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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, March 29, 2012

House of Cards

Cecily McMillanDemocracy Now featured an interview last Friday with Cecily McMillan, an Occupy Wall Street protester who was beaten severely by New York City police while having a seizure, and arrested on March 18. She also was held incommunicado in jail. Others were treated in similar fashion, suffering a variety of injuries from rough treatment. (Read more here.) More were arrested Saturday.

The question begging to be asked in this case is why it is so important to police to treat the protesters so badly. It's bad public relations, and serves to attract more people to the Occupy movement. I pondered this a bit, and have come up with four reasons.

NYPD Inspector Anthony Bologna pepper spraying two women last September 24
The first and most obvious reason is that they like treating people badly. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has had serious problems with corruption and brutality throughout its history, and it can be said with confidence that these are cultural habits. This corruption has been portrayed in movies, most notably in Serpico, with Al Pacino playing the lead role.

The second reason is that they have encouragement from above, from the chief of police and the mayor. Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, is a Wall Street guy. Wall Street is where his constituents work to siphon the wealth from the rest of the country. The Occupy movement must be crushed, from the Wall Street point of view, lest it threaten bankers' control over the economy.

The third reason is that in spite of the widespread belief that we live in a democratic country, we really live in an authoritarian system. We can vote, but voting is pretty proscribed and narrow. Protest is frowned upon, and if it is for something as fundamental as control over the economy, authority will respond in brutal ways. We haven't yet reached the stage where "Syria" finds itself, but when push comes to shove, so to speak, it's not unheard of in American history for killing of protesters and union workers. (This too.)

What may be the overriding reason for the police brutality is what is known as ontological error, or category mistake, where things of one kind are presented as if they belong to another. It applies to people as well. I believe it is the source of all our dysfunction, our inability to be on this planet in a sane and civilized manner. I wrote about this in 2008, and little has changed since then.

What has become clear to me is that this category error is willful, done to satisfy unconscious psychological needs. An example of ontological error in the economic sphere is money fetishism, in which the representation of value is mistaken for the value it represents. As the representation becomes more and more complex, with bundling of money assets like mortgages and pension plans, then betting on the default on these assets, representations of representations appear, then representations of representations of representations, and the original value gets lost in the confusion. The result inevitably is a crashing of the house of cards, and that is what happened in 2008.

This is where a complicit government comes in. Wall Street banks and brokerage firms were facing a collapse in 2008, and their friends in the Congress, the White House, and the Federal Reserve System conspired to bail them out.

Any movement that challenges Wall Street threatens the entire infrastructure of corruption in this country. By making a connection of economic inequality, unemployment, dislocation, home foreclosures and gutting of retirement savings to the banking system, government, corporations and the wealthy, the Occupy movement has the potential to expose the entire ruling structure as the criminal operation that it is.

In this context brutal beatings and arrests of protesters make perfect sense. The ruling structure needs for this movement to stop. We are in a presidential election year. The last thing the Structure needs is for people to get riled up at a time when politicians are scrambling to fool them once again.

A good example of the need to quash dissent is Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel's plan to curtail protest at the upcoming NATO summit. The denial of parade permits is a time-honored tactic to circumvent the Constitution. Of course, Chicago has notable experience in quashing dissent, staging a police riot at the 1968 "Democratic" convention.

This all happens within a broader context - climate change. Due to the industrialized world's exponential increase in the use of fossil fuels, the planet is heating up. The Polar ice caps are melting. Severe weather is becoming the norm all over the planet. In the "U.S.," we now have a forest fire season, which is just getting started. Wisconsin has had eighty-plus degree temperatures for several days this month, and nationwide records have been broken for the month of March.

This context matters, because it is the same ruling structure that has corrupted our economic system that is preventing any meaningful action to reverse the effects of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. To do anything meaningful would require a drastic curtailment in the use of fossil fuels, not over the next fifty years, but right now. If this were to happen the power, control, security and wealth of our corrupt ruling structure would be erased in a relative instant, so from the perspective of the elites, there can be no reversing of climate change.

There can't be dissent either, at least not dissent to the degree that change becomes immanent. Thus, the New York Police Department to the rescue. This might explain why they have been spying on people well beyond the city limits. So far, they supposedly are spying only on Muslims. Projects like this don't stop with one target. They grow and grow.

On the bright side, a scared ruling structure is a good sign. They ought to be scared. They are criminals. A growing protest movement could bring them to justice. They could lose everything.

They will lose everything. Climate change isn't going away any time soon. Our corrupt infinite growth economic system has little room to grow. The rest of the planet is becoming increasingly uneasy with "American" dominance and fossil fuel profligacy. All these forces are converging at the same time. It is going to be a wild ride from here on out.

If you are interested in becoming involved with the Occupy movement, click here

The National Lawyers Guild is helping with the legal defense of Occupy protesters. They could use a little help funding their work.

You can see more videos of Occupy activities here.

Wisconsin native and Marine veteran of the “Iraq” war Scott Olsen, after being hit in the head with a tear gas canister fired by Oakland, California police, October 26, 2011The Occupy movement isn't just on the east coast. Here's an example of what police are dong on the west coast. Here's another. This video shows another angle.

To see a video of "Iraq" war Marine veteran and Wisconsin native Scott Olsen being hit with an Oakland Police teargas canister last October, click here. (For more information click here.)

A perfect example of bank corruption is provided in this story about Bank of America in Rolling Stone magazine. The author of the article, Matt Taibbi, is interviewed on Democracy Now.

To see a video of NYPD Inspector Anthony Bologna (Tony Baloney) pepper spraying two women at the Occupy Wall Street protest last September, click here.

This song is a good theme for 2012.

This too.

Here's a song that fits.

This is a good theme song for Wall Street bankers.

Here's some money music. Here's some more. Some might remember this song . The Beatles did a pretty good cover of the song. This version might be more familiar to younger generations.

Here's Willie Nelson waxing eloquent about money.

The late great Peter Tosh made some predictions about the dollar. YouTube pulled the other Peter Tosh song I wanted to link to, but this will do.

No list of songs about money would be complete without this one from Woody Guthrie. Ry Cooder does a nice south of the border version of the song here. Ten years later, but twenty-five years ago (Oh, how time flies) he did this song, as pertinent as ever. If you protest too effectively you might end up like this.

Here's an update to my previous post from America's Finest News Source.

R.I.P. Earl Scruggs. I saw him perform with his sons - the Earl Scruggs Revue - in 1975. It was the best concert I ever went to. He did three encores.

Crowd at Zuccotti Park, New York City, October 14, 2011. Photo credit: Laney WaxUpdate: March 31: The New York Times is predicting the demise of the Occupy movement. More likely the energy will mutate into other forms. As long as the Polar ice caps are melting there will be increasing numbers of people working to change the way we exist on this planet. As long as we have a fundamentally corrupt socio-economic system there will be increasing numbers of people working to change it.

Here's an interesting take on The Hunger Games.

This analysis of the "Republicans" begs for a similar analysis of the "Democrats."

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Vulgar Twilight Zone

In what has to be one of the greatest absurdities of modern times, yesterday Newt Gingrich offered his condolences to the families of the people massacred in "Afghanistan" by a "U.S." soldier. It could be argued that he was merely getting on the bandwagon of condolence offerers, but the idea that anyone in "Afghanistan" would be comforted by the words of Newt Gingrich is in the realm of Twilight Zone done vulgar.

In ordinary times it would be unthinkable for someone of Gingrich's ilk to be be speaking in public at all, much less presuming to speak for the "American" people. This should serve as a warning. Newt Gingrich was elected to Congress and rose to be Speaker of the House. He of course overreached, and resigned in disgrace, but if someone so lacking in character could be elected to anything bespeaks a fundamental weakness in the system we call "democracy."

Might this vulnerability have something to do with the quagmire in which we find ourselves in "Afghanistan?" We should not forget how we got there. The invasion and occupation were launched by George W. Bush, a man who assumed the office of President of the United States by criminal means. His active negligence in advance of the September 11, 2001 attacks enabled the attackers to succeed far beyond what they reasonably could have expected. Somehow they had full confidence. It was in order to deflect attention from his crimes that Bush pushed for the invasion of "Afghanistan." He quickly abandoned the alleged purpose of the invasion - capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. He had bigger plans - "Iraq."

Now we have been there over ten years. Osama bin Laden has been killed, but that had nothing to do with the campaign, or "mission," in "Afghanistan," and indeed has not affected our presence there at all. The only reasons we could be remaining there are careers, egos, and inertia. Also domestic politics. It's an election year. The people of "Afghanistan" are mere pawns in the game. Except they are pawns who fight back. They refuse the status we have conferred upon them. In their small and persistent ways they are kicking us out. We should take the hint, and not let the door hit us in the rear end on the way out.

Here's some background on the story from Democracy Now.

I posted this yesterday to NPR's story on the massacre:
U.S. Apologizes for Deadly Shootings in Afghanistan
John Hamilton (HappyJack) wrote:

There is a beauty to this incident, in that (it) is an allegory to our ("U.S.") response to all that happens that is counter to official truth. We will soon hear the tiresome cliche of "Isolated incident," if it hasn't been trotted out already. We will also hear that the "mission" will continue, as if we are "missionaries" who are "converting" the "Afghans" to "Christianity," er, "Democracy."

Where the allegory comes in to play is how "we" respond to such phenomena as climate change, the decline in our economy, and our maldistribution of economic reward. For the status quo - the established body of citizens determined to maintain present practices and relationships - deceptions, euphemisms, sidesteps, bureaucrateses, cliches and buzzwords are necessary.

We will not deal meaningfully with climate change until we are symbolically past the stage we are now in "Afghanistan." Similarly, we will not deal with maldistribution of resources until the system becomes unworkable, which it soon will. We have an infinite growth economic system on a finite planet. We will not face this reality until the system collapses. Writing about this syndrome of denial and pretend won't change this dynamic. What it will do is make a difference, a start.
Sun Mar 11 2012 15:32:46 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)

In a related story I had this to offer:

U.S. Command Fights Terrorists On African Soil

John Hamilton (HappyJack) wrote:
This is a perfect example of the self-imposed limitations in NPR's reporting and analysis. A publicly funded radio network is inherently vulnerable to political pressure, and the most effective pressure is fear of pressure.

"The recent spectacular rescue of an American aid worker from Somali pirates" should raise a few real questions, but it didn't. Our military has coined the term "asymmetric warfare," and now is in full embrace of this approach to world dominance.

A question that might have been asked is whether there is an easier way to relate to the less developed world. When I was a graduate student in Economics decades ago I wrote a paper about economic dualism, a term in the profession referring to the divide between the "endowed sector" in poor countries and the "unendowed sector." The "U.S." policy was to prop up the endowed sector to the detriment of the unendowed sector. 

That syndrome, or pattern of relationships with poor countries is now in disarray, as evidenced by the breakdown of dictatorships we have supported for so long. What NPR might question is whether "asymmetric warfare" will fill the vacuum created by the "Arab spring," which happened mostly in the winter. It was winter here, but looked like spring.
Fri Mar 09 2012 09:22:35 GMT-0600 (Central Standard Time)

I followed up with this:

John Hamilton (HappyJack) wrote:

I ran out of space. What an intrepid reporter or analyst might wonder is whether the "U.S.," with its vast resources and powerful military, has the wherewithal to engage with poor countries more efficiently than sending the Navy Seals out to rescue hostages.

In the case of "Somalia," wouldn't it have been better if the "country" had developed in an equitable and sustainable way, instead of being skewed to a narrow sector of an elite, leading to an inevitable collapse, and then the present chaos and piracy?

Maybe, but we'll never know. We aren't smart enough. We can do brute force pretty well, but it no longer works. PR aside, our invasion and occupation of "Iraq" has been a disaster. Our invasion and occupation of "Afghanistan" is turning into a farce, with stupidity being piled on fantasy. Both of these adventures have been good for military careers, but have not improved our international standing, and have been disasters for our economy.

In the current era this isn't likely to change any time soon. Domestic politics dictate "staying the course." If "Republicans" had their way, we would do even dumber things, and more often. Given that ilk such as Rush Limbaugh control the dialogue, such as it is, bottom feeding rules.
Fri Mar 09 2012 11:29:23 GMT-0600 (Central Standard Time)

Update, March 14: Thomas Goutierre, Director of "Afghanistan" Studies at the University of Nebraska, was the guest on a program on Wisconsin public radio yesterday. He is an apologist for the "U.S." mission is "Afghanistan." I had this response:

It took a while for me to get a good focus on my unease with this guest. What I find unsettling is his certainty, his dogmatic approach to concerns about "Afghanistan." He has it all figured out, much like our military and political "leadership." For all the humanitarian facade of our involvement in "Afghanistan," he revealed the bottom line of why we are there. We have "interests" in being there. We, the "United States of America," can go anywhere and do whatever we want because we have "interests." I served in "NATO" for 2 1/2 years because not only did we have "interests" in "Europe," there was the "Cold War," which, according to the guest, justified anything in the name of opposing the "Soviet Union." 

Therein lies the rub. Large nation states control the world narrative. What matters to them is what matters. Three of our buildings were conveniently attacked, largely due to the criminal negligence of our previous president. Because of this, a whole new array of interests were generated, broad enough to siphon the life out of our economy. Maybe the solution to this syndrome of "interests" is to be a little less "interested." Boredom has been underappreciated.
You can hear the show at any of these links:
Here's a song I almost forgot about.

Andrew Bacevich
Update, March 25, 2012: This interview with retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich adds to the conversation.

For the official "U.S." arbledy garbledy about "Afghanistan," click here. It reminds me of Catholicism, with ritual dress, more medals than a man can earn (in Catholicism's case, it was how much red was mixed with black, the type of hat worn, the fanciness of the garb, and accompanying ritual), highly codified language, a pretend reality presented as absolute truth, certainty, delusion.