Sunday, March 15, 2009

Will Shame Save Us?

Bernie Madoff celebrating New Year’s Eve aboard the yacht of his closest friend and mentor, Norman Levy, who died in 2005, and whose fortune Madoff recently appropriated...courtesy of the lady with the camera. By Carmen Dell’Orefice.
Zen is like looking for the spectacles that are sitting on your nose.
---D.T. Suzuki
You cannot avoid paradise. You can only avoid seeing it.
---Charlotte Joko Beck
Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.
---Annie Dillard
I've spent the 50 days since the Obama inauguration uncharacteristically silent. A mixture of exhaustion and relief took me into a vacation. Also I wanted to see what happens. I never thought of our new President as a progressive or radical, so I didn't have expectation of that kind of change. Nor was it a surprise to hear him say he wants to look forward rather than launch investigations into the last 8 or 18 or 28 years. I thought that was pretty good political judgment. If there's been indictable wrongdoing, there are other groups to look into that. The Justice Department is available, but we know what's become of the Supreme Court.
I have been alert to the rantings of the fundamentalist right, but it should be clear to everyone the loud ones among the bunch are set on self-destruct. Let them do what they have to do. There are quiet, unassuming fundamentalists who have been friendly all along, but not really welcoming to conversation about basic issues. It seems still too early to test those waters. More moderate Republicans have surprised me with their resistance to cooperate and complaints there still isn't enough bipartisanship. I'm disappointed, but I guess those are the rules of the game.
Ah, but there's the word. Game. This week has stirred me awake again. The players have begun to hit the fan. The vast American public has begun to stir...and a rumbling of rage is faint but strong. Mr. Madoff... Could Dickens have made up a better name for this guy? Mr. Madoff was led away in chains, but not before he expressed shame about bilking his friends and trusting investors. Bankers and players love that word "trust." "Security" is another word they like. Security exchange. The phrase reeks of ethics. Yes, Bernie expressed shame...although we know in his heart of hearts he sees himself a hero, sacrificing himself for family. I await some physician report that announces he has a rare condition and only a week to live.
Then we had Cramer vs. Stewart. I saw that hedge fund clown on CNBC only once, while munching a Big n' Tasty at McDonalds. I'm not into TV much anymore, but he looked like a hundred other frantic personalities on the tube who fill our homes with indignity. So Jon Stewart decided to finger him as a real bad guy, and Thursday night brought him on the Daily Show. It really was wonderful---and yes, Cramer too feels shame. He knew all along...but being a good team player---as all American boys are taught to be---he rolled up his sleeves and gave the game his best shot. Surely you know the video is all over the Internet, but you might check The Daily Show's site, and hope Jon's profanity is left in. Bloggers also are trying to build their own transcripts of the thing, for most of the world that can't afford broadband.
Also this week Jim Hightower mustered up some of the sharp rhetoric he used to share with Molly Ivins down in Lone Star country. He takes on that cute NY Times columnist David Brooks, who's been so saddened by the thought the plutocracy might be under scrutiny. Here's a taste of Jim's column this week~~~
"Yet, Brooks and his political brethren are now bemoaning the plight of the plutocrats, assailing the 'redistributionists' who talk of spreading America's wealth. In his column, Brooks cried out for a conservative vision of 'a nation in which we're all in it together — in which burdens are shared broadly, rather than simply inflicted on a small minority.'
"Do we look like we have suckerwrappers around our heads? Where were these tender-hearted champions of sharing throughout the last 30 years, when that same 'small minority' was absolutely giddy with redistributionist fervor — redistributing upward, that is?
"With the full support of their political hirelings from both parties, this minority created tax dodges, trade scams, corporate subsidies, deregulation fantasies, financial hustles, de-unionization schemes, bankruptcy loopholes and other mechanisms that turned government into a redistributionist bulldozer, shoving wealth from the workaday majority into their own pockets.
"Brooks might have missed this 30-year class war, but most folks have been right in the thick of it and are not the least bit squeamish about supporting a national effort to right those wrongs. After all, even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over — and being kicked."
Thirty years. How well I remember the coronation ceremonies for Reagan's 2nd term. The main ball was on television, with King Ronnie and his queen enthroned upstage...and MC Frank Sinatra, avenging himself and his cronies against Kennedy's snubbing of them, shouting out, "It's FOUR more years of PARTY!" And partytime it has been...with no cleanup the next morning. Until now. Ironically CNBC is owned, I understand, by General Electric, the company that picked up Reagan's dead movie career and turned him into its TV spokesperson. How much power was generated by and to GE through his political career has yet to be seen fully...but it's come full circle now. "Progress is our most important product."
Let's not forget Iraq. Today's Washington Post has a book review of sorts by Philip Bennett of a number of volumes just published about the different views of the occupation. They depend on whether you're here or over there. And if you're over there, whether you're a Yank or an Iraqi. What have the Iraqis gone through and what do they think?
"Today, Iraqis are the anonymous authors of their own history. As the U.S. withdraws, the course of 'Iraqification' will depend partly on how Iraqis reveal and resolve their own versions of the last six years. American journalists should once again take up the mission of reporting their stories as increasing security makes that possible. Public interest in these stories may have disappeared, but their importance hasn't. The lessons of the Iraq war, including making 'the people the prize,' are now migrating under Petraeus's command to Afghanistan, another country of strangers."
The photo of Madoff is from the April issue of Vanity Fair, which features a huge artice about the man, his connections, and the friends he betrayed. To introduce the issue, editor Graydon Carter creates a striking image of America right now~~~
"As far as the global economic crisis goes, part of me thinks the U.S. has gone off a cliff pretty much the way Wile E. Coyote does in the Road Runner cartoons. He doesn’t drop immediately; he’s suspended in midair. He knows he shouldn’t be out there, but he’s not plunging! Filled with hope, he begins to gingerly tiptoe his way back to the ledge. He’s almost made it—he’s not going to fall! And then, with a puff of dust, he’s gone, plummeting far, far down into the canyon. As a nation, we might just be in the tiptoeing stage: we know we’ve screwed up big-time, but we’re praying that we can get back to the ledge before gravity takes over."
Will shame be enough? Do we all feel it, share it? What is the current spiritual state of the country? You probably are aware of the survey published last week that shows the fastest growing religious choice in the country is None. That category of belief now is 15%, up from 8% in 1990. This makes "None" the biggest congregation in this nation, outside of Baptists and Catholics. Who do you trust? Organized religion? Banks, doctors, school administrators? Oh well, I still sing in the church choir---so I gotta go.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mr. Obama And The Money Changers

The photo shows Barack Obama on the campaign trail in Virginia last June. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty
There is something obscure which is complete before heaven and earth arose;
tranquil, quiet, standing alone without change, moving without peril.
It could be the mother of everything.
Not knowing its name, I call it Tao.


We have to get quiet. We have to be still, and that's harder and harder in this century.

---Jane Kenyon

When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him, "Whose?"

---Don Marquis

Yesterday the President gave the Weekly Address. I don't know when that tradition began, but I have to say even though I tend to have the radio on Saturday mornings I can't say I've ever heard one broadcast. Are there any stations that do it? Often the address makes news anyway, partly because nothing else may be going on during the weekends except sports, car crashes and murders.

The headlines are stark, more inciteful and insightful, and designed to "sell papers," as they say---in an industry where another newspaper seems to die off every week. The Los Angeles Times throws "class warfare" onto its front page, and Reuters calls the President "combative." The Chicago Tribune says he's playing "Robin Hood With The Budget." On television, ABC reports Obama is "ready to put 'em up over budget," and others claim he's trying to "talk tough" as Bush did(by way of Andover, Yale and Harvard). Many reactions quote Bush's "Bring it on!", so many in fact the address may get stuck with that label. HuffingtonPost has got it.

What's the point of this? We expect it, I suppose, from the Party of Nope. Republicans, apparently exhausted of a single innovative alternative, now accept Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin as their spokespeople. Thirty years of tax-cuts-to-the-rich trickledown wasn't enough? Giving hundreds of billions in unmarked bills to bankers and resisting loans and assistance to rupturing companies can't make sense to anyone who doesn't believe Wall Street players are in touch with some kind of divine guidance. Governor Jindal believes it. This is the nonwhite face the Repubs came up with to "respond" to the President's budget presentation to Congress. His claim to fame is turning down $100,000,000 in federal recovery money for a Louisiana that ranks 46th in high school graduations and 4th with children living below the poverty line.

Having elected Barack Obama on a platform of change, we now await our new appliance to chug into action and deliver the results. How long have the American people been trained to be consumers? When I tell people we used to study citizenship in school and had candidates debate each other in our assemblies, they barely can understand what I'm talking about. They nod gravely, especially social studies teachers, at such reminscences of ancient times. But we can't allow such participation now. Nobody knows how to have a moderated discussion about volatile issues. There would be discipline problems in the streets.

Increasingly I'm getting the impression that Mr. Obama understands these things. I could be wrong, but the man seems positively brilliant in perception beyond his years. He's been around the block. He's organized in the block. And with his address yesterday, he's announced he's back on the block. He reiterated his campaign promises. He showed what he's doing to fulfill them. Why suddenly is this combative?

Presuming the media isn't trying just to stir up trouble---and let's not put that past them: they do speak to the mob---if people are shocked by his shining a light on the lobbyists, it's because now it's real. This isn't empty rhetoric. He's doing it. Lobbyists are guys with jobs. They're like salesmen. Maybe they have experience in the halls of congress. Hopefully they know their products and whether they'll really work. Hopefully they are not out to defraud. Essentially Mr. Obama suggests we now see what they are, what they are made of. Are they part of citizenship or the consumer "culture"?

Please take a moment to go to the White House website to read the text of (or watch if you like) the whole address. It doesn't take long...and it's a classic~~~
Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
Saturday, February 28th, 2009