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While We Still Have Time

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

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

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

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The myth of leadership

The Madison VA hospital on the left, with the University of Wisconsin hospital at the right  Photo credit: John HamiltonTime flies. I had "minor" surgery at the Madison veterans hospital in March, and it seems like it was yesterday. The surgeon who operated on me is from "Pakistan," and he did a perfect job. Far better, I might add, than the "American" doctors who misdiagnosed the problem for thirteen years. Because of the risk of complications, elaborate measures were taken to make sure the operation was safe, and that I would have a speedy recovery. Though I'm not the world's most trustful guy, I had total confidence things would go well, and they did. It would be nice if I were this right all the time.

I wish the "Pakistani" doctor well. He faces many difficulties beyond the normal challenges of practicing medicine, which are serious enough. Thanks to our elite's futile and phony attempt at empire, "Pakistan" is the new "Iraq," the place where "our" empire builders failed so miserably.

Rumblings are getting louder about the next campaign, which will likely be some kind of "intervention" in "Pakistan." Nearing the level of surreal, Hillary Clinton warned "Pakistan" of the "severe consequences" if an attack on the "U.S." is based there.

Mahmoud and GeorgeEven more surreal was the exchange on May 5 between pretty boy "journalist" George Stephanopoulos and "Iran" president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Stephanopoulos badgered Ahmadinejad with questions about the curious rumor that Osama bin Laden is in "Tehran," the capital of "Iran." You can watch the exchange here.

Are they this desperate? George Stephanopoulos a crusading "journalist?" Only the really stupid or impaired would take this exchange seriously. I made a comment to the YouTube video in three parts, due to their character limit. Here it is in its entirety:

This is very revealing. First, it is revealing about ABC, in what appears to be an attempt to score a ratings "coup." I never heard the rumor that Osama bin Laden was in "Iran" before. So where did this information come from? Bin Laden, a "Sunni" "Muslim," would not be especially inclined to take refuge in "Iran," a "Shiite" "country."

Then there is George Stephanopoulos, "former" political operative, and now a "journalist." Somehow he seemed to hope that this exchange would establish him as a courageous, truth-seeking questioner of "authority." Sorry, George. It just cemented your reputation as a bottom-feeding opportunist and rumor mongerer (not monger; monger is a verb, mongerer is a noun).

The question is the equivalent of "When did you stop beating your wife?" There's no way to deny it when it is set up in the affirmative.

Muhammad Ali defeating Floyd Patterson, November 22, 1965Ahmadinejad handled Stephanopoulos like Muhammad Ali with Floyd Patterson. He raised one great point: Maybe Osama bin Laden is in Washington, D.C. His family has been a lot more friendly with the Bushes than with the "Iranians." This little debate should be called the fight of the little guys. They both are about 5' 6" tall.

Osama bin Laden, alive or dead. I wonder if any palm readers have had a look at this picture.I don't have any belief on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. My strongest suspicion is that he died years ago, likely for reasons of bad health. But who knows? Maybe he is in Washington, D.C. The real goings-on at the highest levels are clouded by deceit, so anyone's guess is as good as anyone else's.

We have been inundated with lies from high places over the past, well, fifty years or so, but even long before that. Where the lies have been most abundant is in the realm of international relations, especially in the waging of war and in threats of war. The entire eight years of the presidency of George W. Bush marked an era of total, brazen, murderous deceit, yet his legacy lives on. It's even more deceptive now, because the raw, uncouth lies of Bush have been replaced by the smooth articulation of Obama.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton marching in Selma, Alabama, March 4, 2007I began having doubts about Barack Obama on March 5, 2007. He appeared before a group of "black" ministers on the anniversary of the Selma, Alabama voting rights march of 1965. He spoke in a distinctly "African-American," or "southern" accent, donned for just that occasion, and discarded for most occasions thereafter (you can watch it here). No part of his formative years were spent among the descendents of "African" slaves, and he does not speak in "black" dialect or accent normally. Obama's cultural roots are entirely "white," "Hawaiian," and "Indonesian."

Even worse was Hillary Clinton at the same event, with an equally phony accent, more obvious with her blond hair and pale skin. One has to wonder who these people think they are fooling.

Themselves, mostly, but also many among us who need to believe them, for a variety of reasons. I voted for Obama, in spite of my doubts, and donated money to his campaign.

It's called willing suspension of disbelief. Breaking the term down into its parts, the first thing to look at is willing: believing something to be true when ample evidence exists that shows you that it is not. Then there is suspension of disbelief. That is when you deny or gloss over something you know to be true, and act in a way contradictory to what you know to be true.

For me, what should have been the clincher was during the '08 campaign, when Obama said he would attack "Pakistan" if there was "actionable intelligence" that indicated Osama bin Laden was hiding there, or that "terrorists" were hiding there. What stood out for me was not so much the threat, but the way he pronounced "Pakistan," as if Paah-kee-staahn. He still pronounces it that way, and now the news media have followed suit. Herd mentality. Herds of sheep.

Obama doesn't pronounce Afghanistan as Aahf-gaahn-ee-staahn, but somehow finds himself married to his pronunciation of Pakistan.

It is a curious oddity. Barack Obama not only can become "black" for a day, he can also "up-accent" to formal pronunciations of names of countries when he feels the need.

These pretensions would be meaningless if there were no context in his presidency. If he were playing it straight as president, honestly engaging in policy formation in domestic and international concerns, his posturing would not matter.

Instead, we are finding him to be a man without principle, a consummate politician, completely malleable, willing to change positions whenever he sees it is to his advantage.

This is dangerous. A man without principle is capable of anything. Obama has surrounded himself with Washington, D.C. insiders, Wall Street insiders, and military insiders. People who stand for the elites, the powerful, the wealthy, and the connected. I have said before in this blog that Obama is at a disadvantage to his various military and national security advisers, having never served in uniform. He is also at a disadvantage relative to his economic advisers, having no grounding in Economics or banking. He served four years as a "U.S." senator, but there is little indication that he learned anything in that short tenure.

In what might be the most revealing of our president's character is his appearance at the opening day ceremonies of the Washington Nationals baseball team. Obama threw out the first pitch. He was pretty obviously out of his element. He spent too much time shaking hands and talking with the members of the military honor guard, and when he finally got to the pitcher's mound to throw the first pitch, he was hesitant.

Our president, throwing a baseball “like a girl”It soon became apparent why. Obama got ready to throw, then delayed, winding up a few times. Finally lobbing the ball, he embarrassed himself, and anyone watching. He throws like a girl. The president of the "United States" throws a baseball "like a girl." Girls who play sports don't even throw like that anymore, so Obama actually throws the way girls with no athletic ability do. Didn't he ever throw any rocks as a kid?

He could be forgiven. In the time I spent living in "Hawaii," not once did I see any kids playing baseball. The only thing close was a "Japanese"-"American" softball league that played at a park on Makiki Street in Honolulu. They were very good players.

The University of Hawaii also had one of the best baseball teams in the country, so someone was playing baseball. Just not Barack Obama.

Obama swinging a golf clubI truly believe that Obama is an unformed man (not to be confused with uninformed man, or uniformed man). He even swings a golf club "like a girl." In the sport he actually played, basketball, he is moderately skilled, but from what I have seen he plays a pretty timid form of the game.

I can empathize with Obama in his predicament, and have written about it several times in this blog (example) and elsewhere. That does not mean I have no concerns about him, though. Given the intractable economic, social, environmental, and international problems we face as a people, having an unformed man serving as the "most powerful man on earth" does not bode well for the future.

"Leftists" might not be comfortable with this analysis, but "rightists" likely would be. I wouldn't have imagined I would find myself in this unlikely position, but such is the life of the heretic. It hasn't been that long since heretics were burned at the stake, so I partly take it as a responsibility to take advantage of the freedom.

Also, I feel more free to pursue truth than earlier in my life. Not "the" truth, but truth, which is a tad less absolute. Decades ago, when I was less careful about what I would say, I survived an attempt on my life. One of these days I might write about it. For now I can say that the experience made me think of the rest of my life as gravy, a blessing.

What the unformed-ness of Obama means for me is that if I can recognize this, others can too. This is why the "White House," and "Democrats" in general are such fair game for "right wing" "pundits" and various other demogogues. They see an opening, and stoke the fires of hatred and hysteria. If the "Democrats" were not compromised by their duplicity and corruption there would be no basis for "right wing" hate-mongering.

More to the root of the problem, the real weakness is our electoral system. Because of what it takes to be elected president - tons of money, manufacture of myth, clever deceptions about beliefs and policies, misrepresentation of opponents - it is extremely likely that the result will be an enlightened statesman occupying our nation's highest office.

Obama, unformed man, is still the best we can do under the circumstances. We could have fallen for the myth of John Edwards. Or Christopher Dodd. Or Hillary Clinton. Or John McCain. After George W. Bush, any of them would look like some sort of messiah. In truth, they are all deeply flawed human beings, ambitious, self-focused, compromised.

What appears obvious to me is that at this stage of human civilization the presidency of the "United States" is too big a responsibility for one person. We "elect" someone to be our "leader," when no one can adequately "lead" such a large country with such a complexity of challenges. Especially when the selection process does not really advance leadership.

The Deepwater Horizon, BP's oil platform in the Gulf of “Mexico,” burning on April 20, 2010As for answers, there aren't any. Except time. What will happen will happen. We are involved in two "theaters" of war, both waged for pretty bogus reasons, draining our treasury and demoralizing our military. Our "leadership" isn't capable of redirecting our economy, or of reducing the threat of climate change. The response to the oil spill in the Gulf of "Mexico" has been political grandstanding and posturing. The campaign to isolate and discredit "Iran" is highly suspicious, likely a prelude to some sort of military action.

Oily water in the Gulf of “Mexico”Our one hope is to know what we are dealing with, face the facts of what we can know, and respond appropriately. We can start discussing real change. First, we must understand what we are changing from. Given the problems we face, we can then decide what we want to change to. What kind of system would have a humane and just program for reducing population? What kind of system would place limits on overall economic output? What kind of system would guarantee full employment? What kind of system would act to reduce carbon emissions? What kind of system would eliminate the power of corporations over our lives? What kind of system would have no need for empire?

Not the one we have now.

Here's some music from "Pakistan," by Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Here's another. He died in 1997.

This music is from "Persia," also known as "Iran." It sounds a bit like this, eh?

Here's a song about our president. For the chords and lyrics, click here. Here's another. The chords and lyrics can be found here.

Let's not forget this one.

Joseph's Coat, linked in the previous post, fits the theme for this post too. Here's the lyrics. I couldn't find a site with the chords.

This Kinks song fits. The chords and lyrics are found here.

This too.

The Waterboys have a song that is perfect for this post.

Here's an update on the BP oil spill.

Here's another, mentioning the "N" word.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Too big to fail

Altgeld Hall, Northern Illinois University. It is on the east side of the campus. As you ambulate in a westerly direction the campus gets uglier, until it reaches a crescendo of hideousity on its far western fringe.In 1985 I left "Hawaii" after living there for two years. It was a great experience living in "Hawaii," but it wasn't home. I found out that there was an extension of the Illinois veterans scholarship for thirty credits at state schools, and after spending most of a year working in Madison, I began graduate school at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

My intention was to earn a teaching certificate. With my background in Economics, I could become qualified to teach social studies, either in the upper-grades or in high school.

Because I already had an undergraduate degree, I had to take all my classes at the graduate level. I didn't mind. I applied for entry to the master's program in Educational Psychology, since it was the nearest major to the courses I was taking. Because of one professor, a sub-major of sorts, or area of concentration, in Transpersonal Psychology was available. It's an unfortunate name, but the field is focused on states of consciousness beyond the personal, or ego-centered states the vast majority of us find ourselves trapped in as we travel through our earthly existence.

I ended up not getting the teaching certificate. I was in the process of setting up my student teaching semester, and bought what I thought was a decent car from a friend. The friend warned me about the car, but I believed otherwise. In the hottest part of the heat wave of 1988 I drove, or attempted to drive, to the school where I was supposed to student teach, for an interview.

Graduation day, May 13, 1989, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois. With me is my great friend Toon, a classmate from “Thailand.”I didn't make it to the interview. The car threw a piston on the highway, and that was the end of that. I went back to DeKalb and finished my master's degree, which was not worth much. Employment in the field of Educational Psychology is mostly at the doctoral level. I could have found work in test development, but knew I would last about three days doing that kind of work.

It was not time and effort wasted, though. I learned a lot, and the knowledge and experience has been of immense value as I try to make sense of the times in which we live.

A perfect example is today. I awoke with a plan to record the rerun of the final show of Bill Moyers Journal, and to write a blog post about something that was festering.

Carl Gustav JungThe festering topic wasn't meant to be written. As Carl Gustav Jung would say, meaningful coincididences intervened. Jung is the most prominent early inspiration in the development of the field of Transpersonal Psychology. He introduced the idea of synchronicity, the occurrence of two or more causally unrelated events that are experienced in a meaningful way. Another term for this is meaningful coincidence.

I turned the TV on earlier than the Moyers show was scheduled to start, wanting to finesse my failing memory. A program called MoneyTrack was on, and today's segment covered the banking crisis. Economist Simon Johnson was being interviewed, and among the things he said was if a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.

The idea of too big to fail has been around for a while, but gained new significance in the government "bailout" of the megabanks in 2008. The law authorizing the bailout, titled the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, was enacted to authorize the Treasury to spend up to $700 billion to purchase troubled assets of big banks, especially mortgage backed securities that were bundles of worthless sub-prime loans.

I wished I had recorded the segment, but continued in my morning of information gathering. My favorite show on Wisconsin Public Radio, To the best of our knowledge, began at 9:00 a.m., and I listened to it. The program presents interviews with various authors, researchers, writers and activists on various topics. Today's topic was titled Sacred Nature, and one of the featured interviewees was environmental writer Bill McKibben, who talked about his new book Eaarth. At one point McKibben said that when a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. I took note.

After the radio program ended I returned my attention to the TV, and made sure I didn't miss the Moyers show. In one of the segments Moyers interviewed former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower. Calling himself "America's number one populist," Hightower advocates grass roots organizing against corporate control of our lives. At one point he said that when banks are too big to fail, they are too big to exist.

During the time I was a guru disciple it was said that when you receive a message three times, it is a real message. I don't know if this is true or not, but I knew I had to write about the too big to fail phenomenon.

What Johnson, McKibben, and Hightower all were saying is that the big banks have to be broken up into smaller entities, more manageable, closer to individual customers, and less likely to engage in illegal and unethical activities. They would be less likely to have influence over Congress, with a lower capacity to bribe.

This graph shows the progression, or regression, of returns to scale when a firm or even industry increases its scale of operationsIn Economics there is a principle known as increasing returns to scale, or economies of scale. It means that there are cost savings that accrue as business entities, known in the jargon as firms, get larger. At some point the cost savings reach a maximum, and then, as the individual firm gets larger, costs incrementally increase. This is known as decresing returns to scale, or "diseconomies" of scale.

This is the kind of stuff I used to study to great levels of absurdityThat's the theoretical construct, or at least one of them. Another is the inefficiency of monopoly power, resulting in higher prices of goods and services, stifling of competition, and lower output. The net result of monopoly is a lower level of overall economic well-being.

There isn't much talk in theoretical Economics about criminality, but that was the, er, prime factor in the banking collapse. Maybe an enterprising economist somewhere could come up with a theory of the diseconomies of mass criminality. How about Steven Levitt?

As I was pondering the concept of too big to fail, I wondered about other situations where the term would apply. If the solution to banks being too big to fail is breaking them up, what about other industries? Are the drug companies too big to fail? Are the insurance companies too big to fail? Are the agribusiness conglomerates, like Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland? How about General Electric, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and other "defense" contractors? Are they too big to fail?

Is British Petroleum (BP) too big to fail? Maybe, but they seem to have suffered a recent failure. How about Massey Energy? It was too big to fail until its negligence caused the worst mine disaster in twenty five years.

There are many other possibilities of too big to fail. All you have to do is think of something big. If the weapons manufacturers, for example, are too big to fail, maybe the "Defense Department" is also too big to fail. Its estimated budget for this year is $1.223 trillion. With a budget like that, failure in two "wars" is a tad unthinkable.

What do you do when you're too big to fail? For the "Defense" establishment, how about another war? Erstwhile presidential candidate John McCain sang "Bomb Iran" a while back. It likely wasn't a "Freudian slip." Maybe it was a Jungian slip.

Going beyond even the "Defense" mega-establishment, which Dwight Eisenhower called the military industrial complex, maybe the "U.S." is too big to fail. "China," for sure. "Japan," "Germany," "France," "Great Britain," "Canada," "Mexico," and, perhaps most notoriously, "Greece."

"Russia" deserves its own special mention for too big to fail. It used to be the linchpin of the "Soviet Union," which had its own experience of being too big to fail. It failed.

Send him to another parishMaybe the "Catholic" Church is too big to fail.

Melting at the northern Polar ice capThis is no idle exercise. We have a government that is controlled by "Wall Street," large corporations, and the "defense" establishment. They are all too big to fail, and this conditon means that all other priorities are subsumed under the need to keep them from failing. Given that the Polar ice caps are melting, but this dynamic is a lower priority than parasitic "Wall Street," the Polar ice caps will melt.

At what point, one must wonder, will the Polar ice caps be too big to fail? As things stand, not yet. Maybe next year. Or the year after. Or the year after. Don't hold your breath. There will be plenty of time for that.

The other interview on the Bill Moyers Journal, with writer Barry Lopez, is worth a read or listen.

To read more about NIU and DeKalb, click here.

Here's a bit of an update from CNN, some words of warning from Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Here's a bit of an update from Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone about the Goldman Sachs debacle.

This article from Truthout is a must read.

Here's another, from Greg Palast.

Here are some songs appropriate to the theme, one from Dave Mason, and another from Quicksilver Messenger Service. Here's one from Spirit. And this from the Grateful Dead. And, of course, Dylan. Here's a great song from the Talking Heads. This Neil Young song is pretty timeless. Here's a relic from the Broadway musical "Hair." This is my favorite Talking Heads song. This gem is from the Kinks (Here's the words and chords).Los Lobos gave us this treasure. Strange Boat, by the Waterboys. And this, from the Waterboys, a great song.

Here's another great song, from John Gorka. Here's the lyrics and chords.

This song has nothing to do with the theme, it's just my favorite Kinks song, a great rocker. Here's the chords and lyrics. This Waterboys song is also worth a listen. It's a cover of Van Morrison, but it stands on its own greatness.