Thursday, December 30, 2004

New American Century video

For those of you who missed it, I'm posting this again. Yep, redundant, ain't I! But this is something everyone needs to see, so please pass it on. This is the most succinct and straightforward statement I've seen of what the US is up to in Iraq, and in the world in general. It's about the agenda of the Project for the New American Century. Check it out if you've not seen it. It's chillingly accurate and very well-done video. Then go to the New American Century website and check it out for yourself. It's scary.

Knifeparty video at I Have An Idea:

Clean help for tsunami victims

The big guns are pouring the big bucks into aid for the tsunami victims, meeting much of the immediate need for clean water and food, sanitation and medical supplies. The long-term needs of the people can best be helped by indigenous groups working within the social structure. One of the best of these is Sarvodaya, organized by Dr. AT Ariyaratne in Sri Lanka, one of the hardest hit areas. Sarvodaya is decentralized, people-level development at its best. It's a great place to put small donations like I'm able to make, because they have no bureaucracy to support. They've been around for many years, helping these people help themselves, so they know where and how to put efforts to best use. This is info from Buddhist Peace Fellowship on how to donate to them directly:

December 28: Update and report from Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka

December 30: update and report from Dr. Ariyaratne of Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka

At Sarvodaya we are working round the clock in all affected areas to help those innocent victims.
We have set up a special unit at our head quarters and five other centers around the country to
handle this mammoth operation. We plead for help from you. Whatever you can do to help save
these victims please contact our 24 hour help lines.

+94 785 107 107 (Krishna)
+94 7222 44690 (Vinya)
+94 777 899 196 – General +94112 655 255 - +94112 655 125 - +94112 655125
Fax +94112 656512

Or email for more details

Please help us to help the needy at this sorrowful moment in the history of this country.

With the blessings of the Triple Gem,

Yours affectionately
Dr. A T Ariyaratne
Founder – President, Sarvodaya Movement
Sarvodaya HQ
#98, Rawatawatta Road
Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
To donate to Sarvodaya online by credit card you may donate through the Nonviolent Peaceforce:
OR - Go directly to the Sarvodaya donation page. 100% of the money we collect at this site will go to Sarvodaya.

From Sarvodaya USA/Friends of Sarvodaya
What We Can Do Right Now

  1. Send a check to:
    Sarvodaya USA
    5716 Manchester Avenue #3
    Los Angeles, CA 90045
  2. Please note that the check is for the Tsunami disaster and sent via Nonviolent Peaceforce.

    To donate to Sarvodaya directly in Sri Lanka
    using a wire transfer here is the information you will need for foreign remittance:

    Sarvodaya Inc.
    Acct. No 159000 8015
    Commercial Bank of Ceylon Limited.- Moratuwa branch
    Swift Code CCEYLKLX.

    Sarvodaya info in Sri Lanka:

    D.J. Mitchell, our accountant and a longtime friend of Sarvodaya, will wire funds to Sarvodaya
    every few days. Your contribution will be tax-deductible this year if it is postmarked before
    January 1.
    * Otherwise, it will be tax-deductible in 2005. Either way, it is needed immediately.
    If you send a check, please let me know how much and we will make doubly sure it is acknowledged.

  3. Tell people close to you that you have family and friends in Sri Lanka. That Sarvodaya is in a
    unique position to help immediately and in the future. And ask them if they would match your contribution.

  4. Speak to your church, synagogue, service club or class. Talk to your colleagues; not just
    Sri Lankans and other Asians, but anyone who cares about human beings in need. Tell them
    you are helping and ask them to join you. Ask directly for contributions.

  5. Volunteer. Our small Sarvodaya USA Board will need assistance.

Please act today.

Richard S. Brooks
Sarvodaya USA—Friends of Sarvodaya
2616 Mason Street
Madison, WI 53705 USA

Thanks for helping! - Hoyama


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

We're the Best! Part II

Claude Anshin Thomas, author of At Hell's Gate - A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace, (Shambala Publications) says:
"...whatever the scale (individual, familial, social, or national), policies enacted from a perceived position of superiority will be exploitative, abusive, and dangerous. So I must look at where these seeds of superiority are in my life, see how they manifest themselves, and make a commitment not to turn away."

This is the truth of ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, religionism - any set of beliefs that sets one group apart from and above the rest of humanity sows the seeds of violence and war, damning us all to the inevitable harvest of destruction, death, and suffering.

Thomas will be speaking in Atlanta at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center on Sunday night, Jan. 23 - meal at 6 pm, meditation at 7 pm, talk and discussion begins at 7:30 pm. - contact me for further information on that event.

He will also be in Gainesville FL area Jan. 18-22 - this is info on that retreat:
Friday, January 21
6:30 p.m. Meditation
7:00 p.m. Public talk & Q&A

Saturday January 22nd
Mindfulness retreat
Cransong Farm

Contact: Phil Robinson
352-468-2931 /
11622 Northeast 199th Drive
Earlton, FL 32631

Thomas' book is a great testimony to the personal ravages of war on the warrior. Following is a review of the book put out by the publisher:

New Memoir by Vietnam Veteran Turned Zen Monk
Explores the Causes of Violence
and offers Viable Alternatives

At Hell’s Gate:

A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace

By Claude Anshin Thomas

“Written with relentless courage and utter compassion, this account of violence and transformation is one of the most amazing and wonderful stories I’ve ever read.” —Michael Herr, author of Dispatches, and screenwriter of Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now

At Hell’s Gate
(Shambhala Publications, on sale September 14, 2004) is Claude Anshin Thomas’s dramatic coming-of-age story and spiritual odyssey, offering profound insights into how we can end suffering and violence in ourselves and in our world.

At Hell’s Gate is a first-hand account of how the dehumanizing experience of war, along with the experience of family trauma and violence passed down from generation to generation, can create a perception of reality in which atrocity becomes commonplace. At a time when American soldiers are returning home from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, injured both in body and soul, Thomas’ memoir of serving in Vietnam and returning home is especially relevant.

In this raw and moving memoir, Claude Anshin Thomas recounts the story of his service in Vietnam, his subsequent emotional collapse, and how he was ultimately able to find healing and peace. Thomas volunteered for duty in Vietnam at the age of eighteen, where he served as a crew chief on assault helicopters. By the end of his tour of duty, he had been awarded numerous medals, including the Purple Heart. He had also been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, witnessed horrifying cruelty, and narrowly escaped death on a number of occasions.

But upon his return to “normal” life, he hit rock bottom, unable to function. Like many Vietnam vets, he struggled with post-traumatic stress, drug and alcohol addiction, and even homelessness. He suffered intense flashbacks, and thought regularly of suicide. He was not alone. Roughly 58,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam, but, according to a former director of the Veterans’ Administration, over 100,000 Vietnam veterans have committed suicide in the years since.

A turning point came when Thomas attended a meditation retreat for Vietnam veterans offered by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. The experience so moved him that he soon became a student of Zen Buddhism, and eventually a monk himself.

Thomas, who has taken vows of mendicancy, now actively travels the world, making peace pilgrimages and teaching people how to end violence and war personally and globally. He leads “street retreats,” meditation trainings and is invited to present over 130 talks per year. Thomas takes the unequivocal position that “war is never the answer.” At the heart of Thomas’ message is the understanding that war is actually the collective _expression of individual suffering, and it is only through our personal actions and insights that we can hope to end war globally.

At Hell’s Gate is not just a war memoir—it is an inspiring manual for healing that anyone who has experienced trauma can truly appreciate and benefit from. Thomas had the extreme experience of serving in Vietnam, but he reminds us that, “everyone has their Vietnam.” We all experience suffering and have our own wounds. In simple and direct language, Thomas offers timeless teachings on how to heal emotional suffering, as well as practical guidance in using mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives.

Around the time of the book’s publication, Thomas will be conducting a peace pilgrimage, walking from Concord, Massachusetts, where the first shot of the American Revolution was fired, to the site of the World Trade Center in New York City, to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. From there he will be traveling to over 60 cities across the country giving talks to universities, religious organizations and veterans groups.

Claude Anshin Thomas went to Vietnam at the age of eighteen, where he received numerous medals, including twenty-seven Air Medals, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Purple Heart. Today he is a monk in the Soto Zen tradition and an active speaker and Zen teacher in the United States and Europe. He is also the founder of the Zaltho Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes peace and nonviolence. This is his first book.

At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace

By Claude Anshin Thomas
September 2004
$19.95 hardcover ● 192 pages
ISBN: 1-59030-133-1
Shambhala Publications

Monday, December 27, 2004

"We're Number One!"

At the heart of much of the inhumanity and suffering visited on the world by the Western powers since the beginning of the so-called Age of Exploration is a simple misconception: we are the best. Perhaps this seemingly natural human tendency to ethnocentrism served some evolutionary purpose in earlier times, but it has clearly been nothing but a problem for the world for at least half a millenium.

It is the driving force behind most empire-building, and the barrier to greater understanding between the peoples of the world. Perhaps understandable when communication among the various regions was severly limited, it seems today to be truly the product of “willfull ignorance.”

As a white southerner, I live among some of the most extreme examples of willfull ignorance on the planet. As a teacher, sitting in a classroom with the children of the people of my area, seeing their interactions with each other and hearing their comments on the world around them, I have a window on the minds of these people. What I see is often appalling. They truly don't want to know how other people are, how others live, what others think and believe, and are instantly dismissive of new information about such things.

The ethnocentrism among white southerners begins with the assumption that, despite all the evidence to the contrary right in front of their eyes, the “white race” is genetically superior. Beyond this assumption, southerners believe implicitly that Western culture in general is the highest expression of God's will and man's intellectual powers, that America is the perfection of Western culture, and that the only place this perfection is still honored is in the halls of “decent white people” in the southern US. Despite what the name on the church they sit in on Sunday morning may say, this is the real religion of the South. The only parts of the Bible they read and believe are those parts that support these contentions.

I have no expertise in psychological interpretation of people's motivations, but my observations from over 15 years in the classroom suggest to me that it works socially something like a classic personality disorder. The White South, having lost the Civil War, the Culture War and the Economic War to the North in the century between 1860 and 1960, feels itself to be vastly inferior, thus it has vastly overcompensated, projecting an inflated self-image which must be promulgated to outsiders and whose fictions must never be admitted to, even amongst ourselves.

Unfortunately, the success of recent Southern-based politicians has begun to spread this virus of ethnocentrism across the country, spreading apparently from one state to the next, thus explaining the “red state phenomena” in the 2004 Election.

This ethnocentric belief system is alienating us from each other, from the other nations of the world, and destroying our basic values. It is a critical point which must be addressed if we as progressives are to enter into dialogue with the rest of the country and bring us back to reality-based politics.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Why is the US government lying to us?

A white racist, William Krar, and his wife were arrested in Texas back in May with enough explosives and weapons to start a small war. This went unreported until November 26 when the couple pled guilty, and has yet to make the national media or even a blip on the national terror alert radar, even though he had been investigated by ATF in 1995.

Read the entire account on The Black Commentator ...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The failure of "professional journalism"

The essential failure of journalism to provide us with the information and perspective that the country needed prior to the invasion of Iraq was largely a product of the way journalists see their role as "professionals." Only reporting what is said by "official sources" - and calling that professional, neutral, unbiased reporting - is at the heart of their failure. That the wealthy and powerful whom they serve wish us to remain ignorant of their true agenda is the lid on the coffin of truth.

David Edwards and David Cromwell, editors of Media Lens, writing in the Guardian (UK), express this connection clearly:
We would argue that the media's failure on Iraq was not really a failure at all, but rather a classic product of "balanced" professional journalism.... Built in to the new concept of neutral, professional journalism were two major biases. First, the actions and opinions of official sources were understood to form the basis of legitimate news. As a result, news came to be dominated by mainstream political and business sources representing establishment interests.

The article reveals in startling brevity, the historical antecedents of this takeover of the media by business interests - whose interests are inimical to the interests of a democracy that would serve all its people. It's no wonder we can't get them to print the truth. The truth has always been the last interest of those who would sieze power and wealth however they could get it. Iraq is just the latest chapter in an old story.

It is inherently implausible that newspapers or broadcasters which are dependent on corporate advertisers for revenue will focus too hard on the destructive impact of these same businesses, whether on public health, the developing world or the environment. The result is that what is regarded as neutral journalism today consistently promotes the views and interests of the powerful."

For an in-depth investigation with comprehensive examples of this kind of behavior, read any of the Project Censored books, which compile the top 25 under-reported stories of the year. A non-profit effort of Sonoma State College, just one of these books will open your eyes to the truth about the media in the US. They're available online or in print.

If the US invasion of Iraq has the effect of waking Americans to the truth about how they are "lied to, cheated on and hurt" by the mass media, perhaps if will have been worth some small percentage of the horrors it has visited on the people of Iraq and the death and dishonor of so many Americans.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The bad news and the good

The bad news is, the media is still hiding the truth from us about the war in Iraq.

Antonio Zerbisias, from the Toronto Star:

The other night on ABC News Nightline, Ted Koppel asked National Public Radio war correspondent Anne Garrels, who has been in Iraq throughout the war, "When you hear people in this country, Anne, say, look, the media is only giving the negative side of what's going on there, why don't they ever show the good side, what do you tell 'em?"

"I tell them that there isn't much good to show," she replied, describing how even military commanders have only bad news to share.

Two weeks ago on CNN, Time's Michael Ware, who has been covering Iraq for two years, gave an alarming account of being trapped in his Baghdad compound, which is regularly bombed and encircled by "kidnap teams."

He reported that the U.S. military has "lost control" and that Americans are "the midwives of the next generation of jihad, of the next Al Qaeda."

If you blinked, you would have missed news of a Pentagon "strategic" report to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revealing that U.S. actions "have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended."

The good news is, the US is losing the war in Iraq.

Robert Jensen, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
The United States has lost the war in Iraq, and that's a good thing.... So, as a U.S. citizen, I welcome the U.S. defeat for a simple reason: It isn't the defeat of the United States -- its people or their ideals -- but of that empire. And it's essential that the American empire be defeated and dismantled.

In Iraq, the Bush administration invaded not to liberate but to extend and deepen U.S. domination. When Bush said, "We have no territorial ambitions; we don't seek an empire," on Nov. 11, 2002, he told a half-truth.

The United States doesn't want to absorb Iraq or take direct possession of its oil. That's not the way of empire today; it's about control over the flow of oil and oil profits, not ownership.

In a world that runs on oil, the nation that controls the flow of oil has great strategic power. U.S. policy-makers want leverage over the economies of competitors -- Western Europe, Japan and China -- that are more dependent on Middle Eastern oil.

The Bush administration has invested money and lives in making Iraq a platform from which the United States can project power.

That requires not the liberation of Iraq but its subordination. But most Iraqis don't want to be subordinated, which is why the United States in some sense lost the war on the day it invaded. One lesson of contemporary history is that occupying armies generate resistance that, inevitably, prevails over imperial power.

The planet's resources do not belong to the United States. The century is not America's. We own neither the world nor time. And if we don't give up the quest -- if we don't find our place in the world instead of on top of the world -- there is little hope for a safe, sane and sustainable future.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Norman Soloman on Common Dreams:

The nerve-blocking anesthetics of mass media impede the flow of feeling in unauthorized directions. Cause and effect are disconnected, so that it seems unavoidable and natural for children to live in poverty across town or for U.S. troops to be killing and dying in Iraq. Right now, it's a struggle to disrupt the numbing media chatter about miscalculations and mistakes -- to insist on acknowledgment of moral culpability. America's winter of disremorse is not about nature, it's about a lack of nurture for what remains frozen: our capacity to innovate and cooperate sufficiently to stop the "leaders" who destroy life in our names.
Norman Solomon is co-author, with Reese Erlich, of "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You

I'm thinking of starting a new column: MediAnesthesia...

Monday, December 06, 2004

Working for a living

Talking about politics is hard for most of us. The mealtime/reunion maxim in my family has always been: don't talk about politics or religion. Of course my extended family has had it's share of Christo-fascists for years (Frank, I think his name was, fundamentalist preacher who wore a clerical collar!); but most folks seem to have similar rules.

The same rule usually applies in the workplace, because it may be hard to work closely with people day in and day out if you've had a really unpleasant exchange about some political issue. As a teacher, I've had to deal with some pretty narrow-minded folks through the years, and speaking my mind has to some degree always kept me separated from many of my colleagues.

So I have gotten quieter as the issues have gotten more divisive, but it seems to me (IMHO, as you forum hounds have it) if we are going to make inroads into swing voter/non-voter land, we must begin talking about these things to everyone, and especially to our fellow workers. Here in the south, where racism, sexism and other forms of heart-pinching hatred induce most of the white folks to vote consistently against their own economic interests, our only hope is to get folks thinking about the realities of working for a living in a Republican dominated America. The same thing may be true in much of the country now, if the 2004 election is any indication.

Most of these are good people at heart, but the faux-morality of the Repubs, buttressed by the constant pounding of the hard-core right - “Maybe Rush has a point about that, you know? And Brother Ryan said last Sunday...” - has confused them. Their religion is pretty well below the thought line anyway, so it's hard for many of them to see how racism or opposition to gay rights is not just a clear moral stand, “good Christian values”. They don't stop to weigh it against their ideas of political freedom, justice and equality.

According to my most politically astute friend Neill, most of the local small business people, even those active in the local Republican organization, are not really Republican in philosophy, and if you get them talking and ask them the right questions, they'll reveal as much. Often, these people are lost in fantasies of becoming millionaires in five years, and thus hope to reap the benefits of Republican policies when they get in “the club.”

So how do we talk to these people, and their still-wondering non-voter counterparts, without driving them further away? I think the answer is to find opportunities to talk about our deepest values in the context of the work situation we share. Other shared interests, such as family and children, may also provide opportunities for discussion of values. If we maintain a high level of awareness and sensitivity, we can subtly connect these values to our political stance, and over a period of time begin to have an impact. It is very important that we don't come on too strong, for people accept new ideas best when it seems to them that the ideas came from within, rather than from someone else.

So what are the core values that most of our fellow workers likely share and that lead us to vote progressive, liberal, left, or Democratic? Here's a list of moral values based on personal characteristics most of us would like to see in those we work with:
=caring and empathy

You can probably add to or refine this list from your own experiences with living and working. Each of these characteristics has a political component, a political expression. Words like freedom, democracy, equality, justice, community, equity, opportunity, community, service, and security are the expressions of these ideas in the public sphere.

George Lakoff, linguist and author of Moral Politics, says, “If we communicate our values clearly, most people will recognize them as their own, personally more authentic and more deeply American than those put forth by conservatives. At the very least they will see progressives as having deeply held, traditional American principles. This would be a huge step forward from the present state, in which conservatives are seen as having a monopoly on "values" and progressives are framed as the party of "if it feels good, do it," with no higher principles.” [“Our Moral Values,” The Nation, Nov. 18]

Lakoff also points out that idealized family values projected onto the nation become political values, and notes that though conservatives have laid claim to “family values,” what they propound is only one of the models of family in our society. Their idea of family values is the “strict father” version, Lakoff says, which assumes children are bad and have to be threatened and punshished in order to be made good. The progressive model of governance comes from another family model, the nurturant family, where parents see their job as to nurture children and raise them to be nurturers of others. The aim of the nurturant model is fullfillment in life, which requires freedom and equal opportunity in open communities of honest, trusting citizens. A progressive society!

Many people in our society are responsive to the ideals of the nurturant family, and will respond to our talk of such ideas in a non-political way. If we understand how these values are connected to our national goals and policies, we can naturally and casually bring these ideas into conversation at work in ways that will help initiate uncommitted but concerned citizens into the national dialogue with progressive inclinations.

Lakoff draws these connections clearly: “If you empathize with your children, you will want them to have strong protection, fair and equal treatment and fulfillment in life. Fulfillment requires freedom, freedom requires opportunity and opportunity requires prosperity. Since your family lives in, and requires, a community, community building and community service are required. Community requires cooperation, which requires trust, which requires honesty and open communication. Those are the progressive values--in politics as well as family life.

“Take protection. In addition to physical protection, there is environmental protection, worker protection and consumer protection, as well as all the "safety nets"--Social Security, Medicare and so on. Equality means full political and social equality, without regard to wealth, race, religion or gender. Openness requires open government and a free, inquiring press. Progressive political ideals are nurturant moral ideals.”

The conservative family model leads to the current national model: “We need a strong President who knows right from wrong to defend the nation. Social programs are immoral because they give people things they haven't earned and so make them undisciplined--both dependent and less able to function morally. The prosperous people are the good people. Those who are not prosperous deserve their poverty. Taxes take away the rightful rewards of the prosperous. Wrongdoers should be punished severely. Government should get out of the way of disciplined (hence good) people seeking their self-interest. The President is to be obeyed; since he knows right from wrong, his authority is legitimate and not to be questioned....

“The so-called "moral issues" are affronts to strict-father morality. Strict-father marriage cannot be gay; it must be between a man and a woman. For a wife to seek an abortion on her own or a daughter to need one is an affront to strict-father control over the behavior of the women in his family. They are not the main moral issues in themselves; rather they are symbolic of the entire strict-father identity as applied to all spheres of life.”

Another whole sphere of workplace interest is wages and working conditions. Whether or not we work with people who are paid hourly wages, we can raise the issue with fellow workers. There is evidence that many Americans, even those self-identify as conservative and who vote Republican, favor raising the minimum wage. In both Florida and Nevada in the 2004 election, “voters overwhelmingly approved ballot measures to raise the minimum wage by one dollar,” according to an article by Peter Dreier and Kelly Candaele. [“Democrats Should Fight for a Moral Minimum Wage,” The Nation, Dec. 3]

"The minimum-wage campaign brought a lot of people out to vote who otherwise might have stayed home," explained Brian Kettenring, an organizer for ACORN, a community group that spearheaded the Florida effort. "Most of those new voters probably voted for Kerry, which narrowed Bush's margin. But we also found that lots of swing voters, who weren't sure how they were going to vote for President, enthusiastically supported raising the minimum wage." That enthusiam produces a 70% vote in favor of the proposal.

This is another issue that is based on progressive moral values. Dreier and Kelly emphasize that progressives could win elections by framing “economic justice as a moral issue.” When people are presented clearly with the economics facts of everyday life for the poor, most respond positively. For example, do the math: the current minimum wage comes out to $10,712 annually. Before taxes. The poverty minimum wage, one that would produce $19,000 annually, is $9.50. How can a nominally Christian nation allow citizens to live at such levels in the midst of the abundance we see all around us? Isn't this a moral issue? Though I'm a Buddhist, even I could quote Jesus on these issues!

A few more facts for your arsenal: “If the federal minimum wage were increased to just $7 an hour, at least 7.4 million workers would receive a wage boost. If the minimum wage were pegged at $9.50, millions more would be lifted out of poverty. The largest group of beneficiaries would be children, whose parents would have more money for rent, food, clothing and other basic necessities.”

And when they say, 'yeah but...' here's the economics of it: “Because the working poor spend everything they earn, every penny of a minimum-wage increase goes back into the economy, increasing consumer demand and adding at least as many jobs as are lost. Most employers actually gain, absorbing the increase through decreased absenteeism, lower recruiting and training costs, higher productivity and increased worker morale.”

Progressive organizations are planning initiatives on many of these concerns. If we are out there building the momentum for them, things could change, and change quickly in this country. It takes a little planning and a little “chutzpah” as my New York relatives say, but the stakes are high. There are 100 million people in America who haven't been voting: our friends, neighbors and co-workers.

If we don't talk to them, guess who will?

Friday, December 03, 2004

Knife Party

From Knife Party, a graphically rendered version of all I've been saying for the last month...

...and kickin' graphics, at that! This is an awesome clip, sent to me by my son, found by his girlfriend, a great graphic artist herself!

link to the video

"Seven Deadly Spins"

Mickey Z's got it goin' on, as we say down here! His book, The Seven Deadly Spins, describes war propaganda as "...a cunning form of psychological oppression used domestically to obscure more overt oppression elsewhere."

That pretty much says it. Written to help people "shrug off propaganda," the book shows that war propaganda is not something the neo-cons at American Century invented, but has been part of our history all along. Which is what makes it so hard to combat in the minds of our fellow country-men. This is an entertaining little book with an impact like a hammer, and a great tool for those of us dedicated to creating a vision of a truly democratic, progressive US that will be a good world citizen.

Visit his site for daily notes on the progressive scene and buy his book!

"Don't say I never warned you when your train gets lost." [Bob Dylan]

[note: apologies for the double entry previously - I ain't quite got the hang 'a driving this new-fangled blogspot tractor... didn't think it posted, completely recreated if from scratch, posted, then discovered tonite were both here!]

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Where are we headed?

What is happening to the political culture of the US? I wonder if anyone really knows. The recent, over-analyzed election with its 52/48 split of the half of the population who voted gives little clear indication of what a true majority thinks and wants. Despite this non-madate the group in power in this “New American Century” is proceding to move on an aggressive agenda of change in foreign, social, and economic policy.

There are sounds and sights that make me shudder, smells that turn my stomach, puzzle pieces fitting together in ways that haunt my dreams. It's in everything. The fashions, the new automotive styles, the art, the media as well as the politics. Signs of something happening that makes my blood run cold. A fortress mentality in our people, a strident tone to the usual jingoism, a knife edge of hate in the words of our politicians and their supporters. What is it?

In trying to understand what's going on, it might be interesting to see which of the following phrases seem to be appropriate descriptions of what we see and hear from the Bush administration and its supporters:

--Patriotism: prominent displays of the flag – fervor to show patriotic nationalism – pride in the military and demands for unity as expressions of patriotism – suspicion of things foreign.

--Disdain for the importance of human rights – clever use of propaganda to get people to accept human rights abuses by marginalizing and demonizing targets.

--Scapegoats: use of scapegoating to divert people's attention from problems, shift blame for failures, and channel frustration – usual scapegoats: communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and terrorists – opponents labeled terrorists.

--Militarism: disproportionate share of national resources devoted to military – used to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, increase power and prestige of governing.

--Sexism: male-dominated, anti-abortion, homophobic – codified in laws with strong support of orthodox religion, giving cover for abuses.

--Controlled media: direct and subtle means of control over media – keep public ignorant.

--National security: used as instrument of oppression – operated in secrecy, beyond constraints – any questioning portrayed as unpatriotic or treasonous.

--Religion: governing officials attach themselves to the predominant religion, portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion – behavior incompatible with precepts of religion unacknowledged, hidden by propaganda – opposing leaders equated with opposing religion.

--Organized labor: suppressed or eliminated – poor viewed with suspicion or contempt – poverty considered as a vice.

--Anti-intellectualism: intellectual and academic freedom seen as subversive to security and patriotism – unorthodox ideas and dissent attacked.

--Crime: obession with crime and punishment – Draconian system of criminal justice with huge prison population – police abuse – political crimes charged against opponents – fear and hatred of criminals promoted among population.

--Corruption: rampant cronyism and corruption to enrich friends, who in turn support.

--Elections: fraudulent elections - results perverted by power elite to get desired result by control of machinery of elections, intimidating and disenfranchising oppostion voters – destroying or disallowing elections by beholden judiciary.

Do any of these sound like the administration? Somewhere in the range of 80% seems a fair estimate to me, erring to the conservative side.

Perhaps you recognized the phrases. They come from Laurence Britt's description of “fourteen common threads” or basic characteristics of fascist regimes based on analysis of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal, Papadopoulous's Greece, Pinochet's Chile, and Suharto's Indonesia. Stripped of their cultural garb, these are the essential elements of fascism.

I realize that facile comparisons between Bush and Hitler are thread-breakers and are viewed with scepticism, and I realize that the word “fascism” has been thrown around much too loosely lately. But I think we need to consider carefully what is happening and not hide behind another facile idea: it can't happen here. To do that, we need to understand clearly and fully what fascism is and what it is not, what it's roots are and in what soil it flourishes. We ignore it at our peril. And we may not recognize its beginnings.

Fascism doesn't go around in faux-military finery stomping jackboots on the pavement in its infancy. That's the fully-realized, adult form. It doesn't have to sound like a Nazi rally, with frenzied masses 'seig heil'-ing in unison. It certainly doesn't arrive on the scene as a full-blown totalitarian regime via military coup in the night that leaves the streets deserted and the airwaves silent the next morning.

Rather it insinuates itself into our ways as an ideology of national renewal, full of idealism and shining words about recovering lost vitality and embracing modernity and progress.

It moves in next door like a friendly neighbor with a nice wife and a waggy-tailed dog. Then it begins to take over your back yard inch by neighborly inch, and one day when it sits down in your living room, orders you off your couch and demands a cold beer, you can't remember how things got this far out of hand.

Fascism is pure authoritarianism – monarchy with corporate face. It is corporate elitism in control of the political system. Its antithesis is liberal democracy. It stands against everything basic to the American democratic experiment. It celebrates the elite and considers “we the people” incompetent to govern, preferring to keep us ignorant and working to support the 'justly wealthy'.

Like all forms of authoritarianism, fascism needs strong-seeming leaders, the wielders of authority, and the masses who submit to authority. The psychology of the submitter is the weak, fearful, lazy person whose idea of “freedom' is limited to some measure of selfish pleasure and no real responsibility for anything. Afraid of anything new and different, afraid of failure, pathologically afraid of looking weak, this personality type is only too happy to give up its rights to a leader who offers the promise of relief from the awful responsibility of freedom; it willingly exchanges freedom for security, and then regains its lost self-esteem through transferrence – a near-worship of the leader and other heroic national figures.

Of course, America, land of the free and home of the brave, has no such leaders and followers! Or do we?