Grateful Dead. Bob Dylan. Bryan Ferry. Joan Baez. Edie Brickell and New Bohemians. Leon Russell. Bob Dylan. James Taylor. Bob Dylan. Adele. Arthur Brown. The Grateful Dead. Alicia Keys and ft Maxwell. Johnny Cash. Ed Sheeran. Simon and Garfunkel. A Bolivian version. The Byrds. More Byrds. Jackson Browne. More Jackson Browne. John Gorka. Talking Heads. More Talking Heads. The Pretenders. Cream. Blind Faith. Jimi. More Jimi. Another Jimi. Rainy Day, Dream Away. One more Jimi, my favorite. The Doors. More The Doors. Bob Seger. Merle Haggard. Los Lobos. The Neville Brothers. Alternate version. The Rolling Stones. More Rolling Stones. Even more Rolling Stones. Still more Rolling Stones. The Grateful Dead. More the Grateful Dead. The Kinks. Donovan. Another Donovan. More Donovan. Even more Donovan. Buffy Sainte-Marie. More Buffy Sainte-Marie. One more from Donovan. The Allman Brothers. More Allman Brothers. Little Village. Bob Marley. Peter Tosh. More Peter Tosh.  Jimmy Cliff. The Jerry Garcia Band. Johnny Nash. The Grateful Dead. More Grateful Dead. Stevie Wonder. More Stevie Wonder, my favorite. One more from Stevie Wonder. Gil Scott-Heron. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. Iris Dement. More Iris Dement. Merle Haggard. This Merle song fits. As Joseph Campbell put it, it's all metaphor. Stretching the metaphor. Here's a nice song from Willie Nelson and Leon Russell. More Willie Nelson. Even More Willie Nelson, another ominous metaphor. Patsy Cline. Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson. George Harrison. Johnny Cash. Same song, done gratefullyThis Johnny Cash song is getting new meaning. Eddie Rabbitt. Elvis. Roger Miller. Ry Cooder. More Ry Cooder. Randy Newman. More Randy Newman. Still more Randy Newman. Stan Rogers. Garnet Rogers. And one more from the Waterboys. It must be the season of the witch. After the Rain by McKinley Morganfield. The Reverend Gary Davis. The Grateful Dead. More the Grateful Dead. Quicksilver Messenger Service. The Traveling Wilburys. The Doors. More The Doors. Peggy Lee. Blood, Sweat and Tears. Finally, the Waterboys, a perfect song to end with.

This may be the greatest movie ever made. Even a renowned theologian loves it. George Harrison plays a small role.
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Here's an update from the May 12 NewsHour  on income inequality. And this about how the melting ice cap in Antarctica is past the point of no return.

Here's the latest Edward Snowden update.

Glenn Greenwald was interviewed on Democracy Now about NSA spying. Like he said recently, he's saving the best for last.

This Frontline 2-part program is a must-see for anyone on this planet who values their privacy and freedom from government intrusion. Part 2 airs May 20.

Here's an interview with Glenn Greenwald on NPR's Fresh Air by Terry Gross from May 14. He was also interviewed by Margaret Warner on PBS's NewsHour on May 15. Both are excellent. Underpaid women are turning out to be our best journalists.

Here's something curious.

This week we found out that the Antarctic ice melt is unstoppable. We had our chance to stop it, but that was likely decades ago. Our government is now likely spying on the scientists who wrote the report. It is all they seem capable of doing. Maybe they'll send a drone.
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Update, May 17:
I had to answer this New York Times story about the Koch brothers. You have to wait a minute-or-so for my comment to load, depending on your computer.

On a similar theme, Huffington Post leads with this story.

Some former generals are saying that climate change is posing a national security risk. Being military men, I wonder what they recommend doing about it.

Salon adds this analysis, not an optimistic assessment. In the coming days we will be seeing more of this. Our power and money elite will become more desperate to do NOTHING, except maybe establish some kind of censorship. Our system has become fascist, after all, as explained above. Lying is a disease with those in power. They can't be trusted to speak the truth about anything, except, as all good liars know, to run interference for the next lie.
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Updates, May 19:
Cecily McMillan has been sentenced to 90 days in prison.

In sort of news, a bill is being mulled over to put the NSA under surveillance, er, legal limits.
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Here's an update about Cecily McMillan.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Facing the Future


Last Saturday some local businesses and advocacy organizations got together for an Earth Day-related "Isthmus Green Day" at Madison's Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace. With over eighty exhibitors, a keynote speaker, and eighteen other presenters, the event had something for everyone interested in living in harmony with the environment.

There was something for everyone, including free samples of products, drawings to enter, and even free chair massages. Given the increased urgency of climate change and related environmental problems, and the location in Madison, Wisconsin, one would think that that thousands would attend.

It was more like hundreds. Or A hundred.  Though most exhibitors put on a cheerful exterior, I detected a sense of unease. It could have been from the low turnout, but a question I asked of the keynote speaker, Shalini Kantayya, led me to believe otherwise. She showed her movie A Drop of Life, then talked with what seemed to be forced enthusiasm about water issues and prospects for the future. At the end of her talk she asked if there were any questions, and I asked her if she believed economic growth could continue indefinitely, and if she thought the projections of population growth she mentioned were an unchangeable given.

Almost everyone I have asked these questions has dodged them, and Shalini Kantayya was no exception. She answered the question about economic growth by saying that it could continue with green products. This was after misinterpreting what I was asking and even trying to change the question. I repeated the questions with greater emphasis on the word growth so there would be no misunderstanding.

Her reply to the question about population growth was basically a non-answer, that growth projections are accurate. I suppose it's beyond the bounds of thinkable thought that some event or circumstance could interfere with mankind's zeal for populating the Earth.

But there is something that will interfere with both growth of output and growth of population: climate change. As its effects become more serious the Earth will become less habitable. Less habitable means it will be harder for the planet to support human life. That means fewer people. It is too late to stop this encroaching reality. Growth of population will cease, and indeed will likely go in reverse.

The same goes for economic growth. In an increasingly uninhabitable planet unending growth in economic output will be a thing of the past. A steady state will be the best we can hope for. Few want to consider this, for various reasons, mostly having to do with how vastly different such a system would be. It's so unthinkable, let's not think about it.

We'll be thinking about it soon enough. When climate change really kicks in, we will have no choice but to think about how we will organize our economic activity. We will see some hints in the coming days. Tornado season has started, soon to be followed by flood, drought, forest fire and hurricane seasons, then next winter. It is likely to be more serious this year than last, followed by a more serious round the next year.

Our political and corporate overstructure will attempt to avoid dealing with this reality for as long as possible. Drunk on power and money, they eventually will have to hit a bottom, just like drunks of another kind. They will try everything they can to keep drinking from the trough of power and money. The day will come, one way or another, where all the king's horses and all the king's men will not be able to keep Humpty Dumpty together. Change is on the way. We can speed up the process by our actions. Don't give power and don't give money to those whose interest is in their own power and money.

I get calls from the "Democratic" party every month, rain or shine, asking for money. I don't give them any. I get appeals from the "Democratic" candidate for governor, and just got a repeat mailing from "Ready for Hillary." No money for them either. Some recorded voice calls me every other day, saying "If this is James, please press 2." I hang up, not being "James," but would hang up even if I were "James."

Decorporatizing my buying habits is a little more difficult, but I've been at it for decades. I get my food through a food coop, local farmers' markets, a Community Supported Agriculture farmer, and a small amount through a regional grocery chain. I don't eat meat. I ride a bicycle most of the time, and go to free events around town, including yoga and meditation classes. I don't subscribe to cable or dish, finding plenty of TV to watch with a converter box. I have never owned a cell phone or texting device. I built almost all my furniture. For movies I go to the cheapie theater when they are about a month or two old. Sometimes I check out a DVD from the public library.  I get my health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Instead of a bank, I use a credit union.

With all the money-saving and non-corporate buying habits I have practiced, I still live at a higher level than about 99% or more of the people on this planet. It's a struggle for almost anyone to make ends meet, but it's easier with simple needs. In regard to the rich and powerful, I have never started a war, never killed anyone, haven't ordered a drone strike on ordinary civilians, haven't dumped oil in the ocean, contaminated a water supply, caused cancer, or used greed to make myself rich while others got poor. It's been an imperfect life, but a simple life. It's what we'll all be doing very soon.
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It might be time to stop observing Earth Day. Here's why.

Here's some IZ.

This Moody Blues album is worth a listen or two.

I heard Doris Day say in a recent interview that she hates this song. Maybe the future IS ours to see.

Leonard Cohen has a vision of the future. He also makes this prediction.

Here's a song for our wealthy 1%.

If you're wondering where to lend a hand, here's a bit of advice on what to avoid.

Here's some futuristic music.

I almost forgot about this Neil Young song. Then of course there's this, a foreboding from long ago.

R.I.P. Jesse Winchester. He did a brave thing long ago, something I sometimes wish I had done. I only knew this song as done by Brewer and Shipley, but Jesse Winchester wrote it. Allen Toussaint performed a tribute to him last fall. Here's a nice song.
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Here's a not-so-encouraging update about wildfire season.

Here's an update about the supposed negative view of the future. This link takes you to the New York Times article referred to. And, of course, this song.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Have a Better Story

The Boston Marathon was held today after much pre-race hype - endless stories about the attacks last year, the survivors, the security precautions for this year, and the ritualization of "Boston Strong" as some kind of show of strength against "the terrorists," - a nebulous body of practitioners of frightening "America," it would seem. Over 36,000 people ran the race.

It's hard to fathom why this country responds to events the way it does. The best I can come up with is that there has to be an official unifying narrative that creates a sense of togetherness. A year ago two people on the fringe of society exploded a couple of pressure cookers near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Somehow this was a vastly greater crime than the routine murders that take place every day all over the country in cities large and small, in rural areas, in bodies of water, and sometimes in the air.

Last Tuesday Boston's radio station WBUR aired a segment The Boston Marathon Bombing And America’s Terror Threat Now, exploring the threat of terrorism today and security measures to prevent it. It was a pretty pro-forma discussion, and I had this response:

In the modern mass system we depend on bureaucracies to make and implement policy. This hour was a good example. Focusing on the Boston Marathon, various bureaucracies involved are busy preparing for last year's attack, as if somehow it can be prevented this year.

The problem with this approach is that last year's attack happened last year. The perpetrators of that attack didn't plan for a previous attack that would be easier to stop. Instead, they planned for something new that would be more likely to succeed.

I remember during the Vietnam war that after 1968 preparations were made every spring for the Tet Offensive, as if a one-time assault campaign was going to happen every year because it was done once. Bureaucracies are good at projecting trends far into the future.

What doesn't occur to bureaucracies, because it can't, is that the best way to prevent terrorism is to avoid diddling around the planet starting wars, kidnapping people, torturing, imprisoning, attacking civilians with drones, and scapegoating a specific religious belief. We live in a world where vast numbers of people are afflicted with a variety of mental disorders. If you add a context of perceived religious persecution to a mix of mentally unstable population you increase the likelihood of some of them planning terrorist attacks.

If you add to this predicament a largely irresponsible mass information media industry that chooses to foment the prejudices that inflame the situation, some people will be driven even farther over the edge.

There very likely won't be another attack at the Boston Marathon. There will be another attack somewhere else, though, one of these days. It will be the one that we aren't preparing for.
The race was run without incident, with much hoopla over the first "American" winner in thirty-one years, Meb Keflezighi, a naturalized citizen born in "Eritrea." CNN calls his victory "triumphant in a storied race that has become a national symbol of resiliency and determination." In Los Angeles he is praised as a "Californian."

Meanwhile, on the diddling around front, fifty-five people have been killed in "U.S." drone strikes in "Yemen," and according to our leaders, ALL are of course "Al Qaeda." Maybe, maybe not. We'll have to see how this plays out. One man's "Al Qaeda" is another man's unlucky civilian. There has been so much deceit from high places over the past many years that it's hard to tell what to believe.

The conquering heroFor most of us, the dual triumphs of the Boston Strong Marathon and the bombing of the maybe, maybe not "AQAP" base in "Yemen" are good enough. We'll take our triumphs where we can get them. When the Bush criminal regime invaded "Iraq" it did so with 90% public support.

There's just one problem with a populace so easily swayed. It can be easily swayed in any direction. A society so needful of reassurance is fair game for manipulation. All that is required of manipulators is the ability to tell a good story. If metaphor and myth can be evoked, hearts and minds will follow.

Maybe this is a lesson for "leftists" and others who advocate for change. Have a better story. If George W. Bush could avoid responsibility for the worst domestic attack in "American" history, invade two countries, and usher in the most serious economic decline since the Great Depression, maybe he knew something about mythmaking. It's grating to think that he had any skill at anything, but his farcical presidency was skillfully criminal. It would have failed without effective storytelling. Just for a little compare and contrast, imagine somber John Kerry presiding over the "911" attacks, the invasions of "Iraq" and "Afghanistan" and the meltdown of the economy. He'd be tarred and feathered.
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As suspected, the triumphant bombing of "Al Qaeda" "leaders" turned out to be less than what was bragged about.

Here's a song that fits. Here's another. This too.

For an update on diddling around the planet, click here

Here's an update on the nature of our government's torture, kidnapping, assassination and whatnot infrastructure.

Here's a variation on a theme. Time is running out. The U.N. report on climate change hints that this could be the last time for saving our species.

More people are thinking this way, though they may not look the part.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Pardon Leonard Peltier Now

I was saddened to hear yesterday of the death of author Peter Matthiessen. I met him once, here in Madison, after a talk he gave. I wrote about it in a comment to a story about him on National Public Radio:
I went to a talk he gave at a campus church in the 1990s. Afterwards there was a reception at the Memorial Union. In the walk to the Union I got to talk with him a bit. He was very gracious, down to earth, engaging. 

The subject of his talk was the imprisonment of Native activist Leonard Peltier. It was my introduction to Madison's posturing "left." Instead of asking questions or contributing to the conversation, one person after another stood up to brag about how "I was there when...!" or "I'm the editor of the Progressive, and...!" or some such. It was pretty incredible - a one-upping fest.

Matthiessen handled it deftly and with mirth, but he eventually tired of the onslaught. He finally had said all he had to say, and ended the contest. He was focused on his purpose for being there - to talk about the imprisonment of Leonard Peltier and the context in which it took place. Having accomplished that, he called it a night and left.

R.I.P. We cherish these examples of how to live our lives. If we're lucky we can pass it on to others.
PBS's NewsHour had a nice remembrance today.

Maybe as a tribute to Matthiessen the president could give Leonard Peltier a pardon. Actions speak louder than apologies. Here's a hashtag: #PardonLeonardPeltierNow.
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For an explanation of why Leonard Peltier should be pardoned, click here.

You can sign a petition to pardon Leonard Peltier here

Robert Redford is also campaigning for a pardon for Leonard Peltier.

The title of Peter Matthiessen's book about Leonard Peltier is In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.

In Open Salon you can read Heidi Herron's story about Leonard Peltier. 

Here's a song by Leonard Peltier's friend and colleague John Trudell.

This is from Brewer and Shipley. Here's the original Jim Pepper version.

Here's some Native music.

Here's Johnny Cash singing the Ballad of Ira Hayes.

Here's an album with Native flute player R. Carlos Nakai. Playing with him is Nawang Khechog, a Tibetan flute and didgeridoo player. I worked with him at the Omega Institute in 1993. When he came to Madison a few years later he arranged an introduction to the Dalai Lama's friend and teacher Geshe Sopa at nearby Deer Park Monastery. I still have the piece of PVC pipe he gave me in a didgeridoo class he taught at Omega. Unfortunately, it's too late in the game for me to try to play again. Circular breathing would probably result in no breathing.

Here's an interview with Geshe Sopa.

NPR did an interview yesterday with a woman who was sexually assaulted at Amherst College and has gone public with her story. I posted this comment, and a few others in response to some dumb other comments. It led to another comment in the Harvard Crimson.

R.I.P. also to Mickey Rooney. He wasn't exactly my all-time favorite actor, but he had his moments, especially The Black Stallion. He was a trooper, acting until his death. His last movie, Night at the Museum 3, will be out this year.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Let's Get Unstuck

The biggest stories in yesterday's (and today's) news were the "U.S." Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited spending in political campaigns and a second shooting at Fort Hood Army base in Texas. In the discrete world of Western thought these two events would seem to be unrelated, but in the world where we actually live, everything relates to everything else. I will explain.

In 2000 Al Gore won the majority of votes nationwide in the presidential election. In Florida a massive level of fraud kept thousands of people from voting through various means long practiced in southern states. On election day the reported lead went back and forth in Florida between Gore and George W. Bush, the "Republican" candidate. Television networks projected Gore as the winner based on exit polls, but Bush strategist Karl Rove knew better. He called the networks, telling them to hold off on declaring Gore the winner. It is highly suspected that the reason he was so confident is that he knew how the votes were being counted, particularly the votes cast by computer.

The “Republican thugs” engaging in the “Brooks Brothers Riot”, November 19, 2000, intimidating the ballot recounters in FloridaThe vote was so close that a recount was requested. This brought in the phase of resistance to the recount by "Republicans," eventually being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with the "Republicans." With the recount stopped, Bush was declared the winner, and the rest, as we have seen so unhappily, is history.

Not long after Bush took office his active negligence paved the way for the attacks of September 11, 2011. These attacks were followed by the invasion of "Afghanistan," and then "Iraq." From my perspective these invasions were meant to deflect criticism - and investigation - of the Bush regime's culpability for the "911" attacks. We have not had a credible investigation of the attacks to this date, and likely won't for a long, long time. A future historian will have to do it when is far too late to do any good.

As anyone who has served in the military knows, waging war involves costs that will be paid for a long time and in tragic ways. When the wars waged are largely for public relations purposes and reward to cronies, the costs borne by the public can be especially painful.

With the ascendancy of George W. Bush we not only had the "911" attacks and two invasions of other countries, but the replacement of two Supreme Court Justices. One of them, John Roberts, received a direct appointment to be Chief Justice. He was a legal adviser to the administration of Florida governor Jeb Bush in its recount strategy. He must have given good advice, because the recount was stopped and George Bush became president.

As a reward for his efforts in stopping the recall John Roberts was given the Chief Justice appointment. In true spirit of reciprocity, he has rewarded back, making it easier for "Republicans" to amass huge "war chests" for future elections, rendering our democracy a moot facade. First there was the Citizens United decision, decided by one vote. Then yesterday's decision, completing the government for sale trajectory.

With government for sale made much easier it will also be easier for bought politicians to start wars. Bush depended on mass hysteria over the September 11 attacks to get his invasions. With both houses of Congress completely bought, future presidents will have an easier time to engage in international mischief. They also will have an easier time engaging in domestic mischief.

So we have another attack at Fort Hood, the largest military base on Planet Earth. Just in terms of probability, it is more likely for trouble to take place where the numbers are higher. Still, two deadly attacks at the same base raise some questions about Fort Hood. The more important question, though, is whether the rash of suicides and shootings at military bases would be occurring if there we hadn't invaded and occupied "Afghanistan" and "Iraq," to say nothing of numerous other military activities around the planet.

If we reverse engineer yesterday's headline news, would there have been a Supreme Court decision to enable government for sale if the Florida recount were allowed to proceed? Would there have been the "911" attacks and the catastrophic invasions of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq?"  Would there have been the meltdown of the economy in 2008?

I think it is safe to say that none of these things would have happened. Of course, this presumes that the momentum of human presence on this planet would move in the direction of peace, prosperity, and clean government. As we have seen over the history of human existence, the will for doing horrible and sadistic things to other humans holds great sway. It could have been worse.

Regardless of how we got to the point where we have government for sale and soldiers killing fellow soldiers, we can correct the errors that got us to our present circumstances. We can send George W. Bush and his regime to The Hague for war crimes. We can remove John Roberts from the Supreme Court, along with his fellow Bush appointee Samuel Alito.

If we were to fully examine the "elections" of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, we would likely find election chicanery that would render their Supreme Court appointments moot, enabling the removal of Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy. All these men were appointed by presidents who were not legitimate. Ronald Reagan, movie actor, had his "October Surprise" and involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair. George H.W. Bush had his Willie Horton gimmick, and his own involvement in Iran-Contra. George W. Bush had his fake "compassionate conservatism," desertion from the Texas National Guard, and the Florida recount decision - made by Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, Reagan appointee Sandra Day O'Connor, and Nixon appointee William Rehnquist. Nixon of course was "elected" on the basis of his fake claim to have a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam war. Then there was Watergate.

That's a lot of reverse engineering. Who knows where we would be today if the four presidents mentioned had never been "elected." It's hard to say, but we would still be on a course of exponential economic growth and corporate irresponsibility. So in the long run there are certain inevitabilities that will happen no matter who is president. Our unsustainable economic system would still be doing whatever possible to keep growing. We would still be doing next to nothing about climate change. "Istrael" would still be receiving massive amounts of aid, killing "Palestinians," and settling in "Palestinian" areas. We would still be giving huge amounts of military aid to "Egypt."

In spite of the overall trajectory of our mass industrial system, I can't help but conclude that in the immediate we would be better off had there been no "elections" of Nixon, Reagan, Bush 1, and Bush 2. We wouldn't have had these terrible Supreme Court decisions, the September 11 attacks, two wars, and the repercussions of those wars. We might even have an elevated level of dialogue about the problems we face. Instead, we're stuck with what we have. Let's get unstuck.
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I created a hashtag for this: #ImpeachTheRobertsCourt . This might be a better one: #ImpeachTheRobertsFive

 Here's a song of inspiration from David Bowie. Here's another. Here's a song from Woodstock. Can't leave the Stones out. Or the Beatles. Also slow Beatles. Tracy Chapman. Gil Scott-Heron. Bob Marley. Peter Tosh. Sly. Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions. Bob Dylan

Here's a link from years ago in case you could use a reminder.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich offers this analysis of the Supreme Court decision.

The kids they dance and shake their bones. He invited people sixty and over onstage when he was in Madison a few years ago. I ruined the video I made of it. It was great fun, same song. Encore. Here's some more kids who dance and shake their bones. Here's a song about dancing from my youth.

In the realm of the absurd, NPR is running a story on the art of George W. Bush. It's worth keeping in mind that such a story would never have appeared if the votes in Florida were accurately counted in 2000. He could be painting his childish portraits in the obscurity he so richly deserves.

Thom Hartmann says that no "Republican" president since Eisenhower has been legitimately elected. And I thought I was the first to figure this out. Maybe I was. It doesn't matter. The important thing is that the word spreads.