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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.

Monday, July 05, 2010

There is cause for optimism

It has been almost six years since I started writing this blog. My intention from the beginning has been to raise the level of dialogue on this planet to a level above the simplistic, the petty, the feigned ideological, the crassly materialistic, and the partisan. A lofty goal, to be sure, but I realized then, as now, that if we don't rise to a higher level of interaction we are doomed as a species.

Not much seems to have changed since my first post, which is as pertinent today as it was then. The four main themes I have stressed over the years have been the need to abandon the narrow mythology of the "left" versus "right" model, the futility of an infinite growth economy, that the behavior of corporations and governments that violate criminal laws are not simple "policy" and "business" activities, but offenses against the common good that should be prosecuted and punished, and that "nations" are artificial and temporary impositions on the planet that should be seen as such.

Arianna HuffingtonThere are rumblings of change. People are getting tired of the "left" to "right" fixation, and some are expressing their frustration with it. Arianna Huffington appeared in a discussion on CNN on June 27, and said "This whole framing as a right versus left debate - a liberal verse conservative debate is completely flawed. It's obsolete. It's making it much harder for us to solve our problems as a country." I posted a comment to the story under one of my aliases:

Arianna Says Frustration With Obama Goes Beyond Left And Right

southsidejohnny 10:53 PM on 6/27/2010
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Arianna Huffington is performing a great service. We have a pretty low level forum of ideas and discourse, most clearly embodied by the tired, hackneyed, outdated model of "left" versus "right." Professors sit in "endowed" chairs nationwide expounding on this false divide. Pundits make millions of dollars spouting gibberish about these two imaginary poles of an imaginary spectrum. Millions of people post comments to blogs and news sites, expounding on how the "right" or the "left" is responsible for the world's ills.

Our economy is collapsing. The polar ice caps are melting. The Pentagon is bleeding our treasury dry. Our social fabric is disintegrating. There are too many people in the world. The oceans are being fished to extinction, and polluted without hesitation by oil drilling and dumping of waste. Neither the illusory "left" nor the illusory "right" has an inkling of how to solve these problems. Instead, they rage on with staged arguments. To get on stage all one has to do is assume a role and read the script. As long as we go along with this theater of the absurd, we are doomed. This will not deter the fundamentalists of the religion of "left" and "right." The only way out of this is for people to stop listening. This may take some treatment, maybe a twelve step program, withdrawal and occasional relapse, but we don't have a lot of time to change the way we look at things.

There is even a book and website, both titled Beyond Right and Left, published by a professor in "Australia," David McKnight. His site is worth checking out.

Most significant is our president, Barack Obama, who said in an address on March 31 that "Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists..."

These remarks were, of course, made in the context of his advocacy of further offshore oil drilling. Obama is not a particularly "ideological" personage anyway, but it's worth noting that he finds the "left" to "right" model less than useful.

We still have a long way to go if we are to even begin to save human civilization. The conversation in general remains at a pretty low level. About the economy, for instance, most of the talk these days is about "stimulus" versus "budget deficit," and "financial reform" versus unbridled greed, and saving the environment versus unbridled growth.

There has long been discussion of the limits to growth, starting with the "Classical" economists, the main one being Thomas Malthus. In his 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus observed that food production increases arithmetically, while population increases exponentially, resulting in widespread starvation. The Club of Rome report in 1972 revived the controversy, but soon was ignored and forgotten. More recently, the work of economist Herman Daly has provided a framework for further exploration of the subject. One example is Hanna Newcombe, who wrote Limits to growth versus sustainable development.

Not much progress has been made on the criminal responsibility front. None of the activities of the Bush criminal regime have been prosecuted by the Obama administration, for one very obvious reason: once you go down that road you become vulnerable to criminal prosecution of your own actions. "Afghanistan," for instance. "Guantanamo." "Iraq. The "Patriot Act." Domestic spying. Deals with "Wall Street." Deals with the health care industry, mainly the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.

And, depending on how things go, ginning up a war with "Iran," similar to the ginned-up wars in "Afghanistan" and "Iraq."

CREDO petition to President Obama demanding that he stop his continuation of the abuses of the Bush criminal regime. When you send one of these petitions you get to add a paragraph of your own ideas.Barack Obama may not want to run the risk of prosecuting the crimes of the Bush regime, but it is pretty clear someone is paying for Bush's crimes. The US of A is paying, and Obama himself is paying a painful price, wedding himself to Bush's phony wars, the collapse of the economy, and the failure of our government's regulatory function.

One of the unintended consequences of the "wars" in "Iraq" and "Afghanistan" is increasing futility in trying to prop up the illusion of "countries." Neither of these officially designated "countries" is very cohesive or even manageable. It took a ("CIA" trained and financed) brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein to keep the fiction of "Iraq" together. Concocted in 1921 by then British colonial secretary Winston Churchill, the "country" is now a fragile collection of disparate ethnic and religious antagonists, verging on breakdown and open civil war. Only the presence of "U.S." troops keeps it together, notwithstanding propaganda to the contrary.

Ethnic map of “Afghanistan”"Afghanistan" is of course worse. The "Pashtuns" constitute anywhere from 40% to 52% of the population, depending on who you believe. It has never had any resemblance to a unified "country," except in the eyes of its various invaders throughout history. The latest, of course is us, or NATO, as the fiction goes. The invasion and occupation is "American" for all practical purposes, with some other "countries" tagging along as props. They are gradually dropping out of the scheme.

So despite the difficulties we face, there is a ferment, and the prospects for change have never been better. The dialogue is improving, and can improve more if we continue in this new momentum.

As well as writing this blog, I post to other sites, mainly news publications. Here are a few examples:

Study of Waterboarding Coverage Prompts a Debate in the Press

55. John Hamilton Madison, Wisconsin July 6th, 20103:52 pm
(Here's a link to the study.)

This looks like a business decision rather than a journalistic one, which is one of the reasons why the New York Times is in decline. Little men, protecting their little jobs, make little decisions that they think no one will notice.

What the decision makers at the New York Times pretend not to realize is that the Bush criminal regime clearly intended, and succeeded at, employing a psychological trick, turning their criminal behavior into a political controversy. It hadn't been a controversy previously, but the practice had to be euphemized in order to take the stuffing out of any criminal culpability.

This kind of journalism is itself criminal. If there is any public trust at all to be had by our news media, then they have to be held to a certain standard. Enabling a thoroughly criminal regime is the kind of thing usually seen in dictatorships. For the same thing to be practiced at the nation's "newspaper of record" renders that record one that is criminal in nature.

One has to wonder to what limit the New York Times would go along with crimes in high places. If the government were rounding up citizens and "disappearing" them over the Atlantic Ocean, would the Times think it tendentious to call the practice murder? Given its current standard, yes.

Completely missing in the discussion of this "controversy" is the context in which the water torture occurred. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress authorized military action in "Afghanistan," with the express purpose of capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. Had this been the real intention, he would have been captured or killed long ago. The torture regime that was instituted was for the same purpose that torture is always practiced: to terrorize, to harm, to disempower, to deter, and for personal and institutional enjoyment. The Times has played its own part in the merriment.

Not to belabor the point, but the Bush criminal regime then proceeded to gin up another war, in "Iraq," in 2003. Waged on false pretenses, the "war" expanded on the use of torture, with the result being revenge killings by "Iraqis" that likely caused untold "American" deaths. Way to go New York Times.

The bad name given our country by the various torture practices lost us many friends around the planet, and our status as "the world's only superpower" is a hollow one indeed. We can softpedal, euphemize, trivialize, and engage in any number of propaganda methods to "cleanse" our reputation, but people know. "All the news that is fit to print" by the New York Times does not make all the news truthful or honorable.

Or, as Bob Dylan once put it, all the money you made will never buy back your soul.

This comment is to a segment on National Public Radio's All Things Considered:

Week In Politics: Kagan, Jobs, Immigration

John Hamilton (HappyJack) wrote:

It is almost comical to hear David Brooks expound on the economy. E.J. Dionne isn't much better. Stimulus, ala John Maynard Keynes, works to a degree, but it is to the degree that growth of GNP would be happening in an otherwise healthy economy.

We do not have an otherwise healthy economy. Our banking system is legally criminal, which, though it can make a few people very rich, maldistributes economic reward away from the many. There is no effective intention to correct this situation.

More serious is the fact that the ecosystem, long thought to be "exogenous" to the economic system, is now showing its endogyny in an unforgiving fashion. As a time variable, it will intensify. Because a mass system needs to grow in output in order to avoid collapse, there are two dynamics that are mutually incompatible. Ultimately, the human dynamic will have to give way to the ecological.

And last but not least is the problem of innovation as a motor to growth. When the leading innovations on the horizon are frivolous luxury electronics like the ipad and the latest incarnation of Grand Theft Auto, prospects are not good for the advancement of the human species. Or its survival.

These are concerns beyond the purview of pundits, who think small.

Friday, July 02, 2010 4:42:15 PM

Unintended Consequences of the Enterprise Value Tax

southsidejohnny 08:55 PM on 6/18/2010
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I'm old enough to remember when there was progressive taxation. This is not to be confused with "Progressivism," the political movement that began with Robert La Follette. What progressive taxation means is that an increasing percentage of the income and/or wealth is taxed as income increases. For example, Nelson Rockefeller was in the 90% bracket. He was a "liberal" "Republican," a type of being which no longer exists. He was a piece of crap (read: Attica prison riot), but far less a piece of crap than what we have today.

Our political discourse is so degraded that any discussion of progressive taxation is treated as communist heresy. In such a limited forum of ideas we have self-serving claptrap like this article, passing for reasoned discourse.

Our economic system is collapsing. I believe it will collapse. No "unless we do this" or "unless we do that." We will have arguments like the one above to remember when it becomes clear what got us into this mess. This is what Karl Marx meant when he said Capitalism contains the seeds of its own ruin. He meant it straight-up, Capitalism behaving at its best, but corrupt, greedy, self-glorying, narcissistic Capitalism will self-immolate more rapidly.

We might as well start figuring out what the next system will be. We have plenty of examples, private and public, of how not to run an economic system. Maybe by a process of "neti-neti" (not this, not this) ...

This is a reply to an interview on the NPR program On Point:

Dangerous Economic Fault Lines

This is a pretty empty conversation. The professor deserves credit for looking beyond the numbers, but he doesn’t look very far. In a mass industrial market economic system, the total output has to grow as a secular trend – over the span of time. It doesn’t have to grow every year, but does have to grow as a long-term aggregate. Otherwise, it collapses, which our economy is doing.

A functioning economic system grows by innovating – creating new products, new markets, new sources of supply, new methods of production, and/or new ways fo organizing industry. There is nothing in the offings that will generate domestic or worldwide growth in the immediate or long run.

So, the economic system will change, either voluntarily or involuntarily. We don’t have the kind of ruling elite that is capable of voluntary change. The best way of looking at what to change to is by taking global warming as the benchmark, or frame of reference. We need to ask what kind of system will provide full employment without destroying the ecosystem?

With the ecosystem as the starting point, we can make sane, distributive, equitable, and sustainable plans to create an economic system that has a future. The present arrangement has a very short future.

Posted by John Hamilton, on June 17th, 2010 at 8:51 PM

This is a comment to an article in Salon:

How about a reconciliation commission?

I'm sure that there are millions of people in this country who have committed rape, robbery, beatings and murder who have no one to listen to their stories or their expressions of suffering. It's part of the price paid for criminal activity. We can feel compassion for the suffering, but that doesn't mean we have an obligation to take on the burden of their pain.

It would be helpful for veterans of Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca, Guantanamo, Bagram, and other torture sites to have their own reconciliation commission, where they tell their stories in public, and ask for forgiveness.

An example of this kind of investigation is the Vietnam veterans who conducted the Winter Soldier investigation in Detroit in 1971. Another, of course, is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that took place in 1995.

What is most important is to understand what took place, how it was authorized and developed, and how it can be avoided in the future.

Of course, the obvious is to stop invading people, and to stop the threatening behavior around the world. Maybe with more exposure of what we do when we invade countries the lesson will take.

As to the ethical challenges faced by journalists, there are guidelines, as in any other profession. There are also colleagues, some of whom may have the ability to listen.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 12:05 PM ET
Read HappyJack's other letters

You can do the same thing. All it takes is some insight, an urge to tell truth, a concern for the future of the planet and some healthy skepticism of what the "mainstream" media spew out. Have at it.

Here's the great Ry Cooder, with another great, Flaco Jimenez. The assembled group was called the Moula Banda Rhythm Aces for the occasion. It's a variation on the spelling of the Sanskrit term Mula Bandha (pronounced like "moola bonda"), a yogic practice that involves contracting pelvic organs to move sexual energy up the spine, accessing higher states of consciousness.

If you look close enough you can see Bruce Springsteen. He appeared at a rally for John Kerry on October 28, 2004 in Madison, on West Washington Avenue and Bassett Street. I was less than a third of the way back in a crowd of 80,000 people. It was close enough. The sound was good, and he had the audience spellbound. Photo credit: truegangsterofloveClick here for a version by Bruce Springsteen. Here's a video of the only time I have ever seen Bruce Springsteen live. He was great that day, and it was free. Here's the words and chords to the first song, and here's the second one. I likely wouldn't have wasted my vote on Kerry if I hadn't been there. Instead, I would have wasted it again on Ralph Nader. Click here for a picture of the event. Here's another.

Here's Woody Guthrie.

Some in our ruling "elite" would like to bring this back. It's a kind of reverse psychology, because it is what they deserve. This Ry Cooder version is priceless.

This Creedence song never gets old.

It took a while to warm to this song. Country Joe McDonald is a Navy veteran.

It's not too late to try this.

A lot of people are singing this song.

Some are singing this instead, wondering about the future. United we stand is taking on new meaning.

Here's some Bob Marley for a little inspiration. And this, my favorite. Sometimes it takes a little of this.

And, one of my all-time favorites, from Tom Paxton.

Melanie seconds that emotion.

This post also appears on Smirking Chimp, where it seems to get read by more people. The comments are a good barometer of the state of our level of discourse. We have much work to do.


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