Friday, April 15, 2005

What Really Worries Me

Posted by Hello

It is no more surprising to be born twice than it is to be born once.


The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.

---Niels Bohr

A general in ancient China came to see a Zen master. He drew his sword and pointed it at the teacher, and announced: "Don't you know that I am a man who can run you through without blinking an eye?"To which the Zen master responded instantly: "Don't you know that I am a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?"Deeply impressed, the general sheathed his sword and remained for the teaching.

---Zen story

My wife sends me a few emails every day. More often than I like they are about how I can become a better husband for her than I am already. But sometimes she finds a political item or entry as she browses the Net that nails the direction our nation is taking right to the wall. When that happens I find little alternative but to put aside everything I am doing...and really take an inventory. I'm sure she'd like it if I did that with the health and diet articles she sends too, but that is a different essay.

I know people who feel politics deeply. They are my friends. It may surprise you they are on "both sides of the aisle," so to speak. In fact, I often enjoy discussion with a conservative more than a fellow liberal. We all agree on two basic principles: 1) the polis, being humans striving to maintain community, is the best idea the species has come up with for getting along with each other, and 2) open and free political debate is the only way to resolve disagreement.

Since the Election of 2004, which maintained President Bush apparently, I feel that healthy political debate is quieting down among my friends...and being furiously discouraged in the public arena. I sense whatever the political leanings and convictions of my friends that they are troubled by questions they have and a distrust of the world that is growing. And they are suffering this anxiety in silence and maybe denial.

Let me give you a very public example of what I mean. Last weekend Senator Kerry made the following remark before a meeting of the League of Women Voters: "Last year too many people were denied their right to vote, too many who tried to vote were intimidated." Here we have a serious concern. The more tainted with corruption a nation's election process becomes, surely we know the more horrifying existence for those citizens becomes as well. We scold other nations and move our armies to spread democracy and destroy tyranny.

What response did the remark of the former candidate for the presidency of the United States inspire? In an article on Monday entitled "John Kerry tries out a new whine," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt is quoted as saying, "While President Bush and members of Congress are working to move our country forward, it's disappointing that some Democrats are focused on rehashing baseless allegations more than five months after the election."

Apparently Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto went even further with 2 columns that brought us into the middle of the week. He surmised that Senator Kerry's sources of concern were actually leftwing satirical pieces...and that the poor candidate couldn't even tell that his own people were joking with him.

I suspect what is wrong with this picture is the same thing that accounts for the increasing silence among my friends, liberal and conservative. There is neither respect shown to the man who conceded the close election, nor quiet deliberation regarding his concern. He is deplored and mocked. His very grasp of reality is questioned. Now honestly, if you are an American reading this, have you felt anything like a questioning of your "attitude" among acquaintances if it is known you have similar questions? Is it better for your popularity at work and sense of job security if you conceal and deny your questions? How healthy is a society that allows itself to get into such a fix...if that is what has happened?

It is at this point that my wife introduced me to a new columnist. I should have bumped into him before because the same piece Dana sent me was referred to last week at The Brad Blog...but I didn't quite see it. The guy's name is Chris Floyd...and he writes regularly for a publication in Moscow...Russia! Now wait a minute, this isn't the Cold War anymore...and their leader and ours have looked into each other's souls and like what they see. But still...there's bound to be a stigma in there somewhere. I think the essay is very well written...and is a good, although alarming, summary of the United States' political path these past 6 months. If you like, see what you think. It begins...

"Let's face the facts. The game is over and we -- the 'reality-based community,' the believers in genuine democracy and law, the heirs of Jefferson and Madison, Emerson and Thoreau, the toilers and dreamers, all those who seek to rise above the beast within and shape the brutal chaos of existence into something higher, richer and imbued with meaning -- have lost. The better world we thought had been won out of the blood and horror of history -- a realm of enlightenment that often found its best embodiment in the ideals and aspirations of the American Republic -- is gone. It's been swallowed by darkness, by ravening greed, by bestial spirits and by willful primitives who now possess overwhelming instruments of power and dominion.

"A gang of such spirits seized control of the U.S. government by illicit means in 2000 and maintained that control through rampant electoral corruption in 2004. The re-election of President George W. Bush last November was a deliberately shambolic process that saw massive lockouts of opposition voters; unverifiable returns compiled by easily hackable machines operated by avowed corporate partisans of the ruling party; and vast discrepancies between exit polls and final results – gaps much larger than those that led elections in Ukraine and Georgia to be condemned as manipulated frauds. Indeed, a panel of statisticians said last week that the odds of such a discrepancy occurring naturally were 959,000 to 1, the Akron Beacon-Journal reported." or

There is a crummy picture of Mr. Floyd here a writeup of his history and credentials here

When I went to junior high and high school, the debate team was among the most exciting extracurricular activities in which to involve oneself. I went to college on a debating scholarship. During political campaigns in my small city in western New York, we had whole school assemblies in which the candidates appeared and debated their views. The hallways were full of imaginative and original posters made by students, who were encouraged to learn to express themselves in a rational manner. I remember an election season in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I went to graduate school in the early 1960's, in which citizens were out on street corners talking politics. It is one of the great memories I have of what America is all about.

I work in a junior high school. I won't say political discussion and activity is stifled there...but it certainly isn't encouraged either. There was no mock election for the students...and the one political poster I saw in the school was taken down. What does any of this tell us about the health of political freedom as we have moved through 50 years? In our time of positively athletic patriotism, how is the actual inventory in our political warehouse?


jazzolog said...

Well, we picked up the DVD of this fairly interesting "documentary" for the weekend. Don't know if you've heard of it, but like many I guess I saw it after friends left and right (in proximity, not politics) mentioned it to me. Now that I think of it, none said they thought it was any good---just they had seen it. As The New York Times' review put it, "The directors make a plausible transition from quantum mechanics to cognitive therapy, suggesting that, just as quantum mechanics states that phenomena are always transformed by observation, so can our perception of reality be changed by altering our ingrained attitudes about ourselves and our lives. Once upon a time this was known as 'the power of positive thinking,' and it didn't involve nearly so much math." Roger Ebert's review actually attempts to answer the question that forms the title of the movie---by concluding, "...we don't know s%&t."

To me, the whole film hinges on the rather extraordinary claim of Dr. Masuro Emoto that positive thoughts affect the molecules of water, and the crystals formed when the subjected droplets are frozen become "beautiful" or "ugly" accordingly. At least 3 times during the movie, the talking head of a potentially quantum physicist appears to say, "If thoughts can do this to water, imagine what they can do to our selves." Dr. Emoto is touring the United States, and in particular "some cultures of the American Far West" (as The Times' review put it) to demonstrate his theory. Perhaps some of our correspondents out there can tell us how it's going. This site is dedicated to Dr. Emoto .

The difficulties I had with the film include that it demonstrates an even harder time finishing up than the last Lord of the Rings movie. Furthermore there is the wisdom of Ramtha sprinkled delightfully through all those physicists. Who is Ramtha? A 35,000-year-old "mystic, philosopher, master teacher and hierophant who channels his voice through the body of an American woman named JZ Knight" (There are to be no these...around her name, maybe because they didn't exist in Atlantis, where Ramtha is from.) One Times' reader left this comment at the review:

"Made by followers of the Ramtha cult, March 28, 2005
"Reviewer: synthfan
"'What the Bleep...' is a cultish pseudo-science, pseudo-spiritual quack fluff piece. It should be noted that all three filmmakers are members of the 'Ramtha School of Enlightenment', which is widely regarded as a cult. Marlee Matlin is beautiful, expressive and captivating. There are many rapturous, beautifully lit slow-motion scenes in this film. Much of the music is very well done. But take away the pretty computer animations, the slow motion, the hypnotic music, and what do you have? A collection of scientists and non-scientists (including the leader of the Ramtha cult) talking about their personal spiritual beliefs, trying to give them 'validity' by a supposed connection with science. I consider myself spiritual and non-religious, but also very discerning. I have come across too many people and organisations that offer alluring half-truths, that pretend to know but really don't. One minute in an Alexander Payne film holds more power, depth, truth and beauty than this entire film does. It is fragmented, amateurish, half-baked, bad pacing, and worst of all, it tries to subtly slip ideas to the viewer such as 'you don't need things like anxiety or depression medication, once you see the light.' This is dangerously misleading (look up the Scientology cult). I can see some good intentions in this film, but as they say, the road to hell is paved with those."

jazzolog said...

Open Letter to Democratic Party Chairperson and former candidate for the US Presidency Howard Dean~~~

April 26, 2005

Dear Chairman Dean,

Thank you kindly for your call and your expressed willingness to discuss the Democratic Party's position on the Iraq War. There is growing frustration at the grass roots towards the party leadership's silent collaboration with the Bush Administration's policies. Personally, I cannot remember a time in thirty years when I have been more despairing over the party's moral default. Let me take this opportunity to explain.

The party's alliance with the progressive left, so carefully repaired after the catastrophic split of 2000, is again beginning to unravel over Iraq. Thousands of anti-war activists and millions of antiwar voters gave their time, their loyalty and their dollars to the 2004 presidential campaign despite profound misgivings about our candidate's position on the Iraq War. Of the millions spent by "527" committees on voter awareness, none was spent on criticizing the Bush policies in Iraq.

The Democratic candidate, and other party leaders, even endorsed the US invasion of Falluja, giving President Bush a green-light to destroy that city with immunity from domestic criticism. As a result, a majority of Falluja's residents were displaced violently, guaranteeing a Sunni abstention from the subsequent Iraqi elections.

Then in January, a brave minority of Democrats, led by Senator Ted Kennedy and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, advocated a timetable for withdrawal. Their concerns were quickly deflated by the party leadership.

Next came the Iraqi elections, in which a majority of Iraqis supported a platform calling for a timetable for US withdrawal. ("US Intelligence Says Iraqis Will Press for Withdrawal." New York Times, Jan. 18, 2005) AJanuary 2005 poll showed that 82 percent of Sunnis and 69 percent of Shiites favored a "near-term US withdrawal" (New York Times, Feb. 21, 2005. The Democrats failed to capitalize on this peace sentiment, as if it were a threat rather than an opportunity.

Three weeks ago, tens of thousands of Shiites demonstrated in Baghdad calling again for US withdrawal, chanting "No America, No Saddam." (New York Times, April 10, 2005) The Democrats ignored this massive nonviolent protest.

There is evidence that the Bush Administration, along with its clients in Baghdad, is ignoring or suppressing forces within the Iraqi coalition calling for peace talks with the resistance. The Democrats are silent towards this meddling.

On April 12, Donald Rumsfeld declared "we don't really have an exit strategy. We have a victory strategy." (New York Times, April 13, 2005). There was no Democratic response.

The new Iraqi regime, lacking any inclusion of Sunnis or critics of our occupation, is being pressured to invite the US troops to stay. The new government has been floundering for three months, hopelessly unable to provide security or services to the Iraqi people. Its security forces are under constant siege by the resistance. The Democrats do nothing.

A unanimous Senate, including all Democrats, supports another $80-plus billion for this interminable conflict. This is a retreat even from the 2004 presidential campaign when candidate John Kerry at least voted against the supplemental funding to attract Democratic voters.

The Democratic Party's present collaboration with the Bush Iraq policies is not only immoral but threatens to tear apart the alliance built with antiwar Democrats, Greens, and independents in 2004. The vast majority of these voters returned to the Democratic Party after their disastrous decision to vote for Ralph Nader four years before. But the Democrats' pro-war policies threaten to deeply splinter the party once again.

We all supported and celebrated your election as Party chairman, hoping that winds of change would blow away what former president Bill Clinton once called "brain-dead thinking."

But it seems to me that your recent comments about Iraq require further reflection and reconsideration if we are to keep the loyalty of progressives and promote a meaningful alternative that resonates with mainstream American voters.

Let me tell you where I stand personally. I do not believe the Iraq War is worth another drop of blood, another dollar of taxpayer subsidy, another stain on our honor. Our occupation is the chief cause of the nationalist resistance in that country. We should end the war and foreign economic occupation. Period.

To those Democrats in search of a muscular, manly foreign policy, let me say that real men (and real patriots) do not sacrifice young lives for their own mistakes, throw good money after bad, or protect the political reputations of high officials at the expense of their nation's moral reputation.

At the same time, I understand that there are limitations on what a divided political party can propose, and that there are internal pressures from hawkish Democratic interest groups. I am not suggesting that the Democratic Party has to support language favoring "out now" or "isolation." What I am arguing is that the Democratic Party must end its silent consent to the Bush Administration's Iraq War policies and stand for a negotiated end to the occupation and our military presence. The Party should seize on Secretary Rumsfeld's recent comments to argue that the Republicans have never had an "exit strategy" because they have always wanted a permanent military outpost in the Middle East, whatever the cost.

The Bush Administration deliberately conceals the numbers of American dead in the Iraq War. Rather than the 1,500 publicly acknowledged, the real number is closer to 2,000 when private contractors are counted.

The Iraq War costs one billion dollars in taxpayer funds every week. In "red" states like Missouri, the taxpayer subsidy for the Iraq War could support nearly 200,000 four-year university scholarships.

Military morale is declining swiftly. Prevented by antiwar opinion from re-instituting the military draft, the Bush Administration is forced to intensify the pressures on our existing forces. Already forty percent of those troops are drawn from the National Guard or reservists. Recruitment has fallen below its quotas, and 37 military recruiters are among the 6,000 soldiers who are AWOL.

President Bush's "coalition of the willing" is steadily weakening, down from 34 countries to approximately twenty. Our international reputation has become that of a torturer, a bully.

The anti-war movement must lead and hopefully, the Democratic Party will follow. But there is much the Democratic Party can do:

First, stop marginalizing those Democrats who are calling for immediate withdrawal or a one-year timetable. Encourage pubic hearings in Congressional districts on the ongoing costs of war and occupation, with comparisons to alternative spending priorities for the one billion dollars per week.

Second, call for peace talks between Iraqi political parties and the Iraqi resistance. Hold hearings demand to know why the Bush Administration is trying to squash any such Iraqi peace initiatives. (Bush Administration officials are hoping the new Iraqi government will "settle for a schedule based on the military situation, not the calendar." New York Times, Jan. 19, 2005).

Third, as an incentive to those Iraqi peace initiatives, the US needs to offer to end the occupation and withdraw our troops by a near-term date. The Bush policy, supported by the Democrats, is to train and arm Iraqis to fight Iraqis--a civil war with fewer American casualties.

Fourth, to further promote peace initiatives, the US needs to specify that a multi-billion dollar peace dividend will be earmarked for Iraqi-led reconstruction, not for the Halliburtons and Bechtels, without discrimination as to Iraqi political allegiances.

Fifth, Democrats could unite behind Senator Rockefellers's persistent calls for public hearings on responsibility for the torture scandals. If Republicans refuse to permit such hearings, Democrats should hold them independently. "No taxes for torture" is a demand most Democrats should be able to support. The Democratic Senate unity against the Bolton appointment is a bright but isolated example of how public hearings can keep media and public attention focused on the fabricated reasons for going to war.

Instead of such initiatives, the national Democratic Party is either committed to the Iraq War, or to avoiding blame for losing the Iraq War, at the expense of the social programs for which it historically stands. The Democrats' stance on the war cannot be separated from the Democrats' stance on health care, social security, inner city investment, and education, all programs gradually being defunded by a war which costs $100 billion yearly, billed to future generations.

This is a familiar pattern for those of us who suffered through the Vietnam War. Today it is conventional wisdom among Washington insiders, including even the liberal media, that the Democratic Party must distance itself from its antiwar past, and must embrace a position of military toughness.

The truth is quite the opposite. What the Democratic Party should distance itself from is its immoral and self-destructive pro-war positions in the 1960s which led to unprecedented polarization, the collapse of funds for the War on Poverty, a schism in the presidential primaries, and the destruction of the Lyndon Johnson presidency. Thirty years after our forced withdrawal from Vietnam, the US government has stable diplomatic and commercial relations with its former Communist enemy. The same future is possible in Iraq.

I appeal to you, Mr. Chairman, not to take the anti-war majority of this Party for granted. May I suggest that you initiate a serious reappraisal of how the Democratic Party has become trapped in the illusions which you yourself questioned so cogently when you ran for president. I believe that an immediate commencement of dialogue is necessary to fix the credibility gap in the Party's position on the Iraq War. Surely if the war was a mistake based on a fabrication, there is a better approach than simply becoming accessories to the perpetrators of the deceit. And surely there is a greater role for Party leadership than permanently squandering the immense good will, grass roots funding, and new volunteer energy that was generated by your visionary campaign.


jazzolog said...

Dumb Dems Let GOP Run Wild
By Molly Ivins, AlterNet
Posted on April 28, 2005, Printed on April 30, 2005

Being of the populist persuasion, I am a terminal fan of Thomas Frank, who has gone from "What's the Matter With Kansas?" to "What's the Matter With Liberals?" in the current issue of the New York Review of Books, which is a good spot for it.

Those of us in the beer-drinking, pick-up-truck-driving, country-music-listening school of liberals in the hinterlands particularly appreciate his keen dissection of how the Republicans use class resentment against "elitist liberals," while waging class warfare on people who work for a living.

The unholy combination of theocracy and plutocracy that now rules this country is, in fact, enabled by dumb liberals. Many a weary liberal on the Internet and elsewhere has been involved in the tedious study of the entrails from the last election, trying to figure out where Democrats went wrong. I don't have a dog in that fight, but I can guarantee you where they're going wrong for the next election: 73 Democratic House members and 18 Democratic senators voted for that hideous bankruptcy "reform" bill that absolutely screws regular people.

And it's not just consumers who were screwed by the lobbyist-written bill. The Wall Street Journal shows small businesses are also getting the shaft, as the finance industry charges them higher and higher transaction fees. If Democrats aren't going to stand up for regular people, to hell with them.

Now here's some populist lagniappe (that's a word us populists often use) for you to chew on.

The Economic Policy Institute reports the economic well-being of middle-class families has declined between 2000 and 2003 for three reasons: the generally lousy economy, the Bush tax policies and the cost of health care.

Pre-tax incomes for middle-class families of every type (children, young singles, seniors, single mothers) are down, leaving the typical household with $1,535 less income in 2003 than in 2000, a drop of 3.4 percent.

After taking into account changes in both pre-tax incomes and taxes, the finding remains that most middle-class families lost ground between 2000 and 2003. This is true for married couples with children, elderly couples and young singles, although single mothers did gain 1.9 percent because of the greater refundability of child tax credits.

Family spending on higher insurance co-pays, deductibles and premiums escalated, rising three times faster than income for those married with children, absorbing half the growth of their income.

The Tax Justice Network recently reported the world's richest individuals have placed $11.5 trillion in assets in offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes, a sum 10 times the GDP of Great Britain. The most authoritative study yet done shows that rich people clip $860 billion in coupons a year off this money.

"Governments appear unable, or unwilling, to prevent the rich employing aggressive strategies to minimize their tax liabilities," said the Observer of Britain. We can emphasize the "unwilling" with this administration.

The ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay reached 301-to-one in 2003. The average worker takes home $517 a week, while the average CEO earns $155,796, according to BusinessWeek. In 1982, the ratio was 42-to-one.

Dialogue between President Bush and a citizen during a February meeting in Nebraska, where Bush was trying to sell his scheme to privatize Social Security:

Woman: "That's good, because I work three jobs and I feel like I contribute."

Bush: "You work three jobs?"

Woman: "Three jobs, yes."

Bush: "Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)"

One out of every two jobs created in the United States over the past 12 months was taken by a worker over 55. Economist Dean Baker says the flood of older workers is caused by the falling value of retirees' 401(k)s and the cost of health care.

The number of long-term unemployed who are college graduates has nearly tripled since 2000. Nearly one in five of the long-term jobless are college graduates, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a brand-new study out showing the uneven division of the fruits of the supposed economic recovery:

"The data show that the share of real income growth that has gone to wages and salaries has been smaller than during any other comparable post-World War II recovery period, while the share of real income growth that has gone to corporate profits has been larger than during all other comparable post-World War II recoveries."

In previous recoveries, workers got an average of 49 percent of the national income gains, while corporate profits got 18 percent. This time, the workers are getting 23 percent and the corporations are getting 44 percent -- about one half as much as the share that has gone to corporate profits.

None of that apply to you? Good. Go listen to Tom DeLay give another lecture on moral values.

© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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