Sunday, December 21, 2008

International criminals

There is pressure building on the incoming Obama Justice Department to somehow adjudicate the war crimes committed by the George W. Bush administration, starting at the top. The political problem is that these crimes also implicate leading Democrats, thereby rendering true justice nearly impossible.

This is another compelling piece of evidence for the fact that we are living under a post-constitutional government, no longer responsible to the rule of law. If we don’t hold our leaders to the same standard of justice as the rest of America’s citizens, or any other of the world’s criminals, I don’t see how anyone could argue that this is a functioning democracy. Equality under the law is democracy’s cornerstone.

But in our post-constitutional, post-Bush v. Gore age, we already know that the judiciary is just as politicized as the other two branches of government. And under a political system dominated by the military-industrial complex, there doesn’t seem to be any such thing as a war crime. Americans were torturing people in Vietnam and Korea. The officer in charge at the My Lai massacre, where hundreds of women and children died, served three years of house arrest.

The defense industry protects its own, and always has.

It’s hard to see how a president could get a fair verdict in this country, in any case. As David Sirota notes, “presidentialism,” which confers on that office an elevated, almost sacred character, is a basic element in America’s civil religion. We’re all brainwashed with the idea that the president is somebody who needs rows of heavily-armed storm troopers lining Pennsylvania Avenue to protect him—rather than somebody like Thomas Jefferson, who walked alone back to his roominghouse to have lunch with the other boarders, after his inauguration. We’ve given the president the “emperor” status suitable to an empire. Where would you find a jury of his “peers,” outside of the establishment accessories to the crimes, like the Democrats?

To spare ourselves the national agony of suffering through either the exoneration or trial of the Bush war criminals, the United States should join the International Criminal Court and turn them over to that body. The justice would be at the very least poetic, given Bush’s unrelenting opposition to the ICC. But putting Bush and company before an international tribunal would also help repair exactly the damage that was done to America’s international reputation with the barbarous scandals of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Handing the criminals over to the ICC would mean, in a way that no other action would, that this nation hereby agrees to abide by the international rule of law. It would allow America to once again take a place among civilized nations.

It can also be a rallying point for those who think that we cannot have a full restoration of the rule of law in this nation without some accounting for those who led America down a very dark path. If it is politically impossible to put war criminals on trial in this country (except for low-level “bad apples” who made the mistake of filming themselves in the unfortunate act of following orders), then the only resolution is to turn them over to the international community, for the sake of justice. That’s the direction a President Obama needs to be led.

America needs to rejoin the international community by recognizing the global jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. That act alone has the potential to mark the beginning of the end of “American exceptionalism.”

It could also mean the beginning of justice for American war criminals.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Free Muntadar al-Zeidi!

At a personal level, the past week has been an eventful one, both positive and negative.

On the positive side, I finished (mostly) the remodeling project that occupied so much of my time last week; our now-traditional gathering with friends to trim our Christmas tree was a pleasant success; and my band, the Time Travelers, had a great time performing at a Christmas party in Maryland.

The negative side included a ruling from the West Virginia Supreme Court in favor of the state legislature, which, barring a reconsideration by the court, will end our five-year effort to change the government here in Hampshire County (I’ll be writing more about this later this week); the sad and unexpected news that another one of the original plaintiffs in our suit passed away recently; and the call last night from my mother informing me that my brother-in-law, who’s been seriously ill for some time, had finally succumbed to his illness.

It’s the personal side that puts the rest of the world, with its daily sturm und drang, into perspective, and reminds you of what is truly important in the world. But especially for those of us with a political bent, sometimes the world can provide the kind of escape from personal tragedy that we need.

For example, this morning I read the news about the shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad, where an Iraqi journalist delivered what in the Arab world is the ultimate insult of tossing his shoes at George W. Bush. I could only be grateful to Muntadar al-Zeidi for expressing so graphically and bravely what most of the world feels about the greatest living war criminal, and for a few moments anyway, lifting me out of my personal grief.

Let me conclude this post by joining with his independent news organization and all those others throughout the world calling for the immediate release of this courageous hero. He's an inspiration.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


For those of you who have been wondering where I've been the past few days, I'm in the middle of a remodeling project that, predictably enough, has turned out to be more complicated and time-consuming than I expected, and has to be done before guests arrive on Sunday.

So I'll be back on Monday the 15th, opinionated as ever. Seeya then.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cold war

It was 14 degrees when I walked the dogs this morning. The temperatures have been below average for most of the past month. Inevitably, this has local skeptics pooh-poohing the idea that global warming is happening, which only reinforces the notion of referring to the changes in Earth’s climate as “climate change.” At this point, anyone who predicts how this will play out, no matter how credentialed he or she may be, is just guessing.

Similarly, in a world where an infinite number of variables come into play, there’s really no predicting how a given state action will determine the future, either. The most devastating example of unintended consequences in recent history is the US action in Afghanistan in the ‘80s, where the CIA essentially created the network of Islamic holy warriors who eventually morphed into Al Qaeda.

There’s an excellent summary of the history of US intervention in Afghanistan at the website Information Clearinghouse, written by one of the leading scholars of American imperialism, Michael Parenti ( I was going to excerpt some of it today, but it’s worth reading the whole thing to get Parenti’s view of just how tragic a story it is, and to understand why it represents the truly evil impulses at the heart of American foreign policy.

A cold war, indeed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Torturous ambiguity

You have to give credit to the power elite. They will do everything in their power to protect their prerogatives, to make sure their operatives don’t wander too far from the reservation—which is to say, too far to the “left.”

Corporate media have, since the presidential election, been full of congratulations about the “centrist” inclinations Barack Obama has demonstrated with his cabinet choices and other decisions, including his hints that he would forego his campaign rhetoric about repealing Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy and enacting windfall profits taxes on the oil companies—more post-election “pragmatism.” Mainstream pundits are also happy that Obama is “standing up to his base” on the progressive left. See Clarence Page’s latest column at the Chicago Tribune for yet another giddy example of that trend.

I have a couple of things to say about that. First, I don’t think that “the left” was ever truly his base, although most of us, including me, were happy to see him elected over John McCain. (He was my fourth choice among the Democratic candidates, after Kucinich, Edwards and Richardson. I never trusted, and still don’t, his Wall Street connections.) Secondly, I wonder how large his personal base (the 10 million email addresses the media gushes about) actually is. I’m still getting emails from the campaign, which started after I visited the campaign website one time. I never signed up for anything. How many other non-Obamabots like me are on that email list?

At any rate, to return to my point: if Obama is indeed the sly progressive fox in the military-industrial henhouse that we’re hoping he turns out to be, in spite of the early indications, his strategy is being vindicated by the media reaction to his overt moves. A good example of why this is the case is the “controversy” being stirred up (on NPR this morning) about his intelligence adviser John Brennan, a former CIA official who asked not to be considered for the position of Director of Central Intelligence in a letter last week, because questions were being raised on “the left” about his association with the torture practices of the Bush administration.

The NPR report said that he was asked to write the letter by the Obama team (which an unidentified spokesman denied). The “controversy” has been created by “responsible” voices in the national security establishment who are objecting to Obama’s “capitulation” to the left.

Torture may turn out to be the issue where the dividing line is clearly drawn between progressives (and, to be fair, their allies on this issue among principled members of the establishment) and the Obama administration. It’s difficult to tell in this interregnum limbo between the election and the inauguration when, as disenchantment grows among progressives, more mainstream liberals and Democrats are asking us to hold our fire. They’re right that he isn’t president yet.

But it’s discomforting, at the very least, that Obama is holding his cards so close to the vest on an issue that is as clearly defined as torture. The public reaction from the Obama team to their meeting yesterday with former military officers who want a change in the torture policy was disturbingly noncommittal. It’s hard to see how he can hope to restore America’s standing in the world, or even make any progress toward reducing terrorism, if he is going to be ambiguous about clear violations of international law.

To illustrate just how important this issue is to any expectation that America will be able to redeem itself in the eyes of the world, or why a clean break from the Bush policy is so critical, consider this confession from a special operations intelligence officer, quoted by law professor Scott Horton in Harper’s, from a (surprisingly enough) Washington Post op-ed:

"I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for Al Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me–unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans."

If Obama indeed asked Brennan to withdraw his name from consideration as DCI, that has to be taken as a good sign. If corporate media, already setting the stage for exoneration of Bush and Cheney for their many crimes, don’t like it, so much the better

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cassandra complex

One of the most common complaints among progressives is that we seem to never get credit for having been right about important issues. This complaint has had a breath of new life in the wake of Barack Obama’s appointments of Iraq War hawks to his national security team. People like columnist Glenn Greenwald are asking, where are the cabinet positions for those who opposed the invasion of Iraq in the first place?

I’ve had the personal experience of this phenomenon myself, as I’ve written earlier. Before the war started, I was writing about the lack of evidence for Iraqi WMDs, and how intelligence was being manipulated. With few exceptions, this was not a story getting much play in the corporate media, which had been beating the war drums from the beginning. I watched in horror as the inevitable unfolded. The only surprise for me, when it turned out there were no WMDs, was that none had been planted after the fact.

The phenomenon of having your predictions disregarded has sometimes been referred to as the “Cassandra complex.” The name is derived from a character in the Iliad. Cassandra was the sister of the Trojan hero, Hector, and was so beautiful that she attracted the favor of the god, Apollo, who granted her the gift of prophecy. When Cassandra demurred from his attentions, Apollo turned the gift into a curse. Cassandra was still able to see the future, but no one would believe her warnings, and she could do nothing to change the unfolding of events. A curse, indeed.

What prompts today’s post is a rare example of progressives getting credit for being right. I’m reading the new book by Andrew Bacevich, “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.” Bacevich is a retired Army colonel, and professor of history and international relations at Boston University. He’s also a longtime opponent of the Iraq War who’s had the tragic experience of losing his own son as a casualty in that conflict, and a clear-eyed realist about American imperialism.

Last night I read this passage:

“Many Americans remember the 1960s as the Freedom Decade—and with good cause. Although the modern civil rights movement predates that decade, it was then that the campaign for racial equality achieved its greatest breakthroughs, beginning in 1963 with the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Women and gays followed suit. The founding of the National Organization for Women in 1966 signaled the reinvigoration of the fight for women’s rights. In 1969, the Stonewall Uprising in New York City launched the gay rights movement.

“Political credit for this achievement lies squarely with the Left…Pick the group: blacks, Jews, women, Asians, Hispanics, working stiffs, gays, the handicapped—in every case, the impetus for providing equal access to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution originated among pinks, lefties, liberals, and bleeding-heart fellow travelers. When it came to ensuring that every American should get a fair shake, the contribution of modern conservatism has been essentially nil.”

It would be nice to think that some of Obama’s new national security team would be taking Bacevich’s views about the rot at the heart of American foreign policy into account. Too bad he’s a fellow Cassandra.

Monday, December 1, 2008

High old times

As a contribution to our discussion here about drugs and spirituality, I submit for your consideration this excerpt from a recent article in the Toronto Sun:

“Researchers say they have located the world's oldest stash of marijuana, in a tomb in a remote part of China.The cache of cannabis is about 2,700 years old and was clearly "cultivated for psychoactive purposes," rather than as fibre for clothing or as food, says a research paper in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

The 789 grams of dried cannabis was buried alongside a light-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian man, likely a shaman of the Gushi culture, near Turpan in northwestern China.

The extremely dry conditions and alkaline soil acted as preservatives, allowing a team of scientists to carefully analyze the stash, which still looked green though it had lost its distinctive odour.

"To our knowledge, these investigations provide the oldest documentation of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent," says the newly published paper, whose lead author was American neurologist Dr. Ethan B. Russo.

Remnants of cannabis have been found in ancient Egypt and other sites, and the substance has been referred to by authors such as the Greek historian Herodotus. But the tomb stash is the oldest so far that could be thoroughly tested for its properties.”

I wonder what they mean by "thoroughly tested."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tangled roots

There were a couple of op-eds in today’s Charleston Gazette that discussed the proposed consolidation of the city of Charleston WV with the surrounding county, Kanawha. This “metro consolidation,” as it’s known, is peripherally related to what we’ve been trying to do here in Hampshire County, in that it’s an effort by local citizens to change the form of their local government. But they’re using a different legal mechanism than we are.

The first op-ed I read was a straightforward look at the process of consolidation itself by a local state senator. The second piece was written by a Baptist minister, and primarily discussed a specific issue that metro consolidation should address—substance abuse—because, according to the author, it’s an issue that’s at the root of virtually all of the Charleston metro region’s social problems, from crime to domestic violence.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that alcohol or drug abuse is a major component in many of American society’s problems. But as I read the column, with its typically punitive tone, I was increasingly bothered by the fact that it was only talking about treating a symptom of America’s social disease, without acknowledging that symptom’s underlying causes.

There was no questioning of why, after thirty-plus years of a “war on drugs” and ubiquitous anti-alcohol government propaganda, America continues to lead the world in substance abuse problems. There was no mention of underlying economic or cultural phenomena that may explain why Americans would want to take the national flight from reality a distinctly individual step further. On the unending question of which came first, chicken or egg, the preacher/author (no doubt a creationist) had, with fundamentalist certitude, chosen the chicken. Another drug warrior raises the flag.

What is so disturbing about this well-conditioned knee-jerk response to the problem of substance abuse, apart from its intellectual laziness, is that, in the end, it only contributes to extending the life of the problem.

A few days ago, the Los Angeles Times published an article about a recent Brookings Institution report, which says unequivocally, “The US war on drugs has failed.” From the article:

“The report, which is the work of Brookings' Partnership for the Americas Commission, offers especially pointed criticism of the way the drug war has been waged.Contrary to government claims, the use of heroin and cocaine in the U.S. has not declined significantly, the report says, and the use of methamphetamine is spreading. Falling street prices suggest that the supply of narcotics has not declined noticeably, and U.S. prevention and treatment programs are woefully underfunded, the study says."Current U.S. counter- narcotics policies are failing by most objective standards," the report says. "The only long-run solution to the problem of illegal narcotics is to reduce the demand for drugs in the major consuming countries, including the United States."

Following the establishment practice of continuing to keep the drug problem in the criminal justice domain, however, the Brookings Institution’s recommendations step only gingerly in the direction of decriminalization. The LAT article continues, “The report urges the U.S. to take responsibility for stemming the transport of an estimated 2,000 guns a day across the border; to expand drug prevention programs in schools and redirect anti-drug messages to younger people by emphasizing cosmetic damage as well as health risks; and to greatly enhance drug courts, a system that incorporates treatment into prosecution.”

I love that last phrase, “a system that incorporates treatment into prosecution.” Obviously, there won’t be any mainstream discussion of treatment outside the context of prosecution. And this is the very discussion that is so lacking in our public dialogue about drugs. It is precisely this missing element that holds the key to what our current policy is all about.

For as long as the American drug war has been waged, drug policy reformers have been offering alternative approaches that emphasize treating the problem of substance abuse as primarily a public health issue. There are all kinds of reasons why this approach makes infinitely more sense than the current policy, which I won’t go into at this time.

The only point I want to make now is that we cannot analyze the failures of the war on drugs without looking at who benefits from the current policy. And we cannot see who benefits if we willfully close our eyes to the same intelligence/underworld connections that lie under every rock we overturn once we start searching for the truth of what happened in virtually every one of the last half-century’s most disturbing events, from the JFK assassination to 9/11.

Oh, it’s a tangled, drug-soaked web.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Strategy of tension

There’s been a steady uptick in media reports about terrorism over the past week—not only about the horrific events in Mumbai, India (which naturally got the most attention), but about serious bombings in Iraq, and the announcement of an Al Qaeda plot to attack the New York subway system.

It makes me nervous.

The head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, has been asked to meet with the Indian Prime Minister. Pakistan’s government has hastened to reassure India that it didn’t have anything to do with the Mumbai attacks, which India has, at this point, identified as the work of Kashmiri separatists. Presumably, a few choice questions to the ISI chief from India’s own intelligence agencies (who, in 2001, were the ones to let the FBI know that $100,000 in funding for the 9/11 attacks came from the ISI—a fact the 9/11 Commission thought too unimportant to include in their report) should clear up whether Pakistan was officially involved or not.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of living in the 21st century Wonderland the world has become is the fact that we may never know who did anything in the clandestine underworld of terrorism. The eternal question of “Cui bono?” (“Who benefits?”), from a particular terrorist act, can yield a whole variety of beneficiaries—governments, gangsters, gun smugglers, drug dealers, private armies, or multinational corporations—who may be interrelated in any variety of ways. And most of the people involved may not even have any idea of what’s really going on.

It’s a looking glass world.

I’m far from the only one to wonder if there’s a New World Order dimension to what, as of this writing, is still going on in Mumbai. It could turn out to be very “convenient” for certain interests.

There’s been much concern recently among the power elite about the stability and even viability of the Pakistani government, the only Islamic state with nuclear weapons (but whose chief nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, has had a mysterious long term relationship with the CIA). But the circumstances of a potential nuclear war between India and Pakistan, instigated by the murkiness of ISI’s historic involvement with “terrorists,” could certainly be used to justify greater NWO involvement in Pakistan’s domestic affairs—already under Predator drone assault in the northwestern tribal areas of the country.

One of our more prophetic commentators, Chris Floyd (, published a column on Monday, “Security Blanket: Western Democracy and the Strategy of Tension,” about the postwar history of the use of “false flag” terrorism by the US government to advance American foreign policy—by staging terrorist attacks that are then blamed on enemies of the US, thereby justifying American counter-reaction.

The most famous example of this tactic was Operation Gladio, which terrorized Europe for decades, and which we know about because it was exposed by high-level operatives. The philosophy behind this operation (whose most infamous act was the 1980 bombing of the Bologna, Italy, train station, which killed 85 people) was described in 1991 by Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti: “You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple: to force…the public to turn to the state to ask for greater security.” This policy, fascist to its core, was known as “the strategy of tension.”

If, like me, you’ve been feeling a little tense lately, it may be deliberate.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Same old

To continue a theme for this week…

Those who expected Barack Obama to be the anti-war candidate he (kind of) ran as, have to be disappointed with the news leak that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, will continue in that position for at least a year. When you add that info to the news that his National Security Adviser will be a Marine general, and his National Intelligence Director will be another Navy admiral, it’s difficult to conclude anything other than that the military industrial complex remains in charge.

The permanent government doesn’t change.

Of course, it’s always possible that, as some progressive observers have postulated, Obama is just smarter than the rest of us, and that what he’s pulling here is some kind of political aikido, using his opponents’ strength against them and working for change from the inside (he is, after all, the first African American to get himself elected president—possibly an impossible task for an unabashed progressive). But I doubt it. It’s the system that rules. Politics is the art of the possible, and what is possible in this system of corporate democracy is very narrow indeed.

Maybe a shift of a few yards across the fifty-yard line is the only “change” we can really believe in—nothing else is possible.

Along these lines, my recommendation for today’s reading is Frida Berrigan’s article at, “Who rules the Pentagon?” Unfortunately, I think the headline is misleading, because she doesn’t really answer the question directly. But she does provide a sickening overview of how much control the military industrial complex actually exercises over our nominal “democracy,” not to mention our national budget priorities (an important element, under the present economic circumstances).

She also confirms that, under an Obama presidency, it’s very unlikely that there will be any kind of a “peace dividend.”

Meet the new boss.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


One of the running jokes in the cult film classic, “The Princess Bride,” is the repetition of the word “inconceivable” by one of the villains of the piece, as he is constantly surprised by the hero’s resourcefulness.

The word came to me as I read a short piece at the website Information Clearinghouse this morning, discussing the $7.4 trillion that Bloomberg News reports the Bush administration has committed in the past 15 months to clean up the financial mess it’s created. The author notes that if you piled up 7.4 trillion pennies, the stack would be high enough to equal the distance of ten round trips between Earth and the moon.

Is it any wonder that no one really grasps what’s going on here, or that our financial problems seem insurmountable?


Another interesting website I stumbled on today, via 911blogger, is I met Sheila earlier this year at a DC 9/11 Truth meeting. Her website has a lot of information about the global financial elites who finance virtually every national political system, keeping their own interests at the forefront.

This is the kind of information that gets you labeled a “conspiracy theorist,” but it’s information critical to any real understanding of how the world really works.

Particularly interesting to me was her article about Carroll Quigley, who was Bill Clinton’s mentor at Georgetown University. She has a number of quotes from Quigley’s book about the genuine conspiracy among elites to dominate the world’s financial system, based on his access to documents of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Under the present circumstances of global economic collapse and Hillary Clinton’s reported ascension to the position of Obama’s Secretary of State, it’s worth taking a look.


Speaking of stumbling, I’d like to thank the website Stumblers ( for reprinting my article “Paranoid Shift” on Sunday, to mark the anniversary of the JFK assassination. I’m honored.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Off the farm

The big news today is the economy, because Obama will be announcing the appointment of his economic team, and yesterday, the Bush administration announced that taxpaying Americans are rescuing yet another financial giant “too big to fail,” Citibank.

In his fireside Internet video chat on Saturday, Obama noted that the economic situation is getting worse, so he put a little more flesh on his campaign promise to bolster the economy with 2.5 million infrastructure jobs. Prominent economists are saying that we may be reaching just “the end of the beginning” of a downturn that could be worse than the Great Depression.

There’s a huge difference, however, between the situation in America today and America in the 1930s. When FDR became president, one in three Americans lived on a farm, and so they were at least able to feed themselves. Today, barely more than one in a hundred Americans lives on a farm. If the system breaks down to the degree it did during the Depression, what are all those people going to eat?


Speaking of being off the farm, there’s a rather intense debate going on in cyberspace among progressives, about the choices Obama is making on his foreign policy team, which has a decidedly hawkish stance.

The STFU crowd of Obama supporters is saying give him a chance, he’s not even in office yet. The radicals are echoing Ralph Nader’s “I told you so.”

Cindy Sheehan weighs in on the radical side in the comments at Common Dreams, which supported Obama strongly during the campaign. Their top headline today, from the conservative British paper, the Sunday Telegraph, is “Barack Obama accused of selling out on Iraq.” Sheehan closes her comment with the slogan, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Cynthia McKinney.”

I wonder if anybody’s selling bumper stickers yet.


Finally, as regular readers of this blog know, I supported Obama (with strong reservations, but simply bowing to political reality) during the campaign, in articles that included what is still my most widely reprinted post, “Barack Obunny and Elmer McFudd.”

The latest Rolling Stone magazine has an article, “How Obama won.” I haven’t read it yet, but the illustration is a cartoon of Obama as Bugs Bunny, with both McCain and Palin dressed like Elmer Fudd.

Naturally, I’d like to think the cartoonist read my piece. But even if not, and it’s just one of those “hundredth monkey” moments, it’s personally satisfying to see my observations confirmed in illustrated form. It’s going in my scrapbook.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Horse sense

This will be a short post today. We’re marking the 45th anniversary of the JFK assassination with a visit from the farrier, who’s coming this morning to trim the horses’ hooves.

If you want to get a real sense of the awesome power of nature, stand next to a two-thousand pound animal while she rears up on her hind legs, as I did once when Daisy had a bad reaction to an earlier farrier. I had hold of the rope on her halter, but all I could do was stand there and look up at her. I’ll never forget that moment, which happened not long after we first got the horses, because I was so filled with awe at the sight of her that I felt not the slightest hint of fear, even though one of her flailing front hooves could have easily caved my skull in. I was a little giddy afterwards.

I was fourteen when JFK was killed, and it’s another moment that, like everyone else in my generation, I’ll never forget. I can’t forget the priest who interrupted our math class to lead us in prayer at the news he’d been shot, or how all the people on the DC city bus I took when we got off early were talking about it, or my mother turning to me from the television, tears in her eyes, when I walked in, and her voice quaking with grief, saying simply, “They killed him.”

Last year I read David Talbot’s “Brothers,” his book about the relationship between Jack and Bobby Kennedy. It’s a book that got remarkably little attention in the media, but jaded as I am now, I’m not surprised. Much of the book dealt with Bobby’s efforts to find out who really killed his brother. Both he and the widowed Jackie suspected it was the CIA.

I suspect they’re right.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Two months

It was two months ago today that I started writing this blog. Like most things in life, I suppose, it’s been an education.

For one thing, I’m surprised at some of the unexpected turns it’s taken. My original intention had been to write at least six posts a week, of at least five hundred words each. I wanted this blog to be a writing discipline in itself, as well as a way to express my opinions about subjects that I don’t think get enough attention.

Of course, real life intruded immediately, in the form of some unexpected new responsibilities that made that kind of schedule impossible. Also, I’ve come to realize that once I’ve gotten five hundred words into a topic, it usually takes at least five hundred more words to get out of it. So soon after I started, I figured I could produce the same output as I originally intended by writing every other day.

But it’s even been hard to keep that schedule. And I don’t think it works for a blog, in terms of retaining readership. It’s working for me as a writer, in that I’m writing essays in a free form mode that I never allowed myself before. But I think I’ll need to do more “marketing,” both with emails (which I haven’t done yet) and posting at other sites besides my old haunt, Online Journal, to get the audience I would like, to make it all seem worthwhile, or at least more than a personal diary.

I’ve been very appreciative of the readers who have come by, and especially of the comments, which have been invariably thoughtful. So just for you and I, for now, I’ll keep the blog going. But I think I’ll make some changes.

I still haven’t got the newer computer I was hoping for weeks ago, and I’m still having memory problems, so no pictures and videos yet. But I’m going to resolve to post something every day, even just a few comments like this, so you’ll have a reason to check in more often. And I’ll just do the major essays a few times a week, like I’ve been doing.

If the post is less than five hundred words, I’ll try to keep them pithy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

First snow

Yesterday we woke to winter’s first snow. It was a nice one, deep enough to cover everything, and fluffy enough to brush off the car easily, and most of it was gone by day’s end. There’s still some left today, because it turned cold.

It’s beautiful to look out over the hills in any season, but with the leaves down, you see views you don’t see in other seasons, and sometimes that makes the vista more grand.

I can see about thirty miles down the valley from my office window. The Shenandoah Mountains (the Allegany subrange that runs along the Virginia/West Virginia border) are long ridges stretching miles to the northeast. Our weather tends to come either directly from the west/northwest, or up from the south along the Appalachians, when we can watch it come up the valley—a majestic sight.

It’s amazing to me how living in the country has gradually broadened my connection to the Earth. I notice things, and know things, that never entered my consciousness as a city dweller. It’s awakened me to just how much modern humans are out of touch with the very ground we stand on.

I think any true grassroots revolution has to re-make that connection.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Equal human rights

One of the few areas where conservatives could take any comfort on election night 2008 was in the passage, in three states, of ballot initiatives opposing same-sex marriage—most notably, in California, where thousands of gay and lesbian couples had already made their relationships legally binding, in the months between the California Supreme Court decision upholding the right of homosexuals to marry and November 4th.

Over this past weekend, there were large demonstrations all over the country against the passage of California’s Proposition 8, demanding equal rights for homosexuals. By coincidence, I spent the weekend celebrating the birthday of an old friend of mine, who is in a long-term lesbian relationship. She is a college friend of my partner’s, and we stayed at her home in Pennsylvania, along with her visiting children and grandchildren, and of course her partner, who organized the party. It was a wonderful time.

It has been one of the great blessings of my life that I’ve had close, longtime gay and lesbian friends. Since I come from a very large family, it’s unsurprising to me that I also have homosexual relatives. It’s estimated that about five percent of the human population is attracted to the same sex, and that seems about right, in my experience.

Surveys have found, logically enough, that people who have gay and lesbian friends and relatives are more apt to support equal rights for homosexuals, including the right to marry. To me, the idea that these rights are even in question is a tragic absurdity. What right do so-called “Christians” have, to deny people I love one of our most fundamental human rights as specifically stated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” How can people who claim to find their own happiness in “the sanctity of marriage,” presume to deny anyone else their right to that same happiness? It doesn’t make any sense. It is, at best, hypocrisy.

At worst, it is bigotry and hatred—the very opposite of the God of love and tolerance that fundamentalist Christians claim to worship. In their own scriptures, Jesus tells them that they can find him in the “outcast.” But they continually refuse to believe him. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they obsess about the letter of their scripture, but are blind to its spirit—the spirit of love, compassion, justice and tolerance that Jesus preached.

Every so often, I listen to Christian radio broadcast out of Winchester, to hear what talking points are being circulated and assimilated among the Republican base. The spin on gay marriage is that this represents “special rights,” rather than equal rights, because gay marriage has never been part of our Judeo-Christian tradition. The Christian right sees same-sex marriage as an attack on “the family,” which is based on “the union of one man and one woman;” and the family being society’s own basic building block, gay marriage is therefore an attack on American society itself, and ipso facto, anti-American.

Fundamentalist Christians like to think of themselves as being persecuted. Gay marriage is also seen as an attack on the Bible and religious faith, and on the right of “Christians” to practice their faith freely. In their eyes, “secular humanists” control the media, the judiciary, and the federal bureaucracy, and are trying to destroy America and Christianity by advancing the causes of both “Gnosticism” (cultural relativism) and “pagan nature worship,” which includes both environmentalism and the animal coupling of men with men and women with women. The Christian right sees the official sanction of gay marriage as the government requiring them to reject their own faith, because their tax dollars would then support a system that celebrates, at the county courthouse, a sacrament—same-sex marriage—of a false religion. Hence, the Christian right is being persecuted (in a country where a substantial majority of citizens identify themselves as “Christian”) for taking a stand in support of “biblical principles.”

The Hebrew scriptures were written partly as political documents. They were meant to encourage the separation of the Hebrew tribe from other Canaanites, and to create a sense of tribal nationalism through religious difference, by rejecting both Canaanite polytheism and its feminine aspects—female goddesses, greater equality between the sexes, and tolerance for homosexuality. The scriptures are just as effective today in conveying religious sanction to a system of male domination and other power imbalances, nourished by our “Judeo-Christian tradition.”

The Christian right’s opinion of same-sex marriage is, as would probably be expected, rich with irony.

In the first place, every premise on which they base their argument is wrong. As always, the scriptures are full of ambiguities, rather than the certainties they preach, and the same Old Testament book that is supposed to outlaw homosexuality also outlaws cheeseburgers—it’s meant to be read in context. The Bible outlaws adultery, too, but Jesus himself is descended from one of scripture’s most infamous adulteresses. In addition, the Irish Times, several years ago, published a well-documented account of ancient Christian ritual used in the matrimonial ceremonies of same-sex couples. Early Christianity endorsed gay marriage.

Perhaps the biggest irony in this debate is that the people who are most worried about attacks on the institution of marriage are the ones with the highest divorce rate. Most of the ten states with the highest divorce rates vote Republican; the majority of states with the lowest divorce rates are blue states. Evangelical Christians get more divorces than other demographic groups; evangelical teens have higher pregnancy rates. This is why Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was no big deal to the Republican base. They all know kids like that.

The small comfort that conservatives took from the initiatives banning gay marriage this past election day will be seen, in the end, as just whistling in the dark. The culture has already shifted, and not just among the young, who are our future. If the front line of the culture war today is gay marriage, when just short years ago, it was civil unions, cultural conservatives have lost tremendous ground.

Ultimately, it’s because they are defending a groundless position. People are homosexual because God created them that way; homosexuality is found throughout nature. If we truly believe in the principle that we are all created equal—with equal rights—and we want to govern ourselves by that principle, then we will not be bound by the tyranny of a temporary majority, but only by our national responsibility to uphold the most fundamental human rights—including the right to marry the person of your own choosing.

If it’s a new era, let’s begin with those.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Spare change?

Can Barack Obama be a black Clinton and an American Mandela simultaneously? Can he be an agent of change and a corporate tool at the same time?

Physicists have discovered that we all live in many alternative universes simultaneously. A universe in eternal fluctuation between wave and particle contains infinite possibilities. We are all kaleidoscopes of the many personalities living within us—or, as the Greek philosopher put it in a more general context, you never step in the same river twice. So, like the rest of us, Obama too can have many interpretations.

There can be no doubt, even this early, that Obama will govern like Clinton, with the same foreign policy and economic team that enforce the ruling elite consensus from the “left” side of America’s permanent binary government—the “humanitarian” interventionists, the “velvet glove” wing (alternating with the “iron fist” Republican wing). Anyone who expected “change we can believe in” to extend beyond the elite consensus of what is “politically possible” in the Age of Terror was letting their hope run away with them. It’s nice to live in a dream world, but this isn’t it.

Obama’s Clintonesque nature has been apparent from the beginning, from his contributions from Wall Street, to his “centrist” betrayals of core progressive principles—for example, his FISA vote, where he lost many progressives who might have supported him otherwise. It is very likely that Obama, at some probably early point in his effort to “govern from the center,” will face opposition from a united progressive left. For the reality-based community, corporations still rule. Let there be no doubt about that.

It is, in fact, disturbing how little change we are seeing from the prospective Obama administration. His first appointments were Clinton veterans: Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, and Clinton chief of staff John Podesta to lead the Obama transition team. This brings the Israel lobby and establishment liberals on board. Clinton’s first secretary of state, Warren Christopher, will oversee the Obama transition at the State Department; Clinton’s second secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, is an Obama adviser. The military industrial complex will continue to guide the nation’s foreign policy. We won’t be leaving Afghanistan anytime soon.

It is also increasingly likely that, like the Clinton administration, an Obama Justice Department will quietly retire investigations of illegal activity by yet another criminal Bush administration. There may be congressional hearings, like there were into Iran-Contra, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, and the sale of WMDs to Saddam Hussein—all of which would have implicated George Bush Sr., had they been followed to their logical end—but just like those hearings, there will be no real accountability for the wrongdoers. There’s a reason Bill Clinton and Bush 41 are the best of friends.

The psyops activity setting up the exoneration of George W. Bush and company has already started. There are articles this week in both the Washington Post and the New York Times, talking about the need to move on and not waste time prosecuting political decisions, in the Post article; and exploring the history of executive privilege as claimed by former presidents in the past, and how “unclear” the precedents are for requiring testimony from an ex-president, in the Times. The power elite takes care of its own.

But can Obama also be an “American Mandela,” as I have suggested before is his potential?

Among the many universes in which we live is the archetypal, or mythic universe. In that universe, real human beings come to represent ideals that have universal meaning. In the archetypal universe, Obama is a “hero” figure, representing “hope” and “change.” The major significance of Obama’s election is at this symbolic level. Obama is the “hero” who broke through the American color barrier, a central component in the national character, enshrined in our Constitution. Having slain both the vast rightwing and Clinton dragons, he is a genuine hero. All the babies being named Barack are a testament to Obama as a heroic symbol. Obama’s election resonates most strongly at our subconscious levels, where archetypes live.

But even in the “real” world, Obama’s election has special qualities, that signal the potential for an enormous shift at conscious levels, too.

For one thing, his description as “The One,” the term in the Matrix trilogy for the messianic hero, comes at least partly from Obama’s own otherworldly nature. One of his foreign policy advisers described his impressions of Obama to a reporter from the New Yorker, of his “degree of self-reflection, self-awareness, and psychological wholeness…Having worked for two Presidents and with many Presidential candidates during the last thirty years, I have not seen one as psychologically well balanced, and as good about not injecting his ego into a problem.” The biggest change will be not having a president who’s a psychopath, but Obama is a unique political figure.

A second possibility for shifting the national dynamic is the unprecedented “army of volunteers” waiting for instructions from a President Obama. The choices he asks that army to support by pressuring Congress to act, can move the nation in directions even out of control of the power elite. Although that is, however, unlikely to happen, it is possible that large progressive steps can be taken in health care and education, among other traditional Democratic interests. America is ready for a new New Deal.

Historian Michael Lind published an article at Salon recently, “Obama and the Fourth Republic.” Lind is among those historians who divide American history into three 72-year “republics,” which share common characteristics. Obama would be the first president of the Fourth Republic.

These republican ages begin with a strong president, and a three decade period of federalizing the government under the principles of Alexander Hamilton: a strong central government, central banking, infrastructure spending, and enlarging the bureaucracy. In the latter half of these republican ages, Jeffersonian principles of states rights and individualism, and a weak central government return to prominence. The ages all come to a close with a failed presidency.

It’s remarkable how closely the actual history tracks to this model. The first presidents of the republics were Washington, Lincoln, and FDR—three of our greatest presidents, whose administrations all consolidated power in an activist federal government. The final, failed presidents were Buchanan, Hoover and our own George W. Bush, considered by many historians already to be the worst president in American history. Obama has nowhere to go but up.

But perhaps the most important reason Obama could become an American Mandela is that, whatever happens, enormous change is already upon us, and he is going to be forced to react. The world economy is collapsing; it could be worse than the Great Depression, serious people say. Climate change is happening faster than anyone expected. Ecosystems are altering dramatically. An overabundant humanity is running out of food, water and oil—the foundation stone of the postindustrial economy.

If Obama can keep his cool through all that, and prevent the nation from either sliding deeper into fascism or crumbling into violent anarchy along the way, he’ll deserve some credit, at least.

Let’s just hope it’s not really the end of history.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The problem of mass

The late great media critic Marshall McLuhan described the planetary media system as the extension of humanity’s collective nervous system into space, creating a “one world” consciousness.

It is indisputable that 21st-century humans have a more global consciousness than our predecessors. The extension of media all over the world, with satellites providing instantaneous information through a variety of receiving devices, from televisions to cellphones, has united human consciousness in an unprecedented way. Mass culture has become a global phenomenon; billions of people “know” Angelina Jolie.

The worldwide unanimity of opinion about Barack Obama’s election to the presidency is the latest example of the positive benefit that planetary culture brings. Already, all over the world, American travelers are reporting a much more positive reception to their national identity from the native people they encounter in foreign lands. The Obama election really did bring about a paradigm shift in world opinion about America. We confounded the racist stereotype, to everyone’s surprise, including our own.

But mass culture also brings many problems, from celebrity worship to corporate domination of national politics, that inhibit the healthy functioning of democracy. Many of these problems can be addressed by returning our national cultural emphasis to local participation in politics and the economy.

Of course, it is against the interests of the ruling power structure to decentralize either political or economic power. So naturally, this subject doesn’t get much discussion in the national media. Nor does it even get much discussion in the academic world of political science. I saw an analysis of an annual conference of political science professors a few years ago, which showed that not a single paper submitted to the conference discussed corporate influence on American political life.

As McLuhan would have explained, they don’t see corporate involvement in democracy because it’s like the water in which fish swim: it’s everywhere. It hasn’t been possible to separate business from government since the very beginning of the American republic.

When the republic began, however, business was much more decentralized than it is today, and there was a healthy distrust of corporations. Thomas Jefferson wanted an anti-corporate 11th amendment in the Bill of Rights. Corporations were far more restricted in their lifespans, and in what activities they could engage. Some historians think that the American Revolution was principally waged against the monopoly power of the British East India Company.

It’s a different story today, when multinational corporations provide just about everything we buy, from food to entertainment. We’ve lost the economic independence that comes from local self-sufficiency, and as a result, we’ve lost our real political independence. When every jurisdiction is begging for jobs, because there’s no more real work, and most people spend their lives sitting in boxes, looking at changing light forms emitted from ever smaller boxes, a county commissioner is as likely to favor a global giant in his decisions as anyone else up the political food chain. We are all prisoners of a corporate economy.

With the corporate economy comes the corporate mass media, from which most Americans still get most of their information. (This is what I generally refer to as “the Matrix,” from the film trilogy, which, whatever its flaws, presented a devastatingly accurate picture of how the virtual world in which most Americans live operates.)

The corporate media is as multinational as the other corporations which dominate the global economy, and because of its unique function, integral to the continuation of the current global economic structure, which primarily benefits the elites who control it. So mass culture, in the present context, will always reflect the long-term needs of the global power elite, whose corporations fund the advertising, which produces the media under this system. No advertising, no media. And anyone who doesn’t think advertisers affect media content is living in a fantasy.

The biggest problem with corporate mass culture is that it frames the political context. An Obama aide speaking to McClatchy reporter Margaret Talev compared the media to a group of kindergartners playing soccer, and all the campaign had to do was to nudge the ball to get reporters to follow it. But the herd mentality also spills over into the blogosphere, and too often the internet conversation centers around what the corporate media wants us to talk about. Unfortunately, it’s the subjects omitted from the conversation which often speak most directly to stark reality. (I’d like to see more discussion, for example, of what evidence Bolivian President Morales will present to Obama, about US Drug Enforcement Administration involvement in drug trafficking in his country.)

The most harmful effect that corporate mass culture has on our political brains is to close off possibilities, and to separate us from our own local geography. Whenever single-payer health care is discussed, for instance, it’s routinely dismissed as politically impossible. Why it’s politically impossible—namely, the political power of insurance companies to override the public interest—is rarely discussed, if ever. In another important omission, the unhealthy emphasis on presidential politics in our political culture (what populist David Sirota calls “presidentialism”) leaves out necessary discussion of local offices and issues.

Late one night, many years ago, I stood at the base of the Citibank skyscraper in Manhattan. I couldn’t help but marvel at the engineering that produced it, as well as the amount of work involved, having spent much of my life building things. But I was struck, at the same time, by the fact that the building’s dimensions were so far beyond human scale, and that that physical fact also expressed the underlying reality of the corporate/human relationship. The mass scale of global institutions has grown beyond human control. It’s a major reason we all feel so helpless.

If we really want to return control of our economy and government to the American people, we’re going to have to find a way to bring our institutions, especially our media, back to human scale.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The mandate

The day after the election, I had to unexpectedly leave my computer to go help my sister for a few days. I’m glad I’ve had the time to process the Obama victory.

Like the vast majority of the world’s population, I had a strongly emotional response to the election night results, and to Obama’s unprecedented speech before his largest crowd ever. In historical fact, now, he is the rightful heir to the legacy of Lincoln (whom he quoted twice in his speech) and a culmination of the abolitionist movement (with a long way to go). The significance of this event in the national soul, and the step toward healing our relations with the rest of the planet, were even greater than I thought they would be. It was one of those times I regretted not living in a big city, with dancing in the streets.

I marked the victory by announcing the results, when the west coast polls closed and Obama went over 270, to the handful of volunteers who had braved the rain to come down to the local Democratic headquarters. I just happened to be the one sitting in front of the laptop at that moment. There probably would have been more people there, if the vote-counting machine in the courthouse just down the block hadn’t broken down (we didn’t get the county results until the next morning). But we celebrated in our own quiet way; it was nice to be with like-minded friends.

In our county, Obama got 36 percent of the vote, about midway between the best and worst-case scenarios. (Mine was one of 28 votes for Cynthia McKinney. This will come as a disappointment to some of my friends. But as I predicted, Obama didn’t need my vote in this state, where he only got 43 percent—still seven points better than in Hampshire County.) I think he did as well as a white Democrat would have done in this increasingly Republican county. The black candidate for sheriff got 41 percent against a popular incumbent white Republican. This would seem to indicate that Obama was voted against more because of abortion than race—relatively, a step forward.

My sister has satellite television. Since I only get one station at home with my rabbit ears, the visit with my sister turned out to be a rare opportunity for me to survey the vast wasteland, at a time of momentous change.

I didn’t watch Fox News, but spent most of my available time watching MSNBC and CNN. I was amazed at how many times I saw Barney biting that White House reporter, and how much airtime the prospective First Puppy got. But what I found most surprising (since I wasn’t watching Fox) was the unanimity of opinion about what a smart choice the American people had finally made in their election of Obama. (You could see why Republicans accuse the media of being in the Obama tank, but that’s actually one of the concerns I have about him. If corporate media is supporting him, that raises red flags.)

In my last post before the election, I talked about the sense of unity that Americans would feel with the knowledge that it would have been a united effort of black, white and Hispanic votes that put Obama in office. I think, post-election, there was a general feeling of being awestruck by the enormity of a historically racist country like the United States choosing a man the color of a slave as president. I think this sense of awe surprised everyone, including those who talked about it on the cable networks. I heard several people say that they never really expected to see an African American president in their lifetime. I’ve thought the same thing myself. It’s an amazing moment in our history.

But the unique combination of elements in Obama’s character—from his preternatural coolness under pressure to his mixed race heritage to a rare synthesis of thinking and rhetorical skills perhaps not seen since Lincoln—combined with the familiarity that has grown between the races in two generations of civil rights legislation and blacks holding office, have perhaps made this day happen sooner than might have been expected.

In an excellent analysis of the Obama victory by McClatchy reporter Margaret Talev (“Obama saw an opportunity—and positioned himself to take it”), Obama adviser David Axelrod says that a presidential candidate can’t really influence when it is the right time to run. “The times pick you,” he says. “He [Obama] seemed to match the times.”

Obama, in his own personal history, symbolizes the globalized multiracial world in which we presently live. Among the many advantages he brought to the presidential race is his ability to adapt to virtually any situation, having grown up as a second-generation African in both white and mixed-race communities, in middle American Kansas and in exotic Hawaii and Indonesia. It’s been my experience that the native Africans I’ve met have seemed to have more self-assurance than African Americans, not having internalized the centuries of oppression that black Americans grow up with. Obama also escaped that internalized oppression, which is why he comes across so confidently.

Obama will be the first American president who came of age in the era of civil rights. The remarkable strength of his victory, in itself, marks a shift in our national paradigm. If we are lucky, this shift will inaugurate a new era of human rights—all human rights. That’s the mandate I think we should take from this election.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Report from the front

The reception to the waving Obama signs at the stoplight in Romney WV yesterday afternoon was better than I expected.

There were a significant number of honks for Obama, and many people were enthusiastic, flashing big smiles and both thumbs up. They were still a distinct minority. Most people drove by with stern looks on their faces, and the negative reactions were more numerous and expressive than we’ve usually had at our anti-war demonstrations at that corner, out in front of the courthouse.

I didn’t personally hear any racial epithets, and neither did anyone else I talked to (there were about thirty people in attendance, enough to put signs at all four corners). That sort of surprised me. The worst I heard was “communist.” But there were a number of thumbs down, and a few middle fingers, as well as a few shouts of “McCain!”

Based on the percentage of positive responses we got, I think it’s possible for Obama to get close to forty percent of the vote in this county, which I would count as a victory. That’s about what Gore and Kerry got, and if Obama does that well, it means he’ll have overcome the votes that he lost to racism, which will be a significant factor in this county. We also have a black Democratic candidate for sheriff, whose vote can provide a reality check, or at least add a variable in the calculation of what effect race will have on the election here.

There is a sense of hopeful anticipation palpable in the Obama supporters. Some of the people at the demo were surprised to see me there, having read my blog and knowing the reservations I have about him. But I want Obama to win as much as anyone, in the hope that, at the very least, he’ll bring incremental improvement to people’s lives. Even incremental improvement is movement in the right direction. My most outlandish hope is that he really is the secret radical the Republicans fear—the “most liberal” Democrat in the Senate. But I doubt it. He’s too cautious—which may be exactly what the world needs (or is only capable of handling) right now.

At any rate, the feeling here, on election eve, is that we are on the verge of a historic moment. That’s certainly the way I feel, and what I felt from my fellow sign-wavers yesterday.

The spirit of the Obama people reminded me of the first post-apartheid election in South Africa. Because, at the time, I was a board member of the DC chapter of the United Nations Association, I was asked to be an election observer at the South African embassy, off Connecticut Avenue. I’ll never forget the happiness I saw in the faces of the people coming to vote, both black and white, but especially in the black faces. There was also genuine pride in the faces of the white embassy employees, as they supervised the vote. It was a portrait of a people coming together, for the sake of the future.

I think the most dramatic immediate effect of an Obama victory will be the sense of unity that will come from blacks and whites having voted together to put the first African American in the White House. It will not mark the end of systemic racism, which will remain with us for years—although it may be easier to correct, with the scale tipped by the symbolic weight of historic injustice that should become more apparent with a man the color of a slave serving as president. The question should naturally arise: why are other people of color so economically, and systemically, disadvantaged?

But Obama, with his grace of thought and character, has the potential to be an American Mandela, incorporating in his persona a national desire to truly move beyond race in our politics. Our problems will inevitably remain, but with an Obama presidency, America will have taken a giant step forward toward embodying our most precious founding principle: that we are indeed all created equal.

If Obama is elected (I say with fingers crossed, and profound contempt for electronic voting), it will truly be a righteous cause for celebration around the world.

We’ll get back to reality soon enough.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The change we need

Whichever way this presidential election goes, it will be momentous.

If Obama wins, America will have its first black president, a highly symbolic step toward a truly multicultural nation, and potentially a progressive renaissance (if Obama can escape his handlers). If McCain wins, who knows what chaos will unfold? Even after the riots die down, we’ll have to worry about Alzheimer’s, flashbacks, and the final McCain/Strangelove incarnation. And then there’s always the potential of Ms. End Times inheriting the office and rewarding her apocalyptic cronies with important posts in the Defense Department.

Either way, there won’t be much real change from the existing power arrangements, with corporations calling the shots. “In the Almighty Dollar we trust” will continue to be our national motto, even in an Obama administration. His economic and foreign policy brain trusts are a who’s who of establishment regulars, determined to keep the spirit of Bretton Woods and an imperial America astride the globe alive. Obama will be a step in the right direction, but I don’t think we should have any illusions that he’s really the change we need.

The change we need is to completely revolutionize the way we organize ourselves politically. America’s problem is that we have, over two-plus centuries, created a system that, like its ruling corporations, has become too big to fail. But fail it must, if we are to have any hope of a peaceful transformation of the planet.

The biggest change we have to make is to localize power. We are prisoners of mass culture and the illusions of nationalism. Today, local economies are dependent on multinational corporations (as well as federal and state government spending) to provide jobs. Municipalities offer tremendous tax breaks purely to keep from dying in a globalized world, localities no longer able to provide work. Globalization has created an unnatural dependence.

To the Founders, the political freedom established in the US Constitution was dependent on the economic freedom of the white male enfranchised voters, 90 percent of whom were economically independent farmers, artisans and merchants. We will not regain our political freedom in this country until we restore our economic freedom, and return the center of our economy to local government.

To do that effectively, we need to re-establish the sense of community within local government—make it small enough that people will want to participate, because they have a sense of their own power. This is not possible when you are dependent on a global food distribution system, which can always be tightened in the event of an outbreak of democracy, and render localities powerless to prevent starvation. The centralization of food production into less than 2 percent of the population ensures that government and corporate power (the same in our neofascist system) will also be centralized.

We also need to establish a “new federalism,” where there is a more direct connection between federal and local government entities, and states are left to govern common regional concerns, like watersheds. Local governments will also need intermediate judiciary oversight, human nature being what it is. Local officials can easily be the most corrupt, as we’ve discovered recently in our own county. Local communities have a tendency to let people cut some slack for their friends, which has both a positive and negative effect. Sometimes, people will try to take advantage of others’ good nature. So you need whistleblower protection, and auditing of local decisions (some should be done by federal government and some by the state).

Under a new federalism, the federal bureaucracy would be moved to the local, even the neighborhood, level. So every neighborhood would have a health clinic, where providers would be familiar with their patients’ medical histories, and which would essentially serve as a triage unit, filtering out emergencies from the general community health needs, and as a primary care unit, referring patients to specialists organized at a higher-poulation level. And every neighborhood would have a magistrate, and a sheriff, to sort out local judicial affairs, and keep kids out of serious trouble with the law. Appeals courts and law enforcement coordination could be established at the county level.

Under a new federalism, county governments would have much more voice in how local affairs are administered (including the production of food, to make the necessary change from a global distribution system to food independence; this doesn’t mean the end of trade, which will inevitably continue, but hopefully at a more humane level). Localizing government power can enhance the local economy, by allowing local governments more control over corporate practices in the community. Protecting local businesses from multinationals will allow a community-based economy to flourish. We need to decentralize government power.

In Hampshire County, where I live, we’ve been trying for five years to make our county more democratic, by increasing the size of the county’s ruling body, and giving people representation at the district/neighborhood level. We have been fought at every step by the ruling status quo. It will not be easy to devolve power from the federal and state governments back to local hands.

I believe that the way to effect this change that we so desperately need, if we are going to rescue Earth from the ravages of corporate destruction and undemocratic capitalism, and return true democratic power to the hands of individual American citizens, is through the state legislatures. State legislatures are granted enormous power in the US Constitution, including the power, under Article V, to call a Constitutional Convention, and rewrite the contract under which we are governed. My local delegate has a constituency of about 20,000. That’s a level where progressives can organize at a truly grassroots level.

We can have a new federalism sooner than we might think, with real control over our own lives, along with our many connections to the very land on which we live, restored to the community level, if we resurrect the community organizing skills that Barack Obama seems to have so deftly mastered in this election.

Restoring democracy to the community—and thus resurrecting our true sense of community, inseparably attached to the land—is the change that we really need.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Curb enthusiasm

This Sunday afternoon, from 2 to 5, Hampshire County supporters of Barack Obama will be standing on the curb in front of the county courthouse in Romney to wave Obama signs and pass out bumper stickers and literature to passing motorists.

I’ll be out there with the rest of the gang, waving a sign. This will be my first partisan event at what locals call “the stoplight” (there are actually two traffic lights in town, but the other one is for pedestrians from the West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind to cross the street over to McDonald’s, so it generally stays green). We’ve had a number of demonstrations against the Iraq war there, where we usually get far more positive reactions than negative. It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction Obama gets.

There seem to be a lot more political signs around the county than usual this year, but I’ve only seen one Obama sign, and it was gone the next time I passed. Hampshire was the most Confederate county in the state during the Civil War, and the first county in the country to erect a memorial to Confederate soldiers afterwards, and the attitudes about race from that era still prevail pretty strongly.

When we moved out here from DC fourteen years ago, I hadn’t heard a white person use the “n-word” in years, so it came as a shock the first time. Since then, I’ve heard it a number of times, usually from older people who say it so naturally that it still makes me feel uncomfortable, but it seems as much as an anachronism as the dying small farm culture that they grew up with, an anachronism that I can no more affect than I can change their way of life. So it just makes me sad.

I wish I could say that the use of the “n-word” will die off in a generation, but I think hate will always be with us. And we do have a small hate group in the county, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a chapter of the American Nazi Party, to encourage the word’s use into the future. But I’m not sure the “n-word” has the same resonance it used to.

For example, I was talking with this old guy recently, and he was going on about how “that n…” seemed to make so much more sense than McCain. And then he ended up saying, “I’m probably going to vote for “that n…” This prompted a little cognitive dissonance on my part, but I was thinking that I didn’t want to mess up his vote by trying to correct his language, so I just told him I thought that was a good idea. I thought that he represented an unusual “post-racial” anomaly until a few days ago, when the Charleston Gazette quoted a voter in the southern part of the state saying, “I’m voting for that n…” Maybe it’s a trend.

The Obama campaign seems to think so. I remain skeptical. But if you happen to be in Romney WV on Sunday afternoon, you’re welcome to join us. We’ll have signs.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Palin: 9/11 truther?

One of the websites I try to check on a regular basis is, which keeps current with developments in the 9/11 truth movement.

Many of the posts at 911blogger are videos put up to illustrate various activities of the movement, including conferences, films, and confrontations with political and media figures who are asked sometimes uncomfortable questions about the events of September 11th, 2001.

Today there’s a video posted by WeAreChange Ohio (there are WeAreChange groups all over the country, trying to raise public awareness of the questions surrounding 9/11). One of their members attended a Sarah Palin rally in Ohio, and had a chance to ask her a question as she walked along a rope line after her speech. Since most of the video was filmed at waist level (probably by a cell phone), it’s unlikely she knew she was being recorded. But here’s how the exchange went (exact quotes):

WeAreChange: Will you support the victims’ family members and first responders of 9/11 that are calling for a new investigation?

Palin: I do. I do, ‘cause I think that helps us get to the point of never again, and if anything that we can do could still complete that reminder out there. Were you affected?

WeAreChange: Yeah, I have friends that were affected. I know people and a lot of them are still sick and dying from the EPA because they lied about the air quality like that.

Palin: Thank you for your concern.

Obviously, setting aside the grammatical confusion, Palin is not a 9/11 truther. And you can sense her discomfort when the interviewer mentions the “lies” of the Bush administration Environmental Protection Agency, who falsely assured New Yorkers a few days after the attacks that the air around Ground Zero was safe to breathe—contrary to their own reports.

But with this surreptitious interview, Palin becomes the only major party candidate to join Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney and independent candidate Ralph Nader to call for a new investigation of 9/11. I don’t, however, expect this to make news in the corporate media (see my post, “Coordinated media,” for why I’m skeptical).

* * * *

While we’re on campaign news…

Republicans have been howling for years about comparisons being made between George W. Bush and Adolph Hitler (guilty as charged). Of course, it was their regular stock-in-trade during the Clinton years to compare Clinton to Hitler (we all remember the black helicopters, don’t we?), but “hypocrisy” is not a word found in the GOP dictionary.

Predictably enough, we’re already seeing the inevitable Obama/Hitler comparisons, but they’re not just coming from the radical fascist wing. They’re coming from the GOP itself.

Jake Tapper of ABC News reports that the Republican Committee of Pennsylvania is sending out emails to Jewish voters reading, “Jewish Americans cannot afford to make the wrong decision…many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake. Let’s not make a similar one this year!”

McCain campaign officials are trying to deny responsibility for the mailing, but Bryan Rudnick, a political consultant hired by the GOP for outreach to Jewish voters, told the AP that “I had authorization from party officials” to send the email.

* * * *

Finally, for your amusement, a youtube video from Jumpin’ Joe Sixpack, “McCocain on the Membrane” (someday I’ll learn how to embed these things):


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Woe, scribes and Pharisees!

Today’s sermon is taken from the 23rd chapter of the book of Matthew, which begins, “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”

The book of Matthew was known in early Christianity as the favorite gospel of the “Ebionites.” The Ebionites (from the Hebrew word for “poor men”), according to some scholars, were the faction of 1st-century Christianity made up of the family and early disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, who were led after his crucifixion by his brother, James, the bishop of Jerusalem and leader of the Jerusalem Christian sect in the Acts of the Apostles. The Jewish/Roman historian Josephus documents their struggle against the Temple hierarchy, which culminated with James’ assassination in 66 CE.

The 23rd chapter states their case, from the mouth of Jesus himself.

After his initial accusation of hypocrisy against the Temple establishment, who essentially served as Rome’s provincial bureaucracy, Jesus continues, “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”

Hmmm…sounds like Jesus is preaching class warfare. How unRepublican.

“But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries [little prayer boxes with scripture inside], and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.”

More class warfare, and a direct challenge to the chief priests. But who would he be talking about today? Televangelists, for sure, who hardly do their praying in the privacy of their rooms, as Jesus recommended. But given that we’re a culture ruled by Mammon, you have to go to Mammon’s temples to get a precise corollary: luxury boxes at sports stadiums, or skyscraper penthouse conference rooms. CEOs, the high-level managers of our global empire, live a life different from ours, as the Temple poobahs did then.

But here’s where Jesus gets really subversive, and essentially guarantees his removal by the authorities:

“But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”

This was the central principle of Jesus’ ministry, revolutionary in its rejection of imperial social structure, and responsible for Christianity’s viral spread among the imperial lower classes. It is also the same egalitarian principle central to the Enlightenment of the West, rediscovered (after Gutenberg printed his Bible for the masses) in the Judeo-Christian social gospel of “the poor,” those Jesus called “blessed,” and turned into concepts of democracy and freedom by philosophers like John Locke and John Stuart Mill. It was the basis for the abolitionist movement, and for the civil rights movement, and continues to inspire peace and social justice activists today. We are all created equal—what a concept.

I have to note an important point in these last verses, related to that. When Jesus talks about one “Master, even Christ,” he’s only talking about himself in the most general terms. Jesus was raised in a clan related to both the king “messiah” (a Hebrew word translated into the Greek “Christ”), David, and to the priest “messiah,” Aaron, through the tribe of Levi. “Messiah” is the essential noble spirit of humanity, as expressed through heroes and other “messiahs” like Moses and Joshua, or virtually anyone at a given moment in time. Heath Ledger is a modern “messiah,” having sacrificed himself to his art. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were “messiahs.” It’s an archetype of human hope.

The “Ebionite heresy,” declared as such by the imperial church after the pagans Paul converted became a majority of Christians, is explained by the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions: “The sect emphasized the ordinary humanity of Jesus as the human son of Mary and Joseph, who was then given the Holy Spirit at his baptism; it also adhered to the Jewish Torah.” But who knew Jesus better than his family? On the other hand, how could such a modest character keep an empire under control?

Jesus spends the next twenty verses, the bulk of the 23rd chapter, laying out a bill of particulars against the scribes and Pharisees, famous for its repeating opening line, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” It’s an indictment of the Sadducees who ran the Temple, and shut off the central sanctuary from the masses, and cheated the people and polluted the Temple with their own inner filth. It’s also an amazingly accurate portrait of today’s “Christian” right: their sanctimonious worship of “prosperity,” caring nothing for the victims of a massively unjust social structure; the demographic most loyal to corporate profit, shiny and clean in their persona, but “within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”

Iraq, anyone?

After his tirade at the scribes and Pharisees—concluding with, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”—Jesus then explains very clearly how the concept of “messiah” works: to redeem the nation from the corruption of the scribes and Pharisees, “Behold,” he says, “I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation.”

(The last sentence can only be true if he’s talking about every generation--or if an early editor knew about the destruction of Jerusalem shortly after James' death--but it was to the early apostles’ advantage for prospective converts to believe, as they themselves did, that Jesus was talking about the generation he was directly speaking to—which he was. They were an apocalyptic sect; and the Kingdom of God was already within, even (or especially) after Jesus’ own crucifixion. Adjustments in interpretation only had to be made when the first generation of Christians finally died off. And the gospel writers knew it was good propaganda.)

More important than the possible inaccuracy of Jesus' prediction is the apocalyptic message that he is conveying here: you may kill me, and others, but justice will ultimately be done.

This is exactly the nonviolence philosophy taught by Gandhi and King, that "the arc of the universe bends toward justice," and is the essential messianic message: it is the nature of humanity that people will always stand up for the truth, and for each other, just as they are doing today. And in the end, the truth will finally set us free to live in the Kingdom of God, where we are all “brethren” and have no masters.

Jesus’ jeremiad against the scribes and Pharisees concludes on a tenderly sad note, and with an apocalyptic riddle:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

“For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Coordinated media"

The primary goal of Joseph Goebbels in his Nazi propaganda management was to create what he called “coordinated media”—a diversity of viewpoints, but all expressed within the narrow parameters of party ideology. Adolph Hitler himself would complain if he thought news coverage was too monochromatic; he didn’t want to be bored by his own press operation. He considered himself a news consumer, along with the rest of the German population. With his precise sense of what people wanted to hear, Hitler knew that propaganda couldn’t be too blatant.

21st-century Americans can certainly relate to the concept of “coordinated media.” Often observed is the phenomenon of every major television network’s evening news shows featuring exactly the same stories in exactly the same order, the stories’ importance allocated in exactly the same proportions. How does this happen? How is it that every network editor exercises the same judgments about what is “news?”

Part of the answer is the growing concentration of media power in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations. Six corporations now control ninety percent of American media output. Naturally, the ideological range of this output extends only as far as what will benefit the corporate agenda.

But another explanation for “coordinated” media messaging is what is known as “the mighty Wurlitzer”—an expression that originated with the late Frank Wisner, a legendary CIA propaganda specialist, in reference to the international media. He was comparing his ability to manipulate public consciousness through the media, to playing a giant pipe organ. Wisner ended his life mentally disturbed, shooting himself in the head. Too much power can twist the mind, and there are few institutions in this culture more powerful than the corporate media.

The role the Central Intelligence Agency plays in American media is rarely discussed (even by progressive media watchdogs), considering the long history of the agency’s relationship with Wall Street and media titans, and this relationship’s importance in molding the public consensus.

In his 2007 history of the dark side of the CIA, “Legacy of Ashes,” Tim Weiner writes, “From his first days in power, Allen Dulles [CIA Director, 195???-61]… kept in close touch with the men who ran the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the nation’s leading weekly magazines. He could pick up the phone and edit a breaking story, make sure an irritating foreign correspondent was yanked from the field, or hire the services of men such as Time’s Berlin bureau chief and Newsweek’s man in Tokyo. It was second nature for Dulles to plant stories in the press. American newsrooms were dominated by veterans of the government’s wartime propaganda branch, the Office of War Information, once part of Wild Bill Donovan’s domain.

“The men who responded to the CIA’s call included Henry Luce and his editors at Time, Life and Fortune; popular magazines such as Parade, the Saturday Review, and Reader’s Digest; and the most powerful executives at CBS News. Dulles built a public relations and propaganda machine that came to include more than fifty news organizations, a dozen publishing houses, and personal pledges of support from men such as Axel Springer, West Germany’s most powerful press baron.”

It is naïve to think that the close and informal relations with the media that Dulles cultivated to further CIA objectives have not been continued by his successors.

The Church Committee hearings into abuses by the CIA, conducted while George H.W. Bush was director of the agency in the mid-‘70s, revealed that hundreds of journalists and their bosses were either paid or volunteer CIA “assets.” I’ve often suspected that the primary reason the Bush family has received such a relatively free ride in the media over the years is that Bush refused to give the Senate committee the names of these assets. The committee accepted his counter-offer of vague descriptions of the agency/journalist relationship, instead of names (the power elite is a cozy little club).

What has changed over the decades (especially in the Bush Jr. administration) is that the intelligence community has been privatized, and many of the more questionable propaganda efforts have been shifted to private sector “consultants” who don’t have to answer to Congress. Another trend has been the growth of Pentagon influence in the media. When the New York Times reported last year that the Pentagon was coordinating its public “message” with the stable of retired military officers that all the major television networks depend on for “independent expert” analysis of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (virtually all of whom are also profiting from these wars as defense industry consultants), the story was quickly buried.

Where the evidence of a “coordinated” American media operation is most profound today is in the area of 9/11 truth. When “Jersey Girl” Patty Cassazza, who, along with her fellow New Jersey 9/11 widows, became a media darling when they were trying to get an independent 9/11 commission started, told a conference last year that she had been told by FBI insiders that the government knew the exact date, targets and plan of the 9/11 attacks beforehand, the revelation was universally ignored by corporate media.

Stephen Jones, the former BYU physicist who possesses physical evidence of controlled demolition of the World Trade Center towers, has not been welcome back at cable TV talk shows since he first appeared on the scene, with a persona too normal to be dismissed as a conspiracy nutcase. Jones’ revelation at that same conference that he’d been offered a bribe by a Homeland Security consultant not to publish his paper raising serious questions about the official conclusion of why the towers collapsed, also received zero corporate news coverage (the consultant offered an either/or deal, and indeed, one month later, the directors of Brigham Young were pressured by the government to force Jones’ resignation).

The importance of the internet and alternative media is that, like the samizdat in the old Soviet Union, they offer the opportunity to get out a message that would never pass through the official corporate media/CIA filter—the Matrix.

The challenge is to construct a message that can both penetrate the Matrix (whose agents pay close attention to potential threats in the information “battlefield,” and respond accordingly), and simultaneously be heard over the white noise of an oversaturated global media environment.

It will probably require a little “coordinating” of its own.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

While we were out...

Back in my early post-psychedelic period, when I became a spiritual seeker, I discovered the work of Edgar Cayce, known as “the sleeping prophet.” Cayce, who died in 1945, had a gift, while in a trance state, for what he called “readings” of people’s souls and bodies. So many of the naturopathic cures he recommended for people who came to him with ailments turned out to have real healing ability that the American Medical Association once called him “the father of alternative medicine.”

In the course of these readings, Cayce also talked about spiritual forces at work, both in his clients and in the world at large. Many of the “predictions” for the future he made—for example, the rediscovery of Atlantis—have not come to pass. Given his record of accuracy on the physical readings, I’m not particularly troubled by these seeming failures, for two reasons. One, he qualified these predictions by saying that humanity always possesses the power to alter its own future. And two, I think he always spoke on purely spiritual issues in symbolic language, like the language of the Bible around which his own spiritual life revolved (he analyzed the Book of Revelation, for example, as a map of an internal spiritual journey, rather than a prediction of apocalypse).

Because, over the course of decades, my personal spiritual “language” has moved beyond the Christianity that Cayce centered his beliefs on, his teachings no longer have the importance for me that they once did (though I still practice meditation, which was at the core of his practical spiritual recommendations). But, even though it may not be unfolding in the exact way he predicted, I think he was right about the enormous changes the world and humanity would experience at the turn of the millennium.

What brings this up for me today is one of the characteristics Cayce gave to the period in which we’re now living. He called it “the quickening.” It’s a phrase that I’m reminded of practically every day. This is a momentous, unprecedented era in which we live. Now we know firsthand why the ancient Chinese wish, “May you live in interesting times,” was considered a curse.

There is, of course, unprecedented and understandable interest in the American presidential election worldwide. I think that even most Americans, who have pretty much let their democracy operate on cruise control since World War II, are aware of the historic nature of the shift in global power that is occurring now, thanks to George W. Bush’s wholesale destruction of the American (and perhaps global) economy, as well as its military and government.

But there any number of issues that have been put on the back burner during this campaign, the discussion of which has been reduced to sloganeering, at best, by both campaigns (see Reid b’s comment at my post, “Hope and the left” for a good observation about this). And these issues will inevitably face whichever candidate “wins” the election. (With the recent spate of articles in the Charleston Gazette about touch screen voting machines already switching votes from Democrat to Republican, I think we can safely say an Obama victory is not a sure thing, no matter how many points he’s ahead in the polls, or even, more importantly, how many votes he gets.)

It was telling, for example, that at the last debate, when moderator Bob Schieffer asked a question about climate change, the answers from both candidates immediately veered into national energy policy, and the very real effects of climate change—agricultural destruction, water shortages, disease, rising oceans, and mass extinctions of plant and animal life, among them—went completely unremarked upon. Schieffer, corporate propagandist that he is, let it slide and did not, as he had promised before the debate, follow up.

Similarly, there’s no real discussion in the campaign about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither candidate wants to address the conclusions of a National Intelligence Estimate that was leaked a few weeks ago, that essentially says that the present “truce” between Sunni and Shia factions in Iraq is tenuous at best, and full civil war can break out at any time. This renders both McCain’s promise of “victory” and Obama’s promise to remove combat troops as too simplistic to address the real-world situation there. Nor will either candidate address the fact that the American military is facing the same ignominious defeat in Afghanistan that every would-be conqueror from Alexander to Andropov has been forced to swallow.

To Obama’s credit, he does address, with his tax policy, the inequality between the rich and everyone else that has grown so noticeable in the last eight years—but only to a degree. But it’s only to be expected that neither establishment candidate, supported as they are by a corporate-dominant political system, will discuss the fundamental question of whether the consumer culture on which the entire global economy is built has itself reached its natural endpoint, and is in collapse. Is Gaia, the Earth-spirit, in the process of self-correction?

Once the election is over, these questions will remain. Meanwhile, keep your seatbelts strapped tight. “The quickening” is a wild ride, and no matter what happens, it’s guaranteed that the world will change dramatically.