Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Jackson: Peace is at the heart of the Christmas Story

Published on Tuesday, December 19, 2006 by the Chicago Sun-Times
Peace Is At the Heart of the Christmas Story
by Jesse Jackson

Christmas -- the mass celebrating the birth of Christ -- is the biggest shopping season of the year. To save Christmas, some on the right seem to think the best thing is to commercialize it. They insist stores advertise "Christmas sales," not holiday sales. They judge leaders by whether they send out cards wishing a "Merry Christmas," and not simply a happy holiday.

But shopping isn't the point of the story. It's not about exchanging Christmas cards, or about holiday parties. The story of Christmas is about a couple -- Mary and Joseph -- forced by an oppressive imperial government to leave their home to travel far to be counted in the census. When they got there, they were like immigrants, homeless in a strange land. The innkeeper had no room for the strange couple. If he had understood who the baby was, he would have offered them his bed.

Christmas is the story of a child born in a cow's barn, and placed in a manger, a makeshift crib. Mary and Joseph had no address, so it wasn't about exchanging cards. It wasn't about purchasing gifts. Yes, wise men left their daily ways, followed the star, and brought gifts to the child, while others might have stayed away from a poor child with little hope. The wise men were wise not because of the value of their gifts, but in their ability to see what the innkeeper missed: the potential of the infant asleep in a wooden manger. The Christmas story instructs us to treasure every child -- even what are now delicately called "at risk children" -- for we do not know what gifts even the poorest child of a homeless couple may possess.

What is Christmas about? It is about an oppressed people praying for a Messiah, a mighty warrior who would conquer their oppressors. He would come, they thought, assemble a great army and conquer the Roman legions. The expectation grew so high that even Herod grew uneasy. But when the Messiah came, he came as the prince of peace, not the marshal of war. He taught love and hope and charity, not violence and vengeance. He was the greatest liberator of them all, but he carried no arms, and provisioned no army. His army would transform the world, but it consisted of the legions of the faithful struggling to follow in his path.

Clearly, too few get the point of the story. Sales are reportedly up this year, particularly in the high-end, exclusive stores. But the moral report is grim. In this rich country, poverty is up, homelessness is up, hunger is up. Inequality is at obscene levels. The United States witnesses record numbers of billionaires and growing numbers of families without shelter, working people without health insurance, poor children without adequate nutrition. After Katrina, the saints didn't come marching into New Orleans. And even now, the survivors are still scattered across the 50 states, their homes still not rebuilt, their government still failing them. Poverty has been erased not from our streets but from our public debate, as politicians cater to their wealthy donors or their largely middle-income voters.

Peace reports are also dire. Our soldiers are mired in armed occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our cities are girded against terrorist attack. We spend more than $500 billion a year on the mightiest military that the world has ever known, but we are more insecure than ever. We turn our backs on the genocide taking place in Darfur. We stain our own reputation -- and our own Constitution -- with torture, renditions and detentions without review. The image of the hooded prisoner of Abu Ghraib -- arms outstretched, bag over his head, electric shock device attached to his body -- indicts us all as we remember the suffering of the cross.

You don't have to be Christian to understand the point of the Christmas story. So let each of us pledge to celebrate the real deal this year. It's far more important that the Christmas story be in our souls than our stores. Let us gather and embrace our families. Let us join together to protect the babies in the dawn of life, care for the elderly in the dusk of life. Let us nurture the sick, shelter the homeless. Stop for the stranger on the Jericho Road. Work for the promise of peace. Surely that is the point of the story.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Some Presidents Speak of Prayer, Mutual Respect and Love, Mean it, and are Taken Seriously

As our 39th president, James Earl Carter, Jr., who brokered the Camp David Accords, the Middle East's longest lasting and most important peace treaty, speaks out eloquently again in behalf of peace and justice in his new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, and nobly weathers the slanders of those who have no use for peace or justice, it's high time Americans took another look and listened carefully once again to the parting words our 34th president, Dwight David Eisenhower. Wise statesmen work for the welfare of humanity even while they strive to promote the interests of their national or racial groups.

Click here to access video of the 34th President's Farewell Address to the Nation: Burn these Republican Words into Your Mind

Posted by Evan Derkacz on December 11, 2006 at 1:35 PM.

On January 17, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower said goodbye to public office with an address that concluded with the words below [strangely, the Eisenhower Library's version and the audio in the video to the right, differ slightly. Brackets represent the text in the Library version omitted from the audio file...].

You're familiar with the warnings in this speech against the "military-industrial complex," but the subtler parts of the speech are every bit as powerful and refreshing...

"As we peer into society's future, we - you and I, and our government - must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

"During the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

"[Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.]

"[Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative.] Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war - as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years - I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

"Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.

"So - in this my last good night to you as your President - I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find some things worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.

"You and I, my fellow citizens, need to be strong in our faith, that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace, with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation's great goals.

"To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America's prayerful and continuing aspiration:

"We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Arnold: The Way to Egress

Published on Friday, December 1, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
The Way to the Egress
by Caroline Arnold

Phineas Taylor Barnum, the great 19th century American showman who was called the "Prince of Humbug," kept people moving through his exhibitions with signs pointing "This way to the Egress."

It is unclear how many customers were actually tricked into exiting by seeking an egress, but people everywhere are tickled by that story, which slyly suggests that others are ignorant and gullible.

Similarly, we like to quote P.T. Barnum as saying "There’s a sucker born every minute." But he didn’t say that, which is another story to tickle our funnybones, and possibly offer an instructive story for this Christmas season, when we desperately need an egress from a cruel, unjust war, and from a chamber of horrors including torture, civil war and nuclear weapons.

In 1868, in the wake of evangelists preaching that there had once been giants roaming the earth, George Hull had an anatomically correct giant carved from a slab of gypsum 12' x 4' x 2' , buried it beside a barn near Cardiff NY, and "discovered" it a year later. Hull immediately started charging a quarter to see the wonder, then quickly doubled the price.

Clergymen decreed it was a fossilized giant from Biblical times; scientists decided it was an authentic ancient statue.; no-one suggested it was a hoax. Hull soon sold a majority interest in his ‘Cardiff Giant’ for $30,000 to a syndicate headed by David Hannum, who moved it to Syracuse and charged $1 to view it.

Naturally, P.T. Barnum wanted piece of this action, and tried to buy the giant for $50,000. When he was rebuffed he quietly hired a crew to carve another giant, which he put on display with public announcements that he had purchased the Cardiff Giant and that Hannum was exhibiting a fake. Newspapers quickly circulated Barnum’s story – he was already a celebrity for his showmanship, and fakery sold even more newspapers than fossils.

Hannum, believing his figure was a real fossil, angrily proclaimed "There’s a sucker born every minute" (in reference to the ‘fools’ who paid to see Barnum’s ‘fake’) and sued Barnum for discrediting his giant. After George Hull confessed to his original hoax the judge ruled that Barnum couldn’t be sued for calling a fake a fake, and the case was dropped. But somehow, the "sucker born every minute" phrase got attributed to Barnum, who perhaps didn’t deserve it.

Without doubt P.T Barnum was America’s greatest practitioner of humbug, hype, and hucksterism – but he was apparently a decent man. While he was willing, even eager, to supply the public with the wonder and novelty they craved (for a price) he drew the line at deliberate deception, and even worked to expose spiritualist mediums who preyed on bereaved families.

Though he claimed to hate politics, P.T. Barnum was an active Republican and served in the Connecticut legislature, where he spoke in support of ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment: "A human soul is not to be trifled with. It may inhabit the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot - it is still an immortal spirit!"

For six years we have had a "Prince of Humbug" in the White House, assuming that Americans are ignorant, gullible suckers and mindless consumers of whatever hucksterism and hoaxes he deploys to support his neocon agenda, like "weapons of mass destruction," "war on terror," or "enhanced interrogation techniques." The news media have tamely played along.

But since the election the MSM is returning to reality. This week they called the civil war in Iraq a "civil war," and started using the word "withdrawal" in reference to Iraq.

Also this week a Christmas wreath in the form of a peace symbol sparked accusations that it "signified Satan" and was "anti-Christ." But instead of generating outrage among the gullible about a "liberal war on Christmas," it triggered scorn and ridicule from the public.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was exposed as a humbug when Toto ripped aside a curtain and revealed an ordinary stammering mortal, who admitted he was powerless to get Dorothy egress from Oz. In this fable, however, the wizard admits his humbuggery, but shows Dorothy that she has herself the power to get home from Oz .

Americans aren’t ignorant and gullible suckers; we really do care about important things, we want meaning in our lives, we value fundamental things -- our children, our life companions and homes, our neighbors’ welfare and our planet’s health; honesty, mutual respect, justice, mercy; our heritage of Christmas and holiday observances.

This Christmas Americans have started to pull back the curtain on a White House that has been scaring and awing us into ever more inhuman and un-Christian actions. We must be cautious: so far there is little evidence that Bush is giving up his efforts to legitimize first-strike strategic delivery systems for nuclear or conventional weapons, and we may yet be trapped by giants of nuclear war and global warming.

But for Christmas this year let’s try not accusing one another of being suckers, stupid, ignorant or evil, and recognize our common humanity. To Scrooge’s "Bah, Humbug!" let's reply with Tiny Tim’s "God bless us, every one!"

To the humbug in the White House, let's say "This way to the Egress, Mr. President." It’s not humbug, it’s a way to go toward peace on earth and other good Christian and universal values, a way to stop trifling with human souls, and a few steps toward giving all humans the power to go home to whatever Kansas their hearts’ desire.

Caroline Arnold csarnold@neo.rr.com served 12 years on the staff of U.S. Senator John Glenn. In retirement she is active with the Portage Democratic Coalition http://www.pdcohio.us/aboutus.html and the Akron Council on World Affairs http://www.akronworldaffairs.org/.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Arnold: Turkeys: Personal, Political, and Planetary

Published on Tuesday, November 21, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Turkeys: Personal, Political & Planetary
by Caroline Arnold

My Thanksgiving for the election outcome was quickly tempered by gobbling from assorted turkeys – personal, political, and planetary.

Reviewing my personal finances at my kitchen table I found myself stymied by a bill from Kaiser Permanente, my HMO for the past 21 years, for $48.68 for small miscellaneous charges over the past 22 months, apparently bits of various office visits that neither Medicare nor Kaiser covered.

This is the third time in the last two years that Kaiser has gone prospecting among my past medical services to come up with me owing them money. I would be tempted to think this is an artifact of the Medicare drug plan that Congress designed, but I can’t document it. The amounts are fairly minuscule, under $100 at a time, but in my monthly budgets they show up in majuscule.

I live on just under $1500/mo after my HMO and Medicare premiums are deducted and my property taxes paid. This month I learned that my monthly Kaiser premium for 2007 will increase by $35, effectively cancelling any cost-of-living increase.

I try to be rational, and budget carefully, and have enough each month to contribute to causes and charities that help my neighbors, my nation and my planet. This month I had already made modest donations to my church, a national progressive organization, local food pantries and environmental projects, and local public radio, and was hoping to squeeze out another couple of $25 donations.

Then a reminder to make a follow-up appointment at Kaiser about my high blood pressure made me angry: go to the doctor, so that in few months I can be billed for something else they decide not to pay for. The doctor, of course, will find my blood pressure is too high (you bet it is) and prescribe more drugs, so that I can pay some added tribute to the pharmaceutical industry.

It’s hard not to feel like a cash cow for insurers and drug companies. I could decline to be jerked around with their accounting maneuvers and fight back, or spend my days "shopping" for better deals for medical crises I may never have. I could refuse to take their *questionable drugs, and risk dying sooner. Or I could redesign my life to avoid stresses that raise my blood pressure, though I figure that’s not basically different from being dead.

What discourages me is that there is no person or place to which I can take these frustrations. Calling "Customer Service" would change nothing and maybe give me a stroke; the good folks who staff those phones don’t make the policies, have no power to change anything, and need their jobs. Writing a letter would be costly in time, attention and high blood pressure, and generate nothing but more platitudes about keeping costs affordable.

Rationally, I suppose I should drop everything else and work for single-payer health care, though that really isn’t how I want to spend my remaining years. Worse, I doubt that the American populace or polity can master their cultural, ideological, commercial and political baggage to get to government-managed, tax-supported, universally available health care in my lifetime.

And there are other large political turkeys on the table this season: Corruption, Education, Energy, Jobs, Trade, Nukes (both military and civilian) Poverty, War, Torture, Iraq, Iran, Israel.

And Impeachment. The impeachment turkey is NOT off the table. The anger voters showed at Bush’s high crimes of homicide/genocide, torture and kidnaping, at his incompetence/ insouciance in dealing with the aftermath of Katrina, at his lying and spying and wrecking habeas corpus and Constitutional protections will not and must not be assuaged by a "do-it better-next-time" brush-off.

The biggest fowl of all, of course, is our beleaguered and fevered planet, which we have all treated like a turkey with our profligate economic policies, haphazard environmental regulation, and personal habits of consumption and travel.

This week distinguished economist Joseph Stiglitz said, "We have but one planet, and should treasure it. Global warming is a risk that we simply cannot afford to ignore anymore."

And retiring UN chief Kofi Annan stated: "The message is clear. Global climate change must take its place alongside those threats -- conflict, poverty, the proliferation of deadly weapons -- that have traditionally monopolized first-order political attention."

Thanksgiving at my dining-room table will be somber this year. Like many seniors, I don’t want to spend my remaining days grubbing around for my own comfort, convenience or longevity, nor fending off predatory businesses, nor watching local wetlands or continental ecosystems destroyed by human actions. I’d like to use my energy and experience at making the world a little better for my children and grandchildren – and everyone’s children and grandchildren.

I especially dread watching daily the world-wide slaughter of the innocent and unarmed, knowing that not only am I powerless to stop it, but that my beloved country practices and defends terrorism, torture and genocide, and manufactures and sells weapons of mass destruction, that we have failed to end genocide in Darfur, and will not move to halt the killing of Palestinians in their own homes.

We who repudiated Bush’s policies and practices in the election of 2007 must stay at the table and keep impeachment on the menu, or we will once again become the turkeys to be consumed by endless war, corporate profiteering in mindless markets, brutal murder of our brothers and sisters, and heartless exploitation of our precious planet.

And for myself this Thanksgiving? Damn the high blood pressure – full steam ahead!

Caroline Arnold served 12 years on the staff of U.S. Senator John Glenn. In retirement she is active with the Portage Democratic Coalition and the Akron Council on World Affairs

This column first appeared in the Kent Ravenna Record Courier (Ohio) Kent Ravenna Record Courier (Ohio)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Williamson: Waging Peace

Published on Thursday, November 16, 2006 by the Boston Globe and Common Dreams
Waging Peace

by Marianne Williamson

In the United States, 12 children each day die from gun violence. Homicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 in 2001, with rates 10 times that of other leading industrialized nations. In 2005, there were more than 190,000 reported victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assaults. Acts of terrorism worldwide are up since the start of the Iraq war. War itself has killed more than half a million Americans since World War II.

A bill before Congress would establish a US Department of Peace. This measure would provide practical, nonviolent solutions for the problems of domestic and international conflict. It would apply the institutional heft of the US government to a serious effort not merely at avoiding war or waging war more effectively. It would take America to the next evolutionary step: It would proactively wage peace.

The problem of violence is a many layered one, and its solution needs to be as well. . . . While no one action -- governmental or otherwise -- will provide a single solution to such an entrenched and deeply rooted problem, the problem must be treated as an all-systems breakdown that requires an all-systems response.

A Department of Peace would address the causal issues of violence -- from human disenfranchisement to societal dysfunction -- thus saving money and human heartache.

Domestically, the department would develop policies and allocate resources to reduce the levels of domestic and gang violence, child abuse, and various other forms of societal discord. The secretary of peace would work with the secretary of education to develop curriculums to teach students alternative conflict resolution techniques and strategies.

Internationally, the Department of Peace would advise the president and Congress on the most innovative techniques and ideas for peace-creation among nations. A peace academy, on par with the military service academies, would train civilian peacekeepers and work with the military in the latest nonviolent conflict resolution strategies and approaches. In short, a Department of Peace would work hand in hand with existing government agencies and structures to help ensure that conflict, when it occurs, does not boil over into life-destroying behavior.

Last month, President George W. Bush said at a conference of school officials, police officers, and youth advocates that communities need a list of "best practices" to prevent and respond to the kinds of school attacks that have occurred in recent weeks. "It seems to me, a lot of our attention should be on preventing" such incidents, Bush said. That would require, he said, "a mosaic of programs." The Department of Peace would give structure and design to the mosaic, providing much-needed assistance to city, county, and state governments in coordinating existing programs as well as developing new programs based on best practices nationally.

Throughout America, there are countless peace-builders and peace-building projects. Those skilled in ameliorating the effects of violence -- from conflict resolution experts to nonviolent communicators -- have proven their effectiveness at treating root causes of violence. Yet these programs receive only pennies in comparison to the tremendous costs of violence.

A 2004 World Health Report estimated the cost of interpersonal violence in the United States (excluding war-related costs) at $300 billion per year. We currently allocate more than $400 billion per year to the Department of Defense, not including the cost of the war in Iraq. The financial cost alone is enough to motivate many to support this bill, but the human carnage is simply a cost that should never be permitted in a civilized society.

Marianne Williamson is founder and chair of the board of The Peace Alliance.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dear: Joan Baez, After All these Years

Published on Friday, October 27, 2006 by CommonDreams.org

Joan Baez, After All These Years

By John Dear

"Come back, Woodie Guthrie, Come back, Mahatma Gandhi,” sang Joan Baez in her beatific soprano. “Come back to us Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. We’re marching into Selma as the bells of freedom ring.”

She’s been singing for peace and civil rights for forty-eight years. Originally inspired by Pete Seeger, she captured the attention of the nation in the early 1960s, her politically charged music propelling her to the cover of Time magazine long before Bob Dylan and the Beatles. To my mind, as soon as she sang “All My Trials, Lord,” the 1960s were born and the culture turned a corner. Music and politics would never be the same.

Today, she’s better than ever. Her voice is strong, her vision clear, and her call for peace and justice just as urgent. She continues to use her extraordinary talent for global peace and brings the power of music to the needs of the world.

Joan Baez has long been one of my heroes. She was in New Mexico last week to perform a slew of folk songs against the latest U.S. war, including Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side,” “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” and “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.” She also sang “Finlandia” and a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.” “Any Day Now/ Baez Sings Dylan” is my favorite of her CDs, but she has just released a great new CD, Bowery Songs, with these inspiring songs recorded live in New York.

I was thrilled that Bruce Springsteen recently recorded some of Pete Seeger’s folk music and anti-war songs, and hope Joan gets the same recognition. If I had any say in the matter, she’d win a place in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammies, and the Nobel Peace Prize.

Joan learned from Pete Seeger and then the writings of Gandhi to use her art for social change. She shows us that every peace and justice movement needs every possible creative outlet--music, painting, poetry, drama, film and literature--to help uphold the vision of a new world without war, poverty or nuclear weapons. These movements need everyone of us to contribute whatever we can. In fact, everything we do should serve peace and justice, the coming of God’s reign of nonviolence here on earth.

Over the years, Joan has helped me with various causes and protests. Once, an envelope from her arrived at my door and nestled inside was a large drawing she made of me speaking for peace. She’s a friend and more—she’s one of my teachers.

After the show I told her stories of my recent civil disobedience action against the U.S. war on Iraq, the September 11th Peace Walk from Thomas Merton’s hermitage to Louisville, and our ongoing campaign to disarm Los Alamos. But then I grew pensive and confessed a nagging thought. The actions are necessary, I said, but they sure seem futile.

“Well, John, you know what Gandhi said, right?”


“Full effort is full victory.”

“Okay, Joan,” I returned. “I'll keep at it.”

Joan herself has kept at it a long time. She walked for civil rights in the South, befriended Dr. King, sang at the 1963 March on Washington, read poetry with Thomas Merton in his hermitage, sang to Dorothy Day as she sat behind bars with the United Farmworkers, and supported dozens of movements for social change, from Poland to Chile to Nicaragua. In the 70s she ventured on a perilous trip to Vietnam, and like Daniel Berrigan and Howard Zinn, suffered under an interminable U.S. bombing raid.

Joan, like Dan, King, Merton and Day, has a rare commitment to nonviolence. Armed only with her guitar and her voice, she helps us envision a world without war or injustice. And to make her songs authentic, she practices what she sings. She marches, organizes, gets arrested, has refused to pay part of her taxes, and has joined countless demonstrations. Last month, for example, she was the featured guest in Prague at the national birthday party in honor of Vaclav Havel, the heroic former president of the Czech Republic.

We can create a new world of nonviolence, she teaches, “by studying, experimenting with every possible alternative to violence on every level. By learning how to say ‘No’ to the nation-state, 'No' to war taxes, 'No' to military conscription, 'No' to killing in general, and 'Yes' to cooperation, to building new institutions based on the assumption that murder in any form is ruled out, by making and keeping in touch with nonviolent contacts all over the world, by engaging ourselves at every possible chance in dialogue with people to try to change the consensus that it's okay to kill.”

In her famous essay, “What Would You Do If?” she concluded, “The only thing that’s been a worse flop than the organization of nonviolence has been the organization of violence.”

These days she ends her concerts with a moving rendition of Steve Earle’s hymn, “Jerusalem.” It rises like a prayer. Her prayer is her song and her life is her witness. Between witness and song, she still stirs hope for peace. After all these years.

“I believe they’ll come a day
when the lion and the lamb
will lie down in peace together
in Jerusalem.

“They’ll be no barricades then.
And they’ll be no wires or walls.
And we can wash all this blood from our hands,
all this hatred from our souls.

“And I believe that on that day
the children of Abraham
will lay down their swords
forever in Jerusalem.”

* ** *** ** *

John Dear is a Jesuit priest, peace activist, and author, most recently, of “You Will Be My Witnesses” and “The Questions of Jesus.” For info, see: www.johndear.org

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Adams: Vote for Love

Published on Tuesday, October 24, 2006 by CommonDreams.org

On November 7, Be Smart: Vote for Love

by Patch Adams

While the State Department’s Alberto Fernandez felt obligated to take back his comments that elements of U.S. policy in Iraq have been arrogant and stupid, the truth is that U.S. policy post-9/11 has been driven by arrogance and stupidity. What could be stupider than the idea that violence could end the threat of terrorism and make us safer at home? Simple logic tells us that responding to terror with more violence will only lead to more terror and more violence. Now we have that logic confirmed by the grim facts on the ground in Iraq.

Isn’t it time for a radical change of course? There’s only one thing more powerful than violence, and that’s love. So shouldn’t we be fighting violence with love? I don’t mean relational love. I mean treating people with love. Feeding them. Educating them. Healing them. That kind of love.

As a doctor—and a clown—I’ve seen the tremendous healing power of love. The number one factor for surviving a heart attack is having a loving community. A study of 4,000 women with breast cancer found that with a little love—six hour-long support sessions—their survival rate increased five-fold. With the situation in Iraq imploding, tensions increasing with Iran and North Korea, and our government’s policies leading more and more people to hate Americans, it’s time to take the healing power of love to the global level. It’s time for a love platform.

What’s a love platform? It’s a set of policies that shows compassion for the elderly, the mentally ill, the homeless, the poor. It’s a platform that treats the environment with the loving respect it deserves.

A love platform would call for kissing, not killing. You switch two little letters and you get a whole new outlook on life. Kissing, not killing.

A love platform would put women in charge—women with loving instincts who would treat the world the way my mother treated my friends when they came to my house. She fed them, she wiped their noses, she was nice. That’s it. We’d have a policy called “Be Nice.” If everyone treated people like my mother did, we’d put an end to violence.

We need to create a massive global movement for loving. It would be like the Peace Corps times 10,000. People who have resources would go, en masse, to help those without. People with skills would teach those without. People who are healthy would take care of those who are sick.

We’d save cabinet positions for the Amish people who embraced the family of the man who killed their children. We’d put in charge of foreign policy the people who lost loved ones on 9/11 but insisted that revenge was not the answer, or the women of CODEPINK who tried desperately to stop the war in Iraq before it even began.

It really amazes me that we spend so many hours as a society focusing on love as sex or love that some consider perverse: Mark Foley sending emails to underage boys, Bill Clinton with an intern, love between people of the same sex. But we spend no time focusing on the big love that should drive our lives and our policies, i.e. love for the human family. We spend no time in school teaching young people how to grow up to be loving adults. The media gives us never-ending examples of violence and hate, but rarely gives us the uplifting examples of the kid who spends his lunch money on feeding the homeless. We hear about the brave soldiers who fight, but not about the people—often women—who force the soldiers to put down their guns.

For those who say that a love platform is ridiculous and naive, I ask them to compare the results of the $300 billion we’ve spent on war in Iraq with what we would get if we had spent that money on setting up health clinics all over the world and feeding people who are hungry. I travel around the world and meet lots of people who fear and hate us. If we spent our energy and resources uplifting people in need—spreading laughter and light instead of bombs and bullets—we’d live in a world that was happier, healthier and safer.

So come November 7, be smart. Vote out stupid and arrogant candidates who think that occupying Iraq by force or bombing Iran will make us safe. And vote for candidates who understand the simple notion that love is not only the best medicine, it’s also smart policy.

Patch Adams, M.D., is a nationally known speaker on wellness, laughter, humor and life. To support peace candidates, go to www.givepeaceavote.org.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Cook: Teach Your Children Well?

Craig Scott, left, lost his sister, Rachel Joy Scott, at Columbine on April 20, 1999.

Published on Friday, October 20, 2006 by the CommonDreams.org

Nation's Leaders Mislead Youth by Preaching Peace, Practicing War

by David Cook

On April 20, 1999, a Colorado student named Craig Scott watched his sister and two friends die when they were shot to death by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, fellow classmates at Columbine High School. Before the noon sun began to set, Klebold and Harris killed ten others before killing themselves.

Two days later, President Clinton felt the need to speak out against the Columbine violence, which had shipwrecked the nation. Traveling to a public high school in Alexandria, Virginia, he held the attention of a student peer mediation club, saying to them, "We must do more to reach out to our children and teach them to express their anger and resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons."

After his speech to the Virginia students, as columnist Colman McCarthy writes, Clinton returned to the White House and, before turning in for bed, gave the order to resume bombing in Serbia. That day in Belgrade, United States military planes, backed with the blessing of our president, streaked across the sky, dropping 500-pound bombs that would fall into the homes and towns of innocent people. That same night in Colorado, thousands of miles away, a community began its long mourning.

Flash forward to last week, as the Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania prompted President Bush to call a similar, post-Columbine conference on character and school violence. Present during the Maryland conference (alongside Attorney General Gonzales and Secretary of Education Spellings) was Craig Scott, the now-23-year-old who had lost his sister and friends in the Columbine shooting. During the only meaningful moment of the conference, Scott stood and addressed the president.

"I've grown up in a culture today that doesn't teach me anything of substance, of value, how it bombards me every day with messages of emptiness and shallowness. And the youth are crying for something to stand for, something to believe in. If it weren't for my faith or my family, I possibly could have fallen into the lies that our culture tells us. But now I've traveled, I've spoken to over a million teens across this country….I've seen depression, anger and loneliness, students without direction or purpose….I've seen students who called themselves cutters, have cut themselves because that's the way they know to take out the pain that they're dealing with. I've learned a lot about my generation. And I've learned a lot since I lost my friends and my sister.''

And then Scott said the greatest words the president or anyone else could hope to ever hear:

"And the main thing I've learned is that kindness and compassion can be the biggest antidotes to anger and hatred, and I believe the biggest antidotes to violence.''

The president responded in the only way he could, which was to thank Scott, applaud him and then ask for a copy of his speech.

The next day, researchers from Johns Hopkins released an updated body count for the war in Iraq. An estimated 600,000 civilians have died since the war began. These are not soldiers or armed resisters; these are mothers, grandfathers, children playing outside. Families, just like yours, just like mine.

God forgive me should I ever truly understand how presidents Clinton and Bush are able to mouth the hollow words about protecting children ("We must…teach them to express their anger and resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons") and then, hours later, give the damnable blessing for military movements that kill other people's children. This is madness, and it is the hell-bent delusion of violence that allows the president of the United States to stand up before a crowded room of parents, reporters and survivors and announce his intentions to better protect American schoolchildren, and then, before the same day's sun sets, continue to sit on a war that has killed more than half-a-million souls.

And a nation of 300 million barely opens its mouth.

When the war began, President Bush openly declared his intentions to use violence against this axis of evil. He gave this speech inside the halls of the National Cathedral and Christians across the country cheered, seeing no paradox, no problem with declaring war inside the church walls of Christ. Since then, it has been proven that the war and its reasons were manufactured, and that the war-makers and military-engineers and weapons-manufacturers have again orchestrated the dance that is our nation's great addiction: not oil, but violence. Craig Scott looked the president in the eyes and told him the greatest sentence he will ever hear: "Kindness and compassion can be the biggest antidotes to anger and hatred, and I believe the biggest antidotes to violence.'' The president presumably smiled back, applauded Scott and then sat back down.

We must not sit down with the president. I do not speak as a Democrat or Republican, for violence is bi-partisan: the same delusion that infects President Bush and Rumsfeld also made sick President Clinton and Cohen, Kennedy and McNamara. Instead I speak as a human and a Christian that believes in the sacredness of every living life (in Colorado, Belgrade or Iraq) and, more importantly, in the power of the God of Love whose faintest whisper is enough to make straight the crookedest path, disarm the mightiest weapon, and crumble the heart of ten thousand Hitlers. And I do not believe that this God achieves the salvation of the earth through soldiers, generals or presidents that proclaim war.

Violence is violence is violence. It will never bring about true peace or justice anymore than darkness creates light. It is impossible. Craig Scott and the Amish know this. So do Christ and King and Gandhi.

Napoleon once said that, if you have bayonets, it is impossible to sit on them. America has buried in its earth thousands of nuclear weapons. We preach false words about character and justice in schools while continuing to fund a system that, one day, will be tempted to use those nuclear weapons. Has there ever been a weapon created that we have not used?

Yes. There is one, and it goes by many names. Truth. Love. Reconciliation. Dialogue. Faith. Forgiveness.

* ** *** ** *

David Cook is a former journalist for the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. He currently teaches American history at Girls Preparatory School and can be reached at dcook7@gmail.com.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Comly Beattie: Prayers for Peace

At the Edge of the Abyss: Prayers for Peace
By Missy Comley Beattie

A few days ago, I was walking down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan when I noticed colorful ribbons, hanging from the iron fence in front and around the side of the magnificent Marble Collegiate Church. The green, blue, and gold streamers enticed me to cross the street and read the marker explaining the significance of the project called Prayers for Peace. The gold ribbons display the names and ages of our servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and represent prayers for their families. The blue are prayers for Iraqi dead and wounded with their names and ages, and the green ribbons represent prayers for peace. I sifted through them, determined to find my nephew's name. I knew that seeing it would bring tears. I cried, though, long before I found him. Some of our dead were 18-years-old. Many of the Iraqi dead were just months old.

The marker includes a message from Senior Minister, Dr. Arthur Caliandro:

On the Sunday following the end of the Gulf War, I attended a Quaker meeting. You may be aware that at Quaker meetings there is typically no formal spoken liturgy. People enter in silence and speak when moved by the Spirit. Of all the comments made that day, the one I remember was from a man who was about my age: 'I know how to protest war,' he said, 'but I don't know how to make peace.' It seems that man speaks for most of the world.

Long before their grandson, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase Comley, was killed in Iraq, my parents wondered why so many among the clergy have remained silent about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. I had given my mother a copy of The Reverend William Sloane Coffin's book Credo. Coffin, who died in April, was a Christian clergyman and antiwar activist who worked tirelessly for social justice, believing that it is crucial to Christianity.

Coffin had this to say about the war that has now claimed almost 3,000 coalition soldiers and, possibly, a half million Iraqis:

The war against Iraq is as disastrous as it is unnecessary; perhaps in terms of its wisdom, justice, purpose, and motives, the worst war in American history. Of course, we feel for the Iraqis so long and cruelly oppressed, and we support our military men and women; but we don't support their military mission. They were not called to defend America but rather to attack Iraq. They were not called to die for, but rather to kill for, their country, and in an illegal and unjust war opposed by the UN Security Council and virtually the entire world. What more unpatriotic thing could we have asked of our sons and daughters serving in the military?

We have just left September and, already, October is a deadly month for our troops. We have lost 26 coalition soldiers in a week. Who knows the accurate number of Iraqis killed?

George Bush is still saying, "Stay the course."

He should read Credo and learn from Coffin's timeless wisdom: "If you're at the edge of an abyss the only progressive step is backward!"

In 2004, Coffin said in an interview conducted by Bob Abernethy, editor and host of RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY: "almost every square inch of the Earth's surface is soaked with the tears and blood of the innocent and it's not God's doing. It's our doing. That's human malpractice."

Coffin lived and breathed the activism that was central to his faith.

Recently, I read that the minister of George Bush's church has voiced opposition to the war. In fact, United Methodist Church leaders signed a Declaration of Peace in September to end the war and bring the troops home. Other denomination leaders are organizing as well, engaging in nonviolent acts of protest-even risking arrest. Sadly, though, many members of the clergy remain silent, fearful of alienating their congregation. I'm sure this is the case in my parents' Kentucky community, although I've been assured by people in the peace movement there that this formerly red state has taken on a purple hue.

Surely, it is time for all members of the clergy to call for peace. Surely, it is time for each of us to demand it.

* ** *** ** *

Missy Beattie lives in New York City. She's written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. An outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, she's a member of Gold Star Families for Peace. She completed a novel last year, but since the death of her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase J. Comley, in Iraq on August 6,'05, she has been writing political articles. She can be reached at: Missybeat@aol.com

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Clark: The Day We Took Over the Senate

The Day We Took Over the Senate by Gordon Clark

Even for these now veteran activist eyes, it was a glorious and inspiring sight to see.

On Tuesday, September 26, more than 100 nonviolent activists took over the central lobby and atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building, and staged a protest of the war in Iraq while dozens and dozens of Senate staffers looked on. For one hour, at least, American opposition to the war in Iraq became the central focus for these offices of the U.S. Senate, and 71 individuals were arrested for making this happen.

The action was organized by the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (formerly the Iraq Pledge of Resistance), as part of the week of anti-war actions around the country organized by the Declaration of Peace campaign.

The action started that morning with a rally and interfaith service at Upper Senate Park. Another remarkable aspect of the day was the presence of national religious leaders, such as Jackie Lynn, head of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, and Rick Ufford-Chase, Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and for the past two years the moderator of the 216th Presbyterian General Assembly - the highest office in the denomination. They were not only participating themselves in our nonviolent direct action, but were now urging their faith communities to begin following suit.

At the end of the rally and service we formed a procession to go by the Capitol building and then on to the Senate office buildings. Police stopped us after three blocks, telling us that the large procession constituted an unpermitted demonstration and that we would not be allowed to continue. It was at this point that one affinity group broke away, and crossed police lines and Constitution Ave., carrying a coffin to the steps of the Capitol. Sixteen were arrested for that act of nonviolent witness.

The remaining 200 or so of us, however, were suddenly left without any police presence at all, since literally every one of their officers had followed the coffin. As our goal was to get to the offices of the U.S. Senate, we decided to simply turn around and head back up Constitution Ave. to the Senate office buildings - which we did without incident until some of the police realized their mistake, came roaring back and set up a line to stop us in front of the Russell Senate Office Building, one block short of our ultimate goal.

A small group of us conducted negotiations with an officer of the Capitol Police for 15-20 minutes. Although they continued to assert that our procession was illegal and could not continue - if we wanted to visit our Senators, they said, we had to return to Upper Senate Park (where we did have a permit), leave all our signs and banners behind and break up into small groups - the officer in charge was a model of courtesy, and in fact, an extremely friendly fellow. When their "final" decision was made, our decision was to stay put. We intended to proceed as a group, no matter what, and if they felt compelled to arrest us they would have to do it right there.

The police gave a five minute warning, but that five minutes passed and nothing happened. Ten of our number managed to cross the police line and get to the Russell building entrance, where they were promptly detained and arrested. Others called their senators' offices to demand to know why weren't being allowed in to see them. A giant Gandhi puppet, carrying a sign that said "Be the change you want to see in the world," came rolling down Constitution Ave. and evoked a huge cheer from our crowd, all the more so because the same puppet had earlier been stopped by police who refused to allow it near the Capitol complex. Interestingly, Gandhi was now being given an entire lane of traffic on Constitution Ave.

While all this was happening, Rick Ufford-Chase continued to negotiate with the police. Rick is a pretty darn friendly guy himself, and apparently a heck of a negotiator, since after another 15-20 minutes it was announced that if we left our large banners behind, we would be allowed to proceed as a group, enter the Hart Senate Office Building, and reassemble after passing through security. Rick had re-emphasized our commitment to nonviolence, and had patiently explained that our planned action in the Hart atrium would be a respectful, interfaith-led protest of the war in Iraq. The police explained that if we did that, we would likely be arrested inside the Hart building.

When this agreement was announced, it was immediately apparent how remarkable and unprecedented it was. The Capitol police would allow us to continue what they considered an unpermitted demonstration, and then enter a Senate office building - for the express purpose of carrying out another illegal demonstration. (The charge given those arrested inside was "unlawful assembly.")

While a number of us continued a protest outside, more than 100 of us entered the Hart building. For those not familiar with it, the Hart Senate Office Building is really quite beautiful and unlike any other congressional office building, in that it is designed around a giant, open, building-high lobby and atrium, with senate offices lining the seven stories facing on to the atrium. If you control the atrium, you essentially control the entire building.

And that is precisely what we did. With some reading the names of the dead or holding up peace signs on the balconies surrounding the lobby, a large group assembled in a circle on the first floor for our nonviolent witness against the war. As it went on, the balconies filled with onlookers, until finally all seven stories, on all four sides, were lined with senate staffers and visitors watching the protest and eventual arrests. Several applauded and gave thumbs up. The protest also garnered the front page and a full inside page spread of the following day's Roll Call newspaper, meaning that every office on Capitol Hill knew about it within 24 hours.

I have often heard "this is what democracy looks like" chanted during street marches and protests. Standing in this august senate office building, with our protest being watched by a majority of the people working there, I had the profound feeling that this is exactly what democracy should look like. If our elected leaders refuse to heed the will of the people, then we the people will take over their offices until they do. It happens in other countries around the world, usually to our great approval, so why not here in the U.S. as well? Truly, this was democracy in its purest and finest form.

People were peacefully arrested, and led away. They joined their colleagues from the previous arrests, and had by all accounts a time of great community and fellowship during the several hours it took the police to process and release them all. Those of us waiting outside the police station heard frequent outbursts of laughter and applause. The police officer in charge sought me out at the end to thank me several times over, and stated plainly that they were glad they were able to help us accomplish what we wanted to do that day.

Relationships with police are a complicated and challenging matter for our movement, a source of often heated debate. And this particular police force in question had a somewhat different interpretation of our goal, believing we were there "to be arrested." (While the nonviolent activist is willing to risk arrest and make other sacrifices, our goal is not to be arrested. We usually end up reminding the police of this, and inviting them to not arrest us the next time, but rather to join us.)

The fact remains, though, that this is one of several examples - we've been doing nonviolent actions since before the Iraq war began - where different police forces in the nation's capital not only treated us well, but actually helped us achieve our goal. A large part of that has to do with our own commitment to nonviolence, which leads us to treat all people, including our adversaries and even arresting officers, with openness and respect. Respect them, and often they will respect you in return.

Just as important, though, is the fact that many of these police, possibly even the large majority of them, actually agree with us and support what we're doing. They have privately told our activists this on many, many occasions. They have brothers and sisters and buddies in the military, and lost some of them, and they are just as sick of this war as we are. It reminds one directly of the epilogue in the updated edition of Howard Zinn's classic People's History of the United States, where he argues that a "revolt of the palace guards" may be part of how a peaceful revolution happens in this country. Listening to and working with these police, one gets the feeling the revolution may be a little closer than we think.

Above all, though, we achieved our goal, and for a least one hour on a Tuesday in September, we brought the work of a Senate office building to a standstill, and made loud and clear our demand that the immoral, illegal and unjust occupation of Iraq must end. If we can continue to ramp up our actions in this way, including the extremely important electoral work for this fall, we can and will compel members of Congress to heed our demand.

Gordon Clark is the convener of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, formerly the Iraq Pledge of Resistance. For news stories and images of these actions, as well as more information, go to www.iraqpledge.org, or www.declarationofpeace.org

Friday, September 08, 2006

Keillor: What Really Makes our Nation Strong

What Really Makes our Nation Strong
by Garrison Keillor
Published on Thursday, September 7, 2006 by the Baltimore Sun (Maryland)

Growing up in the '50s, we imagined our country defended by guided missiles poised in bunkers, jet fighters on the tarmac and pilots in the ready room prepared to scramble, a colonel with a black briefcase sitting in the hall outside the president's bedroom, but Sept. 11 gave us a clearer picture. We have a vast array of hardware, a multitude of colonels, a lot of bureaucratic confusion, and a nation vulnerable to attack.

The Federal Aviation Administration has now acknowledged that the third of the four planes seized by the 19 men with box cutters had already hit the Pentagon before the FAA finally called there to say there was a problem. The FAA lied to the 9/11 commission about this, then took two years to ascertain the facts - a 51-minute gap in defense - and released the finding on the Friday before Labor Day, an excellent burial site for bad news.

So America is not the secure fortress we grew up imagining. Perhaps it never was. What protects us is what has protected us for 230 years: our magnificent isolation. After the disasters of the 20th century, Europe put nationalism aside and adopted civilization, but we have oceans on either side, so if the president turns out to be a shallow, jingoistic fool with a small, rigid agenda and little knowledge of the world, we expect to survive it somehow. Life goes on.

It's hard for Americans to visualize the collapse of our country. It's as unthinkable as one's own demise. Europeans are different: They've seen disaster, even the British. They know it was a near thing back in 1940. My old Danish mother-in-law remembered the occupation clearly 40 years later and was teary-eyed when she talked about it. Francis Scott Key certainly could envision the demise of the United States in 1814 when he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry. Abraham Lincoln was haunted by the thought. We are not, apparently, though five years ago we saw a shadow.

We really are one people at heart. We all believe that when thousands of people are trapped in the Superdome without food or water, it is the duty of government, the federal government if necessary, to come to their rescue and to restore them to the civil mean and not abandon them to fate. Right there is the basis of liberalism. Conservatives tried to introduce a new idea - it's your fault if you get caught in a storm - and this idea was rejected by nine out of 10 people once they saw the pictures. The issue is whether we care about people who don't get on television.

Last week, I sat and listened to a roomful of parents talk about their battles with public schools in behalf of their children who suffer from dyslexia, or apraxia, or ADD, or some other disability - sagas of ferocious parental love vs. stonewall bureaucracy in the quest for basic, needful things - and how some of them had uprooted their families and moved to Minnesota so their children could attend better schools. You couldn't tell if those parents were Republicans or Democrats. They simply were prepared to move mountains so their kids could have a chance. So are we all.

And that's the mission of politics: to give our kids as good a chance as we had. They say that liberals have run out of new ideas - it's like saying that Christians have run out of new ideas. Maybe the old doctrine of grace is good enough.

I don't get much hope from Democrats these days, a timid and skittish bunch, slow to learn, unable to sing the hymns and express the steady optimism that is at the heart of the heart of the country. I get no hope at all from Republicans, whose policies seem predicated on the Second Coming occurring in the very near future.

If Jesus does not descend through the clouds to take them directly to paradise, and do it now, they are going to have to answer to the rest of us.

Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Smith: A Bowl of Cucumbers and a Pot of Beans

Published on Wednesday, August 9, 2006
by CommonDreams.org
A Bowl of Cucumbers and a Pot of Beans
by Debi Smith

Maybe it was just midnight mind talking. You know, that tendency to get all worried, scared, panicky, stressed about things in the middle of the dark and silent night that wouldn't ordinarily bother you in the light of day? Or at least not as much.

I woke -- around 1:30 -- got up for a glass of water, went back to bed and was unable to get back to sleep for more than an hour. Laid there worrying, of all things, about my writing/blogging. Even considered getting up and deleting all my blogs.


Several reasons.

Maybe I should be more private. More "off the grid." Less involved with "the vast machine."

Maybe my friends will think I'm strange if they read what I write.

Maybe I suck at writing.

Maybe my opinion is irrelevant.

Maybe it's a waste of my time.

Maybe there are better/more helpful things I could be doing.

Maybe this, maybe that, maybe the other.

I eventually fell asleep. And here I am, the next morning, writing again. I am strangely compelled.

Perhaps it's because of a deep and acute need to push through the shallow and inane in search of deeper awareness and understanding that I am compelled. Yeah, sometimes I worry that I ain't got what it takes. That I'm not capable of diving any deeper than the surface. But no, that's not true. I can dive deep. I can take it all in. And it's not just true for me. We all can. But mostly we don't. Mostly we prefer the shallows. Perhaps it's the sheer scope of all there is to fathom (pun partially intended), that gives us the bends -- some of us even before we descend. For me personally, the problem intensifies back on the surface where I have an even harder time breathing and describing and processing what I've seen.

Once in a while, one particular thing/observation/idea/event will come along and grab my attention and focus and I am compelled to write. And suddenly I feel totally absorbed, connected, fluid, coherent. And the end result feels meaningful and useful.

But lately/usually I feel overwhelmed by everything going on in the world. There is SO much that needs our attention and focus. So damn much. Where to begin? And what have I been writing about? Dreams, soccer, making silly audioblogs, doing the laundry...

Yet, these things are important too, and not necessarily little or meaningless. They are the ordinary in life that we cherish. They are the ordinary that bind us.

I was reading a regretful but important article this morning, After Bomb Kills Loved Ones, Life Turns Ghostly, that tells of the tragic and devastating effect war has had upon one particular Lebanese man. A man who is, among other things, a husband and a father.

I don't know what it means to live in a land where bombs are dropping, and pray I never will -- though if we in America did understand this, maybe we'd be less likely to make the bombs, less likely to be in the business of profiting from them, less likely to export them, less likely to drop them, less likely to support the government that does...maybe.

No, I don't know what it means to live with the very real threat of a bomb landing on my loved ones or me. How can one live normally with such a threat? But I read the article and was touched by the semblance of the ordinary that existed immediately before bombs dropped and destroyed most of this man's family and self.

The rooms were still neatly composed, life suspended. Dishes were done. Laundry — tiny pink pants, a head scarf, a bra — was hanging on lines. But details showed something was wrong. The clothes were dusty from the pulverized concrete and soot of the explosion. A bowl of cucumbers and a pot of beans in the refrigerator were covered with mold.

I just can't imagine it. Can't imagine what it must be like to walk into the rubble and find your five year old daughter torn apart -- her torso and an arm separate from the rest of her body. To find your wife crushed to death. Can't imagine it.

I can't imagine what it's like to do the dishes, hang the laundry, and then run next door hoping to find shelter from a bomb only to be blown to bits.

I can't imagine how the United States is contributing to this carnage. Can't imagine how we have been visiting the same spectre of destruction and carnage and death (oh the shock and awe of it) upon thousands and thousands and thousands of Iraqi civilians for over three years now. And for what? Can't imagine how war is still a thing of the present. Can't imagine why we haven't found a better way.

There are so many other things I can't imagine. Yet they are happening. And they are overwhelming.

Maybe the only way to work through it at the moment, is to take decompression stops along the way. Little writes here and there. Go to the dark places and witness what's there. And once back on the surface -- out of the dark otherworld of fear -- work more diligently at a world I can imagine.

We can all do this, can't we?

Former Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell once said:

"[In outer space] you develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, "Look at that, you son of a bitch."

Can we imagine ourselves, like Edgar Mitchell, out in space looking back at our precious planet and all its beautiful people and imagine a world like no other we've ever known? A world of peace, joy, equality, love, health, liberty, justice and unity for all--including the sons of bitches in power? Can we imagine all of us getting together for a bowl of cucumbers and a pot of beans?"

That's what I choose to imagine the next time I have an attack of midnight mind.

Like Buddha said:

"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world."

Debi lives in Ashland, Oregon and is -- among other things -- a mother of two thinking about all the other mothers around the world who are concerned for their children. You may contact her at debi@mind.net or access her blogs through www.babelonpages.blogspot.com

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Cobb: World War III is a War on Children

WWIII: Whose Side are You On?
Published on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at CommonDreams.org
by Karen Horst Cobb

They may have been hit by an Israeli bomb, but they are victims of the Hezbollah. We have to create a reality where those Lebanese children would have been at school today instead of being sheltered and held hostage in that building, and where Israeli children in Shemona could go to school without fear of Katyusha rockets. It is our enemies who specifically target women and children, and when we do it, we apologize.
-- Dan Gillerman, Israeli ambassador to the UN, Sunday on Meet the Press
What I heard Mr. Gellerman say in response to the killing of the children of Qana was similar to the words of other abusers.

It isn’t my fault I beat my wife. She was asking for it … she never knows when to shut up. Anyway I am not an abuser because I always apologize afterward. As far as the rape? Well, she was asking for it because of the way she looks.
This is a more easily accessible framing of the forces of evil unleashed in the world. "World War III" is a world war on children and the citizen soldiers in all locations, conducted with psy-ops propaganda using blame, excuses, and the insistence that the world remain an impotent silent witness of religious- and state-sponsored terrorism.

The “precision guided missile” found its target just like the manufacturer promised. It was launched by Israel with precision, satellite intelligence, and forethought but the ambassador explained it wasn‘t their fault. Another precisely guided missile hit the UN target a few days earlier killing four innocent peacemakers who had called all day to report their location was being targeted. Sunday’s target was a house where poor children and their families huddled in fear. How can the world be manipulated to support more killing of innocent people and refuse to hold the perpetrators responsible in the court of public opinion? The US Republicans and Democrats both of whom claim that taking responsibility is a a core value of their party refuse to speak out. Sunday July 30th 2006 I decided whose side I will be on in World War III. It became crystal clear. I am on the side of the Children! I am on the side of all children EVERYWHERE! This politically motivated World War III is a war on Children.

As an ambassador for the children I would like to negotiate a ceasefire. It might not be lasting in your frame of reference, it might not be strategic, but if it lasts 6 months that will be half the lifetime of the youngest one who was killed on Sunday. If it lasts four weeks it will be the entire lifetime of the one month old lying in the morgue. It might give some older children a few more weeks to play another game with their cousins, or celebrate one more birthday, or learn their multiplication tables all the way up to the twelves. As an ambassador to the world’s children I want to begin by clearly defining the meaning of the word "child." Child: a viable maturing fetus living outside of a womb. Perhaps this clarification will cause Christians in the US to value these little human lives whom Jesus referred to as the least of these among us. After all, it was weapons and weapon technology of the US purchased by the taxpayers and gifted to Israel which killed the children of Qana this Sunday. Qana, the place where we are told Jesus turned water into wine.

The repetitive drip of the media faucet reminds us that Israel has a right to defend herself. If one follows that reasoning then the people of Lebanon now also have the right to defend themselves. If Lebanon has the obligation to disarm Hezbollah then it stands to reason that the US has the obligation to disarm its contract military in Iraq. They are not official members of the US military but are a violent group who are part of an ancient religious sect who worships the god mammon. This logic also would conclude that the US is obligated to disarm all the members of the NRA if our nation is ever invaded and occupied.

If the definition of a terrorist is one who targets civilians to create terror, then the “shock and awe” perpetrated on Iraq was also an act of terrorism. The daily military activity over Palestine, sonic booms in the middle of the night, and the ominous presence of the heavily armed guards who stand at the checkpoints in the prison known as Gaza is also terrorism. Some can argue that all forms of sanctions which deny food, water, power, and medical care to children are designed to terrorize the innocent. Some are sponsored by the state and some are sponsored by individuals and rogue militia who are desperate. In Israel this logic would extend to the well-organized group of settlers who dress in black with ski masks and use wooden clubs, chains, and rocks to harass Palestinian children on their way to school while the military stands by and does nothing. Recently two members of the Christian peacemaker team who escort the children to school to protect them and offer themselves as human shields were severely beaten in the village of Al-Tuwani in the southern Hebron hills. The police did nothing, the military did nothing, and the militia remains to target and terrorize Palestinian children in the future.

In the US the “potential child” the size of the dot at the end of a sentence was protected by the US government last week supposedly by moral Christian republicans. Yet this same lobby denies the call for a ceasefire because it will not be a “lasting” solution. Life is filled with temporary solutions because we are mortal. Life is temporary. The behaviors of the abuser are well known. There are cycles of abuse and profuse lame apologies accompanied by self-justifying explanations of why the victim “deserved” it. In the case of Israel and Lebanon we have the US playing the role of the family friend who turns his back and bites his lower lip waiting for the thug to finish his violence. It is similar to the “brown shirts” who kicked and beat an innocent person while a conflicted comrade turned his back. Or perhaps also like the loan shark who has his underling break the knees of a debtor while he enjoys a peaceful dinner with his family.

Jesus explained that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. (politics and land holders). And spiritual wickedness in high places (political/religious leaders controlled by lust and covetousness). The nature of evil is to dominate, control, and possess. There is the test for exposing the evil nature of the abusive spouse as well as abusive national leaders. The test questions are: Does this entity seek to dominate? Does this entity seek to control? Does this entity seek to possess?

As an ambassador for the children I implore all good people in all countries to take the side of the children in WWIII-- the Lebanese children, the Iraqi children, the Israeli children, and the children of the Sudan and all other regions where children are being killed and wounded by those who worship power. No religion supports the murder of children except for those who openly worship evil. If Judaism worships an honorable and just God and the Torah teaches righteousness then prove it by your actions. If Islam means peace and a commitment to social justice then prove it by your actions. If Jesus is the Messiah with good news based on grace then prove it by your actions. If religions of the world must engage in competition let them compete in outdoing each other in acts of kindness toward children.

God creates, builds, sustains, and regenerates, but men are addicted to destruction. In the past men fought the battles with similar weapons. The winner of the competition won the spoils. Today however the men use women and children and disproportionate weaponry. Israel and the US have hundreds of thousands of the most advanced weapons while their opponents have home-made explosives and suicide bombs. If Israeli men and men from the surrounding areas and men from the United States want to continue competing for land and security and use the power of their religious leaders, let them do it away from the children. In satire I might suggest a designated area of land set aside for military men and religious leaders to carry out their ineffective, violent problem solving . As the male descendents of Ishmael and Isaac wrestle over who daddy God likes best, the women and children are left in peaceful areas where they are free to pray, worship, learn, grow, dance, and create. The sign of an internationally accepted demilitarized zone is the presence of a child.

As the ambassador for the children of the world I beg all men to put aside their vengeance, desire for land, and score cards of righteousness. A war on children has been declared. Thousands each day in the world are aborted from the Earth. On Sunday many very very late term abortions occurred and US Christians for the most part remained silent. Israeli children sitting in a café may be blown to bits. The lives of Arab and Persian children appear to be of little regard to those who give the commands and carry out orders. People who consider themselves kind do nothing, turn their backs, go shopping and remain silent. Jesus said “a child shall lead them;” he also explained that unless you become as little children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Let it be on Earth as it is in Heaven is my prayer. Immediately After 911 many agreed with the sentiment, "we are all Americans now." Many American politicians agree with the often-repeated sentiment "we are all Israelis now." The global cry of all kind people in Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, the United States, and all other nations of the world can instead be "we are all children now!"

As an ambassador for the children I call for a permanent ceasefire and an immediate end to the war on children. Blessed are the peacemakers; let us boldly stand together for the innocents.

Authors comment: I went on record Oct 25, 2004 as one who is "No Longer a Christian" due to the substituted GI-Joe Jesus for the Prince of Peace who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. I am a member of the “church in exile.” I can not worship at any church which does not actively oppose the killing of children. With this article I now pledge my allegiance and declare my primary citizenship to the Kingdom of Heaven. My religion has been stolen and increasingly I am becoming a refugee in America as the Constitution is replaced with Imperial power and the Bill of Rights is erased. If I am to remain ethical and committed to kindness I must be willing to stand alone. I know there are many others who are standing alone. I can be contacted at cairnhcobb@msn.com.

Monday, July 17, 2006

7.17.06 Chopra: Who Owns Christianity?

Published on Monday, July 17, 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Who Owns Christianity?
by Deepak Chopra

Not many people of moderate persuasion have much sway in the church any more. I was reminded why recently when the Episcopal Church did two important things: It elected a woman bishop to head the denomination, and it backtracked on appointing gay bishops. The first move seems Christian. Women deserve to hold church office as much as political office (one diocese, however, was so incensed that it voted to leave the church, and worldwide there are still Anglican movements that do not permit women to be bishops or ordained priests).

The second move was an act of cowardice because it did not reflect the ideals of love in Christianity and was motivated by reactionaries in the Episcopal denomination. Countering a long tradition of laissez-faire tolerance, the reactionaries have gotten tough and threatened to form their own church if gays are promoted in the priesthood. The worldwide Anglicans are more intolerant, upholding that homosexuality is forbidden, unnatural, wrong or an outright sin, depending on who is doing the disapproving.

You'd think that someone would stand up and ask a simple question: Who are we to condemn gays if Christ didn't? In fact, who are we to condemn any sinner, since Christ didn't? Christianity is about forgiveness, and for the past two decades, as fundamentalism swept through every Protestant denomination, moderates and liberals have been driven out, and were roundly condemned as they left. Along with them went tolerance and forgiveness, not to mention love.

Did Christ teach love or is that just a liberal bias? In the current climate, it's hard to remember, but one thing is certain: Once a tight cabal of fundamentalists takes over any denomination, Christ's teachings go out the window. The reversal of Christianity from a religion of love to a religion of hate is the greatest religious tragedy of our time.

Those of us who haven't been swept up in worldwide fundamentalism, which has corrupted Islam, Hinduism and Judaism as well, have been caught in a double bind. We can't join any sect that preaches intolerance, yet we can't fight it, either, because by definition fighting is a form of intolerance. To escape this double bind, moderates have stayed silent and stayed home. But that tactic failed. As healthy as it is to nourish your own devotion and faith, it's disastrous to allow extremists to take over the church, because the statehouse, the board of education, the Congress, and eventually the presidency are next.

Perhaps civil society will solve the problem of religious extremism. So far it hasn't. America finds itself in the sad plight of being the world's most prominent secular society hijacked by sectarians. One can only hope that the church comes to its senses and regains its moral center. If that doesn't occur, the core teachings of Christ will be lost, for all intents and purposes, to this generation.

Deepak Chopra came to the U.S. in 1970 from his native India to practice medicine, a career that evolved into the field of mind-body medicine. His breakthrough book, "Quantum Healing," brought him public recognition in 1989. Since then he has written more than 42 books and travels worldwide as a spiritual speaker who fuses Western science with Eastern wisdom. He lives in La Jolla with his wife, Rita, and has two grown children and two grandchildren. Dr. Chopra heads the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California, which specializes in many alternative treatment modalities including Ayurveda.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

6.8.06 Hebert: Baking a Prayer for Peace

Baking a Prayer for Peace
By Patricia Hebert
Wednesday, June 7, 2006

When the United States engaged Iraq in a war, we were visiting family in Florida. One morning, while reading the local newspaper, a very small book announcement caught my eye. Nawal Nasrallah was self publishing a cookbook titled, "Delights from the Garden of Eden -- A cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine."

I was intrigued for two reasons. The first being, my father-in-law had just used the same self-publishing company to get his book out, and I was struggling with the idea of how we could, as a people, hate an entire country for the actions of a few.

I went on the Web to find out more about this author and her book. What I found amazed me. First of all, I had traveled 1,500 miles to read about a remarkable author who lived not 30 miles from my house. Ms. Nasrallah is quite remarkable. She is a teacher, a wife, a mother, a person who has suffered, and seen war. She fled Iraq the day that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

Without waiting another moment, I bought her book. As a mother with children of my own, I wanted to get to know the Iraqi mothers and their children. I knew through her writings and her recipes I would gain an understanding of the peaceful Iraqi people.

The book arrived the day after we returned from our trip. Being a baker, I turned to the cakes and breads. My first foray into Iraqi cooking was the Energizing Fruit Cake (Kekat al-Fawakih al-Mujaffafa). It is a wonderful cake made with dried fruit and nuts. Much lighter than the traditional English fruit cake that gets passed around at Christmas. And true to her word, one slice of this cake in the morning is enough to carry you until dinner. Of course, it is so good, I find it hard not to eat two slices and then I still dream about more.

The next recipe I tried was the Gold'n Spicy Pumpkin Bread (Kekat al-Shijar al-Ahmer). This was another hit with the family, and friends. And I found myself baking these breads and giving them to people or bringing them to church bake sales. For example, when a neighbor's son returned from the war I baked a bread and dropped it over. I didn't make a big deal out of it. But in my heart I knew that baking this bread was a prayer of thanksgiving for his return and also a prayer for the innocent people in Iraq.

It's been years now, and several Iraqi dishes like Scotch Eggs (Bazmaward) are mixed in among our other standards meals. Offered with each recipe is a prayer for peace. This weekend, we are having an anniversary celebration at our parish and as an alternative to donuts after the 8 a.m. Mass I offered to bake some Energizing Fruit Cake. And along with this cake, a prayer.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

5.30.06 Jensen: The Four Fundamentalisms

The Four Fundamentalisms

The most important words anyone said to me in the weeks immediately after September 11, 2001, came from my friend James Koplin. While acknowledging the significance of that day, he said, simply: "I was in a profound state of grief about the world before 9/11, and nothing that happened on that day has significantly changed what the world looks like to me."

Because Jim is a bit older and considerably smarter than I, it took me some time to catch up to him, but eventually I recognized his insight. He was warning me that even we lefties -- trained to keep an eye on systems and structures of power rather than obsessing about individual politicians and single events -- were missing the point if we accepted the conventional wisdom that 9/11 "changed everything," as the saying went then. He was right, and today I want to talk about four fundamentalisms loose in the world and the long-term crisis to which they point.

Before we head there, a note on the short-term crisis: I have been involved in U.S. organizing against the so-called "war on terror," which has provided cover for the attempts to expand and deepen U.S. control over the strategically crucial resources of Central Asia and the Middle East, part of a global strategy that the Bush administration openly acknowledges is aimed at unchallengeable U.S domination of the world. For U.S. planners, that "world" includes not only the land and seas -- and, of course, the resources beneath them -- but space above as well. It is our world to arrange and dispose of as they see fit, in support of our "blessed lifestyle." Other nations can have a place in that world as long as they are willing to assume the role that the United States determines appropriate. The vision of U.S. policymakers is of a world very ordered, by them.

This description of U.S. policy is no caricature. Anyone who doubts my summary can simply read the National Security Strategy document released in 2002 and the 2006 update and review post-World War II U.S. history. Read and review, but only if you don't mind waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat of fear. But as scary as these paranoid, power-mad policymakers' delusions may be, Jim was talking about a feeling beyond that fear -- a grief that is much broader and goes much deeper.

Opposing the war-of-the-moment -- and going beyond that to challenge the whole imperial project -- is important. But also important is the work of thinking through the nature of the larger forces that leave us in this grief-stricken position. We need to go beyond Bush. We should recognize the seriousness of the threat that this particular gang of thieves and thugs poses and resist their policies, but not mistake them for the core of the problem.


One way to come to terms with these forces is to understand the United States as a society in the grip of four fundamentalisms. In ascending order of threat, I identify these fundamentalisms as religious, national, economic, and technological. All share some similar characteristics, while each poses a particular threat to sustainable democracy and sustainable life on the planet. Each needs separate analysis and strategies for resistance.

Let's start by defining fundamentalism. The term has a specific meaning in Protestant history (an early 20th century movement to promote "The Fundamentals"), but I want to use it in a more general fashion to describe any intellectual/political/theological position that asserts an absolute certainty in the truth and/or righteousness of a belief system. Such fundamentalism leads to an inclination to want to marginalize, or in some cases eliminate, alternative ways to understand and organize the world. After all, what's the point of engaging in honest dialogue with those who believe in heretical systems that are so clearly wrong or even evil? In this sense, fundamentalism is an extreme form of hubris, a delusional overconfidence not only in one's beliefs but in the ability of humans to know much of anything definitively. In the way I use the term, fundamentalism isn't unique to religious people but is instead a feature of a certain approach to the world, rooted in the mistaking of very limited knowledge for wisdom.

The antidote to fundamentalism is humility, that recognition of just how contingent our knowledge about the world is. We need to adopt what sustainable agriculture researcher Wes Jackson calls "an ignorance-based worldview," an approach to world that acknowledges that what we don't know dwarfs what we do know about a complex world. Acknowledging our basic ignorance does not mean we should revel in stupidity, but rather should spur us to recognize that we have an obligation to act intelligently on the basis not only of what we know but what we don't know. When properly understood, I think such humility is implicit in traditional/indigenous systems and also ­the key lesson to be taken from the Enlightenment and modern science (a contentious claim, perhaps, given the way in which modern science tends to overreach). The Enlightenment insight, however, is not that human reason can know everything, but that we can give up attempts to know everything and be satisfied with knowing what we can know. That is, we can be content in making it up as we go along, cautiously. One of the tragedies of the modern world is that too few have learned that lesson.

Fundamentalists, no matter what the specific belief system, believe in their ability to know a lot. That is why it can be so easy for fundamentalists to move from one totalizing belief system to another. For example, I have a faculty colleague who shifted from being a dogmatic communist to a dogmatic right-wing evangelical Christian. When people hear of his conversion they often express amazement, though to me it always seemed easy to understand -- he went from one fundamentalism to another. What matters is not so much the content but the shape of the belief system. Such systems should worry us.

That said, not all fundamentalisms pose the same danger to democracy and sustainability. So, let's go through the four I have identified: religious, national, economic, and technological.


The fundamentalism that attracts the most attention is religious. In the United States, the predominant form is Christian. Elsewhere in the world, Islamic, Jewish, and Hindu fundamentalisms are attractive to some significant portion of populations, either spread across a diaspora or concentrated in one region, or both. Given all the attention focused on religious fundamentalism, I'll assume everyone has at least a passing acquaintance with the phenomenon and is aware of its threats.

But religious fundamentalism is not necessarily the most serious fundamentalist threat loose in the world today. Certainly much evil has been done in the world in the name of religion, especially the fundamentalist varieties, and we can expect more in the future. But, moving up the list, we also can see clearly the problems posed by national fundamentalism.

Nationalism poses a threat everywhere but should especially concern us in the United States, where the capacity for destruction in the hands of the most powerful state in the history of the world is exacerbated by a pathological hyper-patriotism that tends to suppress internal criticism and leave many unable to hear critique from outside. In other writing (Chapter 3 of Citizens of the Empire) I have outlined in some detail an argument that patriotism is intellectually and morally bankrupt. Here, let me simply point out that because a nation-state is an abstraction (lines on a map, not a naturally occurring object), assertions of patriotism (defined as love of or loyalty to a nation-state) raise a simple question: To what we are pledging our love and loyalty? How is that abstraction made real? I conclude that all the possible answers are indefensible and that instead of pledging allegiance to a nation, we should acknowledge and celebrate our connections to real people in our lives while also declaring a commitment to universal principles, but reject offering commitment to arbitrary political units that in the modern era have been the vehicle for such barbarism and brutality.

That critique applies across the board, but because of our power and peculiar history, a rejection of national fundamentalism is most crucial in the United States. The dominant conception of that history is captured in the phrase "the city upon a hill," the notion that the United States came into the world as the first democracy, a beacon to the world. In addition to setting the example, as soon as it had the capacity to project its power around the world, the United States claimed to be the vehicle for bringing democracy to that world. These are particularly odd claims for a nation that owes its very existence to one of the most successful genocides in recorded history, the near-complete extermination of indigenous peoples to secure the land and resource base for the United States. Odder still when one looks at the U.S. practice of African slavery that propelled the United States into the industrial world, and considers the enduring apartheid system -- once formal and now informal -- that arose from it. And odd-to-the-point-of-bizarre in the context of imperial America's behavior in the world since it emerged as the lone superpower and made central to its foreign policy in the post-WWII era attacks on any challenge in the Third World to U.S. dominance.

While all the empires that have committed great crimes -- the British, French, Belgians, Japanese, Russians and then the Soviets -- have justified their exploitation of others by the alleged benefits it brought to the people being exploited, there is no power so convinced of its own benevolence as the United States. The culture is delusional in its commitment to this mythology, which is why today one can find on the other side of the world peasant farmers with no formal education who understand better the nature of U.S. power than many faculty members at elite U.S. universities. This national fundamentalism rooted in the assumption of the benevolence of U.S. foreign and military policy works to trump critical inquiry. As long as a significant component of the U.S. public -- and virtually the entire elite -- accept this national fundamentalism, the world is at risk.


Economic fundamentalism, synonymous these days with market fundamentalism, presents another grave threat. After fall of the Soviet system, the naturalness of capitalism is now taken to be beyond question. The dominant assumption about corporate capitalism in the United States is not simply that it is the best among competing economic systems, but that it is the only sane and rational way to organize an economy in the contemporary world.

In capitalism, (1) property, including capital assets, is owned and controlled by private persons; (2) people sell their labor for money wages, and (3) goods and services are allocated by markets. In contemporary market fundamentalism, also referred to as neoliberalism, it's assumed that most extensive use of markets possible will unleash maximal competition, resulting in the greatest good -- and all this is inherently just, no matter what the results. The reigning ideology of so-called "free trade" seeks to impose this neoliberalism everywhere on the globe. In this fundamentalism, it is an article of faith that the "invisible hand" of the market always provides the preferred result, no matter how awful the consequences may be for real people.

A corresponding tenet of the market fundamentalist view is that the government should not interfere in any of this; the appropriate role of government, we are told, is to stay out of the economy. This is probably the most ridiculous aspect of the ideology, for the obvious reason that it is the government that establishes the rules for the system (currency, contract law, etc.) and decides whether the wealth accumulated under previous sets of rules should be allowed to remain in the hands of those who accumulated it (typically in ways immoral, illegal, or both; we should recall the quip that behind every great fortune is a great crime) or be redistributed. To argue that government should stay out of the economy merely obscures the obvious fact that without the government -- that is, without rules established through some kind of collective action -- there would be no economy. The government can't stay out because it's in from the ground floor, and assertions that government intervention into markets is inherently illegitimate are just silly.

Adding to the absurdity of all this is the hypocrisy of the market fundamentalists, who are quick to call on government to bail them out when things go sour (in recent U.S history, the savings-and-loan and auto industries are the most outrageous examples). And then there's the reality of how some government programs -- most notably the military and space departments -- act as conduits for the transfer of public money to private corporations under the guise of "national defense" and the "exploration of space." And then there's the problem of market failure -- the inability of private markets to provide some goods or provide other goods at the most desirable levels -- of which economists are well aware.

In other words, economic fundamentalism -- the worship of markets combined with steadfast denial about how the system actually operates -- leads to a world in which not only are facts irrelevant to the debate, but people learn to ignore their own experience.

On the facts: There is a widening gap between rich and poor, both worldwide and within most nations. According to U.N. statistics, about a quarter of the world's population lives on less than $1 a day and nearly half live on less than $2. The 2005 U.N. Report on the World Social Situation, aptly titled "The Inequality Predicament," stresses:

"Ignoring inequality in the pursuit of development is perilous. Focusing exclusively on economic growth and income generation as a development strategy is ineffective, as it leads to the accumulation of wealth by a few and deepens the poverty of many; such an approach does not acknowledge the intergenerational transmission of poverty."

That's where the data lead. But I want to highlight the power of this fundamentalism by reminding us of a common acronym: TGIF. Everyone in the United States knows what that means: "Thank God it's Friday." The majority of Americans don't just know what TGIF stands for, they feel it in their bones. That's a way of saying that a majority of Americans do work they generally do not like and do not believe is really worth doing. That's a way of saying that we have an economy in which most people spend at least a third of their lives doing things they don't want to do and don't believe are valuable. We are told this is a way of organizing an economy that is natural.


Religious, national, and economic fundamentalisms are dangerous. They are systems of thought -- or, more accurately, systems of non-thought; as Wes Jackson puts it, "fundamentalism takes over where thought leaves off" -- that are at the core of much of the organized violence in the world today. They are systems that are deployed to constrain real freedom and justify illegitimate authority. But it may turn out that those fundamentalisms are child's play compared with U.S. society's technological fundamentalism.

Most concisely defined, technological fundamentalism is the assumption that the increasing use of increasingly more sophisticated high-energy, advanced technology is always a good thing and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences of such technology eventually can be remedied by more technology. Those who question such declarations are often said to be "anti-technology," which is a meaningless insult. All human beings use technology of some kind, whether it's stone tools or computers. An anti-fundamentalist position is not that all technology is bad, but that the introduction of new technology should be evaluated on the basis of its effects -- predictable and unpredictable -- on human communities and the non-human world, with an understanding of the limits of our knowledge.

Our experience with unintended consequences is fairly clear. For example, there's the case of automobiles and the burning of petroleum in internal-combustion engines, which gave us the interstate highway system and contributes to global warming. We haven't quite figured out how to cope with these problems, and in retrospect it might have been wise to go slower in the development of a transportation system based on the car and think through the consequences.

Or how about CFCs and the ozone hole? Chlorofluorocarbons have a variety of industrial, commercial, and household applications, including in air conditioning. They were thought to be a miracle chemical when introduced in the 1930s -- non-toxic, non-flammable, and non-reactive with other chemical compounds. But in the 1980s, researchers began to understand that while CFCs are stable in the troposphere, when they move to the stratosphere and are broken down by strong ultraviolet light they release chlorine atoms that deplete the ozone layer. This unintended effect deflated the exuberance a bit. Depletion of the ozone layer means that more UV radiation reaches the Earth's surface, and overexposure to UV radiation is a cause of skin cancer, cataracts, and immune suppression.

But, the technological fundamentalists might argue, we got a handle on that one and banned CFCs, and now the ozone hole is closing. True enough, but what lessons have been learned? Society didn't react to the news about CFCs by thinking about ways to step back from a world that has become dependent on air conditioning, but instead looked for replacements to keep the air conditioning running. So, the reasonable question is: When will the unintended effects of the CFC replacements become visible? If not the ozone hole, what's next? There's no way to predict, but it seems reasonable to ask the question and sensible to assume the worst.

This technological fundamentalism makes it clear why Jackson's call for an ignorance-based worldview is so important. If we were to step back and confront honestly the technologies we have unleashed -- out of that hubris, believing our knowledge is adequate to control the consequences of our science and technology -- I doubt any of us would ever get a good night's sleep. We humans have been overdriving our intellectual headlights for some time, most dramatically in the second half of the 20th century. Most obviously, there are two places we have gone, with reckless abandon, where we had no business going -- into the atom and into the cell.

On the former: The deeper we break into the energy package, the greater the risks we take. Building fires with sticks gathered from around the camp is relatively easy to manage, but breaking into increasingly earlier material of the universe -- such as fossil fuels and, eventually, heavy metal uranium -- is quite a different project, more complex and far beyond our capacity to control. Likewise, manipulating plants through selective breeding is local and manageable, whereas breaking into the workings of the gene -- the foundational material of life -- takes us to places we have no way to understand.

We live now in the uncomfortable position of realizing we have moved too far and too fast, outstripping our capacity to manage safely the world we have created. The answer is not some naïve return to a romanticized past, but a recognition of what we have created and a systematic evaluation of how to step back from our most dangerous missteps.


Central to that project is realizing that we have to learn to live with less, which we can accomplish only when we recognize that living with less is crucial not only to ecological survival but long-term human fulfillment. People in the United States live with an abundance of most everything -- except meaning. The people who have the most in material terms seem to spend the most time in therapy, searching for answers to their own alienation. This "blessed lifestyle" -- a term Bush's spokesman used in 2000 to describe the president's view of U.S. affluence -- perhaps is more accurately also seen as a curse.

Let's return to CFCs and air-conditioning. To someone who lives in Texas, with its miserable heat half the year, it's reasonable to ask: If not air-conditioning, then what? One possible reasonable response is, of course, to vacate Texas, a strategy I ponder often. More realistic: The "cracker house," a term from Florida and Georgia to describe houses built before air-conditioning that utilize shade, cross-ventilation, and various building techniques to create a livable space even in the summer in the deep South. Of course, even with all that, there are times when it's hot in a cracker house -- so hot that one doesn't want to do much of anything but drink iced tea and sit on the porch. That raises a question: What's so bad about sitting on the porch drinking iced tea instead of sitting inside in an air-conditioned house?

A world that steps back from high-energy/high-technology answers to all questions will no doubt be a harder world in some ways. But the way people cope without such "solutions" can help create and solidify human bonds. In this sense, the high-energy/high-technology world often contributes to impoverished relationships and the destruction of longstanding cultural practices and the information those practices carry. So, stepping back from this fundamentalism is not simply sacrifice but an exchange of a certain kind of comfort and easy amusement for a different set of rewards.

Articulating this is important in a world in which people have come to believe the good life is synonymous with consumption and the ability to acquire increasingly sophisticated technology. To miss the way in which turning from the high-energy/high-technology can improve our lives, then, supports the techno-fundamentalists, such as this writer in the Wired magazine:

"Green-minded activists failed to move the broader public not because they were wrong about the problems, but because the solutions they offered were unappealing to most people. They called for tightening belts and curbing appetites, turning down the thermostat and living lower on the food chain. They rejected technology, business, and prosperity in favor of returning to a simpler way of life. No wonder the movement got so little traction. Asking people in the world's wealthiest, most advanced societies to turn their backs on the very forces that drove such abundance is naïve at best."

Naïve, perhaps, but not as naïve as the belief that unsustainable systems can be sustained indefinitely. With that writer's limited vision -- which is what passes for vision in this culture -- it's not surprising that he advocates economic and technological fundamentalist solutions:

"With climate change hard upon us, a new green movement is taking shape, one that embraces environmentalism's concerns but rejects its worn-out answers. Technology can be a font of endlessly creative solutions. Business can be a vehicle for change. Prosperity can help us build the kind of world we want. Scientific exploration, innovative design, and cultural evolution are the most powerful tools we have. Entrepreneurial zeal and market forces, guided by sustainable policies, can propel the world into a bright green future."

In other words: Let's ignore our experience and throw the dice. Let's take naiveté to new heights. Let's forget all we should have learned.


So far, it appears my criticism has been of the fundamentalist versions of religion, nation, capitalism, and high-technology. But the problem goes deeper than the most exaggerated versions of these systems. If there is to be a livable future, religion as we know it, the nation-state, capitalism, and what we think of as advanced technology will have to give way to new ways of understanding the world and organizing ourselves. We still have to find ways to struggle with the mystery of the world through ritual and art; organize ourselves politically; produce and distribute goods and services; and create the tools we need to do all these things. But the existing systems have proven inadequate to the task. On each front, we need major conceptual revolutions.

I don't pretend to have answers, nor should anyone else. We are at the beginning of a long process of redefining what it means to be human in relation to others and to the non-human world. We are still formulating questions. Some find this a depressing situation, but we could just as well see it as a time that opens incredible opportunities for creativity. To live in unsettled times -- especially times in which it's not difficult to imagine life as we know it becoming increasingly untenable -- is both frightening and exhilarating. In that sense, my friend's acknowledgement of profound grief need not scare us but instead can be a place from which we see clearly and gather the strength to move forward.

What is that path? Tracking the four fundamentalisms, we can see some turns we need to make.

Technologically: We need to stop talking about progress in terms that reflexively glorify faster and more powerful devices, and instead adopt a standard for judging progress based on the real effects on humans and the wider world of which we are a part.

Economically: We need to stop talking about growth in terms of more production and adopt a standard for economic growth and development based on meeting human needs.

Nationally: We need to stop talking about national security and the national interest -- code words for serving the goals of the powerful -- and focus on people's interests in being secure in the basics: food, shelter, education, and communal solidarity.

Religiously: We need to stop trying to pin down God. We can understand God as simply the name we give to that which is beyond our ability to understand, and recognize that the attempt to create rules for how to know God is always a failed project.

I want to end by reinforcing the ultimate importance of that recognition: Most of the world is complex beyond our ability to comprehend. It's not that there's nothing we can know through our rational faculties, but that it's essential we recognize the limits of those faculties. We need to reject the fundamentalist streak in all of us, religious or secular, whatever our political affiliation.

We need to stop mistaking cleverness for wisdom. We need to embrace our limits -- our ignorance -- in the hopes that we can stop being so stupid.

When we do that we are coming to terms with the kind of animals we are, in all our glory and all our limitations. That embrace of our limitations is an embrace of a larger world of which we are a part, more glorious than most of us ever experience.

When we do that -- if we can find our way clear to do that -- I think we make possible love in this world. Not an idealized love, but a real love that recognizes the joy that is possible and the grief that is inevitable.

It is my dream to live in that world, to live in that love.

There is much work to be done if we want that world. There is enormous struggle that can't be avoided. When we allow ourselves to face it, we will realize that ahead of us there is suffering beyond description, as well as potential for transcending that suffering.

There is grief and joy.

And there is nothing to do but face it.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.