Sunday, January 29, 2006

Optimism: The State Of The Union

Alabama artist Frank Bear illustrated support for George W. Bush as a follower of Jesus Christ by this work, titled "Our Christian President." The artist pieced together individual portraits of Jesus Christ to make the image of President Bush. Posted by Picasa

To the right, books; to the left, a tea-cup. In front of me, the fireplace; behind me, the post. There is no greater happiness than this.


We are living in a historical period in which we understand that it is necessary for all of us to be conscious and active in our world. None of us can ignore this call to action. And yet, if we do not practice zazen, whether we call it zazen or whatever we call it and however we do it, we cannot act in any accurate way. There has been plenty of action---too much action. What we need is not more action, we need enlightened action. And this means letting go of action.

---Norman Fischer

Swallow the stars until you are one with the universe, with all-pervading universal life.

---Soen Nakagawa

FOXNews has begun the drone repetition of the word "optimism" to prep its millions of viewers for what has become the annual crock in America known as The State Of The Union Address. Obviously I'm not responding well. And thus I place myself in my own concentration camp of negativists and boat-rockers. Such people are not well liked in America, which is why they must be put in detention. They're depressing and they slow us down. People who try to rock the boat are dangerous. Our tradition in these United States is optimism! Naysayers can go someplace else to live---like over to France for instance.

Am I just being facetious? What may have been funny a while ago has gotten serious today. One of my assignments at work is to assist 2 multihandicapped boys in a 7th grade science class of developmentally handicapped students. This placement supposedly is enrichment for our guys---but that's another topic. We're studying El Nino and the ocean currents presently. I've known the teacher for about 10 years. She used to eat lunch in her classroom, listening to Rush Limbaugh's daily broadcast. Sometimes we'd talk politics and religion, and as long as we smiled it went OK. On Friday I brought her a printout of an article in Thursday's Christian Science Monitor, which examines the mineral deposits of tiny creatures that perished during a similar "global warming" 55 million years ago . Not only didn't she want to read it, but she said she didn't have to read it. "How do we know what happened 55 million years ago?" she exclaimed with irritation. She was annoyed. She already had told me global warming is only a theory...and even if it's happening, it's a natural trend that comes and goes from time to time. Anyway, I'm not her boss and who am I to bring her this printout? She would complain to others about me now. She can pull rank on me, claim I disturb her procedure, and have me removed. What I presumed was collegial friendship changed in a flash.

The boy emperor will give the call to his sheep on Tuesday night. That's what Gore Vidal and Chalmers Johnson call him: the boy emperor. A Hun is at the helm and we enter the Dark Age. "For what we are now seeing are the obvious characteristics of the West after the fall of Rome: the triumph of religion over reason; the atrophy of education and critical thinking; the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture--a troika that was for Voltaire the central horror of the pre-Enlightenment world; and the political and economic marginalization of our culture." What I am feeling more and more every day in America at the very depth of my being is the subjection of reason to faith and authority. Nothing stops him. No election, no legal apparatus, no media attention, no legislative investigation. We don't want to hear it! We want the bright side. Is this what it's like to live in a dictatorship?

Here's Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio~~~

The Truth About The State Of Our Union
Dennis J. Kucinich
Fri Jan 27, 9:28 PM ET

On Tuesday night President Bush will stand before the Congress and the nation to deliver his annual State of the Union address. We are sure to hear a rosy tale of an economy on the rebound, a blossoming democracy in Iraq, a terror network on the run, and a Gulf Coast region rebuilding better and stronger than ever before. As is most often the case with this Administration, the rhetoric does not match reality.

The facts are clear. Our economy is struggling and leaving tens of millions of Americans behind. According to the non-partisan National Journal, since President Bush first stood before Congress and the nation in 2001, the median income in this country has decreased, the jobless rate has jumped from 3.9% to 4.9% and the number of families living in poverty has increased from 8.7% to 10.2%. Our trade deficit has doubled. Inflation has gone up. Personal bankruptcies have gone up. Consumer debt has gone up. College tuition has gone up. And, the price of gas has gone up. All the while, this Administration has turned a $128 billion federal budget surplus into a $319 billion deficit.

Today, almost 6 million more Americans do not have any health insurance than when President Bush took office. In total, over 45.5 million Americans, or over 15% of our total population, have no health care coverage at all.

During his 2003 address, President Bush told the nation that Saddam Hussein "had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax", "materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin", "as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent" and "upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents".

Today, almost three years after the start of the President's war of choice, we know Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, had no connection to al-Qaeda and posed no threat to our nation. Yet, our armed forces are bogged down in the middle of civil war that our own generals say cannot be won by military force. Our presence in Iraq is counterproductive and has cost the lives of over 2,200 US troops and $250 billion.

President Bush has delivered four State of the Union addresses since the attacks on our nation on 9/11. In four speeches, the President has never once mentioned Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the terror attacks on this nation. The status of the FBI's most wanted man apparently is not important to the state of our union. Yet, in the same four speeches, President Bush has mentioned Saddam Hussein 24 times, and Iraq 78 times.

President Bush used the opening of his 2003 State of the Union to praise the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. This year our nation, and the world, saw the result of the failure of this massive reorganization of our government. As Katrina rolled ashore, destroying large cities and small towns in four states, it was FEMA, once an independent cabinet level agency--but now rolled into Department of Homeland Security--that failed to react. The searing image of thousands of Americans stranded without food and water dying on American streets will be the lasting legacy of the Department of Homeland Security, not a reorganized government "mobilizing against the threats of a new era" as the President described in his speech.

In his 2004 and 2005 addresses, the President spent a considerable amount of time advocating policies that would roll back much of the social progress made since the New Deal. In 2004, the President touted a Medicare prescription drug bill that will fatten the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry, endangering the future finances of the entire Medicare program, while leaving seniors confused and empty handed as they try to fill their prescriptions under the new plan. In 2005, the President used his address to promote his plan strip seniors of the guaranteed promise of Social Security, and replace it with a risky scheme to gamble their future in the stock market.

What the President has in store for his message this year is not known yet. But, we do know the President Bush will speak in glowing terms about the state of our union. The truth is the state of our union is in great peril. This Administration is conducting a war with no end in Iraq, illegally spying on Americans at home, overseeing an economy that is increasingly leaving more and more Americans behind and abandoning Gulf in their hour of great need.

If recent history is any precedent, then next week we should see more of the same old dance around reality that has been the hallmark of President Bush's annual address.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bummed Out By Thursday

In the photo the writer and his wife listen to Paul Hackett, candidate for the US Senate from Ohio in the upcoming Democratic primary. Posted by Picasa

In Zen meditation we think non-thinking---that is, we think nothing. What this means is that our whole psychological mind ceases to function, and as a result, our whole being becomes united with the essence of mind, which we signify by Mind. You call this essence the God within you, absoluteness, ultimate reason---it doesn't matter. No matter what you call it, to unite with this essence is the very reason we are gathered here to meditate.

---Robert Aitken

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.

---Henry David Thoreau

People with opinions just go around bothering one another.

---The Buddha

I woke up this morning with a vow in my head to ignore the news and controversies of the day. Like many people in the United States and around the world, I've come to think the news endangers my health. I know many people who are adamant about not wanting to learn what's going on. They say even if you do find out, what do you believe? Everybody lies and twists and distorts. It's all maddening so for a balanced and positive outlook on life, it's better not to look, think about it or know about it. This morning I tried not to think or to look. How did I do?

I did rotten. I'm going to blame the shipment of news from Wednesday, and hope to do better tomorrow. One day at a time for a news junkie. I can lick this thing! But not today.

The New York Times
January 18, 2006
2002 Memo Doubted Uranium Sale Claim

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 - A high-level intelligence assessment by the Bush administration concluded in early 2002 that the sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq was "unlikely" because of a host of economic, diplomatic and logistical obstacles, according to a secret memo that was recently declassified by the State Department.

Among other problems that made such a sale improbable, the assessment by the State Department's intelligence analysts concluded, was that it would have required Niger to send "25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton tractor-trailers" filled with uranium across 1,000 miles and at least one international border.

The analysts' doubts were registered nearly a year before President Bush, in what became known as the infamous "16 words" in his 2003 State of the Union address, said that Saddam Hussein had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

The White House later acknowledged that the charge, which played a part in the decision to invade Iraq in the belief that Baghdad was reconstituting its nuclear program, relied on faulty intelligence and should not have been included in the speech. Two months ago, Italian intelligence officials concluded that a set of documents at the center of the supposed Iraq-Niger link had been forged by an occasional Italian spy.

White House Silent on Abramoff Meetings
By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer
Tue Jan 17, 4:56 PM ET

The White House is refusing to reveal details of tainted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's visits with President Bush's staff.

Abramoff had "a few staff-level meetings" at the Bush White House, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday. But he would not say with whom Abramoff met, which interests he was representing or how he got access to the White House.

Since Abramoff pleaded guilty two weeks ago to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion charges in an influence-peddling scandal, McClellan has told reporters he was checking into Abramoff's meetings. "I'm making sure that I have a thorough report back to you on that," he said in his press briefing Jan. 5. "And I'll get that to you, hopefully very soon."

McClellan said Tuesday that he checked on it at reporters' requests, but wouldn't discuss the private staff-level meetings.

He has said Abramoff attended three Hanukkah receptions at the White House, but corrected himself Tuesday to say there were only two — in 2001 and 2002.

McClellan said Bush does not know Abramoff personally, although it's possible the two met at the holiday receptions.

Abramoff was one of Bush's top fundraisers, having brought in at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign and earning the honorary title "pioneer." The campaign took $6,000 of the contributions — which came directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes he represented — and donated it to the American Heart Association. But the campaign has not returned the rest of the money Abramoff raised.

Democrats outline ethics reform plan in Ohio
Associated Press
Wednesday, January 18, 2006 3:13 PM

National Democrats promoted their ethics reform package today in battleground Ohio, which party Chairman Howard Dean called the center of Republican corruption scandals.

Dean outlined a package of measures to bar members of Congress from accepting gifts from lobbyists, pointing to a federal investigation of GOP Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who is accused of taking bribes from former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"The cost of corruption is real to Ohioans, and it's real to Americans, and we're going to put an end to that," said Dean, standing just a few feet away from the ceremonial Statehouse office of Gov. Bob Taft.

The Republican governor pleaded no contest in August to failing to report golf outings and other gifts he was treated to, becoming the state's first governor convicted of a crime.

Dean's visit gave a national stage to an argument Ohio Democrats have been making for months: voters should end 12 years of Republican domination of state government because of pervasive GOP corruption.

That includes a scandal involving $300 million in investment losses at the state insurance fund for injured workers.

Democratic candidates for several statewide offices including governor are sounding similar themes as they try to win back seats in the state that has failed to elect a president just twice in more than 100 years.

Republicans dismissed the event as a publicity stunt and said GOP leaders have moved quickly to address problems.

The Hartford Courant
What Are They Doing With All Our Data?
Laura K. Donohue
January 17 2006

Congress will soon hold hearings on the National Security Agency's domestic spying program, secretly authorized by President Bush in 2002. But that program is just the tip of the iceberg.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the expansion of efforts to gather and analyze information on U.S. citizens is nothing short of staggering. The government collects vast troves of data, including consumer credit histories and medical and travel records. Databases track Americans' networks of friends, family and associates, not just to identify who is a terrorist but to try to predict who might become one.

Remember Total Information Awareness, retired Adm. John Poindexter's effort to harness all government and commercial databases to preempt national security threats? The idea was that disparate, seemingly mundane behaviors can reveal criminal intent when viewed together. More disturbing, it assumed that deviance from social norms can be an early indicator of terrorism.

Congress killed that program in 2003, but according to the Associated Press, many related projects continued.,0,992533.story?coll=hc-headlines-oped

The New York Times
January 18, 2006
Spying on Ordinary Americans

In times of extreme fear, American leaders have sometimes scrapped civil liberties in the name of civil protection. It's only later that the country can see that the choice was a false one and that citizens' rights were sacrificed to carry out extreme measures that were at best useless and at worst counterproductive. There are enough examples of this in American history - the Alien and Sedition Acts and the World War II internment camps both come to mind - that the lesson should be woven into the nation's fabric. But it's hard to think of a more graphic example than President Bush's secret program of spying on Americans.

The White House has offered steadily weaker arguments to defend the decision to eavesdrop on Americans' telephone calls and e-mail without getting warrants. One argument is that the spying produced unique and highly valuable information. Vice President Dick Cheney, who never shrinks from trying to prey on Americans' deepest fears, said that the spying had saved "thousands of lives" and could have thwarted the 9/11 attacks had it existed then.

Given the lack of good, hard examples, that argument sounded dubious from the start. A chilling article in yesterday's Times confirmed our fears.

According to the article, the eavesdropping swept up vast quantities of Americans' private communications without any reasonable belief that they could be related to terrorism. The National Security Agency flooded the Federal Bureau of Investigation with thousands of names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and other tips that virtually all led to dead ends or to innocent Americans.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2006
Author: Human Rights Watch
Published on Jan 18, 2006, 07:49

New evidence demonstrated in 2005 that torture and mistreatment have been a deliberate part of the Bush administration's counterterrorism strategy, undermining the global defense of human rights, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2006.

The evidence showed that abusive interrogation cannot be reduced to the misdeeds of a few low-ranking soldiers, but was a conscious policy choice by senior U.S. government officials. The policy has hampered Washington's ability to cajole or pressure other states into respecting international law, said the 532-page volume's introductory essay.

"Fighting terrorism is central to the human rights cause," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "But using illegal tactics against alleged terrorists is both wrong and counterproductive."

Roth said the illegal tactics were fueling terrorist recruitment, discouraging public assistance of counterterrorism efforts and creating a pool of unprosecutable detainees.

Ex-EPA Chiefs Blame Bush in Global Warming
By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer
Wed Jan 18, 5:48 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Six former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency — five Republicans and one Democrat — accused the Bush administration Wednesday of neglecting global warming and other environmental problems.

"I don't think there's a commitment in this administration," said Bill Ruckelshaus, who was EPA's first administrator when the agency opened its doors in 1970 under President Nixon and headed it again under President Reagan in the 1980s.

Russell Train, who succeeded Ruckelshaus in the Nixon and Ford administrations, said slowing the growth of "greenhouse" gases isn't enough.

"We need leadership, and I don't think we're getting it," he said at an EPA-sponsored symposium centered around the agency's 35th anniversary. "To sit back and just push it away and say we'll deal with it sometime down the road is dishonest to the people and self-destructive."

All of the former administrators raised their hands when EPA's current chief, Stephen Johnson, asked whether they believe global warming is a real problem, and again when he asked if humans bear significant blame.

Agency heads during five Republican administrations, including the current one, criticized the Bush White House for what they described as a failure of leadership.

The Washington Post
Is It Warm in Here?
We Could Be Ignoring the Biggest Story in Our History
By David Ignatius
Wednesday, January 18, 2006; A17

The best reporting of the non-news of climate change has come from Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker. Her three-part series last spring lucidly explained the harbingers of potential disaster: a shrinking of Arctic sea ice by 250 million acres since 1979; a thawing of the permafrost for what appears to be the first time in 120,000 years; a steady warming of Earth's surface temperature; changes in rainfall patterns that could presage severe droughts of the sort that destroyed ancient civilizations. This month she published a new piece, "Butterfly Lessons," that looked at how these delicate creatures are moving into new habitats as the planet warms. Her real point was that all life, from microorganisms to human beings, will have to adapt, and in ways that could be dangerous and destabilizing.

So many of the things that pass for news don't matter in any ultimate sense. But if people such as (Thomas E.) Lovejoy and Kolbert are right, we are all but ignoring the biggest story in the history of humankind. Kolbert concluded her series last year with this shattering thought: "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing." She's right. The failure of the United States to get serious about climate change is unforgivable, a human folly beyond imagining.