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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.

My Photo
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.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Additive Outrage

In order to get a good sense of what is going on in the world, I read, watch, and listen to a number of news sources: National Public Radio (NPR), PBS, the BBC, the Ideas Network, and a variety of other types of media - magazines, newspapers, and a variety of websites (Salon, Smirking Chimp, etc.).

On weekdays I usually listen to Democracy Now on Madison's "leftist" radio station, WORT. The information is good, and I can filter the bias of the show to draw my own conclusions. It gets annoying sometimes, because the tone of the show is strident, self-righteous, and one of the underlying themes of the program is that as listeners we are members of "the movement," the underground of good, peace-loving, harmonious, equality-seeking, environmentally conscious opponents of government and corporate oppression.

Though I advocate the same things "leftists" do, I don't consider myself one of them. It's a cult identity, and it requires a belief in the ideology of "leftism." According to this ideology, there is a linear spectrum of both people and beliefs that ranges from one extreme of roughly collective sensibilities ("left") to the other extreme of individual and property advocacy ("right"). The spectrum doesn't actually exist, but it is the imaginary divide that has enabled a real divide. And the real divide enables the Bush criminal regime to play one "side" against the "other." Life imitates art.

Last Thursday's edition of Democracy Now was a perfect example of the show's method, and also of how "leftists" cohere. One of the segments described the security problems at "U.S" nuclear weapons sites. Program host Amy Goodman spoke in her usual condemning tone, noting that "At some bases, nuclear weapons were found to be guarded by private security guards and U.S. soldiers with just months of experience."

Just months of experience! The incompetence of it all! Actually, "just months of experience" should be more than enough to be good at doing guard duty. The months of experience come after months of training. A guard would never have any experience at all if there were not a first day of work. Any facility would of necessity have people from time-to-time on their first day of work. After a few months he or she would have months of experience. Or, in the Democracy Now parlance, just months of experience. I would feel more safe with someone who has just months of experience than someone with years of experience. After years of guard duty, laxity is more likely to creep in.

The security may be lax at nuclear weapons sites, but I don't think that "just months of experience" is the problem. Like almost all other problems in the military, it is likely that supervision, or lack of same, is the root of the problem.

Two other aspects of the Democracy Now segment caught my interest. One was the alarmist tone that accompanied the story. It's the same alarmist tone that accompanies all the Democracy Now stories. Alarmist and righteous, or really self-righteous. The intent is to create what I call additive outrage. Create a litany of grievances, where the audience can fall into conformity with the injunction "If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention!" Bad things are happening everywhere, and "we" are the last line of defense against total madness, and, of course, "fascism."

The other curious aspect of the story was the undifferentiated character of the report, as with every other report on Democracy Now. All things that go wrong in the world are treated with the same alarm, so Global Warming, the occupations of "Iraq" and "Afghanistan," Mugabe, the sinking economy, and guards at nuclear weapons sites with just months of experience are equally enraging. How can one help but scream "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"? There is no sense of priority, or really triage, when the implied response is outrage.

This is not a meaningless exercise in "leftist" bashing. The quality of our journalism is the quality of our dialogue, and the stated purpose of this blog is to raise the level of dialogue on this planet. A lofty goal, for sure, but if we don't raise the level of dialogue, we might as well give up and let our species destroy itself.

I used to buy into the "leftist" identity, so I am well aware of its strengths and weaknesses. It is an effective way of motivating people, and giving them a sense of belonging to a community, but it is necessarily a paranoid identity, and its inevitable polarization creates enemies. There has to be the "other."

Stop the presses!Thankfully, there are plenty of alternative journalism sources popping up all over the place. They are less ideological, and employ a lot of former "mainstream" journalists from the corporate news media. Here are a few:

Consortium News


Center for Investigative Reporting

Center for Independent Media

Center for Public Integrity

Global Integrity

Center for Media and Democracy

The Real News Network

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Common Dreams

Media Matters

Media Transparency

Reclaim the Media

Some of these organizations have been around for a while, and some are relatively new. They are all good sources of information, and you find find one or more that serve your interests. Better information yields better solutions, and also can keep you from going completely mad. Or, you just might want to choose the additive outrage of the "left" and "right." We still have freedom of choice.

In trying to find a better version of "The American Political Landscape - An alternative view," I found a few other things. The image is from the Utne Reader, November, 1991. The authors of the article and diagram are Eric Selbin and Ron Steiner. They've gone on to greater things, and have expanded their analysis to include the "Radical middle." Here are a few links I discovered in looking for a color diagram:

Utne article on the Radical Middle

The Radical Middle Newsletter

No Political Labels

The Co-intelligence Institute

Democracy Campaign

The New America Foundation

The Public Conversations Project

Public Eye

The Constitution Project

Postscript: I did ("pulled") guard duty once while I was in the Army, in Frankfurt, Germany in early February, 1969. I was at Gutleut Kaserne, a holding facility for new arrivals waiting to be assigned to a unit. It took five days to find a unit with my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), projector repair (41F), and there wasn't much to do. Basic training included guard duty training, so I roughly knew what to do, but had no experience. I volunteered, qualifying me to have a cot to sleep on when relieved. Otherwise, I would have to catch whatever sleep I could on the bleachers of the kaserne gym (not gymnasium, which in "German" means high school).

It was night when I pulled guard duty. I was given a helmet liner and an old rifle, unloaded. I felt like Barney Fife guarding the Mayberry jail. A lot of outsiders came in to drink and play the slot machines at the EM (enlisted men's) club, women of various sorts, German men of curious motives. I was given little in the way of instructions, just to stop cars entering the compund and check IDs. Or maybe nothing at all. I don't remember it very well. The two things I remember most are how boring it was, and how cold I got just standing there. Luckily, the "Russians" didn't pick that night to invade, and "America" was made safe for democracy.

Here's some independent journalism, courtesy of the New Yorker.

I wrote a comment in Salon a few days ago that expands a bit on the delusion of "left" and "right."

Here's a tune about news that you've probably never heard before.

Here's another.

This one might be a bit more familiar.

A well-informed public won't get fooled again.

Here's some Barney Fife.

One Don Knotts routine isn't enough. Here's another.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Getting it right

Tim RussertSince National Public Radio is considered the most "objective" major news organization in "America," it is a good benchmark of the state of journalism in the country. One can get lulled into thinking that one is getting the "straight story." And then a reality check appears.

A good example is last Thursday, when a segment pondered the question of Barack Obama's supposed lack of support from "Latino" voters.

First, it must be explained that the term "Latino" refers to anyone whose ancestry derives from speakers of the Latin-based "Romance" languages: "Italian," "French," "Spanish," "Portuguese," and "Romanian." In the vernacular it has devolved into a term for people of "Mexican," "Puerto Rican," "Cuban," and "Dominican" descent, as well as from various other nations of the "Americas" that are former colonies of "Spain" and "Portugal."

The thesis, or really rumor, was presented that because Hillary Clinton gained more votes than Obama among "Latinos" in the primary elections, that he has a challenge ahead in the general election. I was going to respond, but didn't have the time. I trusted that others would find this "analysis" faulty, and they did, pointing out that Obama leads McCain in polling among "Latinos" 62 to 28 percent. NPR can at least be credited with airing the responses, but it amounted to Gilda Radner's "Never mind" routine on Saturday Night Live.

The other telling episode in the state of "American" journalism was last Sunday's Meet the Press. The show's host, Tim Russert, died on June 13, so a panel of colleagues was assembled to engage in warm remembrances. You can watch it here.

There's nothing wrong with remembering a fallen friend and colleague, but when it is done on what purports to be a news interview program, the true nature of TV journalism is revealed. It's TV first, and journalism somewhere below first.

In order to make a profit, a television network has to bring advertisers to the shows it offers. That requires showmanship. That's not a bad thing. Without showmanship you lose viewers, and become something akin to the fringe offerings of a certain "community" radio station here in Madison.

Where it becomes a problem is when the reporters, interviewers, and commentators think that they are the news, that they are key "players" in the "game" of government and world affairs. Indeed, because they are on TV more, they can easily fall victim to the delusion that they are the most important "players." The term "celebrity journalist" was coined to describe this phenomenon, which now has become so disgustingly pervasive.

As far as journalistic quality is concerned, Tim Russert was better than most. Ralph Nader praised him on yesterday's Democracy Now, saying this:

Well, the last conversation I had with Tim Russert, maybe a month and a half ago, he told me how much he believed in intellectual tension on his program. He used that phrase, “intellectual tension.” I think that marked his willingness to have, other than the normal redundant Washington politicians on his show, although he had plenty of those, but I think why thousands of people lined up near the Washington Cathedral to pay their respects yesterday is because he had the human touch. He was the busiest mega-journalist in Washington; he ran the Washington office, he was on Meet the Press, he had a book review program on cable, he was on call by MSNBC and NBC all the time. And yet, no Washington journalist of his stature returned more calls to more people. So it wasn’t just an empty PR gesture on his part. I think he really was from South Buffalo.

Others are not so admriring, remembering Russert as a servant of power. Pierre Tristam for one, wrote this critique. I linked to Linda Milazzo's challenge to Russert before he died in my previous post. John Nichols offers a balanced remembrance here.

I happened to have an interaction a few years ago with Tim Russert, unrelated to his work as a TV journalist. I pretended not to know who he was. He was a decent enough guy, warm and with a sense of humor. I felt sad when he died, and wondered what his next experience would be. Unlike the panel of celebrities remembering his greatness, I always wonder about the present and future. I wonder what became of the many thousands who have been killed since the beginning of the Bush "presidency." Where do the people go that were killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks? Where do the people go who have been killed in "Afghanistan" and "Iraq?" Where do the people go who died in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita?

It's something to ponder. I of course wonder where I will go when the time comes. I wonder what form I will take the next time around. In my guru-following days it was often mentioned that to take a human birth is a great blessing, and something to be lived with great care and respect. I haven't always lived up to that ideal, but have organized my life around the pursuit of a higher level of consciousness.

One thing I don't wonder about is what will become of the members of the Bush criminal regime. That's not my not my problem, and not my interest. I remember a teacher in my yoga days who said "Mysterious are the ways of Karma." What matters is what we do here. We have an opportunity to bring this gang to justice, and thereby improve our own sowing and reaping. If we have done what we could to stand for a decent standard of justice and civilization, then maybe we deserve another chance at being human. Or, as Willie Nelson once put it, you keep coming back until you get it right. It's easier to get it right when you come back as a human.

A tune to fit the subject.

Here's another.

The search for a higher ground might take you here.

This is required for getting there.

This is a good metaphor.

This too.

And of course this.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Breaking the inertia

A slight pause in reading 'My Pet Goat'I was listening to National Public Radio Monday Morning, and among the news stories was this gem: "President Bush has reiterated his confidence in the American economy," and blah, blah, blah.

One could joke about this absurdity, Bush the economic soothsayer, but I didn't have my usual sense of irony. What struck me was how freely the term "President Bush" flowed from the lips of the news reader. "President Bush." It's kind of like "President Manson" or "President Speck." Or "President Gacy." "President Bundy." For Texans, how about "President Whitman?" For Nebraskans, "President Starkweather." For Wisconsinites, "President Gein," or "President Dahmer." No matter who it is, no matter how great the crimes of the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, our news establishment will behave as if he is someone worthy of honor, to be quoted and listened to, that his words have meaning.

This comparison will likely enrage some, but that's life. Bush is responsible for vastly more deaths and suffering than all of the aforementioned killers combined, thousands of times over. That he is still treated with deference and honor is a testament to the lack of standards in established "American" institutions - the news media, government, the corporate world, the wealthy, and hangers-on.

Examples abound. Glenn Greenwald of Salon routinely skewers propagandists and liars in the corporate news media, especially in their complicity with the plans, schemes, and crimes of the Bush regime. Last Saturday's offering is a good example, where he took the Washington Post's David Broder to task for his soft-pedaling of the crimes of the Bush organization, but still believes Bill Clinton should have been removed from office for fooling around with an intern. No complaints from Broder or anyone else in the corporate media about Clinton's bombing and enforcement of sanctions against "Iraq," resulting in the deaths of 500,000 "Iraqi" children.

Greenwald doesn't spare the New York Times either, as he demonstrates here and here. Almost a year ago he wrote about the ongoing journalistic scandal at the New York Times.

If you are enamored of Tim Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," read this.

The list goes on. Even Scott McLellan, erstwhile Bush press secretary, criticized media complicity with the Bush criminal regime in his sort-of tell-all book, "What Happened." In this Washington Post article about McLellan's book, it is telling that no mention is made of that criticism.

Thankfully, not everyone in the ruling structure of the country is a sheep (I was going to use lemming, but read here that they have been given a bum rap, fueled by a fake story by none other than Walt Disney.). Dennis Kucinich, congressman from Ohio, introduced articles of impeachment yesterday. Here's a good analysis.

Kucinich's impeachment effort will likely fail. The Bush regime's crimes, heinous though they may be, are the kinds of crimes our ruling elite has supported for the past century or so. Stealing elections, starting wars, spying on "Americans," using the Justice Department as a political tool, governing by secrecy - these things are nothing new. They have not been so concentrated in one presidency before, but they all have happened to some degree in many presidencies.

What is revealing in this presidency is the degree of acceptance and support Bush's crimes have among the most powerful news media. If they accept and approve the level of criminality we have seen over the past 7½ years, then what level is too much? How much perfidy in the nation's highest office will our ruling elite go along with? Will bombing "Iran" with nuclear weapons be too much? How about "North Korea?" "Russia?" How about worldwide nuclear holocaust? Would that be too much?

I don't think any crime is beyond acceptance by our ruling elite and their media lackeys. It's not a matter of their own criminality, but of simple psychology. The minions of our corporate news media are addicted to their status and privilege, to their placement in the social matrix of Washington, D.C. It is as if they were androids, programmed robots who look like humans, but are actually conditioned responders, not to some inner guide or conscience, but to a shallow feedback loop of colleagues, high government officials who "speak on condition of anonymity," lobbyists, politicians, social elite-ites, and other "players."

Shaming by writers like Glenn Greenwald and Joe Conason is vital, but one thing we all can do about the corporate news media is to drain the swamp. Don't pay to read the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, or any of their subsidiaries. Don't buy anything advertised on the corporate television networks, or even PBS. PBS shills for such corporate malfeasers as Archer Daniels Midland, ExxonMobil, various automakers, chemical companies, and others wishing to polish their images.

Boycott them all if you can. You can always find a Citgo gas station. Most products advertised on corporate TV are either useless, harmful, unnecessary, or available cheaper and better from smaller producers.

These efforts, in combination with the rise of alternative media, might be enough to break the inertia of the corporate news conglomerates. Most importantly, it might be enough to shake them up before the Bush criminal regime perpetrates its next great crime.

We'll find out soon enough.

Here's some presidential music.

Here's some more.

Here's a few questions for the "president."

And finally, a bit of Keith Olberman.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Ending the "War on terror"

I can think of no myth more worthy of debunking than the Bush criminal regime's "War on terror." It is a slogan cooked up in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and has been used to justify the invasions of two countries, the kidnapping, imprisonment and torture of thousands of people worldwide, governing by secrecy, the enactment of repressive laws, and the spying on "American" citizens without lawful authorization.

Merriam-Webster defines "terror" as a state of intense fear. To have a war on terror, then, is to have a war against a state of intense fear. Only a master of language on the level of George W. Bush could be comfortable with such an absurdity, one would think.

We should be so lucky. Bush has been scaring the country for the past seven years with terror alerts, fake accusations, dire warnings, and war mongering. Whatever "war on terror" exists is nothing more than a marketing campaign.

It has worked. Even Barack Obama talks about "winning" the "War on terror." When the language of national discourse is controlled, the debate about the country's priorities and direction is also under control. If it is accepted that there is a "War on terror," then the "war" has to be won. Good luck, President Obama.

The "war on terror" does not exist. No war has been declared by Congress, either against any nation or any person, persons, things, or states of mind. The invasions of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq" were authorized by resolutions in Congress to allow the president to use military force.

If the "War on terror" is really a marketing slogan, then what does exist that justifies its use and success as a propaganda tool? The phenomenon known as "terrorism" exists. Again, Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion. Hmm. Thanks for clearing that up.

Actually, what we call terrorism is the same methodology known as "resistance" in World War II. Wikepedia defines it thusly: "A resistance movement is a group or collection of individual groups, dedicated to fighting an invader in an occupied country or the government of a sovereign nation through either the use of physical force, or nonviolence." The Viet Cong, for whom I was drafted to fight (and then enlisted to engage in the manly art of projector repair), was a resistance movement.

"Al Qaida," organized partly by the "CIA," began as a resistance movement in "Afghanistan" to defeat the "Russian" invaders. When the "Russians" were driven out of the country, the resistance shifted focus to the "U.S.," which established bases in "Saudi Arabia" during the first invasion of "Iraq." The term translates as "The base" in English. Osama bin Laden is quoted as saying it was the name of a training camp during the "Russian" invasion of "Afghanistan."

There is little doubt that "Al Qaida," such as it exists, planned, organized, and implemented the attacks of September 11, 2001. Those involved should properly be pursued, arrested, and tried for their crimes. Military invasion was not and is not required to track down and apprehend the perpetrators. As we have seen with the Bush criminal organization, other agendas were the primary motivations for the invasions of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq." In other words, the "War on terror" is a smokescreen, a propaganda cover for the "real" purposes at hand.

Because the term "Al Qaida" has been such a useful marketing slogan for the Bush criminal regime, various groups have called themselves by that name, most notably in "Iraq." The name has image power in the West, and therefore has power in the rest of the world.

If we are fortunate, the Bush criminal regime will be out of power by January 20, 2009. Hopefully, even sooner. The various scams, ruses, subterfuges, negligences, hypes, schemes, and marketing campaigns will be a thing of the past, and a new administration will be in place to attempt to save our civilization.

If Barack Obama is to have any success in his ascension to power, he will have to change the linguistics and/or semantics of the country, the words we use and the use we make of them. He can start by ending the phony "War on terror."

Here's a little play on words.