Wednesday, August 05, 2009


An undated photo of sagging power lines from the National Historic Weather Service Collection.

The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suspect.

---Thomas More

Our minds are continually active, fabricating an anxious, usually self-preoccupied VEIL which partially conceals the world.

---Iris Murdoch

Walking along a mountain path
I find a sandal-print in the moss,
a billowy cloud low on the lake,
grasses growing up to a door,
a pine tree shimmering green,
a brook gurgling along from the mountain,
and as I mingle with Truth among the flowers,
I have forgotten what to say.

---Liu Chiang-ch'ing

Last winter we had a severe ice storm here. Electricity went out for large portions of the states affected, in some areas and for some "customers," as we are called, lasting days and even weeks. Our home continues to use well water, powered by a pump nearly a quarter mile down a hill. No electricity means no water.

Somehow telephones still work---although the lines coming up to the house look exactly the same to me. But who is there to call besides each other? If you can get a human being at the electric company, she'll tell you the crews are all out working day and night...and maybe an estimate for restoration. To be told it won't be until tomorrow, or days into the future, is alarming. Do you have your own generator or backup heat?

Years ago you could call a radio station if so much as a hard wind began to blow. They'd get the information for you and onto the air within minutes. In those days the media were considered a public service, and their broadcasting licenses could be withdrawn by the FCC if they failed to meet their responsibilities. We have about a dozen radio and TV stations in town---if you count all the digital this-and-that---including a few connected with a university that boasts an award-winning journalism school. But try to get local news out of them. I can count on 2 commercial AM radio stations to tell me about severe weather conditions...and only one for sure.

I was in the New Haven area for the big ice storm in Connecticut in the early 1970s. Fortunately there was a fireplace in the house and we were able to cook Thanksgiving dinner. In fact it was one of the most delicious Thanksgivings in my memory. The front yard had been full of American chestnut trees, all loaded with bulging nuts and all destroyed by the storm. We crept out on the ice and harvested all we could find---and had chestnut stuffing and chestnut gravy and anything else we could think of to make with them. It was like being on another planet to walk outside. If you've been in an ice storm you know what I mean.

That storm in New Haven is famous, and I guess I wasn't frightened because I was a lot younger then obviously...but also because I was among friends. That's the key. Last winter it was my family in our house alone against a suddenly alien environment. What have I done since to prepare for the possibility of more uncertain weather? We're stockpiling dry goods and canning more, because we know the fridge and freezer can become pretty useless fast. But all that is for ourselves. What have we done to prepare with neighbors...who really should be our friends, but maybe aren't?

When I was a kid, the neighborhood community was really important...even after the necessities of World War II. We tended to know most of the people, sitting out on the front porch or taking walks after supper. The men liked to mow their lawns at the same time, talking to each other as they went. No gasoline-powered monsters back then. Of course this was in a small town, and things tended to be more isolated out on the farms---but not that much. People visited each other more, maybe bringing along a pie or some preserves.

I've lived in apartment buildings where I didn't know anybody at all. I've lived in town here where the turnover of student and faculty tenants is so tumultuous, it's futile to get to know many people at all before they move on. We've lived where we live now for over 10 years, and I guess we're finally acquainted with most people along this stretch of our road. But I never tire of telling the story of how I worked alongside a woman, often eating lunch with her, for a year before I learned she lives across the road. We move out in the country often to get away from people and to be alone.

But what can happen in an emergency? How many emergencies can we think of that could happen these days? I just read the morning news and came up with a half dozen that could occur today and affect my home and family. I'm not going to list them...and of course there are more I'm not even thinking about. Clearly we don't want to think about it. I was scared during the ice storm last winter, but what have I done to network with neighbors in case it happens again and we can help each other? I've done nothing. I've even forgotten the storm. I've put it behind me, in order to move forward.

Everytime I hear a politician say we have to put it behind us and move forward, I feel sick. Sometimes you're standing on the brink of an abyss, and then it's important to know what's behind you and to NOT keep moving in the same direction. How many areas of abyss can you count this morning?

Here's my problem and my confession. Over the years I too have become more isolated than I used to be. I have a lot of entertainments and toys around me and I value as much privacy as I can get to play with them. And during this period, I think I've become even more awkward and cautious with social interactions than I was before. Am I the person who should initiate a network of helping neighbors? Should I telephone those people? Going door to door would be more effective. But would I face rejection and humiliation?

I think it would be very wise for the people on our road to have an emergency plan of some kind. Maybe we could share in the stockpiling of food and supplies. Perhaps each family could undertake a different area of responsibility. Somebody could volunteer to keep extra fresh water available, and someone else could get gasoline. Not only would it be wise, it could be fun. Planning for emergency with friends is certainly more endurable than doing it alone. I'm sure there are people who are doing all this already, but some of us shy persons aren't even started. I wonder if we're on an endangered species list yet.


Quinty said...

Should neighbors be responsible for preparing?

Or is that a role for government?

Every once in a while we can still hear complaints about how FEMA failed, because "big government can't do anything right." Never mind the mindset which gave us "Brownie" and that situation.

Well (as we know) sure. If you don't want government to do anything right it won't. If you use government as a big cash and resource well for your buddies to dip out from it may not finally be too successful. At least not at serving the public good.

If I were in that situation (the one you describe above) I think I would prefer government bringing in experts and professionals to prepare for a variety of emergencies. If we have reached a point where government is seen only as a tax drain on our hard earned cash without providing anything in return then we might finally have to rely on ourselves.

Though there have been some glimmerings recently that government might work. Bill Clinton came home today with two journalists our federal government managed to fetch from the North Koreans. The "Cash for Clunkers" program appears to be a success. There other glimmerings, if only we can get around the mindset that has grown over the past eight years. The skepticism and negativity regarding anything being accomplished by government. Going back at least to Reagan.

If the neighbors want to get together to prepare for emergencies (without relying on government) maybe they should bring in some experts, people who know what to plan for. But everyone should be heard. If the "experts" here don't listen or aren't interested then you can be reasonably certain you're not going in the right path.

jazzolog said...

Thanks for the reply Quinty. I've passed it along to some other sites and friends as well.

There were other comments too, some of which I'll post here...with their permission. KJ at had these thoughts~~~

So many of the
electrical systems being installed these days don't include batteries. I
understand the cost-saving and energy distribution elements but investing
in a battery system is a great step toward greater resiliency.

There may be a time when folks with independent energy systems may need to
host others in their neighborhoods who are dependent upon electric
equipment due to their health status...oxygen, pumps, suction,
ventilators, etc. I'm dreaming that my neighborhood out here will develop
a system for health care when all else fails. Who are our elderly, who
has medical problems, who needs help with personal care and household
matters? Who are our aides, nurses, doctors, emt's, birth/death midwives,
etc.? Who has medical supplies and equipment stashed? What forms of
transportation do will we utilize to get around the neighborhood?
I'd like to see all neighborhoods pursue such assessments, plans (not only
just related to health care, but basic needs in general) and then link up
our neighborhood pods to each other via a networked alliance.

I am deep in the battery zone after having worked, obsessively, with a
variety of types out here for quite a few years. My current main set is a
546 amphr bank of Surrettes...they are very good but have some
ideosyncracies related to their thick positive plates. I experienced an
intense learning curve for quite awhile but am now thankfully over the
hump and all "the girls", as I call them, seem to have mellowed as well.

I also have a bank of old 6 volt golf cart batteries that are at least
eight years old and still holding and taking a charge, even with less than
ideal, i.e. lousy, maintenance. We've also worked with Trojan's and big 2
volt deep cycles over the years.

There are some pictures of some of our battery/electrical stuff, mostly of
the mobile unit, at -


jazzolog said...

I also heard back from a friend in Scotland~~~

Emergency planning as 'fun': that would be a nice change. Here at the university we have had endless emergency planning meetings, table-top exercises and real-life experiences (ranging from a gas explosion or the cutting through of the main electricity supply to the campus on the coldest day of the year to the recent ourbreak of swine-flu). Lively, yes. Fun, no.

CDX works at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. Yes well, work associates are a rather different matter than neighbor relationships. Point well taken.

Jay Warmke up at had this to say~~~

As you know, we live in a home that can deal with natural disasters very
well. Our water can be gravity fed, the home's temp never gets below 56
degrees and we can supplement with wood heat. We cook with propane.
Literally we can get by just fine for a month (or maybe more) if all the
power goes out and we are snowed in.

So a couple years ago, when all the power was cut off for several days
across the eastern US (the great blackout of 2003) - we would have
weathered it just fine, except at that moment we were landing at the
airport in NYC to transfer to a flight to France. So for two days we
slept on the floor, ate only what Annie had carried (no water - all run
by electric; no food - all food in the airport was from vending
machines, no toilets - the water pumped to them was by electric, no air
conditioning and no windows that opened). All the airport employees
went home - and suggested we do the same. Of course there was no where
to go, so several thousand of us just sat around playing cards and
wondering what was going on. During the entire time, I did not see ONE
uniformed person or anyone (other than the occasional flustered ticket
counter worker) who was in any position of authority. Clearly our
system is not prepared to handle even the most basic of disasters.

We have been writing a textbook on Green Technology. So I am up to my
eyes in the latest research. What is clear to everyone (except,
apparently, the politicians) is that the electric grid is hanging by a
thread. The current system actually ENCOURAGES utility companies NOT to
invest in the infrastructure. Over the past three decades, electric
utilities have invested less in their business infrastructure (less than
2% of profits) than any other industry. Experts say the only reason we
have not had widespread and frequent power outages is simply (and this
is in a technical governmental report) "a matter of luck." In many
parts of the country (as stated in a Dept of Energy study) the only way
the power company has to monitor when there is a power outage is when
customers call in to complain. Not a pretty picture.

But the point that was clear (in the NYC airport) to me, is that all
those people who create bunkers to weather the coming disaster will
probably be shopping at Walmart when the holocaust hits. I don't know
what the solution is - but building a co-dependent community seems a
good start. As they say, no man is an island.

jazzolog said...

Muriel Grim, who has described herself as a retired geologist, continues active in Athens community affairs and wrote about her own organizing attempts~~~

I have been pushing this idea for years but
even when you get out and try to start it, it can be a hard sell.

I tried to get an emergency preparedness network going on Athens
South Side about 5 or 6 years ago. I divided the area into something
like two dozen "blocks" and tried to get someone in each "block" to
go door-to-door with a questionnaire asking if people wanted to be
part of the Community Association (we were also promoting membership
in the South Side Community Association) and an Emergency Network or
just an Emergency Network. I went door to door in several of the blocks
because some of my contacts weren't able/willing to do that. Although
a large majority of the people signed up to be phoned or e-mailed in an
emergency, very few showed much interest in working on this and some
people refused to have any part in it.

People usually seem to respond and get interested only after the emergency
happens to them.... the proverbial "shutting the barn door after ..."

A hard sell. Too bad, but Muriel's right: you petition to get a traffic light at that dangerous intersection, but no one listens until a little kid gets run over. Are we all just too busy?

Buckaroo said...

America’s Wake Up Call — Buy Guns!

Banzai said...

The minuteman knows/UNDERSTAND about the importance/DUTY of vigilance/PREPAREDness/ALERTness

Government is A Failure !

Ron Paul on the spate of protests at town hall meets:
“I don’t remember seeing the people so angry as they are now, but I think what they have discovered is that the government is a failure… I think a lot of people have come to the realization that you can’t trust government.”

Ron Paul on the Obama administration’s healthcare proposals:“It is nationalized healthcare, this pretence that it isn’t completely just means that there is some transition involved. Their goal is to have one party payer, which means that they control everything. And there’s a lot of other bad things in too like this effort to consult with anybody who’s over a certain age and talk to them about end of life type of procedures. This bill is just such an outrage, the American people see it for what it is."

Ron Paul on Obama’s plummeting ratings: “I don’t think he’ll be reelected but it’s way way to early to know that for sure, his circumstances are much more difficult. I often thought early on whether he would be like Roosevelt and never get blamed for anything… but I think Obama is going to receive some of the blame and rightfully so.”

jazzolog said...

Sorta anonymous comments about guns and MinuteMen scare me, but the not-so-good (albeit-with-cult-following) 1980s flick The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension provides the clue we may have a single poster in the previous 2, and he's probably friend rather than foe. I'm grateful for the links.

I've tried to keep my head down as fists begin to fly at town meetings. This ain't Norman Rockwell, despite Fox pimping of "free speech." When Congress reassembles all I can do is hope the truth will out.

But in case it doesn't, I have to confess buying a gun has crossed the dinner table in conversation. I never touched a real gun until a couple years ago when I was handed one full of blanks as a prop I had to shoot in a play I was in. I'm not bragging virtue here. My father was a city man who never hunted...and I guess a son learns that stuff in upbringing.

My wife has a different background though, and she's the one who could tote it. We both have dark dreams of economic collapse and something like starving zombies staggering up the driveway. Now I have to add a citizen militia stopping by on its way to take over City Hall.

More and more news sources are picking up last week's report from the Southern Poverty Law Center. the Associated Press begins its coverage this way~~~

"Militia groups with gripes against the government are regrouping across the country and could grow rapidly." Nice alliteration.

Quinty said...

They're not going to let go easily - the Reagan/Bush/Palin/Ron Paul "get government off our backs" types.

What do these folks say when government builds a sewer link down the road? That Stalinism is taking over?

Obama appears to be moving forward most cautiously. Yet that is too radical for some. He thinks government can offer valuable, useful services to ordinary people. There others who cling to the dream of a complete "freedom." To them the "commons" is no more than a paranoid huddle, guns drawn, to keep the government off.

A president who sees a role for government as a public good has a huge heaping mountain of Reaganesque/Libertarian belief to surmount. We are suffering from a huge hangover trom the Bush years. There foliks out there who resent the change.

Watch out for them zombies as they come up the driveway: an amusing allusion. What was it Yeats famously said about his own political times?

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

If we have a "town hall" here in Providence I think I'll go. Will the yahoos predominate?

jazzolog said...

In about an hour our family needs to get on the road to drive Daughter off to college. I must be brief, but I have to say I'm going to be carrying lots of alarm today about how the summer congressional recess is going. The President is stripped down to shirtsleeves now, and yesterday brought the death of his own grandmother into the debate. Debate. Can it even be called a debate? How level is this debating field? Are we instead witnessing a massive, organized pile-on?

Since Bill Moyers returned to the televised Journal, I've noticed increasingly the name Michael Winship involved in his production. Mr. Winship wrote a piece yesterday for TruthOut with a very strange title...but the gist of the whole thing is how much money insurance and pharmaceutical companies are throwing into the game. He also has something to say about a healthcare crisis in his own history that nearly took his family down. I can tell you a story like that too. Nearly every family can.

On Friday in the rough 'n ready state of Montana, President Obama took himself into the very teeth of it, declaring the country is being held hostage by the insurance industry. You know, being an elder as I am, I can remember periodic visits to our home by Mr. Hernan, our insurance man, treated with the same honor and hospitality as a housecall by the family doctor. My father put all his trust and investment into insurance. More recently, I have to say, if there is a claim I need to make, I better have done ALL the legwork myself. And be ready with an attorney at hand.

And if only I could trust the media would be handling the delicate issues on those talkshows today with journalistic excellence! The opposition in the "debate" will be out in full force today...and I dread how it's going to go. Orin Hatch will be representing all that is rational in Utah by defending the glorious free speech that is celebrated in the town meetings. Newt Gingrich is everywhere now, including his own editorial in the LA Times this morning. The last time we heard from him, I was working for the federal government and felt particularly stung as he demonized my colleagues and me with the dreaded word "bureaucrats." He's back with the same scare...and championing Ms. Palin while he's at it. A formidable team...and one Maureen Dowd tackles this morning with all she's got.

A debate...or a dirty fight? Yesterday I got this email, as maybe some of you did, from Munsup Seoh, who professes both math and science at Wright State University~~~

jazzolog said...

From: Holly Denlinger

I've been trying to find a list like this. Hope you can join and tell them to stop the fear mongering. Notice some of our insurance companies are on the list?


To: Holly Denlinger

Subj: Boycott FOX News Advertisers

FOX News has always been the propaganda arm of the Republican Party, willing to twist facts and even lie to promote the Republican agenda.

But the election of President Obama in 2008 pushed FOX News into outright hate-mongering and incitement of violence, which is intolerable in a democracy.

Tell FOX News advertisers to cancel their ads:

Here are some examples of intolerable hate speech and incitement to violence:

6/30/09 Glenn Beck agreed with guest who urged bin Laden to attack U.S. with nuclear weapons.

7/25/09 Neil Cavuto and guest said health care reform will impose universal euthanasia like "Soylent Green."

7/28/09 Glenn Beck said "The President has exposed himself as a guy .. who has a deep-seated hatred for white people ... or the white culture... This man is a racist."

8/6/09 Glenn Beck "joked" about giving Speaker Pelosi a glass of wine with poison.

We join with FoxNewsBoycott and Color Of Change in this boycott, which is already producing outstanding results. In the first week, 11 advertisers cancelled their FOX ads: Campbell Soup, Chrysler, General Motors, Kellogg, Kraft Foods,, Nestle, Pfizer, Proctor & Gamble, Progressive Insurance, and Walmart. Read the latest update.

Tell FOX News advertisers to cancel their ads:

Thanks for all you do!

Bob Fertik

From: dorinda moreno
Subject: Re: Glenn Beck Advertisers/Sponsors Former and Current

This site gives a full list of sponsors who, as of August 14th have pulled their ads from the Glenn Beck Show and also a list of those still advertising. They do updates and have other good info about this. Ellen/OB

List of Glenn Beck Sponsors/Advertisers: Dropped & Remaining
To date (8/14/09), here is the full list of sponsors that have pulled ads from the Glenn Beck Program on Fox News:

Ally Bank
Healthy Choice (owned by CongAgra) (owned by LexisNexis)
Men’s Wearhouse
Procter & Gamble
Progressive Insurance
Radio Shack
Sargento Cheese
State Farm Insurance
To date (8/14/09), here is a list of sponsors that either: 1) have had ads run in the past and haven’t confirmed yet that they will no longer run ads or 2) continue to run ads on the Glenn Beck Program. Significant current sponsors are in bold.

ADT Security
Binder & Binder
Campbell’s Soup
Cinergy Health
CNN (commercial for American Morning)
HSBC Life Insurance
Johnson Law Group
HealthMart Pharmacies
Kraft Foods
Lear Capital
Liberty Medical
Pearl Vision
Quicken Loans
Repower America
Rosland Capital
The Scooter Store

jazzolog said...

These lists will be updated as information changes or becomes available. Please feel free to get in touch if you have additional information.

If you haven’t already done so, please sign the ColorOfChange petition here, as well as another petition here.

And then, take a moment to contact the sponsors directly (by email, phone or twitter), it will really make a difference. Contact information for many of these sponsors below… Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Angelo

Boycotting Glenn Beck Sponsors For Calling Obama A Racist
Update #9: Healthy Choice, Radio Shack, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis & Travelocity all pull ads from Glenn Beck Program. More, more, more…how do you like it, how do you like it… [8/12/09]

Update #8: State Farm Insurance states says that ads should not have been run during the Glenn Beck Program. They state that they have corrected the error and ads will no longer run during Beck.

Update #7: Men’s Wearhouse has stated that they will not be airing any ads during the Glenn Beck Program. Full statement below. [8/11/09]

Update #6: Sargento Cheese also stated that they will be dropping Glenn Beck. Full statement below. [8/11/09]

Update #5: GEICO announced today that they will be pulling their ads from the Glenn Beck Program on Fox News. [8/11/09]

Update #4: I know that there is a lot of effort to contact Glenn Beck’s wide array of sponsors and that’s good. I urge everyone to continue. BUT, in order for this effort to work, it must be somewhat organized. UPS is one of Glenn Beck’s largest, if not the largest, direct sponsors. Accordingly, UPS should be the primary focus of this campaign. If you haven’t already contacted UPS, please do. Start with them first, then contact the others.

Update #3: If you are looking for Glenn Beck sponsor/advertiser information, scroll down to the bottom of this post.

Update #2: It was recently announced that Procter & Gamble, (owned by LexisNexis) and Progressive Insurance are distancing themselves from Glenn Beck. I will be posting my thoughts on this later as well. These actions are a useful first step, but they are by no means adequate.

Update #1: I received a response from UPS. See it below.


But healthcare isn't the only issue getting this kind of treatment. Watch for the opposition to mount the same tactics against the energy proposals. In fact it's already begun. On Friday this headline appeared at

"Sensitive" Oil Industry Memo Lays Out Plan For Astroturf Rallies Against Climate Change Bill

Remarkably to me, I haven't seen ANY mainstream media pick up on this. Is it true or not? On Thursday I had an email from Reverend Canon Sally Bingham, of the Episcopal Church, referring us to a blog with which she's involved...and there you can see some YouTube footage that shows, "At local town hall meetings around the country, opponents of climate and energy legislation are turning out in force along with opponents of health care reform in an orchestrated strategy to shout down congressmembers and intimidate them."

It looks as if the rest of the summer needs to involve some grassroots reorganizing in order to tip the balance to where support really is. And we're going to need to show up with our bodies again in order to get it done!

jazzolog said...

One does not look often to Ohio newspapers for progressive inspiration. An exception is the Toledo Blade, a paper I check online everyday. Yesterday its editors put forward a clear, concise opinion piece that is a refreshing blast of oxygen in the emergency room of healthcare reform.

Public betrayal?

COMPROMISE is an essential element of politics, but supporters of President Obama’s vision for health-care reform now have reason to wonder whether his plan will be bled to a condition of futility and impotence one compromise at a time.

This past weekend, the administration made clear that the President is prepared to jettison the “public option,” an alternative government insurance program similar to Medicare that would serve the nation’s millions of uninsured. Conservatives have cited it as a prime exhibit in their opposition to “socialized medicine.”

But that suggests more trouble. The very fact that the single-payer system, which Mr. Obama once supported, was not seriously considered was itself a compromise to political realities born of the socialized medicine bugaboo. Where did that get Mr. Obama? Nowhere.

Having been condemned as a socialist and Marxist for a plan that was neither, Mr. Obama is unlikely to catch a break from critics who are very much invested in the dysfunctional status quo and who see this as an opportunity to bring him to his political Waterloo, as Sen. Jim DeMint, (R., S.C.) has obligingly admitted.

That a public option is so feared in some quarters is revealing; it subverts the notion that private enterprise is always more efficient than the government. If so, why do its critics fear its presence as an option? Maybe because, like Medicare, it will become the trusted support of millions.

We the people vote for governments; we do not vote for private insurance companies, which under this compromise will be left on the field uncontested, despite having enriched themselves in helping bring the nation to its present sorry predicament, one where coverage is denied because of pre-existing conditions or canceled or too expensive for millions to afford.

To fill the void left by the prospective abandonment of a public option, the administration is saying it would be open to consumer-owned, nonprofit co-operatives that could compete with private insurance companies. We won’t dismiss this suggestion out of hand, but we challenge the idea of any compromise at all.

The Duke of Wellington stood his ground at Waterloo and took everything the enemy threw at him before advancing to victory. If he doesn’t want to be the Napoleon of health-care hopes, Mr. Obama has to find the fortitude to do the same. Despite the polls, millions of Americans are at his side, looking for that leadership.

Also in yesterday's paper is a syndicated column by Froma Harrop on the death of her husband, presided over by the "death panels" that comprise the capitalist private insurance companies. They're so nice...until it's time to submit a claim.

jazzolog said...

Rabbi Lerner hits the nail on the head regarding Barack Obama's attempt to be a middle-of-the-road president. We knew he was going to be like this, but the rabbi shows the untenable consequences~~~
Building on the Hopeful Aspects of Obama’s Health Care Speech and Helping Him Get Beyond His Internal Contradictions
by: Rabbi Michael Lerner on September 10th, 2009

Media analyses of President Obama’s health care speech were divided on whether he had indicated serious support for a public option or had, instead, cleverly tossed a bone of “recognition” to the progressives while simultaneously demanding that they drop their insistence that the health care reform undercut insurance company profits.
The confusion, for once, is not with the media but with the incoherence of a centrist politics. Obama wishes to relieve the suffering of Americans, but he does not wish to challenge the profit-uber-alles old “Bottom Line” of the competitive marketplace. Unfortunately for him and for most Americans, he can’t have it both ways. FDR recognized that — and so was willing to stand up to the vested interests of the class from which he emerged, not only rhetorically, as Obama is willing to do at some rare moments like his Health Care speech, but in the actual policies he promoted.

Goodness knows Obama has tried. He understands the suffering caused by the military-industrial complex’s insistence that American security can only come through economic, military and diplomatic domination of the world, and would like to alleviate it. He would prefer a world of peace. But he can’t get that without challenging the fundamental equation of security with domination and presenting an alternative, e.g. that security might best be achieved through generosity and genuine caring about the well-being of others around the world, manifested in the kind of G-8 funded Global Marshall Plan that has been introduced into Congress by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). So, instead, he has escalated the war in Afghanistan.

Obama is aware that unless we can get down to not more than 350 particles per million of carbon emissions that life on the planet is finished. Standing up to the corporate interests that have resisted this and managed to eviscerate his environmental program into a corporate-giveaway called “cap and trade” would require championing a carbon tax that he fears would make him unpopular with the corporate polluters and with the public whose consciousness these polluters are able to shape through the media.

Obama knows that a single-payer program — extending Medicare to everyone — is far more rational than what he has proposed to Congress, but he also believes that eliminating the insurance companies, hospital chains, and other medical profiteers would require a battle beyond his current capacities.

To address any of these problems fully would require a fundamental challenge to the old Bottom Line. Obama would have to call for a New Bottom Line — to advocate for defining governmental and private corporate policies as “rational,” “productive” or “efficient” not only to the extent that they maximize money and power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, and ethical and ecological sensitivity, as well as enhance our capacities to respond to other human beings as embodiments of the sacred and our capacities to respond to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe.

He actually reached in that direction momentarily at the end of his Health Care speech to Congress by seeming to endorse Senator Ted Kennedy’s “large-heartedness: a concern and regard for the plight of others” which he defined as “our ability to stand in other people’s shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand.”

jazzolog said...

Yet over and over again in the details of his plan it was not this large-heartedness that he championed, but a belief in the positive outcomes of the competitive marketplace. What Obama omitted from mention is that the ethos of that marketplace, which rewards selfishness and materialism and “looking out for number one,” as the “common sense” that guides individual as well as governmental behavior, is a product of the fear that we cannot count on others, that there will be no one there to take care of us, and that we must therefore maximize our own advantage lest someone else do so for themselves in ways that will permanently hurt or undermine us.

Obama can’t help us overcome that fear until he does so himself. He has to allow himself to know, and then help Americans to understand, that most people actually do want to help each other, get delight in being caring and loving, feel fulfilled when they are able to improve the well-being of others. Most people already know this about themselves, but are unsure whether it’s true of their neighbors or others. Obama’s most important contribution would be to fight for policies based on this understanding and to challenge those who believe the world is filled with people who are primarily self-seeking and aggressive. Unfortunately, he can’t do that while remaining loyal to the centrist ideology and its insistence that the aggressiveness manifested in the current competitive marketplace, is what will produce the greatest good for the greatest number.

Imagine, for instance, if Obama had started his speech with the idea of “we are all in this together” that he ended it with, and then applied that to each specific part of his program. Sadly, that was impossible precisely because his actual program is in conflict with this at several points. He won’t support health care reform that raises the deficit. How can that be justified by a president who raised the deficit to help bail out the people who caused the banks and investment companies to fail all of us! He promises not to give any benefits to undocumented immigrants — but then “we” are not “all in it together!” He is willing to use government to coerce into his plan people who would not voluntarily join, but not to force insurance companies to lower the prices (for example, by regulating their prices at the expense of lowering their profit rates or simply by creating Medicare for All. He tries to make a public option plausible by comparing it to public community and state colleges, but also assures the insurance companies that they have nothing to worry about from his plan because “the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects.” Yet the public option will not be open to those of us who already have private health care insurance. These limitations guarantee that the public option will not achieve the goal of lowering prices or obscene levels of profits. Public universities and community colleges have never been able to sustain themselves on the tuitions of those who use them. If that had been the requirement from the start, tens of millions of Americans would never have obtained the benefits of a public education that enabled them to get better jobs and go on to make valuable contributions to society in turn. If the principle had been that these colleges could not contribute to state or federal deficits, they would long ago have folded. So where is the “we” who are “all in it together” when crippling the only part of his plan that really makes an attempt at a universal solidarity?

jazzolog said...

There are two views about Obama that are at odds in the liberal and progressive world. One holds that Obama really shares all this same perspective with us but has lost his own moorings because he is surrounded by inside-the-Beltway realists and pragmatists. On this view, our task is to do what the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ conference June 11-14, 2010, is aimed to do: “Support Obama to BE the Obama we Voted For — not the inside-the-Beltway pragmatist and realist whose compromises have disempowered his followers and led many previous supporters to become cynical.”

The other view is that he actually does really believe in the capitalist marketplace, not only as “the best that can be achieved at the moment” but as an embodiment of his ideals. In that case, our task is to respectfully support him to live up to his own ideals as much as possible, since in so doing he will both push to the limits what can be accomplished in the current system and eventually be forced to acknowledge that a truly humane system is incompatible with the Old Bottom Line and that we actually need a whole new society based on the New Bottom Line. Actually, that’s another focus for our NSP conference next June as well – to bring together the forces that actually want to build a very different kind of reality, know that it is needed now, and want to define the contours of that new society.

Ultimately, people in this perspective know that what we need is a spiritual progressive political party. But a first step now is to bring such people together to begin to cooperate (difficult enough, given the degree to which the capitalist marketplace has forced most of these groups to compete with each other for scarce financial support and public recognition). The need for such a party will become increasingly clear as Obama’s centrism yields policies that do not eliminate but actually perpetuate human suffering.

But we’ll be praying that we are wrong about this, and that in the short term at least Obama a. gets vindicated and b. succeeds in reducing suffering. Only, deep down, in our most rational moments, we know that if the system remains largely in place, and only its worst and most humanly and environmentally destructive parts are partially constrained, in the not-too-long-run the suffering will increase. And it is this recognition, not a disrespect for Obama, that demands of us that we not simply be satisfied with being the left-wing of an Obama cheerleading squad, but lovingly respectful critics of his direction. How to do this in a way that does not immediately marginalize us among the many spiritual progressives whose loyalty to Obama would make them angry at us for even raising these questions is something that keeps us up at nights, not only because those Obama loyalists are part of our spiritual progressive project, but because we ourselves genuinely admire Obama’s decency, morality, and intelligence.

jazzolog said...

Liberals and progressives who feel that they have already compromised too much by giving up on “Medicare For All” and embracing a watered-down Public Option are right to resist Obama’s pressure to drop that public option – not because no good could possibly be achieved without it, but because the ideas underlying the dropping of a public option are the same ideas that inevitably lead us to the militarist/domination worldview, to environmental irresponsibility, and to a health care system that will continue to privilege profits over human needs. And that is why Centrist politics appears so incoherent and self-contradictory and unable to relieve the suffering moderates like Obama genuinely desire to heal.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine ( , Chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives ( ) and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco ( . He is the author of eleven books including
Jewish Renewal, The Politics of Meaning, Spirit Matters, Healing Israel/Palestine, and The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right.

Quinty said...

When Roosevelt took office in 1933 he actually alluded to the possibility of becoming an absolute ruler in his inaugural speech, much to widespread approval. Things were that bad. And had there been a revolution it would have been toward the left.

Today, if there were a revolution, it would probably be toward the right. The far right, the people making all the noise out there, would fuel such a revolution.

Let’s admit the obvious: from Bush to Obama is a great leap. Bush brought the far Christian right closer to obtaining their ideal society than any president before. Obama, with his progressive rationalism, endangers their gains. He represents everything they distrust and fear. They are going to fight like hell to preserve their foothold.

And that is what we are witnessing today. Fortunately, this far right is a relatively small minority. But they are certainly large enough to create a great deal of confusion, obstructionism, and loud public hysterical anger. And they have a strong representation in Congress.

It’s all a matter of votes. And the votes for single payer are not there in the Congress. Unfortunately, this is not something which can simply be wished away by demonstrating a superior logic or reason. Reason has nothing to do with it.

Healthcare reform should, as Rabbi Lerner says, be simple and obvious. But instead, as we all can see, the resistance against needed change is enormous. Not only is there a kind of lumpfen right clinging to Bush era superstitions but an old fashioned Reaganesue Capitalism standing in the way. So powerful is this capitalist orthodoxy that many middleclass citizens would prefer pay a thousand to two thousand dollars a month in private health insurance than exchange that for a modest rise in taxes, perhaps another twenty or thirty dollars a month for a middleclass family of four, thus eliminating all private premiums.

What needs to be done to reform our healthcare system is on the whole obvious. And I think it would actually be quite simple to do: if there were a pressing will. Were it not for a national obstinacy which has nothing to do with Obama, I think.

Eliminate the age requirement from Medicare and make Medicare available to all. How to pay for it? Well, we could take one or two hundred billion from our “defense” budget to begin with. (When Bush took office it was 297 billion a year: now its close to 6 or 7 hundred billion.) We could eliminate the tax cuts for the rich which far exceed the projected costs for expanded health care. We could also impose a tax increase on all those who can afford to pay more taxes. I, as one citizen, would most certainly be willing to pay a little more annually for such an important and needed national program. And think of all the added out of pocket savings such a program would bring to nearly all Americans.

There should be a stampede in Congress to enact such obvious measures, to bring healthcare to all Americans. To contain and control the greed of the healthcare industry as an exploiter. But no, instead these issues are so close and tight in the Congress today that every single vote counts. And there may not be enough votes for even modest gains. At least Obama has threatened to veto anything ineffective. (Like another Medicare Part C or Part D, perhaps?)

This thing has dragged on for a long time now. And there have been numerous misconceptions about who stands where, who will vote how, etc. We are in a painful state of uncertainty and suspense now, with much conflicting information coming our way. We have yet to see what will happen. And, yes, we have reached a point where any detail becomes inflated, meaning more, perhaps, than it does as if it were enormously significant. Thus adding to the noise. Which doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t keep the pressure up. For there’s plenty on the opposite side.