I am diabetic and I am gaining weight. These are not good things to do in tandem. As I rise and fall to correct my slow, steady march into the broad plains of health tragedies, I remember this is the first week of Advent. I thought it is a good time to break a taboo and talk about God. Not the moral God of right and wrong, of heaven and hell, of fire and brimstone, of love and wrath. Nor the God of the evangelicals of the right wing who seems to sanction their personal idolatry, nor the straw God of many atheists who insist and dismiss God as largely superstition and myth.
What’s left? Am I dismissing all of the competing narratives and banning their views to make an easier path for my assertions? Are you, Dear Readers, already on guarded edge? Especially as I eliminate the great and small Gods of the world, the theology issues of Christianity, and discussions of Christianity’s central beliefs. and promise not to try to convert you. (Already, doubts emerge!)
I confess, however, to enjoying the pageantry of high Christianity. Nothing is better than a tightly swung censer that billows a cloud of incense at the end of its arc, leaving the elders coughing and small children’s eyes burning.
But entertainment or cruel sting is not the source of my faith or belief.
I found re-centered grace in the stories, songs and voices of America’s enslaved and freed. Their faith barely visible and often wrongly attributed and interpreted, their grand embrace of God overlooked, under the dust of their historic footprints.
I read Luther and John Wesley, the Pope’s encyclicals, but the name that gathered the ideas at the center of my spiritual experience is of a black Baptist who became a mystic in the tradition of the Quakers. He was the former Dean of Boston University’s chapel. Born in Florida, the grandson of a former enslaved grandmother who raised him, he became a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in whom he had a special interest. He was a classmate, at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, of Dr. King’s father.
One of Howard Thurman’s well thumbed books was in Dr. King’s briefcase the day he was shot.
In my view, what Albert Einstein was to the inner workings of time and space, Howard Thurman was to the inner workings of things divine and eternal.
Thurman left home with a belt tied around a suitcase whose latches were broken, boarding in a nearby town for 50 cents a week to become the first student of his community to finish high school. Then on to Morehouse College on scholarship.
His life was changed by a simple proposition. His grandmother told him not to worry over possessions or people’s attitudes; he was a child of God. Thurman found the idea behind his grandmother’s words changing his life.
Thurman began his reasoning about the existence of God with a view typical of every faith: God acts through belief. So how does Thurman—or anyone—know it is God acting, and not science, chance, or just non-sense?
Thurman’s eureka: one knows by possibility. By endless creativity! What others saw as chaotic uncertainty, Thurman saw as a vast, open, available potential, an endless, ever changing bounty. What to many was an unreliable and overwhelming profusion, was to him an explosive reassurance. Instead of simplifying the patterns of living, Thurman grasped their richness.
Thurman saw a world that at every turn was transient and filled with ideas and actions. It was filled with surprises and reprises, with spiraling combinations of successes and failures. As he focused on Christianity, on the prescribed properties of God as Shepherd, Savior, Redeemer, Interventionist, Father, Human, Holy Spirit, none were more important to Thurman than the idea of God the Creator.
Birth, life, death, every leaf and million-year-old light from constellations, every transition of personal and social age, every storm, were a part of creation, and creation itself had no fixed or finite ends or beginnings. That creation had this property of being able to “outlive” itself—and by its presence bring creation anew to the world—was evidence and affirmation, for Thurman, of God.
The enslaved expressed this sense of creativity in the poetry of a spiritual: “Plenty Good Room in My Father’s Kingdom.” Healing, too, was important to creativity. (“Wade In The Water,” “There Is A Balm in Gilead.”)
Yet Thurman didn’t want to just “believe” in God. He wanted to know God. Tradition had made it possible to adore the deity, but for many, the deity was inaccessible. Thurman realized that belief was the act that made God accessible.
My sitting, half-reclined, cranking down to snack on cookies will not provide the experience or evidence of weight loss. Nothing will until I do something. I can only lose weight (or gain it!) through action—persistent action over time that will create change. Daily invisible, but finally manifested to my eye and senses. Thurman’s experience of God works the same way. He often quoted the folk proverb: “You can’t pour out corn from an empty sack.”
This is how one knows God, Thurman offers, by persistent effort which initially yields little results, but grows and manifests as an inner truth and blessings and gifts—as real as the loss of weight!
The most basic tool of practice is a simple conversation called prayer. Songs are used, too. Thurman explored advanced tools, turning to the Quaker tradition of mystic mediation to put away “the outside things.”
Not that these outside things are lesser. The musician Sun Ra often pointed out the sustaining forces of planetary life come from outside of its substance; sunlight, rain—even life and death.
The mystic experience of the individual or community with God in direct was termed “a call.” (Other African-American names tied to worship services include “seeking,” “shouting,” and a sign was a shooting star.) Calls came in different ways.
Harriet Tubman experienced one of her calls on her first moment of freedom; she said it was as if there were “a glory of everything.” A major call took place at the 1963 March on Washington just before Dr. King spoke; the solo voice of Mahalia Jackson changed the mood of the quarter million people who stretched before her as she sang “How I Got Over.” In that hallowed moment, she urged Dr. King to speak of his dream, saying “tell them about the dream, Martin.”
Later, James Baldwin, writing in Esquire, would identify another important call, experienced as he left the church where Dr. King’s funeral was held. He wrote: “It was the silence that undid me.” Continue reading ‘God Is:’* Advent and Howard Thurman
The turning of the winds bring new casts of fate. The ancients knew when the winds warned and when the winds said move, and when the winds brought the village to a standstill.
We have lost their discernment. We have abandoned their reason. We have substituted political spin.
Arguments against healthcare are made without a single image of the sick and ill in view, only the screams of the pain of dollars untethered from compassion and common sense. Arguments against employment now are made by citing a generation of unborn grandchildren. The arguments against ending the filibuster are open threats of even greater abuse when the minority party gets its turn. The argument against higher wages is that record profits will rise slower.
Spin has its own velocity of calculated turns. Is it wise for investors to value at $20 billion a company that transmits messages of 140 characters without a save or archive function, whose biggest innovation is “#” (a hashtag)?
Is the record fine of $13.6 billion levied on JP Morgan just the price of doing over a trillion dollars in toxic mortgage bundles that were bad bets from the beginning?
Much of the whirlwind of spin is around women’s rights. From self defense and murder to domestic violence and rape, to healthcare, pregnancy, abortion and child custody, women face an unrelenting drone of personal attacks.
Even the Cheney sisters can’t agree on the right spin! How can a personal sense of compassion and recognition of your own sister’s marriage, complete with wonderful nieces, share brain and heart space with a policy position and personal belief that forbids and denies others from sharing this same love and recognition of family?
A policy that rejects the material, empirical evidence of failure and evil by citing tradition lynches logic and morality with the same rope.
Liz Cheney wants to publicly choke the life out of equal rights. Her faith recalls the faith of Aztec priests, whose blood sacrifices entered history as horrors.
And her real and angry sister has, in the new age, hundreds of Twitter bots.
What Republicans forget is that the directions of the winds can not be changed. Winds blow their way. And no human structures can stand against their path. When divided, they join forces again.
The ancients knew it to be an old principle, visible across time and history; the winds were the revealed nature of the invisible—a manifest remainder of wisdom.
Something dangerous bubbles around the edges of Liz Cheney’s ambition; she seeks to be the new high priest of conservative wisdom, the whisperer of its winds. Her reliance on her father’s record, her family name, the blatant use of her children to provide a genealogy of her ancestors, careful to work a woman in, the impersonal separation of her position on marriage from her “many kindnesses” towards her sister’s family her father says shouldn’t be used against her—all of these strange half-measures are frames that reveal and hide more confusion than clarity about her.
The confusion conceals the bedrock belief that Wyoming owes her. It’s more than an entitlement—it’s a debt. You owe me for all that my family has done. Because of my name. Because I can view the evidence of truth vividly present in my own family and renounce it, while being “kind.”
And more than arrogance or condescension, it’s an angry, insistent contempt. It demands of others what it cannot itself deliver: a civil discussion of plans and policies beyond slogans that could be the mottoes on the coat of arms of the family crest—it is the pretense of royalty with the manufactured semblance of a common touch.
It’s hard for her to see those who don’t support her as anything but traitors and for her not to order their beheading. Her idea of the “new leader” has the faint smell of old Western vengeance. For her, spilled blood is more important than its bonds.
As Roy Alexander Graham noted:
Neocons are about one thing. Power. This is about power for the perpetuation of their agenda. The justification of her presence in and qualification for the process is a slight inconvenience that they must overcome, however awkwardly. All the more reason why a democracy only works when the populace cultivates political memory that informs democratic will. People like Liz Cheney and her father depend on the absence of political memory. What we can’t allow to take hold among us is the decline of democratic will.
Thanksgiving once recognized that democratic will was accountable to a higher providence, and was a day of re-centered grace. In an irony lost to time, its original proclamation was issued by South Carolina’s Henry Laurens, one of the colonies’ richest men, the second President of the Continental Congress of the Second United American Republic—and one of American largest slave brokers. Imprisoned in the Tower of London on espionage charges, he was swapped for Cornwallis at the end of the Revolutionary War. He preceded to Paris, where, as one of four American peace commissioners (with Ben Franklin, John Jay and John Adams) he and the others (all led by Franklin) insisted Britain recognize America’s independence as a condition of peace. Continue reading Thanksgiving and the Winds of Fate
Bio-rhythms were the inspiration to eliminate human suffering before Prozac, and it became a cliché that people complained about their triple critical days—the times when all three bio-cycles were at their lowest. The growth in American manufacturing may well be coming from pills—a story in the New York Times cites new addictions to control the old addictions; clients serviced at pill clinics run by doctors who were addicted in the new and old ways, which means blood tests are out and pill counts are in.
The lines, legally and culturally, are converging to create new vortices of future misery, even as some politicians try to substitute the politics of memoir and the politics of money.
The point is certain ideas persist in America’s pop psychology and politics, chief of which is government is bad and blacks are inept (except for the exceptional!), and the combination is lethal. The current political tragi-drama defies all common sense, and isn’t the least bit affected by evidence. More than the Affordable Care Act computer glitches, the twin pillars of hate and meanness have found a place to roost. The chickens have come home. Smug looks abound, with “I told you so-s” all around.
Amazon should have been given the job of messaging health care; they service thousands of products with all sorts of interfaces and seldom crash. Pay them a percentage and let them run banner ads.
But the question isn’t what’s wrong, but how it was missed? Whose triple critical reviews missed the important functions, especially security? Why was the software not tested against cyber attacks? Who missed that the most important piece of software of the American Promise wasn’t being tested at the same level as the code constructed for the President’s re-election campaign, when so much was riding on it working properly? And not just politically, but in creating real coverage for the medically uninsured?
That no one has come forward to say what steps were skipped and how they were covered up, who signed off and why the failure was aided and abetted until it exploded under its own weight brings to mind the Bangladesh incident in April in which the garment industry building collapsed and killed a thousand workers. The construction used inferior materials, took shortcuts, didn’t meet building specifications. It was a predictable failure. So was the code for the ACA sign-up. But it’s predictable failure rests more on the vortex in which blame inside and outside of government passes for oversight, and the denial common among addicts substitutes for work product, and the pill the public has to swallow is maintaining the old condition. Continue reading A Triple Critical for ACA
I read and listen to a lot of historic voices. They gave me a long view of the ongoing conversation about how we as humans live in society. I listen to them to add their ideas to the contemporary conversation, the one about how we define ourselves, order the world, create economic value, dispense justice, feed the hungry, provide for the sick, teach our children, preserve our resources, and help our neighbors—the discussion of how we express our values. I listen to how we listen. And the special power of voices in American politics and in America’s communities is being lost.
Through most of history, voices were not intended to be produced, recorded, looped and repeated, printed and handed out as a daily list of talking points, published as headlines, or digitally repeated as sound to accompany a 90-second video, with a 15-second standup close-out. We now have an entire well paid industry devoted to pushing out the traditional use of the voice to create a work product that can be polled overnight and tested by focus groups to herd ideas and tell us what to think.
None of this work is tested against truth and common sense. Rarely does it involve any real evidence. It misses the subtle touches of the Dutch masters’ paintings or the art of Paris salons. It’s billboard stuff. Brazen. Brutal. And ugly. But commonplace.
For two weeks, I’ve been listening to the voices of the jubilee; my term for the formerly enslaved, whose voices were recorded in typed narrative reports between 1934-1936. I’ve been imagining how the stories would have differed with an entire social industry engaged in shaping their message and production—with unlimited amounts of money! I think about 90-year-old elders trying to remember the events of a war that only touched them in its final days, sitting on couches of late night talk shows.
Voices count. Even more, now that money is speech. Declared so by the Supreme Court! That decision has changed what voices say, how they are employed, what purposes, outcomes and accountability they seek. Yet the voice we hear—polished, milled, produced, tested, timed, repeated—sounds like a neighbor’s voice. Sure, the policies these voices suggest may differ, but the voice, the human connection, sounds the same. That sameness is increasingly an illusion to lead us away from common ground to battlegrounds.
Slavery was perhaps one of the first wide-scale national conversations where speech was crafted to serve an end in politics and society that benefited and served a broad, commercial marketplace with rigid social strictures. The enslaved not only generated tremendous value as labor in production, but added wealth as an active, open commodity trade, and as capital property that could be borrowed against (the use of the enslaved as collateral is understudied, but was an important function and source of expanding capital—the enslaved were mortgaged as property!).
The jubilee had wide points of view about their experiences, and at times in the narrative slavery sounded a little like Lake Woebegon, describing a time when no enslaved were hungry and all were well dressed. Behind their stories, their voices reflected a certain pride.
History’s conventions say they were intimidated by by the interviewers, usually white. It claims they were fearful, of an unequal relationship. So they painted a rosy picture. This view closes off the idea that the jubilee themselves had their own reasons to see themselves as well treated! Whether through fear, denial or pride, they assigned the role of victim to others.
Today, we reassign responsibility. We blame and deny. Continue reading The Thrum and Chum of Marketplace Speech
Today, we connect the dots on three terrible moral failings and major abdications of personal responsibility within our politics that no one has come forward to claim with a mea culpa.
Let’s begin by naming three whose moral vision have weakened the national standards by diminishing integrity and encouraging a growing culture of thinking that anything goes, means justifies the means, greed is good, simple is extreme, and lies should be the foundation of national life. Theirs is the moral toxic gas they refuse to destroy, even when confronted. And in a great irony, all three assert themselves to be sentries of the high moral ground of a nation for whom their own acts of deceit and concealment accelerate the fall.
Rand Paul, Niall Ferguson, Dylan Davies, please step forward. Look into the mirror of shame and national decline. Why did you misrepresent and lie?
Rand Paul, with the infallibility of every ideologue, refuses to submit to the judgment of a system he has declared illegitimate—except for its election of him to the Senate. His lie? Repeatedly presenting the work of others as his own, in speeches going back several years. The words were not his own (or his staff’s!). They were simply his sentiments. Is that so bad?
Sure! Why not just repeat Abraham Lincoln’s second Inaugural Speech for each swearing-in of a new President? After all, Lincoln’s words express a broad sentiment with which passing generations agree. True, but an unwritten rule says leaders speak in their own words, finding new ways to describe issues and ideas. They face the difficult work of putting ideas on paper or speaking them to the public because those ideas matter: both as policy and as a principle of character.
Using your own words to communicate to others is one of the sacred canons of creative progress: it shows initiative, not an intellectual laziness that “repeats and repeats in our ear.”* (*Cole Porter, lyric excerpt from the song “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”) It lets the public know you know (or don’t know) what you are talking about!
There are times when words are fixed. Witness any Republican talking point, endlessly looped by a montage of five-second clips on the opinion shows!
But in a Senator’s speech? No. Despite Paul’s claims of the footnote police doing hot pursuit. In his case, he should have shame. His arrogance should receive no mercy.
Niall Ferguson is not a household name but his circle of influence began when he jumped from his Harvard professorship in history to add the title and work of being an economic commentator whose hit pieces have appeared in Time and more regularly, the Wall Street Journal.
His faux pas ought to have Harvard review his tenure. They are breathtaking in the sheer audacity and scope of their flaws and errors. But recently, not only did he err: he billed the misleading mistake as a new insight he discovered and offered as breaking news! Wow.
In an October 4 Wall Street Journal op-ed post, Harvard historian Ferguson declared “the debt to be the real threat,” not the $24 billion shutdown—which made it harder to pay the bills. Continue reading Can Anybody in Politics Get Anywhere Near the Truth?
This week, the Congressional testimony of National Security Agency (NSA) General Keith Alexander was brutish and boring. He is wrong in his view of spycraft, its role and service in the cause of national security. He lives and thinks in a world that has disappeared. His voice is an echo from a past season. He is obsessed, which is obvious from first glimpse—no need to tap his phone. Mainly, he is dangerous.
Here’s why. The outlines of Gen. Alexander’s world describe a dark, clandestine place full of murky potential threats. It is marked by passages between shadowy cell leaders who channel money, plan bad acts, and train committed followers with the intent of terrorist actions that will disrupt society, kill civilians, embarrass governments, and emblazon others to take up the cause—a glorified short-sighted excuse that over-amplifies the despicable act of deliberately killing human beings who have brought no harm to those who bring them under attack.
Terrorism has widened the battlefield to every civilian door; it rules nothing out, and the technology of arms enables even small attacks to do great damage and kill innocents. Terrorism crosses national borders. It has no battle plan. Each act is an end in itself. Within the crazy quilt of random forces that constitutes terrorism, the NSA has gone into a frenzy of tapping phone calls, building high-tech platforms that are listening posts for personal e-mails to the personal smartphones of the heads of state. No wonder there was insistence that President Obama surrender his Blackberry in 2009. (Dear NSA: Can we get some intra-governmental cooperation to fix the healthcare.gov website?)
General Alexander’s view is that of the Cold War warrior. Serpentine, byzantine subroutines fill his thinking. He who was programmed to take every inch of territory, believes he can cover every global binary byte.
Please, pull the plug. His own actions are taking the nation down. He is playing the terrorist game, and losing badly, ugly; without knowing he is an enemy of what he seeks to defend.
True, terrorism changed the threat vectors and was a new development in the agenda of national security, but it demands a different response.
Terrorism is not only a different style of attack, it also takes place in a very different global environment than the one described when the superpowers dominated the Cold War. Successful espionage doesn’t just foil the threat. It has to work the environment in which the threat is conceived. In the Cold War, that was an environment made of satellite regions. Western and Eastern Europe divided neatly into military clusters dominated by twin superpowers with traditional arms of security: tanks, troops, planes, missiles, superior numbers, going toe to toe.
What changed was the rapid and unexpected economic growth of regions in Asia outside of Europe, regions that exploited the differences of the superpowers, who played an important game of small ball, acting as proxies, but loyal only to their own interests—which were being stifled even as they were being recruited and supplied with arms as paramilitary proxies. Without a growing society or economic development, a warped sense of religion provided the substitute purpose for power to be channeled into killing.
It was an easy model and attractive financially: the superpowers funded and enabled conflicts in the Congo, Angola, Zimbabwe; other insurgencies broke out throughout Asia and in Latin America, each developing public and, more importantly, private sources of funding and arms that soon became a regular bazaar. In Afghanistan, the US has delivered millions in suitcases. In Iran, it was on shrink-wrapped pallets.
Even before the increase in funding, this shadow world crossed national borders and began to attack targets in Europe, in single actions lead by European radicals. The attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics became a terrorist signature. (A smaller bombing attack occurred at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, carried out by American white supremacist Eric Robert Randolph.)
Protest had shifted to terrorism, through the use of weapons of destruction—and through silent, secret financial support that was faceless, nearly invisible, and massive. The terrorist strike on 9/11 against major US targets facilitated a high-tech US response, along with US boots stomping around the globe.
But while the threat level had advanced, and the technology had advanced (on both sides), the thinking of US officials had not advanced. The profiles and strategy were not keeping up with a changed world. The main change was economic; security no longer faced national threats. Invasion, with some exceptions, was out. Occupation was out. Bank transfers, airline tickets, apartment rentals, key personnel, from couriers to drivers, were in.
As the NSA was listening to the heads of state in Mexico, Brazil, France, Germany, consider the track record of British bank HSBC, fined $1.2 billion late last year. According to the New York Times:
The global bank HSBC has been used by Mexican drug cartels looking to get cash back into the United States, by Saudi Arabian banks that needed access to dollars despite their terrorist ties and by Iranians who wanted to circumvent United States sanctions, a Senate report says. The 335-page report released Monday also says that executives at HSBC and regulators at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency ignored warning signs and failed to stop the illegal behavior at many points between 2001 and 2010. In one case, an HSBC executive successfully argued that the bank should resume business with a Saudi Arabian bank, Al Rajhi Bank, despite the fact that Al Rajhi’s founder had been an early benefactor of Al Qaeda. HSBC’s American branch ended up supplying a billion dollars to the bank.
And the Times went on:
An independent audit, paid for by HSBC, found that the bank facilitated 25,000 questionable payments involving Iran between 2001 and 2007. In some cases, HSBC executives counseled Iranian financial institutions on how to evade the filters of American regulators, the report says. The bank is accused of shipping $7 billion in cash from Mexico to the United States in 2007 and 2008 despite several warnings that the money was coming from cartels that needed a way to return their profits to the United States.
HSBC’s global money laundering was estimated to exceed $60 trillion! That’s four times the current American GDP!
Think for a minute: if you wanted to know about the hidden agendas and dangerous intentions of American powers, would you tap the phones at the White House or the Koch private suite? Speaker Boehner’s office—or Jim DeMint’s Heritage office? Maybe Asian casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s cell phone, to see what China might be up to?
If you want to know the hidden agendas and dangerous intentions of global terrorists, would you tap the private cell phones of the German head of state (and 34 others!) or tap into global bank records?
Bank records give you the whole basket all at once—drug cartels, insurgents, terrorists, even politicians taking payoffs. Isn’t that more valuable than knowing what the cook plans for dinner? Continue reading Gen. Alexander’s Failed Cold War Spy Tactics
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Boehner lost the fight, as I predicted in my last article! Barack Obama kept alive the string that began with Boehner’s loss to Oklahoma Representative J.C Watts (R) for Chair of the House Republican Conference in 2001; that began Boehner’s string of losing fights of personal importance (important because Boehner makes them personal) to astute African-American politicians who take advantage of Boehner’s weaknesses and overreach.
Okay, the string is a twist: Boehner lost because his position was untenable. But the coincidence is history and makes good myth.
And from the mythical traditions of how the dead are buried, Obama has introduced something new to American politics: the political second line. It defines the way politics moves forward after a tough fight, when grief and anger are heavy in the air, and fury burns in the hearts of those vanquished, as, their ideals trounced, they walk past inanimate spirits of dead goals lying in the political infirmary of conference rooms.
In the recent battle of the bulge over the budget and debt ceiling, we knew the Republican defeat was nigh and the plug was pulled on its life support when the Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC sent a widely publicized letter to the each member of the US Senate. The letter accused Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, of lying, as the Koch organization categorically denied any effort in funding or directing Congressional Republicans to shut down government and default on debt to force an Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) repeal or rollback.
“Non mas,” the Koch letter says. It attempts to portray Koch as the aggrieved victim, demanding that Senator Reid and other politicians stop misrepresenting and distorting his positions. Indicted by its arrogance and its in-evidence presumption of power, the letter makes its own ellipsis of the source and blunt force of Harry Reid’s argument; it completely ignores the legitimacy and weight of Reid’s source.
The New York Times published a series of master articles and commentaries in the middle of the debate, documenting and citing the numbers of millions of dollars the Koch organization spent and passed through its several front organizations to other groups to fund campaigns in the media and live events opposing the ACA. That documentation—including ads on YouTube—the Senate is told, in an oblique reference, is “erroneous.”
Here’s some what the Times has to say. In its editorial blog, Taking Note, on July 9, David Firestone wrote:
The advocacy group backed by the Kochs, Americans for Prosperity, is spending more than $1 million on an advertising Taking Note to (yet again) discredit President Obama’s health care reform law. It’s already been in effect for three years, but they want to soften it up just as its most important changes (mostly, the insurance mandate) begin to go into effect on Oct. 1.
The Kochs and their Republican allies continue to take advantage of the law’s complexity and public ignorance to spread the worst kind of misinformation, hoping once again to create chaotic town halls and anti-government protests once the mandate goes into effect.
Then on October 6, the Times printed:
The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.
The groups have also sought to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress with scorecards keeping track of their health care votes; have burned faux “Obamacare cards” on college campuses; and have distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and Twitter and Facebook offerings for followers to present as their own.
All of this was “misrepresented,” in the words of the Koch organization.
But it led to Harry Reid making the unusual statement of calling out Koch by name in a Twitter post:
At the heart of any democratic action by government is a concept I introduced when exploring Edward Snowden’s actions a few weeks ago, a concept I called “permission.” An informal concept, it refers to the idea that every political act has around it a broad consensus about whether the act itself (not its outcome!) is right or wrong: permitted. It represents the politics of manners and determines our limits and edges.
In America, it reaches high, often violent extremes: secession, complete with declarations, votes, and an enduring war with sixteen times more dead that Vietnam; the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, Philadelphia, in May 1838, the week it opened as a public meeting space and forum dedicated to presenting views and speaking out for abolition and women’s rights. Lynching, whose historic victims exceed the numbers of Iraqi war dead and was endorsed by Southern governors and representatives; Midwestern sundown towns that required blacks to be be out of the town limits by dusk; sterilization of women without permission (North Carolina led the way); prohibitions against interracial and same-sex marriage.
Include an impeachment trial for the “high crime” of a President lying about oral sex in the Oval Office with an intern.
The current push for permission includes: the demand that former Vice President Dick Cheney be charged with war crimes (unlikely) and for individual charges against Wall Street executives and functionaries. (Also unlikely: because of the oversight/review/decision chain, institutional patterns protect individuals from being singled out; instead, the firm which acts in concert is charged as a whole with penalties and fines—including the $13 billion Goldman Sachs voluntarily agreed to this week! )
But back to the President’s point: the recent fight was not over a win or loss, or about policy, although Republicans tried to make it so: it was a fight over “what are the rules?” Continue reading Obama’s Political Second Line
As the Republicans now scream and complain about why nobody will play as they put the government in sunset, they have silenced America’s foreign policy voice and put it in darkness.
The day is waning on nations who trust America as an ally. A nation can not be strong without and unstable within. A nation that refuses food to its own hungry children, healthcare to its sick and ill, support for its old, and opportunity for its workers is not one that keeps its position in the ranks of world leadership.
The shutdown affects global diplomacy. The raids the US conducted in Libya and Somalia reminded the world how efficient we are at small war. Obama has turned the swift strike, with minimum targets, usually human, into a high art of daring skill and execution.
But are we wasting blood and treasure as others are trying to win hearts and minds? To quote the blackmamba, a New York Times commenter from Illinois:
“American values in practice should exalt a diverse civil secular socially conscious humble humanitarian commercial democracy. American interests and values extend well beyond the military-industrial complex.”
He goes on to say:
“The shut down is a self inflicted wound well beyond the power or imagination of any American foe.”
A British paper put in this way:
“At the moment, Washington is fighting over the budget. Yet nobody knows if the country will still be solvent in two weeks.”
China picked up meetings with Asian countries the shutdown forced Obama to cancel, and it expands its influence in Africa while avoiding the volatility of North Africa and Asia Minor.
On the domestic front, the shutdown presented in plain sight of history a modern myth; an American classic equal to the tales of the Norse or the Greeks.
It begins with John Boehner. The son of hard-working, plain folk, the second of twelve kids, the only one to finish college. Why does he seem to have so little empathy for people from similar backgrounds and why does he refuse to enlarge a pathway for their success?
The details are complex. Robert Caro, for instance, has made a living examining the decisions and experiences that shaped Lyndon Baines Johnson, the poor Texas farmer known as LBJ, who rose to be the Majority Leader in the Senate, and as President, one of the great figures of American civil rights, having brought more racially connected social change to the federal and national landscape than any other president.
Boehner and Johnson both came from modest circumstances; both wanted wealth, power and respect; both had a passion for the big stage of politics. Decades apart, they rose to the highest levels of the House and the Senate during times of tumult, involving race and war, but their views part ways.
And Boehner’s path is littered with political rock slides that block social progress.
The Speaker appeared to be addressing President Obama when,days ago, he uttered loudly, “This isn’t a damned game.” But was the remark really meant for him?
John Boehner drinks and smokes (both legal), as a lot of people do. He regularly smokes cigarettes between votes in the House. Prudence says people steadily use alcohol because they have something to drown, either large or small or both. Alcohol dulls a chronic itch.
Perhaps for Boehner his “small” is “big.” Tough, almost angry, he is an inner cauldron of emotion. People who smoke use nicotine to create a momentary haze and rush of high-flying exhilaration. Is it insecurity and bitterness he is trying to cloud and drown?
An old social axiom observes the demons we fail to exercise return to haunt us and mock us. They find their way back and get in our face if we do not change.
Since 1991,when he was first elected to the House, Boehner hasn’t changed much. His route to power, with a few bumps, was outside-in. Boehner and six other freshman formed a group known as the “Gang of Seven.” Of the seven, which included Rick Santorum, only Boehner remains as a member of Congress. Continue reading Boehner’s Demons
War is a series of battles, but is always about a bigger prize. The I Ching warns of this, and every hunter knows: watch with your eyes, listen with your ears. Know where you are and what’s ahead before you make your next step.
War has two goals: 1) win; take away, tie up or use up options to bring defeat to your enemies and put people, resources and authority under your control; 2) a new system; alter the methods and positions of power, both as a deterrent and control.
Without guns, America is witnessing a political civil war. It’s not loose talk or noise. It is advanced by legislative procedures that breach trust, crater resources, and weaken the entire Republic. It leaves opponents without a defense. It accumulates power for a well funded, fortressed minority. Its losses embolden its backers and voters.
Let’s look at the logic of the healthcare-government funding fight: why will Republicans not eliminate tax credits for Big Oil not tied to life or death, or cut defense? Why will they endanger the lives of citizens by denying healthcare in the name of freedom and jobs?
Because healthcare is only a flag; as in battles of old when the the object was to bring down the flag and the courageous flag holder—the battle within the battle—healthcare is one of the main dynamics of changes the GOP targeted in their march and attacks to restrict opportunity and install limits on personal liberty, especially for women.
Flag and flag holder: on the day that marked his greatest success, perhaps the greatest day of his presidency, Barack Obama was forced to watch the government he was elected to head shut down.
That government, while he has held its flag, tightened equal pay requirements, protected financial consumers, increased Wall Street oversight, enabled people with intra-gender sexual preferences to serve openly in the military, provided middle class tax cuts, cleaned up the Gulf, and developed a working agreement to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
America rejects the New Orleans idea of the spy boy; it doesn’t seem to want a President with forward vision. It’s too busy looking backward, or stuck in the present. The national character is one of passion, excited by the unexpected, without realizing these moments are often planned.
Like a magician’s act.
Republicans have leveraged this naive view of politics into skillful deceptions, with the assistance of media’s commitment to the doctrine of false equivalency. Media reports a world that lacks comparisons, outcomes and consequences, and in the name of fairness, only reports narratives of blame.
The media didn’t widely report some Republicans in the House ran on the intent of shutting government down. Republicans blitzed the flag and flag holder, the people’s government and its elected President. If they didn’t get the flag, they took up the siege.
A few spy boys took note: A New York Times commenter on Paul Krugman’s blog wrote:
“None of this is about the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare; It is about whose legacy this legislation stands to benefit: A black man.”
It’s also about how easily he has dismantled their most cherished myths and took power that was for so long in the grip of their hands. So, chagrined at losing their mojo, they confuse their decline with insolence. But they are impertinent about the basics we expect of national elected officials. As the Washington Post put in an editorial:
“Pay the bills and try not to embarrass us in front of the world.”
Publicly and privately, these officials have named and targeted government the enemy. And before day one, these officials and their financiers questioned, at every level that involves rumor and error, Barack Obama’s constitutional right to be President.
Hardball MSNBC show host Chris Matthews had the following exchange with Rep. Steve King (R-NY) this week:
MATTHEWS: I’ve had members, they know who they are, they say — ‘I really can’t say with these lips that this man, Barack Obama, was elected President.’ They choke on that. How many are there in Congress on your side that represent that rejectionist front? [...]
KING: I would say there are probably 30 or 40 who are like that. As there were a number of Democrats who felt that way about George W. Bush, and going back to when you and I first met, Republicans who felt that way about Bill Clinton… This is a very dangerous aspect to our government… The fact that we have people who are willing to demonize the President of the United States because he’s from a different party… and now, obviously, with President Obama, it’s definitely there.
Texas Governor Rick Perry said implementing Obamacare is a felony.
So, in the riving throes of contempt, the GOP wants to show that America can do without government and nothing bad will happen. It is a near-sighted approach to power, because, in fact, government manages the long term. The drift of environmental poisons, food safety, federal land, highway safety, air traffic, weather reports, passports and a host of other invisible services dampen short-term shocks by effective long-range planning.
Government has a positive, sustaining impact on our lives. So nothing will happen today. Or likely, tomorrow.
But that’s not the point! The short term is safe not because we don’t need government, but because government has worked effectively to make it secure. Continue reading The Spoils of War: For One Side, Healthcare; For the Other, an Incurable Condition
Unlike movies or television, print close-ups should have context. The intellectual appeal of print is the ease with which it shows connections and reasons missing in a visual world, because print can find and express a hidden interior, and show how it is shared and developed.
Immediately, it’s easy to realize Ted Cruz is a national prototype that fits Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Allen West. The prototype loves to play dare, shames anyone who doesn’t adopt its ideological and self-righteous line, and except as space fantasies, the prototype has no plan for progress. Its working models are extortioners and exhorters. They are empty of compassion and confuse fantasy and ideas. They are media masters. They lie easily. They feign outrage.
They think they are gods.
They are not statesmen.
It is their marginality that makes possible their outsized impact of their singular acts.
We look at their views on issues like healthcare, but that is the wrong place to find their passion, which is a repeated faith in a self-directed belief in the importance of their own ideas. Cruz doesn’t care about healthcare, is no expert on the legislation. Cruz is having himself a grand time at the expense of the nation.
He’s an outlier. The outlier’s most dangerous trait is the refusal, within society, by law or morality, to recognize the value of permission. Outliers do not discuss, negotiate, reach out; they are tone deaf when it comes to others’ views. They overturn the idea and stand against compromise. Outliers make self-evident references to their own will.
Without permission, as they break old limits, be aware that anything goes, not all of it radical. Some of it’s worse.
Nikki Haley is genteel and mean, inept, but by South Carolina’s system of home rule, in which local authority derives from the state legislature, minor and unimportant. Michele Bachmann, a rhetorical flamethrower, is a dismal, ineffective legislator. Remember her Tea Party televised answer to a State of the Union Address, in which she spoke to the wrong camera? Bobby Jindal also failed the green light test. Sarah Palin passed.
Governors Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, Representatives past and present Jim DeMint, Anthony Weiner, Scott Desjarlais, the entire Republican caucus of North Carolina’s General Assembly, Virginia’s GOP candidates for governor and lieutenant governor (noteworthy for ideological extremes which are really personal beliefs they seek to impose on society) have more in common with the outlier world view than conservative ideology.
In fact, conservative principles mask their deep, personal investment in seeking and wielding power, their desire to hold the absolute ability to bend communities—the world—to their will and fancy. I haven’t yet seen this in Tim Scott, but Jeff Sessions shape-shifts on judicial votes (the result of his unforgiven slight at being refused decades ago a seat on the Federal bench). Marco Rubio lacks sea legs, but doesn’t rise to the level of the outlier; he lacks the desire, the inner drive.
The outlier embraces the secret zeitgeist of every generation, the sci-fi kid who could beam up into a magic world and owns the tractor beam.
But Cruz is singular. By the speech of the 1950s, Cruz is gone: he is journeying inside of his own noise: he offers no reasons to end Obamacare. So fixed on its collapse, he has no alternative. And standing in the well of the Senate, reading Green Eggs and Ham, a children’s book about the folly of resisting things you haven’t tried, is not compelling or proof.
As Cruz read Dr. Seuss, the world’s leaders gathered in New York to make remarkable speeches about their national priorities and their concerns about the state of the world; also available, like Cruz’s grandstanding, on live media.
Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, especially, was compelling as she talked about war and peace. As Cruz meandered, she recalled the gripping 41-year old portrait from Vietnam of the young girl running down a highway, naked, her clothes burned off, her face in an anguished silent scream, just after an Air Force bomber dropped napalm on her and other fleeing villagers by mistake.
Note that Fernández de Kirchner and every world leader who stepped forward to speak (they continue today!) cited expanding and improving healthcare as a major national goal, whether improving sanitation, nutrition and creating ample clean water, or fighting contagious diseases or domestic violence. The leaders of the world, in every continent and corner, in nations rich and poor, in every climate region, from islands to arid plains and broad forests, viewed healthcare as vital to their national prosperity and stability, to their country’s growth and freedom, to improving the lot of the poor—as most of America saw and heard Ted Cruz read Dr. Seuss, without a mention or peep about what the rest of the world was doing and saying about healthcare, or war and peace. Continue reading The Cruz Prototype (updated)