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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.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The illusion of being "liked"

A risky messageIn my previous post I wrote something that was inaccurate, and inconsistent with what I had written previously. In attempting to shed a bit of light on why people around the world don’t like Americans anymore, I said that Americans aren’t particularly likeable people. I fell into the trap that I have been rebelling against my entire life: allowing the way I perceive reality be defined by others.

To have "unlikeable Americans," there have to be "Americans" to begin with. "America," the land named after Italian con artist Amerigo Vespucci, includes the continents of "South America" and "North America," with the lower part of "North America" having the distinction of being its own "America," called "Central America." So except for "Norteamericanos," which is what people south of the border with "Mexico" call people north of the border (and south of "Canada.").

If you accept the commonly understood use of the term "American" by people north of "Mexico" and south of "Canada," the concept still doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. There are people who were born between the borders, but moved away when very young, and live in countries all over the planet. Many of them do not speak "English."

There are people whose parents came here "illegally," and have lived here for as long as they have memories, who only speak "English," but are not citizens. They sound and move the same as other "Americans," but can and have been deported.

There are people who were born here, which makes them citizens, such as children of foreign students, businessmen, and diplomats who spent years growing up here, and then moved back to their parents home countries, though they are most familiar with the "United States."

Then there are immigrants, who moved here with the intention of becoming citizens, but who are mostly acculturated to their home countries. They may not speak "English" at all, or very little. Refugees from countries like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Somalia, Kosovo, China, Tibet, and many other countries fit into this category.

In addition to these distinct varieties of "Americans," there are the ethnic divides. The most polarized division is between people of "European" descent, mistakenly referred to as "white," and people who descend from "African" slaves, also mistakenly referred to as "black."

Then there are the regional differences within the "United States." "Hawaii," our 50th "state," is a five hour plane ride across the "Pacific" from "California." It used to be an independent country until the government of the “United States” overthrew its monarchy and made "Hawaii" a U.S. territory. Nowadays it is a mixture of many ethnicities, including Native Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Caucasian (Haole), other Polynesians, Korean, Vietnamese, and many others. There are relatively few African Americans is Hawaii, and they are derisively referred to as "Popolos." The dominant cultural characteristic is what is commonly called the "Hawaiian spirit," a modernized version of the ancient Hawaiian culture, which can roughly be described as friendly, casually intimate, laid back, and an attitude of "Aloha," a concept worthy of its own story. "Aloha" is translated by some as meaning "In the presence of God."

"Alaska" was purchased from Russia. I have never been to "Alaska," but from what I have gleaned, it possesses a fairly distinct culture, consistent with its weather and history as an outpost and refuge for adventurers and independent souls.

The "Mainland" "U.S.A," the "Lower 48," or "U.S.A." proper can be divided into different regions, with their own habits, patterns, histories, weather, and demographics. The old distinction of "North" and "South" may have had meaning in the Civil War era, but the "country" has grown tremendously since then in size, population, ethnic makeup, and in cultural complexity.

Now there is the "Northeast," “Southeast,” “Midwest,” “Midsouth,” “Southwest,” “Northwest,” and “West,” the “Atlantic” coast, and the “Pacific” coast. These areas are not all that distinct, and some places are referred to in more than one category. For instance, “Oklahoma” is sometimes considered part of the “West,” sometimes the “Midwest,” and sometimes the “Southwest.” “Montana” has been referred to as the “West,” the “Northwest,” and by its own distinction, the “Big sky country.” “Colorado” is “West,” as are “Utah” and “Nevada.”

There are further regions, such as the "Great lakes," – "Minnesota," "Wisconsin," "Illinois," "Indiana," "Michigan," and "Ohio." "New York," is bordered by two great lakes, but is not considered a "Great lake" state. Even "Pennsylvania" has a border with "Lake Erie," but also is not considered a "Great lake" state.

The "Four corners" area is where "Colorado," "Utah," "New Mexico," and "Arizona" meet. The "Texarkana" area is where "Texas," "Arkansas," and "Louisiana" meet. The "states" bordering "Mexico" are creatively known as the "border states." Six of the "Northeastern" states are also called "New England." The original thirteen "states" are also known as the "colonial states," because they were colonies of "Great Britain" before the "Revolutionary war." The "states" that seceded from the "Union," leading to the "Civil war," are also known as the "Southern states," "Dixie," and "the deep South."

Then there is the "Sun belt," generally the "states" in the "South" and "Southwest," where the weather is warmer, and the "Sun" is more prominent as a factor in daily life. The "Ice belt" generally refers to the "states" in the north people moved away from to be in the "Sun belt." There is also the "Rust belt," formerly industrialized states in the north, where many factories have closed due to competition from lower labor-cost foreign businesses.

I put all these names in quotes because they are all human ascriptions, all impositions on phenomena that categorize them for human communication and convenience. But it should be clear that there is no stereotypical "American" any more than there is a "Negro," "Mexican," "Jew," or "White."

So it would be hard to be either a "likeable" or an "unlikeable" "American," the term being pretty undefineable.

Then there is the problem of "likeability." It would be hard to find anyone that someone doesn’t "like." To "like" someone means to have positive regard for that person, to enjoy the person’s company, and to care about the well-being of that person. Even George W. Bush, the number one international criminal on the planet today, is "liked" by many people. There’s no accounting for taste. I have to admit to having fleeting positive regard for Bush. In both instances, it didn’t last more than a few seconds. He said a couple of things I agreed with, and I gained an understanding of how fickle and illusionary our likes and dislikes are.

I happen to "like" a lot of people who can be called "Americans" with a certain confidence. Some of them even "like" me. I "like" a lot of "Americans" I don’t even know, like Goldie Hawn, Jack Nicholson, Winona Ryder, Lyle Lovett, Russ Feingold, Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington, John Prine, Danny Glover, Al Franken, Morgan Freeman, and Tammy Baldwin. I’ve met Russ Feingold and Tammy Baldwin, but I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to say I "know" them.

Then there is the whole issue of "likeability." In the past, what people in other "countries" considered "likeable" about what they perceived to be "Americans," had a lot to do with "North America" having been seen as the "New World," the land of promise and plenty, the defeater of "Nazi" and "Japanese" imperialism, and because of the money and goodwill provided by "American" tourists.

Now "Americans" are not so popular, thanks to a succession of coups de etat, overthrows of governments, backings of dictatorships, and dubious wars and invasions of such diverse places as "Vietnam," "Grenada," "Panama," and of "Iraq," twice. For no reason other than pure evil, a bombing is being planned for "Iran," likely with nuclear weapons. The likeability of "Americans" will likely plummet even further.

This looks pretty grim, but there may be something we can do to improve the situation. Of course, the immediate cause of our unpopularity is the death-dealing of the Bush crime family, and as long as he is in office, "America" and "Americans" will become hated around the world. All we need to do is impeach Bush and his gang, send them to prison for the rest of their misspent lives, and install a decent and law-abiding regime in their place.

This is not likely, even if the Democratic party secures a clear majority in both houses of Congress this fall. There is too much inertia and protectiveness for the illusory "status quo." The established elites have too much to lose, at least in their own eyes, and will do whatever is necessary to secure their place in the social hierarchy.

That leaves the rest of us. Our "elites" didn’t come from the moon. They come from us, from the same social structure, the same cultural climate, the same value system. If we change our cultural values, maybe we can change our overstructure, our elite, our ruling class. It may be too late and there may be too little time to prevent the bombing of "Iran," but the direction the "country" takes in the future cannot be done if in a discontinuous manner with the culture at large.

I can use my own life as an example. I have lived in disharmony with "normal" "American" culture my entire life. I ran away from home when I was three years old – just wandered off, wanted to see what there was in Chicago, the city of my birth. When I was five, I told my older brother and sister on Christmas eve that there is no Santa Claus. I flunked out of being an altar boy in my "Catholic" youth, one of the luckier "failures" I have experienced. I was even a dissenter in the Boy Scouts, not going along with our "leaders" in their complaints about a summer camp.

Then there was the Army, described in previous posts. I was very, very lucky to have rebelled the way I did without getting in serious trouble. I even made rank, was an E-5 when I was honorably discharged in 1971. In the later years of the Vietnam war the Army became a near-mutiny, and I was far from alone in giving back huge amounts of grief to the "lifers," as we called them.

In pursuing "Eastern," "traditional," and "alternative" spiritual and healing practices, I wasn’t attracted to them out of rebellion, but a rebellious spirit certainly made it easier to break from the limits of "European" based cultural confinements.

For all this departure from the boundaries of modern cultural constraint, when pondering the question of likeability, I had to wonder if I have become unlikeable, just as much as other undefineable "Americans."

Whether we like it or not, everyone in this country is in the same mix, the same cultural pressure to conform, and the same silliness that passes for meaning. I think it is possible to be really alternative, to be a person of peace, of spirit, of love, of kindness, in harmony with all creation, treading light upon the Earth, consuming little, leaving little waste, supporting holistic products and lifestyles, and serving as an example for all to follow.

That’s a nice ideal, but I’ve fallen a bit short. I have worked in alternative functions, as an electrician and plumber during my guru-following days, and doing general maintenance when I was working for a holistic studies center. But these were done according to modern codes and standards of practice. I was a plumber longer than anything else, and laid copper, cast iron, black iron, galvanized, brass, and PVC plastic pipe – just like any plumber in the trade. Also ABS and polyethylene for that matter.

When the invasion of Iraq was brewing I joined a group of veterans working for peace. It didn’t take long before the group devolved into jealousy, infighting, and power-grabbing, and I eventually quit. I wasn’t exactly St. Francis of Assisi either, but pretty much confined myself to doing the group’s website, and tried to avoid the turmoil.

Shortly before the invasion I put a bumper sticker on the back of my car that said "Another veteran against war with Iraq." Even here in supposedly "liberal" Madison, this aroused a lot of reaction. Someone "keyed" my trunk. No one made any gestures of any kind, except one "peace sign," but what started happening immediately was that on Madison’s version of a freeway, the "Beltline," cars and pickup trucks would tailgate me when the drivers read the bumper sticker. After Bush’s "Mission accomplished" landing on the U.S.S. Lincoln, he started threatening other countries, so I made letters from a collection of bumper stickers that spelled out "Syria," "Iran," and "Korea." I didn’t bother with the phony distinction between "North" and "South" "Korea." A war against "North" "Korea" would be a war against all of "Korea."

My response to the tailgating was to give them what I call "The treatment." A brief introduction to their ancestors. The treatment was good enough for the vast majority, but there were a few who were persistent, and for them I developed "The treatment number 2."

Around Madison "The treatments" sufficed to make driving tolerable, but I learned fairly soon that driving around Chicago was a different story. On the freeways there tailgating is pretty much a way of life, and I did not once experience the kinds of masculinity-challenged drivers I did here. I knew also by very strong intuition that "The treatment" was not something to do in that area. In Chicago they really are tough.

The downside of having bumperstickers that advocate peace, or at least opposing war, was that I became an aggressive driver. I used to be what I call an intentional driver. I intend to get where I’m going. It’s less than aggressive, but not being a fearful or submissive driver.

Gradually, by having the anti-war bumperstickers, I started driving as one ready for trouble, ready to issue "The treatment" at a moment’s notice. Finally, about a month ago, I noticed I had become something I had held in contempt for decades: a mean driver. Another driver cut me off, and I reacted by giving him a variation of "The treatment," something a few years ago I was incapable of.

The bumperstickers have to go. I’ve been avoiding taking them off because the paint will come off with them. The point has been made. I don't get tailgated anymore. Most people are against the war now anyway, so now it feels like an ego thing, like bragging.

So the subject of "likeability" is a bit of an illusion, not so easy to attain or hold on to. We are all in the same boat, whether we like it or not, or whether or not we realize it. I’m not sure being liked is even something worth pursuing or cultivating, but I think one thing can be said for certain: we would all like each other a lot more if we didn’t allow sociopaths to gain control of our government, and if we would not be so eager to attack other countries.

I would be a much safer driver too.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Holographic juxtapositions

Torture is its own rewardIt's juxtaposition time again, and today's news provided an abundance. I narrowed it down to two items, holographic in nature - the parts revealing the whole. The first is about the desire, nay, zeal, of some politicians for reviving the death penalty in Wisconsin. The other is a report that people around the world don't like Americans so much anymore.

Neither of these stories should come as much of a surprise. There is great zeal in the United States of America for killing people. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were met with rousing enthusiasm. And, self-delusions and self-congratulations aside, Americans aren't particularly likeable people. Aggression and violence are highly valued here, manifest mostly in our entertainment media, video games, spectator sports like football, hockey, boxing, wrestling, and car racing. Our roadways are studies in aggressive behavior. I find it difficult to even converse with people, because there's nearly always something else going on. After a very few sentences I find I'm having to deal with people's angular needs, and even simple exhanges of information are clouded by agendas, typically involving dominance-submission gambits. I have a friend who is a member of a plains tribe, and he and his family's exceptions to this rule serve to prove it.

The horrors and excesses of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the murderous invasion of Iraq, extraordinary rendition, the illegal government spying on American citizens, and the proliferation of hate media have not exactly caused massive outrage or demands for impeachment. Even revelations about the planned bombing of Iran haven't aroused much outrage or interest.

In studying the zeal for the death penalty, the entire pathology of American character can be understood. Capital punishment in ancient times was consistent with the general level of civilization, and for practical as well as philosophical reasons was the norm. Nowadays it is seen as neither a deterrent nor as a useful punishment. It is a form of revenge.

There are two reasons a politician might advocate for capital punishment: demagoguery and a genuine desire to kill people. A lower-level being who attains political office will tend to be stuck in the lower levels of needs fulfillment: sex, power, and money. By inciting people with revenge/blood lust fantasies, he (typically) can get a double rush: power feedback from the mob and the self-rewarding delusion of moral superiority.

When the campaign is successful, the supporting politicians get a third rush: killing people. The essence of capital punishment is killing people, and that is the fundamental motivation behind its promotion. Advocates of the death "penalty" want to kill people.

Just the use of the term "death penalty" should give us some pause. Everyone dies. So if there is a death "penalty," then it is something we all eventually suffer. An inevitable and integral part of life is considered a "penalty." Since it is no longer done by use of the gallows, firing squad, or electric chair, the "penalty" is not so shameful, painful, and horrendous. It's clinical, with all the skill and efficiency of a medical procedure.

For one reason alone, I can demonstrate the wrongness of capital punishment. Someone has to be hired to commit premeditated murder. In the era of George W. Bush that may not seem so unusual, but when a nation approves of such a practice it is already warmed up for more killing.

From zeal for the death penalty, it is not hard to see that Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo aren't much of a step into the deep. All credible research on torture indicates that it is ineffective in eliciting valuable information. So why is it done? For the pure pleasure of torture itself. To have power over other people. To inflict terrible pain and suffering on them. To scare them out of their wits, to terrorize them. Those who terrorize other people are terrorists by definition.

Another purpose served by torture for the Bush crime family is that it "proves" to the folks back home that the BCF is serious about the "War on terror." Terrorizing people around the world is our main weapon in the "War on terror." If that's the case, then we are at war with ourselves. It's like a dog chasing its own tail. Except the dog isn't hurting anyone, and is just being a dog, having fun. Using terrorism as a weapon against terrorism may be fun for the sociopath, but it is far from innocent fun.

So the old line about people in other countries loving the American people, but hating our government has outlived its usefulness. They know us all-too-well. When I was in the Army in Germany it was funny to watch the American tourists hit the town. The men (at least the middle-aged, moneyed ones) tended to walk around like they owned the place, chest out, stomach too, arrogant, rude. We always had fun with them because they were so dumb they couldn't tell we weren't Germans, even when we spoke English, which was all we spoke. We were the only people around with short haircuts, but they still couldn't tell. We wore civilian clothes whenever we were off-duty, but the local people knew immediately who we were.

Americans also walk differently, and even though the people I ran with weren't your typical Americans, there still is a Yankee body-English that foreigners can spot a veritable mile away.

Our cowboy-who-is-afraid-of-horses president is planning to bomb another country, as likely as not with nuclear weapons. This will make people around the world hate us even more. This does not bode well. No man is an island, and no nation can live in isolation. We are on the verge of economic collapse, and we are going to sorely need the cooperation of the rest of the planet.

Which brings up another item in today's news. The stock market is finally starting its slide downward. Who knows if it will rebound, but it will fall again. As economists are wont to say, the "secular trend" will be downward. The reason for the long-term downward slide is that we have an unsustainable economic system. The collapse has only been hastened by the irresponsibility and lawlessness of the Bush crime family, but it is inevitable that that the collapse would come at some point. Bush merely accelerated the process.

We have an infinite growth, nature destroying, greed-based, rapacious, pathological way of providing goods and services, on a finite planet. It is fueled by non-renewable carbon-based minerals extracted from beneath the surface of the Earth. It is inevitable that we finally have to face these facts and deal with them intelligently. That day is fast approaching.

And the rest of the world doesn't like us anymore.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Muttering and making faces

Death merchantsIf you have ever spent any length of time at a large university, you probably noticed one or more people walking around muttering to themselves and making facial gyrations. When I lived in Ann Arbor there was a guy like that, and he dressed accordingly, in what I described at the time as "philosophy student eccentric." To me this type of person was a form of disconnected personality, so completely intellectual that they go into a kind of psychosis of pure thought.

A few years later, in my second go-around in graduate school, the walking mutterer of the campus was in my department, Educational Psychology. The difference with this mutterer was that he muttered angrily, and went through a variety of irate facial gyrations. He was in a few of my classes, and I got to know him a bit. He fit what I had observed earlier: purely intellectual, erratic behavior, and before very long in a conversation would say something outlandish. In yogic lore, it’s the psychotic’s way of taking your energy. I had experienced this behavior pattern in psychotics before, and developed my own method of dealing with it. Say something even more outlandish. Agree with them, and take it a step farther. It works every time, often comically.

One day I got in a conversation with the fellow-student about our dependency on fossil fuels, and the eventual decline in oil supplies. In his typical out-of-the-blue fashion, he blurted out that scientists at the greatest university in America, of all places the University of Alabama (He was from Alabama), have discovered a new layer of oil supplies, and they will yield limitless quantities of oil. I asked him if the oil supplies were infinite. I could see the cognitive dissonance churning away in his disturbed mind, and he had no option but to say that yes, the oil supplies were infinite. I then asked if there is more oil than there is Planet Earth – is the oil supply bigger than the planet? This finally brought the level of absurdity to the breaking point, and he bolted away.

What reminded me of this encounter was a network TV show I watched the other night, "20/20" with John Stossel. He has written a book, "Myths, lies, and downright stupidity," an "expose" of conventional wisdom about modern society. Stossel contends that radiation, DDT, and toxic chemicals are actually good for you, that second-hand smoke doesn’t cause cancer, and lo, that oil supplies are virtually limitless. New research is showing vastly greater quantities of oil than was ever dreamed about.

If you look through Stossel’s list of myth debunkings, you find that what he does is challenge the exaggerations of known scientific knowledge, exaggerates anomalies – exceptions to known cause and effect relationships, and finds one scientist who dissents from the consensus view. Some of his arguments are worthy of further analysis, but in the overall sense it is clear that what John Stossel represents is a desperate, and, yes, psychotic attempt to create acceptance, compliance, belief and trust in the corporate state. Corporations are forces of good on this planet, and they have your interests at heart.

Without going too deeply into the great ideas of John Stossel, I can at least do a bit of debunking of his debunking about oil supplies. Whatever amount of oil is under the surface of the earth, it is a finite amount. It will not last forever. What Barry Commoner pointed out a couple of decades ago in "The Poverty of Power" is that entrepreneurs in the petroleum industry drill for the easiest to find oil first – the oil closest to the Earth’s surface. Over time, as the easy-to-find oil is depleted, they go for the harder to find oil, and have to drill ever deeper. Eventually, the energy used to extract the oil exceeds the energy available from the oil extracted – the cost is greater than the gain.

Stossel claims that new technologies are making the cost of extraction irrelevant, that we can now drill deeper, especially under the oceans, seemingly without risk. And toads can fly. The big rock candy mountain is around the next bend in the road. I wasn’t paying close enough to the show to hear whether this research was done at the University of Alabama, but it would be no surprise. It’s the old horn of plenty argument, the cornucopia, the gift-giving tree. The perpetual motion machine.

What I recommend to anyone concerned about the future of the planet and your own place in it is to start by observing the circumstances of your own life. If you drive to work, think about the congestion, the dead-stop traffic you may or may not experience at rush hour, the enormous amounts of energy consumed by people going nowhere. Think about the experience of driving, how it makes you feel, the aggression you take on just to survive the experience.

Then there is the experience of work, once you have survived the drive to get there. Do you find the work rewarding, uplifting, meaningful, and mutually supportive in the American workplace? Is the environment of the workplace healthy, or does it make you ill? Do you crave freedom, the end of the day and week, a better job, retirement, even a disability in order not to have to work any more?

From the immediate circumstances of your own life you can broaden your observation to how they connect with the larger society, and the ways that it creates the mythology that holds it together. This is done mainly through the mass information media: TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, movies, popular music, and the Internet. The most powerful influence is television. The dramas shown follow a typical theme of upsets or threats to social order – crime, disease, disaster – and conclude with the threat being conquered, and society holding together, with truth, justice, and the American way prevailing.

On TV news shows the underlying theme is that the United States of America is the center of the Universe, and that all that matters in the Universe depends on its relationship to the U.S. Within the United States, meaning is derived by how events relate to the inherent goodness and worthiness of the mythology of American life. Corporations plant stories about scientific research that yields wonder products, new medicines allow people to live longer, grow hair, have greater sexual "prowess," look better, drive impressively, and on and on and on. Then of course there is the advertising, which adds excitement and enthusiasm, commonly known as "hype" to the message.

The power of this message manipulation is immense, reinforcing a compliance, submission, and belief internalization that holds the society together. Except in recent years the compliance is strained, under challenge. It’s hard to say when it started, since dissent has been part of American culture from the beginning. Dissent against the very fabric of American life, though, started to manifest in the post World War II era with the "Beat" phenomenon. The "Beats" were a loose connection of social misfits, artists, writers, intellectuals - dropouts from mainstream American culture. In the 1960s the social unrest yielded a newer version of the Beat movement, known as the "hippies." Since then the "counterculture" has grown, divided into different manifestations, and created alternative business forms and products. Dissent against the dominant corporate culture is now a major factor of American life.

Major domos of the Bush crime familyInto this mix has come the Bush crime family, blowing the whole U.S. as center of the Universe mythology out of the water. First, by stealing the election of 2000, the BCF wasted no time criminalizing the executive branch of the government well beyond what was previously experienced. The "Energy task force" created by Vice President Dick Cheney was only the beginning. Denial of environmental threats led to attempts to authorize oil drilling in the Arctic, and refusal to comply with international attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Then there was September 11, 2001. The negligence by the Bush crime family before the attacks has yet to be addressed, but since that time we have invaded two countries, are planning to invade another, and attempts to establish a domestic police state are continuous. As the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has shown, we have a Federal government that is in a condition of failure, unable to function at a competent level. Our occupations of the countries we invaded are not going so well. The criminality of our executive and legislative branches of government is now reaching mind-boggling levels.

I’ve said it before in this blog, and begrudgingly have to say it again. George W. Bush will turn out to have been a perverse blessing. By taking the contradictions and vulnerabilities of American society to absurd new levels he is actually hastening the day when the mythology of our culture is destroyed. By combining the ideology of greed with uninhibited criminality he and his gang of thieves and killers are accelerating the dawn of a new era of true civilization. The corporate state is a criminal state, destructive of people, animal and plant life, and threatening to destroy the entire planet. When you have a system that threatens to destroy the entire planet, eventually it will destroy the entire planet. Thanks to the ineptitude of the Bush crime family, this is becoming painfully, frighteningly obvious.

The explainerMore and more people are becoming aware of this threat. Bush himself is the perfect messenger for the death culture of the corporate state. Whatever possessed the corporate elites to plant such a mediocre human being in the position of front man for their myth is a mystery to me. The only sensible conclusion I can draw is that in their arrogance, their hubris, they think that they can anoint anyone as their "leader," much like Eddie Murphy in "Trading Places."

Given that the way we go about human existence on this planet is on a path of total destruction, we will either change or be destroyed. Thanks to fools like George W. Bush and his legion of greater and lesser fools, the choice is becoming obvious. If you like Bush, you choose death. If you see him as a threat to life, you choose a new way of being. No amount of John Stossels in this world are going to put Humpty Dumpty together again, try as they may. We are on the verge of momentous, monumental change. You can help.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Universal health care made easy

The Madison VA HospitalOne thing that can be said for certain about the Bush crime family is that it is holographic: the part reveals the whole. On a segment of "News Hour" Monday on PBS, an analysis of the Medicare prescription drug program was presented. The plan was crafted by the BCF and its congressional helpers. May 15 is the deadline for Medicare recipients to sign up for the program, or they will be denied the "benefit."

Like anything else the Bush crime family has foisted on the American people, the prescription drug plan is not what it pretends to be. The real benefit - surprise, surprise - is to the pharmaceutical companies - huge campaign donors to the BCF, and to Republicans in general. The cynicism that is involved in foisting this scheme on the elderly public is well documented, and synopses can be read here and here.

In relatively few words I can put the entire issue of health care in the United States of America in sharp perspective. I get my health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. I have received care there for decades, on-and-off (mostly on). They do a better job than the HMO I was in when I had health insurance. It's not a perfect system, but it's pretty good, and the care is responsible, state-of-the-art, and free, except for medicines.

Most significantly in relation to the Medicare drug plan is that the VA charges a flat-rate of $8.00 per bottle for any prescription. The medicines change from time-to-time, because the VA shops around the different pharmaceutical companies for the lowest price. Because the VA is a large-scale health delivery system, it has what is known as "market power." Leverage can be brought to bear on pharmaceutical companies to provide medicines for a lower price. If they don't cooperate, a comparable medicine from a different company can be provided. It's a little uncomfortable changing medicines, because when I find one I like, I tend to want to stay with it. But it's not a big deal. I can live with it.

What has been the response of the Bush crime family to the veterans health care system? Bush tried to close the Madison hospital, as well as many other VA facilities. No care, no medicine, no anything for not just thousands of veterans, but millions. Because of public outcry and the efforts of Madison's representative in Congress, Tammy Baldwin, the closing plan for Madison was withdrawn. If the Bush criminal operaton gains success in any other area, though, the closing will be back on the table. Especially if the hoped-for bombing and/or invasion of Iran takes place, "budget imperatives" will make cutting back on veterans care "necessary."

There is another reason why the Bush crime family would like to cut back, if not eliminate, health care for veterans. Ever since the 2000 election was stolen, one of the priorities of the Bush criminal organization has been to "privatize" traditionally public services, such as schools, prisons, some military functions, telecommunication systems, health care, and Social Security. The term "public" means invested in the people as a whole - owned by the entire citizenry. "Private" means owned by individuals, the benefit of ownership accruing to the individual owners of whatever asset or function is of concern. The "conservative" plan is to "starve the beast" of government provision of goods and services, making them available to profit seekers.

The VA is a glowing example of a public, or government system that works. It provides health care far better than the private system, and provides it mostly for free to anyone who is eligible. All that is needed to qualify is to have served in the U.S. military: the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Being a working, universal health care system for veterans, it is living proof that a "single payer" health care system can be made to work, it can be done simply and efficiently, and at the lowest cost.

If you were a (criminal) politician, and received thousands upon thousands of dollars in campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), physician organizations such as the American Medical Assocition (AMA), large care facilities and hospital associations, and the various other parasitic economic interests involved, you would be dependent on these various entities for your continued tenure in office. In mafia terms, you would be "made." You would be owned.

This is the kind of politician that the economic parasites depend on to fulfill their desire to own the entire universe, hah, hah, hah, hah, hah! In the Republican Party, it can safely be said that it is virtually all of them. In the Democratic Party, it is likely to be many, if not most of them. Especially if they have been sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

So even if you aren't a veteran, it is in your interest to keep the VA as a thriving institution. There is a knowledge base that can be used to expand VA-type care to the general population. This knowledge should not be discarded, as the Bush crime family would have it, but also should be expanded and improved upon. We have a dynamic, working example of a government sponsored health care system, and it delivers high-quality, low-cost care to millions of people in every state in the U.S. When the time comes to have an honest, distributive, functioning democracy in the United States of America, this public health care system will be the example upon which to base our universal system.

How can this be done? First, get rid of the Bush crime family. Impeach the lot of them. Put them in jail, doing hard labor for the rest of their criminal lives. Then elect yourselves a Tammy Baldwin. Get your own Russ Feingold. If you live in Utah, get rid of Orrin Hatch. If you live in Indiana, get rid of Lugar. If you live in Tennessee, get rid of Frist. If you live in Mississippi, get rid of Lott. And on and on. Get rid of all Republicans, and most Democrats.

That's only for starters. Probably even before getting rid of crook politicians, we should all think about what it means to be a human being, what a human being needs to live a meaningful life, what we want to put in place to foster the pursuit of meaningful lives, and what it will take to achieve that goal. Once a structure is in place, we must develop means for measuring progress towards that goal, and how accountability is enforced.

Looked at this way, we are in a time of one of the greatest opportunities in history. As the Bush crime family is exposed, and more people are beginning to see how they've been hustled, suckered, hoodwinked, fooled, and cheated, their new awareness can be channeled into making positive changes in their own lives, and the lives of the body politic. For those of us working for change, we need to make sure that we remain a positive influence, and that we stay focused on being facilitators of truth, of justice, of decency, of harmony, and of ecology. We know all-too-well the harm done by the greed-based force of human endeavor.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Texas Ranch House

The 'cowboys' of Texas Ranch HouseIt's been a busy week in the annals of the Bush crime family. By the way, there seems to be some disagreement about whether to capitalize the "c" and "f" in Bush crime family. Actually, I'm the disagreement. I thought I invented the term (though I probably wasn't the first), and I didn't feel the Bush crime family deserved the honor that goes with being a full-fledged proper name. True to my original intent, the Bush crime family will remain as the Bush crime family, at least in this Blog. The acronym BCF will remain upper case. Otherwise it would look like a word without a vowel, sort of like Joe Btfsplk from the comic strip "Li'l Abner."

But I digress. It's been a busy week, with the performance by Stephen Colbert at the White House steno pool annual banquet leading the way. He stuck it to the man. Er, well, he stuck it to the semblance of a man. The man behind the curtain. The curtain was pulled back, ne'er to be closed again.

Then there's the new album by Neil Young, a rage of anti-Bush broadsides. He sticks it to the, uh, man behind the curtain. I played the free download all day at work Monday, listening in with my subversive earphone.

There also was the question and answer session at the highfalootin' "Southern Center for International Studies," where former CIA analyst Ray McGovern asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld why he lied about pre-Iraq war intelligence. Rumsfeld of course lied some more, but the pressure is increasing. He no longer talks so loud, no longer seems so proud. He is traveling around the country, scrounging for his next spiel.

Many of us were expecting Fitzmas by the end of the week, but it looks as though we have to wait a little longer. Bush Rasputin Karl Rove is likely to be indicted within days for his role in the Valerie Plame treason case. He will probably be charged with felony perjury for lying to the grand jury, but the untruth was intended to cover up his role in the treasonous revelation of Plame's Top Secret role in the CIA. As fate would have it, her role apparently was in investigating the nuclear energy and/or weapons program of the country known as "Iran."

Curiously, Bush's highly partisan CIA director, Porter Goss (Or is it Goss Porter?), abruptly resigned today. He didn't even bother to say he wanted to spend more time with his family. Apparently he was fired. It's really just a bit of furniture rearrangement on the Hindenburg, but what it shows is that appointing a political flunky to head the nation's top spy agency is not a decision based on competence or wisdom.

For all the energy and encouragement these various events and circumstances provided, what I found most interesting this week was a few obscure items on the Web. One is an interview in Salon, with "House of War" author James Carroll, where he elaborates on his argument that the Pentagon, as an institution, forms U.S. policy, rather than policies being shaped by individual "leaders."

The second item of interest was a posting in Kurt Nimmo's Another day in the Empire, where he talks about how Americans are being dumbed down, and observes that "Dictatorship and despotism thrive when ignorance and stupidity rule societies." He references a brilliant essay by the too-little known educator John Taylor Gatto, who describes the decline in literacy in "America" since World War II.

Another article in Salon, entitled "Lapdogs," is exerpted from a new book by Eric Boehlert in which he details the cowardice and cluelessnes of American maistream media (now known as the "MSM") in providing propaganda cover for the BCF's war in Iraq, a function that continues to this day.

Chris Floyd wrote an incisive essay in Empire Burlesque in which he contends that the Iraq war, the impending bomb assault on Iran, and unknown invasions thereafter are all part of a long-term strategic plan of American moneyed elites to control worldwide petroleum production, distribution, and pricing far into the future.

Not to ignore the impending collapse of our economic system, Mike Whitney writes in Smirking Chimp that, largely due to Bush's huge tax cuts for the rich and huge increases in military spending, and of course the trade deficit, the dollar is going into free-fall in world markets, and Iran is about to switch to the euro as the means of payment for its oil. This is the exact same move that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was planning when the Bush crime family invaded his country.

Through my Web searching I also became aware of Noam Chomsky's new book "Failed States," in which he delineates how the United States of America has become a failed state - failing to protect its citizens from violence, behaving as an international outlaw, suffering a "democratic deficit," and becoming a danger to its own people and the world.

The last item that caught my eye was another posting in Smirking Chimp, in which Elliot Cohen explains how our government and corporations are conspiring to limit access to the Internet, converting it to a weapon of mass deception.

The thread that runs through these various items is that our institutional framework, our infrastructure of government, corporations, information media and the school system are all working in their own ways to concentrate power and wealth to the very few, to foment wars all over the planet, to limit our ability to generate and have access to information, and to control what we think and do.

It might work for a while. A short while. The ultra-rich in this country got that way by rigging the system for themselves. They depend on the law-making, law-enforcement, judiciary, and military infrastructure to maintain their pre-eminence at the top of the mountain. True lords of the flies, their lordship exists in the pre-collapse American empire. Once the empire fails, their positions become highly precarious.

This precariousness was depicted in a most serendipitous manner this week, in a "reality" series on PBS titled "Texas Ranch House". A modern-day family was chosen to operate a ranch in what looked like southwest Texas, in conditions that existed in 1867, and a crew of eight men were recruited to work as cowhands, the ranch foreman, and a cook for just the buckaroos.

I don't subscribe to cable TV, so PBS is pretty much all I watch. I didn't expect much out of this show, because the previous "back to the settling of America" series were not very good. In the first segment of "Texas Ranch House," my expectations were confirmed, I thought, mainly because the cowboys-to-be didn't look very impressive. None of them even knew the correct way to swing a hammer when building the corral and fences.

Robby Cabezuela, foreman of 'Texas Ranch House'That turned out to be a minor concern. After "The Colonel," the first foreman, was fired, the group of cowboys jelled into a skilled and cohesive unit under the direction of the new foreman, Robby Cabezuela. This development in itself was enough to make me keep watching over the next several days.

The dynamic that was most metaphoric in this mini-series, though, was the interplay between the cowboys and the family chosen to "own" the ranch. The husband is a hospital administrator in real-life, and for the show he lived in the ranch house with his corpulent wife and three daughters. The cowhands stayed in a typical old-west bunkhouse. The living arrangement came to symbolize the more serious divisions between the two groups.

The arrogance, callousness, conniving, dishonesty, and narcissism of the family proved to be the undoing of the ranch. In typical ruling class mentality, the family lived in relative privilege, keeping the best and most nutritious food for themselves, while the cowboys gradually became gaunt from the poor quality food they were allotted.

The husband of the family was completely incompetent in running the ranch, continually alienating the cowboys with his laziness, dishonesty, and disrespect. He blamed them for everything that went wrong, and took credit for everything that went right. He continually went back on his word, and allowed his wife to intrude on private meetings and to override decisions made with the cowboys. In the end, the cowboys all quit and rode off, leaving the family to their own devices. If this had happened in 1867, the family would have perished in short order. If the indigenous tribes in the area, mainly the Comanches, didn't get them, their own stupidity would.

Very quickly I intuited this family as an archetype of Republican America. The overseer mentality, sense of "entitlement," self-centeredness, disrespect, ignorance, and extrapunitiveness are all characteristics of the "base" of support for the Bush crime family. You can see it in the fulminations of their myth-makers: Fox News, the MSM, the network of fundamentalist Christian-charlatans, and various story-tellers of the entertainment industry.

Ahh, the tragedy of the myth-making aristocacy. There's just one little problem with myth-making. It better have some relationship with the truth other than being 180 degrees opposite. This has been the downfall of liars throughout human history: Lying does not make things true. Your saying so doesn't make it so. You reap what you sow. Truth wins in the end. Events overtake.

So this past week was a bit of a watershed. The momentum of the BCF lying-thieving-murdering-destroying juggernaut was slowed down a bit, maybe even a lot. They will have to cook up even greater lies than in the past in order to regain their momentum. They also will have to have an even bigger "Pearl Harbor event" than the attacks of Septemeber 11, 2001, if they want to stay out of jail.

This will be interesting to watch, and maybe even a little fun. I don't believe the law enforcement, intelligence, and military superstructure of this country had any knowing involvement in the September 11 attacks. There may have been individual involvement, but not likely institutional involvement. As institutions, I believe they will not allow this to happen again. They have all been played for chumps by the Bush crime family. They have been disrespected, lied to, blamed, and made to shoulder the burden of the vile schemes of the Bush crime family.

Unlike the cowboys of "Texas Ranch House," they will not quit and ride off. If the Bush crime family is planning some kind of "Burning of the Reichstag" event, I trust that our intelligence agencies know about it. I may be wrong, but I believe they will thwart the plan or plans. There is much turmoil going on at the CIA, and presumably at our other law-enforcement and intelligence agencies. More than a little of it can be surmised to be resistance to the schemes of the Bush crime family.

The future of the entire planet hangs in the balance. The likelihood of its future being handed over to a pipsqueak criminal gang is about as likely as flying toads and big rock candy mountains. The real-life "Texas Ranch House" is about to get very interesting. Be sure to have enough popcorn and chocolate bars. Let the show begin!