Monday, October 21, 2019

Complaints Department

One of Eckhart Tolle’s many provocative ideas is that all,... ALL! complaining is of the ego. It isn't that one doesn't recognize unpleasant realities. A central and alarming unpleasant fact is that the wealthy class has disproportionate influence on our political process and so undermines democracy and creates serious obstacles to addressing an urgent crisis, several in fact: climate change, myriad other pollution issues, soil erosion and degradation, the continuing possibility of terminal nuclear war (it ain't over until these weapons are gone) and overpopulation/extinction of species (including us). There are many other obstacles and issues but the point is that preoccupying oneself in thought - blaming, posing enemies, nurturing grudges, anticipating disaster, or glory - stands in the way of presence, and presence is where our power lies. Ram Dass said it in three words, be here now.

An attempt to describe presence: ONEness comes to mind, the felt interconnection described by many religious, spiritual, artistic, poetic, scientific writers and thinkers... characterized by incredible beauty, the deeper one goes. The first level? Take a breath, here you are, no thought... as you stay you go deeper, thoughts arise, let them pass, it becomes a well that you can dwell in, to various degrees, coming back to surface to do your taxes or cross the street but keeping a foot in... and it reveals the moment as not a passing one but ONE that encompasses past and future... and the impulse to creativity that occurs in presence transcends ego as it is aligned with primal intelligence. The doing that comes out of presence is authentic, celebratory, joyous, and what is needed for the next step in evolution. And these are thoughts about it, not it... it is felt experience, non-narrative, and it accompanies the transitory bias that leads us to engage discrete slivers of time in order to... dance.
Maybe Tolle's definition will help: To feel, and thus to know, that you are; and to abide in that deeply rooted state is enlightenment.

Ok, so how does abiding in that deeply rooted state address climate change and rule of the rich? It is only in this abiding, presence, that we are connected to the intelligence that is self-evidently at the root of being, is in fact being, or consciousness. In that connection we experience peace and out of that peace comes creativity, what is needed to address, to overthrow as it were, the dysfunction currently running things here on planet earth. Awareness then is the most effective form of activism. Our power doesn't lie in persuading others by argument but in standing in alignment with essential intelligence. We don't decide to do good, we are good to the extent that we are present. In awareness, we may hit the streets, or write a poem, or start a business - we can't predict from a state of unconsciousness. If this appealing idea is not just another wishful fantasy, then the most urgent task at hand is cultivating awareness. From that will come, what Tolle calls, A New Earth.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Sunday, September 1, 2019

American Radical, the Life and Times of I.F. Stone by D.D. Guttenplat

The book’s sub-title is not just an add-on. Surrounding I.F. Stone’s life are some very remarkable times. The 1930s depression, fascism, the New Deal, World War II., hi-jacking of government by anti-new dealers – true witch hunts, this time of “communists” and “fellow travelers”, completely ignoring the bill of rights for a time (not for the first time Eugene Debs fans will remember), the development and open-air testing of nuclear weapons, the use of same, the cold war, Dien Bien Phu, Algeria, … and, as they say, more. 

I.F. Stone’s youth was marked by a precociousness (first news sheet at age 14) that, by age 40, had brought him journalistic renown. His most visible gig was as an occasional panelist on Meet the Press but he was also known as an investigative journalist on several daily newspapers. By 1953 he was persona non grata, unemployable in his profession and hardly spoken to by friends. This was not the product of criminality or a sex scandal nor ethical breech. Stone became the victim of anti-communist hysteria conducted by opportunistic or ideological fanatics every bit as scary as the crop hovering currently around our White House. People were jailed, slandered, careers ruined by an inquisition of small-minded, self-promoting cads in congress, law enforcement and media.
Stone wrote for The Nation, a weekly, still honorably illuminating hypocrisy among our esteemed leaders to this day, and PM, a progressive daily long defunct. The author of American Radical in fact is the new editor of The Nation. Like the immature species we are, it seems that all attempts to seek some kind of order in the world, whether of the social justice flavor or of the fascist, are undermined by internecine brawling, sectarian dogma, ego forever steering the ship. Consistency and reason, claimed as guide by all factions, are routinely set aside whenever circumstances and loyalty, punishment or reward, demand. Witness the tRump administration as it blithely embraces outrageous, anti-democratic polices while White House staff conduct back-stabbing media-leaking as they jockey for position. Witness also the shameful democratic party attack and misrepresentation of dissenters from slavish subservience to Israel. Stone had a special fondness for Israel but his clear sightedness was not clouded by infatuation. He recognized early that justice for Palestinians was a prerequisite for a stable and peaceful Israel.
In the thirties and forties the Communist Party and “fellow travelers, liberals and various progressives, were gaining ground, given the calamitous impact of the capitalist depression on so many working people and the then apparent success of Communism. Thanks to ego again, the hijacking of the Russian revolution by the psychopathic Joseph Stalin and the masking of his crimes thwarted the dream of ending poverty and inequality. Those who most profited from the capitalist order also intervened, putting significant resources behind efforts to demonize communism and socialism. It has been said that the left always arranges its firing squad in a circle. But this holds true for most movements and helps explain why the Machiavellian path so often plows under the altruist. Stone, or Izzy as he was affectionately known, eventually gave up on the hopeless factionalism and sectarianism of the communist party, unhesitatingly critiquing it, though its ideal is where his sympathies lay. The right, more often in power though, held most of his journalistic and editorial attention, whether in The Nation, PM or his books.
As a prominent journalist Stone used his platform, indeed built his reputation on, exposing corruption in business and government. This of course made enemies but the writer was uncompromising in his search for a story. With the start of World War II. he became “respectable”, given his connections in the New Deal administration and his intense anti-fascist stance. He was quick to notice but also to forgive Roosevelt’s lapses though U.S. tardiness in acknowledging violent Nazi antisemitism was a great frustration. U.S., British and French support or indifference to the fascist coup in Spain was also a trial. Love of Democracy among (elitist) western rulers, mostly rhetorical, tends to become inconvenient when the “wrong” parties come to power, especially those with low enthusiasm for the preferred economic system which so benefits them. Vietnam would soon come around to prove this thesis for those who didn’t quite get it yet.
Prior to Stone’s fall from grace he was intimate with high officials in the Roosevelt administration. His admiration of Vice-president Wallace, and outrage at his ouster in favor of Truman, did not prejudice him against the new president, in fact he was quite optimistic. Truman, as a senator, was quite accessible and Stone thought him trustworthy. By the end of the decade he was unequivocally appraised of his error in judgment. His dogged criticism of J. Edgar Hoover and the congressional investigations eviscerating the constitution ignited those forces against him. An agent finally approached, demanding his passport. Many others had this experience, all as innocent as he of illegal acts but all guilty of insufficient subservience to power. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) was, at this time, grazing among the sheep, refusing to vigorously challenge government oppression. Stone and a handful of progressives formed the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (ECLC) to take their case to the supreme court. Izzy was the only board member not wealthy or safely pensioned so he soon found himself unemployable, even by The Nation. From the fall of 1951 Izzy was daily, and ridiculously surveilled by the FBI. His mail was opened, neighbors questioned, doorkeeper recruited to spy on him. All this while the FBI director denied the existence of the U.S. Mafia, that organization allegedly having compromising photographs of Hoover to insure his investigations excluded them.
This is where Izzy’s famous Newsletter saved him from destitution. He was able to build a following of subscribers that left him free to pursue his hard-boiled investigative journalism without limitations imposed by advertisers, owners and editors. His targets were the usual shenanigans in business, congress and the administration. He managed also to write a book, The Hidden History of the Korean War, a story in itself. Turned down by more than two dozen publishing houses, he was about to give it up when he ran into two old friends in the Central Park zoo cafeteria. The first thing to come up was that the former colleagues were publishing a new journal, Monthly Review, and asked Izzy if he knew anyone with something interesting to say about Korea. He sent them the manuscript and they were so impressed they decided to somehow raise the money to publish it. It’s reception was cool silence with a few deliberate establishment hatchet-job reviews. In time the book would gain a respectability by serious historians but the mid-fifties religion of anti-communism was too pervasive to allow an objective reading.
So the newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, bridged the considerable gap where Izzy wandered outside the economic wilderness of mainstream journalism. Page five of the first issue, January 17, 1953, 15 cents, is included in the book and it displays the writer’s deft verbosity. In quoting President Truman’s prescient comments about the threat of nuclear war Stone points out that the president’s sound recognition of the danger is completely negated by his failure to acknowledge the necessity of the alternative, co-existence. Truman favors the reckless strategy of demanding, in effect, Soviet surrender as the solution. Izzy comments, “To pursue such a policy with stubborn blindness while warning against its inevitable consequences is to give a drunken party and salve one’s conscience with a lecture on alcoholism.” In this kind of madness Stone sought soul mates such as Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, the latter who offered, “I see with a great deal of disquiet the far-reaching analogy between Germany of 1932 and the U.S.A. of 1954.” It doesn’t take a renowned physicist to note the chilling relevance and applicability of such a statement to today’s world. Stone went on to critique the Bay of Pigs, pentagon infatuation with counter-insurgency (to include torture), and the coming Vietnam disaster. He was always there with the civil rights movement, greatly admiring the youthful SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee). SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) eagerly awaited the newsletter and sought Stone's council. Gradually he regained respectability, growing in demand as a speaker but still on the outlaw fringes of polite discourse. Stone was one of those rare figures, a true radical, who pitilessly pierced the fog of conventional wisdom, a practice that our survival depends on being more widely adopted.
Drawing by the author

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Fire and Fury, Inside the tRump Whitehouse, Michael Wolff


 
Wolff's title comes from the rant tRump impetuously directed at North Korea, that it would be met with “... fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen...” this irresponsible mouthing, a terroristic threat really, came in response to a reporter's question about North Korea at an August 8, 2017 discussion of the opioid crisis. Trump had been reading a statement in a monotone, bored stiff, anxious to get back to his golf game. The question perked him up and Dr. Jekyl became Mr. Hyde, a loose cannon of major proportions, hiring and firing staff as impulsively as he tweeted whatever crossed his mind, surrounded by lackeys sucking up and vying for position, trying to channel his presidential power down whatever road their particular variant of right-wing ideology demanded, using always the strategy most likely to succeed, flattery.

An email forwarded around the Whitehouse, from a disgruntled staffer, then out onto the net, summarized what working for tRump was like: It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything – not one-page memos, not brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits. No one will survive the first year but his family (meaning of staff). I hate the work, but feel I need to stay because I’m the only person there with a clue what he’s doing. The reason so few jobs have been filled is that they only accept people who pass ridiculous purity tests, even for midlevel policy-making jobs where the people will never see the light of day. I am in a constant state of shock and horror.
It bothers me when people call tRump an idiot. They do it out of anger and frustration and it’s hyperbolic. The man is certainly narcissistic but a literal idiot, no. Idiot Savant perhaps, for he’s capable of charming millions of people despite his many and dangerous faults. Referring to himself in the third person as a stable genius, hard to believe he isn’t joking but since he’s apparently not, something’s screwy.

The book covers the 9 month period of Steve Bannon’s tenure, a bazaar right winger with an anarchic streak toward chaos and strangely, in favor of single payer health care! Bannon and Kushner, tTrump’s son-in-law (with partner Ivanka, the president’s daughter) acted as though they were chief of staff while Priebus, the official chief of staff, suffered their interference and a more or less constant belittling from the president. Vicious, juvenile office politics ruled the White House from day one. The chief of staff is traditionally a powerful figure since everyone must go through him to get in to the oval office. tRump by turns megalomaniac and insecure narcissist... does all the talking in meetings, very little listening and makes decisions based on his “gut” unless relentless and massive interventions are applied. Even then, he can walk out of a room having agreed on some course and suddenly tweet the opposite. The whole administration is a failed state. tRump calls his daughter and Kushner the kids, supposedly New York liberals who he humors. Their intent seems to have been to bring in the Wall Street crowd to run things while Bannon’s was more in the scorched-earth Gestapo camp. Nothing much gets done except the cabinet appointees, all anti-democracy ideologues with frequent ethical lapses, out there doing damage from respective departments. House speaker McConnell stalled federal judge appointments under Obama, saving them for tRump, who attempted to reward a business crony with a judgeship. Staff intervention turned the appointment duties over to the Federalist Society, assuring over 100, to-date, right wing extremists now sitting on the federal bench, including of course the Supreme Court. This of course, in addition to those Bush/Cheney installed. In Georgia we can be grateful that somehow progressive judge Totenberg slipped through the ideological filters.

I.F. Stone, in his book on the Fifties shows how governmental abuse is not exactly new but he also cites a 1957 supreme court decision that put an end to senate and house committee trampling of citizen rights in hearings that were truly witch-hunts. The current supreme court would doubtless come down in favor of such congressional misbehavior though they would probably protect trump’s prerogatives under Dick Cheney’s theory that if the president does it, it’s legal. The recent movie Vice also confirms that sinister attacks on democracy are hardly unprecedented but trump’s administration is pretty unique in its clown car chaos. Fire and Fury narrates the downfall of Steve Bannon, though he is still out there in zany never right-wing land doing mischief, especially in Europe, working to birth a new fascism there. The book also provides a glimpse of billionaires who throw their disproportionate influence around our government, and it also documents the dysfunction we have voted upon ourselves which ought, we can hope, to inspire an uprising at the ballot box.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ruminating on Utopia


The coming U.S. electoral struggle is going to be down and dirty. The right is entrenched, inflexible, outnumbered but more than willing to compensate with gerrymandering, voter suppression, Russian assistance, e-voting fraud and outright cheating. And, as Chomsky points out, the largest interference with our elections comes from U.S. corporations and wealthy elites. There will be no converting what Chomsky calls the most dangerous political party in our history, but it would be a mistake to allow them to set debate terms. It is the general voter who must be reached. The right wants the discussion to pit capitalism against socialism because of the advantage the former generally holds, given years of indoctrination in media, schools, churches and most institutional life in the U.S. They will try always to get their opponent defending socialism and link that to communism and the worst abuses of that system, ignoring/denying of course the worst aspects of capitalism. It might be helpful to consider that there is Big capitalism and little capitalism. To lump them together as the villain is to alienate some potential allies. The real issue is more clearly found on different terrain. The poles are not capitalism versus socialism but greed and domination versus decency and democracy. This gets us more immediately to the issues, by-passing a couple very loaded words and some default loyalties.

I.F. Stone's collection of essays, The Haunted Fifties, 1953-1963, a Nonconformist History of Our Time demonstrates that the anti-democracy tRump phenomenon, though certainly on steroids, is not new. Wisconsin Senator McCarthy was smearing reputations and careers and constricting debate to a narrow right-wing, jingoist range where few officials were safe from charges of disloyalty or “un-Americanism”... or courageous enough to speak out. McCarthy was embroiled in financial impropriety which, if revealed, could have stopped his rampaging much earlier but political cowardice won out. Eventually he, like Nixon, stepped on the wrong toes or out-lived his usefulness but while he conducted hearings the inquisition was live. One victim was Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein's parents who were reduced to managing a laundry mat to make a living. But they were far from being alone. On the other end of the fame-spectrum Charlie Chaplain was forced, or elected, to leave the country. Many Hollywood artists and writers were harassed and blackballed, some with the connivance of the president of the Screen Actor's Guild, Ronald Reagan. Most of the victims were exercising their constitutional rights by joining a party or engaging in political activity that resisted the ruthless domination of the ruling class. This technique of labeling those who demanded justice and real freedom as subversive was (and is) frequently found useful by those who orchestrate and profit from injustice.

In critiquing the then new Eisenhower administration Stone points out the appointment to key cabinet positions of defense contractors, oil industrialists and corporate lobbyists. One of the appointees, dismissing conflict of interest questions around his General Motors investments, commented that “...what is good for General Motors is good for America.” The more things change the more they stay the same. I think it's called BAU, business as usual. Joseph Heller in his magnificent novel, Catch 22, used that phrase to good effect to unmask insidious corporate nightriders.

Just as today we have anti-science climate change deniers, the political climate in the 50s allowed the U.S. to dismiss proposals to do away with nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union, claiming that the Soviets then would have a numerical conventional advantage. Even when the Soviets agreed to limit conventional arms the U.S. rejected, apparently ranking profits for the military industrial complex to survival of our civilization. Going against science and going against popular will, BAU.

Another more recent book, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, by Peter Pomerantsev. Confirms that Russia is completely corrupt, run by and for gangster/oligarchs and that as these characters attempt to park their wealth in safe places, particularly London, they bring their corruption. The author holds double citizenship in England/Russia so focuses on that relationship but, given other books on the subject, it is clear that the U.S. is hardly free of this spreading contagion.

Friday, April 26, 2019

White Supremacy and Extremism, Southern poverty Law Center



It used to happen that, arriving at a party, a perfectly innocent neighborhood party say, within five minutes I would be engaged with a fascist. I suppose there's one at every party and I'm for some reason a magnet and incapable of resisting baiting. This lack of judgement has had me embroiled in many fruitless on and off-line discussions. I eventually, however, recognize the futility and back away, always striving to maintain respect and civility while engaged, sometimes slipping. In a recent exchange I encountered the idea that the “violent left” is preparing an insurrection to grab “illegitimate power”. In the wake of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and the murder of journalists in Maryland, this seemed preposterous, especially when used to characterize the whole “left” which apparently, from the right's point of view, is anyone not a fascist. I recall the provocateurs among anti-WTO demonstrators in 1999 Seattle, breaking windows, throwing bricks etc; I always thought there were under-cover police instigating at least some of that violence, a not uncommon police tactic from the 60s. Once a fringe group starts breaking windows the police can be turned loose with truncheons and pepper spray. They don't always need an excuse of course.

So in the mail comes recently a publication from the Southern Poverty Law Center (splcenter.org/hatewatch), Hate and Extremism in 2018. The 32 page tract is a selection from SPLC's Hatewatch blog investigating the Proud Boys and other elements of the radical right. Proud Boys is described as a collection of militaristic hate groups that frequently join neo-Nazi and white supremacist rallies. The Make America Great Again hats have a definite presence. Members seem to specialize in knocking critics to the ground and commencing the fine art of kicking them senseless. They talk a lot about “freedom” but it's hard to square such words with their actions. Maybe they mean freedom for them to violate the liberty of others. And the highly charged word is probably appropriated for its prestige and crudely associated to legitimize their violence, if only in their minds. The Oath Keepers militia planned training sessions for its members to use “lethal force” at far-right rallies, based on this wild belief that the “left” is planning violent revolution.

Organizers invited attendees to bring weapons to Rallies in Berkley, California and Portland, Oregon which were marked by assaults on counter-protesters, both by the right and by police. The police seem too often sympathetic to the right, ignoring their violence or deeming both sides at fault (tRump's “there are good people on both sides” remark comes to mind). The FBI seems more interested in infiltrating and containing legitimate free speech activists like Black Lives Matter than in right wing hate groups. Two white neo-nazis, however, were convicted in separate cases in Charlottesville for exercising their “freedom” to kick opponents to and on the ground.

Returning to my confusion around the right's paranoid claims of “left” violence, the reports include mention of a small faction among counter-protesters, antifa or antifascist, who do antagonize and mirror the right in their eagerness for confrontation and combat. Again, this is small, not characterizing the whole movement, and subject to the same skepticism about police provocateurs as above. There is no record of antifascist shooting or killing anyone in the past several decades but the racist “alt-right” has been involved in murdering 43 people and injuring 67 over the past four years alone.

The right “soldiers” I so foolishly attempted to engage remained silent when I asked where they got their information. I provided my sources - Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Jane Meyer, Commondreams.org, Fair.org, The Intercept, Democracynow.org etc; I did visit brietbart and found it a total bore. Maybe it was a bad day but I saw none of the outrageous stuff I expected. The SPLC report mentions right websites and web presence via instagram, twitter, reddit and many have been banned due to their hateful content. Censorship always makes me uncomfortable but I have mixed feelings about this stuff. Milo Yiannopoulous, a racist alt-right figure, was quoted that he was looking forward to vigilantes gunning journalists down on sight. Two days later we had a mass shooting, five dead, at a newspaper office in Maryland. This disturbing report reminds me of the post World War I. clashes in Germany where the right would provocatively march into neighborhoods that supported unions and the left and terrorize the population with assault, even killings. From a recent song on the album Protection on the cut Random Rifle Fire, “There's something awfully dreadful running through our age, lingering from last century ferocious karmic rage.” https://thinkspeak.bandcamp.com/track/random-rifle-fire