I am one of the few who has made the argument that the President’s style is a classic example of the practice of the high art of Zen, one prescribed by its greatest masters and rooted in the classic book of wisdom, the I Ching.
It’s an easy case to make! Zen focuses on inner strength, not outer conflict. It is a quiet and presence of mind that sees both the short and long term by a presence of heart that is calm and reserved; it values wisdom above force.
The comparisons and the parallels with Zen never come up in the media. After hundreds of microphone sound checks by top analysts and thinkers, the Zen meme, in plain sight, is without a peep. It reveals how terribly and narrowly one-sided American thought presented by media has become: they claim insights on world traditions, but they established a multi-channeled agenda to build an intellectual frame, with Obama’s image as the poster of misgovernance.
Zen, by definition, is smart action, wisdom deftly applied. For deep, contextual reasons of power and privilege, Obama was a threat to all a circle of special interests cherished, and they needed desperately to portray him to their followers and to America as dumb.
The I Ching finds its roots in China as a work whose system of insights and actions explains the social and spiritual conditions that at times appear chaotic and bewildering, while at other times appearing calm and clear. Each set of conditions has hidden meanings and passages. If respected and tempered, through actions and virtues, these insights and steps bring forth inner truth, guide choices, and direct the path to change.
Simply, the I Ching defines relations between men, women and the world, and the forces beyond, the unseen conditions once known as the zeitgeist and weltanschauung and the things of heaven. The I Ching defines both the inner and outer nature of conditions and change in society and in the hearts of men and women. It is a manual that tells how to progress and benefit while being morally responsible; it addresses prosperity and security and the attitudes of good and evil; it maps out when to be patient and when to advance and warns of the dangers, both visible and hidden, from people and conditions.
Barack Obama has faced both during his two terms as our elected President; he has faced dangers—from people and conditions. When he stepped into office in 2009, some of the country’s most powerful institutions and people immediately formed organized resistance, and global conditions were at their global worst.
But his refusal to fight was classic Zen: engagement would have only stirred and strengthened evil and confusion. A fight would have only served his enemies. Despite his victory, he and the country were too weak to win and fight when others defined the terms and were willing to weaken the country even further.
His patience served America, and patience is an inner virtue, but in the President, many—both enemies and supporters—called it weakness, indecision. Many were drawn in by the anger his opponents displayed, by the force of their hatred and their demands for absolute power over his office as they blamed him for disturbing the status quo and not submitting to their “compromise.” They shut down the government and said he wouldn’t meet them halfway—to give them all of what they wanted to end their threat. They skipped 200 years of time to draw on a model of government that has no models of success.
The President did not respond until conditions were right. Zen teaches the right conditions are when your opponents think they are at their strongest, but have in their zeal for power left many things neglected, failing to attend to social needs. So after the midterm elections that put Republicans in charge of both the House and Senate, the President has made his opponents look incompetent and revealed them as servants of special interests whose tools are anger and bluster and money and whose goals are power and disrespect.
Like now, when the President without fanfare issued the third veto of his five years in office, striking down a bill in which Congress voted to approve the building of a Canadian pipeline across America’s plains, over America’s vital Midwestern aquifers, across sacred Native American sites, to bring the dangerous Canadian tar sands oil to Texas refineries. His opponents called his veto an “embarrassment.”
So America’s energy policy is a principal concern about not being “embarrassed?” What about merits? Were there none to criticize the President on? Was an embarrassment the worst result of his veto? The criticism hides a deeper failure by his opponents to pass a bill with substance they could defend.
Barack Obama has seen the institutions of power align to belittle and willfully oppose his every act, politically and personally. His legislative initiatives were wrong, his vacations too expensive, his head nods were considered bows that displayed gross violations of unwritten protocol and submission to foreign heads of state—even as his opponents were unrepentant about their violations, one yelling out during the State of the Union speech to say to the President, “You lie!” Continue reading Barack Obama: The Man of Zen
Frantic efforts by the College Republicans chapter at Texas Tech continue as the little dweebs try to thwart Thursday’s scheduled speech by counterculture icon Angela Davis. The group has helpfully offered up alternative names like Condi Rice, Gwen Ifill and Mia Love. After all, they all look alike, right, College Republicans?
David Letterman’s producers are hunting down a fill-in for Thursday’s show following the announcement that scheduled guest Brian Williams has canceled. Williams previously shared with the Late Show audience his fanciful tale of taking ground fire while in a helicopter in Iraq, but of course is now taking time off from his NBC Nightly News gig to spend more time with the truth.
Nigeria’s presidential election was originally scheduled for next Saturday, but has been postponed until March 28 by the nation’s Independent National Electoral Commission, which cited security concerns over continuing Boko Haram violence. John Kerry described the US government as “deeply disappointed” by the postponement.
The marriage license obtained last year by star-crossed lovebirds Charles Manson and Afton Elaine Burton expired last week, but cheer up, fans of true romance. According to James McGrath, a photo editor who knows Burton, she’s intending to apply for a 90-day license and will make a husband out of Charlie yet. Manson is eligible for parole once again in 2027, by which time he’ll be a mere 723 years old.
European finance ministers gather in Brussels on Wednesday to brainstorm the question: “How do you solve a problem like Greece?” Angela Merkel will do the same on Thursday when she sits down with new Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, who has emphatically rejected further austerity measures advocated by Germany and other EU members. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/9/15
The President wants to extend wilderness designation and concomitant environmental protections to millions more acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a move opposed by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and other Republicans, who would prefer to drill the crap out of ANWR. Showcasing her famed policy chops and keen intellect, Murkowski commented, “I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska.”
Speaking of negotiations with Iran, Republicans are hell-bent on screwing those up too. Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will conduct what it risibly describes as a “hearing” on the status of the negotiations. As Congress lurches toward additional sanctions, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned the other day that such a move would “kill the joint plan of action that we adopted last year in Geneva.” In another odd development, Zarif has been summoned to explain to his nation’s parliament why he went for a “15-minute walk” with John Kerry in Geneva on January 14. Uh-oh…
“Winter Storm Juno” is bearing down on the Northeast, with blizzard conditions expected to affect up to 28 million people. Juno’s worst impact will last from Monday evening into Tuesday, with snowfall rates of two to four inches an hour and total accumulations of two feet or more forecast for some areas of New England. The suspiciously enthusiastic Henry Margusity, an Accuweather meteorologist, took to Twitter to announce, “It will be like a tidal wave of snow into New England tonight into Tuesday.”
Tuesday, the President will pass up a planned trip to the Taj Mahal and cut short his stay in India to head for Saudi Arabia for a meeting with its new king, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, our latest staunch ally and wonderful, not at all duplicitous partner in the Middle East. Salman succeeds his recently deceased brother Adbullah, our previous staunch ally and wonderful, not at all duplicitous partner in the Middle East.
The legendary Ernie Banks will be honored by a public memorial Wednesday at Chicago’s Daley Plaza. The statue of “Mr. Cub” at Wrigley Field will be moved to Daley Plaza for the occasion. Banks, 83, died Friday following a heart attack. Funeral arrangements are still pending. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 1/26/15
Mouse: What is that all about? How is simply asking the extremely wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes soaking them? How is asking those who have benefited the most from the past 30 years of economic policy to pay up soaking them?
Doesn’t the middle class deserve a break? A chance to share in the wealth of the country they help make great? And what about the poor? Don’t they deserve a break and a chance too?
How ridiculous did the Republicans look sitting there like statues during President Obama’s SOTU speech? They refused to applaud anything that would help the average American. I’m sure that was on orders from the Koch brothers.
Grumpy: Oh, don’t get me started on the Koch brothers. We’ll be here for a month before I finish my rant.
You are absolutely right about tax fairness. The conservative side likes to point out that the wealthy pay the majority of the taxes, but they never talk about whether those at the top are paying proportionally the same as the average middle-income workers pay. In some cases under today’s tax system, many of the wealthiest (I’m looking at you, Mitt) pay less than the doorman at their fancy Park Avenue digs or the mechanics that install their car elevators.
Mouse: I could speak for a month on Willard and his never-seen tax statements. I wonder what he’s hiding? Too many offshore bank accounts?
Grumpy: The Teapublicans didn’t always sit on their hands, though. Remember that moment when President Obama said he didn’t have to campaign for office anymore. Why, I think that brought a standing ovation.
Mouse: That was my favorite part of the SOTU. President Obama could beat the Republicans a third time. What a shame he doesn’t get to try. I bet Republican heads popped with a dry, dusty sound when they once again attempted to disrespect the President and didn’t succeed.
So, Grumpy, what do you think about two years of community college being paid for by the government? How many people currently stuck in low-wage jobs might have a glimmer of hope of improving their lives with a bit of education?
Grumpy:I have a couple of grandchildren who will soon be ready to take advantage of such a program. It will certainly give them a leg up whether they go on to a four-year college or not.
Of course the Teapublicans never saw an Obama idea that they like and they have been grumbling about this one since he first mentioned it before the SOTU. Grumbling is what they seem to do best. And they call me Grumpy! Meh!
Mouse: Teapublicans hate education. They hate to think anyone might be smarter than them. After all, it’s elitist to be educated, don’tcha know? And then of course someone who is educated is less likely to vote Republican. They know the only way they can stay in power is to keep people ignorant of what is happening in the world. Continue reading Soak the Rich?
In the final two-year sprint of the Presidency that created the biggest political backlash since Reconstruction, one that reawakened ancient divisions of class and race, the State of the Union Address displayed the latest strategy of President Obama to avoid the traps, schisms and pitfalls in the road forward for his vision; a vision matched with peerless skills: his impeccable timing, his understated demeanor that lulls his opponents to be overconfident and underestimate his options and resolve, his deep knowledge of the power of small steps.
His sixth State of the Union speech unfolded his vision for this generation’s reset of the American Promise.
“The shadow of crisis has passed,” he said. The troops are home, the economy is growing, America’s jobs and energy production is “booming,” “10 million” uninsured have gained health insurance.
He noted his critics along the way said he was “misguided” and would “crush jobs,” and met him with “fiscal showdowns, government shutdowns, and re-fighting past battles.”
But in his speech, President Obama was clear: the American Promise means giving the middle class a fair share. This is the year of the middle class.
It is clear, by facts and anecdotes, the middle class has suffered more than the rich, having lost 67% of their net family wealth during the 2009 recession, many losing their homes and jobs and income along with their wealth.
“Families need our help,” the President said without misgivings. He detailed several laws and policies to come to their aid. Provide a tax credit for child care. Pass equal pay. Raise the minimum wage. Make two years of community college free and universal. Protect a free and open internet.
In foreign policy, to secure safety for American families, the President turned to the importance of values: “We stand united with people targeted by terrorists.” “Cuba policy was long past its expiration date.” Close Gitmo: “Why keep open a prison terrorists use to recruit?” Continue reading The State of the Union and America’s Middle Class
A typical State of the Union Address tells us less about a presidency than the other party’s official response to it does. This has been especially true during the Obama years. More crucially, though, it’s an opportunity for the opposition party to try to tell viewers about itself, to trot out one of its best and brightest young up-and-comers to dazzle the camera with a mouthful of startlingly white teeth, to pluck the heartstrings of Ma and Pa Viewer, and to remind us all of that mythical time when the backbone of the economy was 5-cent lemonade stands and the nation’s greatness was embodied by Juicy Fruit and the Marshall Plan. And to try and make the case, with occasional faint praise, that the President is an America-hating disaster.
Bobby Jindal was the first such nine-day wonder thrown into the breach, although he was actually responding to a non-SOTU address before a joint session of Congress, delivered barely a month into Barack Obama’s first term. In and of itself, the choice of Jindal to deliver the response seemed to reflect the flimsy state of GOP political strategizing at the time: Youthful mixed-race President? No problem! We got a young Indian feller right here, and – bonus! – he talks like Forrest Gump. Multi-cultural or what?
Jindal’s uncannily awful performance was so widely panned even by Republicans that, six years on, he has yet to regain “rising star” status in a party still desperately searching for one. Which goes some way toward explaining the GOP’s choice to respond to the first official Obama SOTU the following year, Smilin’ Bob McDonnell. Governor McDonnell was just 11 days into his term and was a Republican matinee idol, reassuringly white, Southern but not too Southern, telegenic in a megachurch preacher kind of way, and articulate without being wonkish. Back in 2010, some in his party envisioned the Oval Office in his future; he was most recently in the headlines a couple of weeks ago after receiving an outrageously lenient prison sentence on 11 counts of corruption.
Things got a little more interesting in 2011, when not one but three Republicans were tapped to try and rebut the SOTU. There was Paul Ryan, an intellectual bantamweight with a fondness for moth-eaten Randian ideas (in other words, the sort of Republican other Republicans actually consider a serious policy guy). There was Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an archconservative Florida Congresswoman and cable news darling, summoned to speak to Hispanics after it finally occurred to the RNC that Hispanics don’t much care for Republicans. And then there was Michele Bachmann. Her “official” response on behalf of the Tea Party Express is the only one anybody remembers, less for its predictable teabagger platitudes than for the fact that she appeared to spend six minutes and 36 seconds speaking to someone standing unseen a couple of feet to the left of the camera.
Republicans got back to basics the following year, sending out Mitch Daniels to deliver an aggressively contrary response that took the President to task for high unemployment and “an unprecedented explosion of spending,” Daniels apparently having missed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, not to mention Medicare Part D. Straight-faced, Daniels assailed the President’s “grand experiment in trickle-down government” and “constant efforts to divide [Americans].” Daniels was soon on the short list for Mitt Romney’s running mate, but – perhaps sensing the coming electoral debacle – he publicly made clear that he had no interest in the position. He left politics the following year to serve as president of Purdue University, and good riddance to him.
2013’s SOTU response, by contrast, was insanely entertaining. As in 2009, Republicans trotted out a highly touted, non-WASP go-getter, Marco Rubio, who obligingly made a bigger fool of himself than Bobby Jindal had. Rubio prated on about the sanctity of life, about immigrants like his parents pursuing the American dream, about “tax-and-spend” Democrats, about the evils of big government, regulation, taxes and debt, about Obamacare, about the President’s supposedly divisive rhetoric, about securing the borders, about the “moral breakdown of our society.” And nobody cared; his misadventures with a water bottle were all anyone talked about the moment Rubio wrapped up his 14-minute-plus English speech and an even longer Spanish one. Actually, his willingness to laugh at himself over the whole thing would be admirable, if he weren’t still milking it for applause two years later. Continue reading Prate of the Union
Tuesday, the President delivers his sixth State of the Union Address, his first to a Congress controlled entirely by Republicans. He’ll call for tax increases on wealthy Americans and expanded tax credits for the middle class. A splendid time is guaranteed for all, including Democratic Senators Leahy, Durbin, Stabenow and Whitehouse, who, along with Congressmen Peter Welch and Chris Van Hollen, will return from a three-day Cuba junket in time for the President’s speech.
Also in the audience for the SOTU, as the President’s guests, will be people whose letters to the White House were among those selected for his personal reading. Their stories will form part of the his pitch for helping middle class citizens and their families.
Wednesday, the President will expand on his SOTU proposals in a speech at Idaho’s Boise State University.
The same day, the White House hosts the second annual Big Block of Cheese Day, a tradition inspired by beloved fictional President Josiah Bartlet. More info, courtesy of former cast members from The West Wing, is available here.
A 10-year, $757.7 million renovation of the Cannon House Office Building is now underway. Work will be divided into five major phases, with the first devoted to installation of new building systems, among other things. Cheaper and easier than reforming the House itself, I suppose. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 1/19/15
New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – man, it makes me queasy to type that – will try to move authorization of the Keystone XL pipeline forward today after last week’s House vote to approve it.
Tuesday, Chris Christie takes a time-out from mourning his beloved Dallas Cowboys to deliver his State of the State address. Spoiler alert: the state of the state is rife with corruption, with the worst of it centered around 354 Stockton Street in Princeton. Governor Christie will likely avoid that topic, though, to concentrate on lying and blustering, the two things he does best.
Senate Democrats will be in Baltimore Wednesday and Thursday for their annual policy retreat (and no, I will not go for a cheap laugh here). They’ll be doing so without Minority Leader Harry Reid, who’s still recovering from his recent injuries and remains in Washington on doctors’ orders. House and Senate Republicans, meanwhile, will gather in Hershey, Pennsylvania for a joint two-day retreat, presumably to synch up their respective ideas for destroying the country as efficiently as possible.
Wednesday at noon, the Londonderry Fish and Game Club in Litchfield, New Hampshire hosts a one-hour “conversation” on the Second Amendment with crackpot Senator Rand Paul, followed by a Q&A session where it’s pretty much guaranteed Senator Paul will not be asked pertinent questions like “Why the hell do you think you’re qualified to be President?” and “Where’d you get that hair?”
The President kicks off his week with a visit to the Federal Trade Commission on Monday, followed by a Tuesday bipartisan confab with Congressional leaders to discuss what Reuters laughably describes as “common goals,” and a visit to the DHS National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center. Wednesday he heads to Iowa for a speech about expanding broadband access for more Americans. He’s also expected to drop by the Democrats’ Baltimore get-together on Thursday. Thursday evening, he dines with British PM David Cameron; the two will confer at the White House on Friday. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 1/12/15
If you blinked and missed the announcement, US combat operations in Afghanistan officially ended yesterday, which won’t be much comfort to the next casualties among the 10,800 troops remaining there into the new year. Despite the President’s pro forma assertion that Afghanistan is “not going to be a source of terrorist attacks again,” it will probably be exactly that, in no small part due to six years of escalated American military presence there on his watch.
Former President George “Not the Really, Really Bad One” Bush remains at Houston Methodist Hospital, where he has been under observation since Tuesday night for shortness of breath. Fans of mediocre ex-Presidents can breathe a sigh of relief; he’s expected to be discharged soon.
After being suspended due to inclement weather, the search for AirAsia Flight 8501 resumes Monday morning. The plane disappeared from radar screens Sunday morning, roughly halfway between its departure point, Surabaya, Indonesia, and its intended destination, Singapore. It was carrying 162 people. Expect a surfeit of fanciful speculation about the plane’s disappearance, but none will be as doltish as that of Fox News’ Anna Kooiman, who mused on air yesterday that the metric system might be at fault. Co-host Charles Payne came close, however, noting that foreign pilots, such as those on Flight 8501, lack an American-style “cowboy attitude.”
Bad weather has also impacted rescue efforts in the Adriatic, where the ferry Norman Atlantic continues to burn. 150 people had been removed from the ship by nightfall Sunday, leaving almost 330 still awaiting rescue by Greek and Italian teams. One death has been reported.
Widespread monsoon-related flooding in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand has so far claimed 24 lives and forced the evacuation of 160,000 people. Another week of heavy rain is forecast. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/29/14
Funeral services for Lowell Steward, a Tuskegee Airman, will be held Monday morning in Los Angeles. Steward earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in Italy in 1944. He died of pneumonia last Wednesday, aged 95.
The World Health Organization reported last week that western Africa’s death toll from Ebola is approaching 7,400. Nearly half the deaths have occurred in Sierra Leone, where there are an estimated 8,800 active cases (6,900 confirmed). As an anti-contagion measure, Sierra Leone and Guinea have imposed bans on New Year’s Eve celebrations. In related medical news, those politicians who went into a frothing-at-the-mouth frenzy over the supposed threat of Ebola to Fortress America have apparently all been struck miraculously mute, though, sadly, only on this particular topic.
Friday, the Obama family arrived in Hawaii for a winter vacation, or, as the President characterized it, a “quiet time-out” before the fourth quarter of his tenure in office. The President is scheduled to return to Washington on January 4, two short days before Republican Congressional majorities start trying to legislate and deregulate the nation back to the 19th century.
Vacation notwithstanding, the President is expected to announce tomorrow that Sally Yates, US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, is his pick for next Deputy Attorney General, replacing James Cole.
The Satanic Temple’s “Snaketivity” holiday display went up yesterday outside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, two days after state Senator Rick Jones erected a traditional nativity scene at the same venue. Jones boldly declared, “I’m not afraid of the snake people. I’m sure that Jesus Christ is not afraid.” Both displays have to be dismantled every night. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/22/14