Monday, December 15, 2008

Zen and the Art of Deconstruction

Here's a fun blog by David Pyle.

Ways that Zen Sesshin is Like Military Basic Training
During the Zen Rohatsu Sesshin (7 ½ Day Zen Meditation Retreat in honor of the Buddha’s enlightenment day) that I attended this past week, I began to notice some eerie similarities to my multiple experiences of Military Basic Training. Though this was my first Sesshin at the Zen temple where I study, I have been in a military basic training environment not less than five times in my life, and that does not include the UU Worship services I lead for the Basic Trainees at the Great Lakes Naval Station.

I am sharing these observations of similarities and surface differences between Sesshin and Military Basic Training, in the hopes that it might inspire thought… Sesshin was a wonderful experience, and I may write about it more in the future. But this is what I have to share right now… other than saying it is good to be home.

Ways that Zen Sesshin is Like Military Basic Training:

You wake up at O’ Dark Thirty for no apparent reason.

There is a lot of “hurry up” so you can “sit down and wait”.

You must always be on time, but you don’t have a watch.

You spend a lot of time with people you are not supposed to talk to.

The simplest things become very important.

You are told by the teacher/drill instructor that you are wrong, a lot.

Your body is in pain much of the time.

You eat in silence, and there is a ritual for washing your own Oryoki bowls / mess kit.

You always seem to have kitchen clean-up duty.

Sleeping, eating, and a hot drink are more important than you ever thought they could be.

You stand, sit, walk, and eat in unison.

Every once in awhile someone shouts “ATTENTION!” even when you are already paying attention.

You are told that the self-identity that you have spent years crafting has issues, and sesshin/basic will help with this problem.

Cleaning becomes a ritual act.

There is little contact with the outside world.


Pacific Zen Institute sesshins (next sesshin is Sunday, January 18 — Sunday, January 25) are not quite as regimental as described in David Pyle's blog, but the alalogy still holds in most aspects listed. What I am interested in is the similarity of the deconsruction techniques with little talk of the purposes or goals of the two projects-- military basic training and Zen basic training-- are. The David alludes to it when he says, "In Sesshin you try and let go of the constructed self. In Basic the government constructs a new self for you." But he leaves this difference for another discussion.

The question connects in an interesting way to the blog written by Ken Ireland about the Jesuit Francis Xavier and his encounter with Zen in the 16th century.

There are conversations you overhear or read in books that are so familiar you feel as if you were a fly on the wall, listening to words you’ve heard before. The sentences ring with so much immediacy that you have to restrain yourself from finishing them. The tones are as so familiar you think that you are remembering them, not hearing them for the first time.

The conversations that I am going to write about are from the distant past—the case that I am going to discuss was written down in Latin by Francis Xavier more than 450 years ago, sent on an uncertain journey from Japan to Lisbon aboard a Portuguese caravel, then carried onto Rome, and delivered into the hands of Ignatius Loyola. They are the first recorded encounters between Christians and Zen Buddhists, a Jesuit saint and a roshi.

As I read from Xavier’s letters in Bernard Faure’s Chan Insights and Oversights, there were several moments when the hair on the back of my neck stood up—the words, the phrasing, even the jokes seemed to be right out of conversations that I have had with my own Zen teachers. Despite my post hippie attempts to free myself from all past influences, when I read Xavier’s comments, I could hear echoes from my Jesuit training in my responses to my Zen teachers; carefully formulated points of doctrine intended to stem the tide of the Protestant Reformation were still the core of the Jesuit curriculum when I entered the Society of Jesus 40 years ago. Among the first seven Jesuits, Xavier was the master of debate, but when he shifts the conversation with the Zen master towards a polemical argument, I was almost embarrassed, realizing how much I had missed when I set out to become a Zen student.

As I see it, the Christian project is like the military one, deconstruction of the self-image in order to reconstruct another self, one in relation to the image of God, the other in relation to the image of God and Country.. In the Buddhist project the deconstruction of the self is not about reconstructing a new self. It is about deconstructing the self-image over and over again until one can state like the enlightenment utterance by Buddha, "I see you, oh Housebuilder, the rafters are broken and the ridge beam is split, no more will the house be built."

To the extent that Japanese Buddhists, crafted a Nationalist image of self, they too failed at the Buddha project. It is fascinating to note that the encounter stories of the early Jesuits bring out this point. I first came across the Jesuit references in Heinrich Dumoulin's book "A History of Zen Buddhism," the shorter paperback Beacon edition published in 1969. In addition to recounting the exchange between Xavier and the Zen teacher, Dumoulin recounts the "conversion" of Zen Buddhists including one Zen eacher Kesshu, "whose enlightenment had been confirmed by two outstanding authorities." In this, we can see several things at work. For one, we see that the call to rebuild the house is very strong and having an "enlightenment" experience is no guarantee that one will rebuild the house. Alternatively, we might surmise that certification of an enlightenment experience was not very well established so that a monk who had supposedly answered the question of life and death was able to backslide into the wishful thinking of everlasting life at the foot of Jesus in heaven. This would be like a Zen monk converting to Pure Land and deciding to sit at the foot of Amida Buddha after death rather than fully deal with death in the here and now of this life.

When Buddhism talks about transcending death, it also means transcending life. Christian theology wans to transcend death but doesn't seem to get to this place of transcending both life and death, that is, finding the Zero Point, or actually seeing the face of God and rests with the hope of seeing God in heaven. People who believe that eternal life rests in a heaven, as Xavier obviously believed, have a false image of eternal life and have no clue about the eternal life that rests nowhwere. Buddhism eshews both eternalism and annilationism (or nihilism). There is an important difference between a belief in an "immortal soul" and seeing the undying living person, who as Linji says, goes in and out of the holes in the face. The Jesuits believed that "the soul" has a beginning but not an end. Buddhism teaches that there is no beginning and no end and no soul, and so speaks of the unborn as well as the undying. The unborn and undying one is not easy to meet, and I don't see any evidence that Xavier or his Jesuit missionary brothers in Japan ever got any closer than to see that one as an objectified image of God in heaven. The Jesuits were incapable of seeing anything in the "principle" of emptiness (sunyata) other than plain nihilism. They could not see that the image of God is what they create in their own image when looking into emptiness.

But the Buddhists of 16th century Japan were also people of their age and were not all that disposed to the higher virtues of Buddhism when their social structure was challenged . Both Japanese Buddhists and the new Japanese Christian converts came to blows and at times burned down each others temples or churches. So even in Buddhism we see that we the people often fail to live up to our ideals. The perennial problem is in finding the balance of the middle way between these different situations of the building projects of society and the deconstruction project of the spiritual quest.


Sunday, December 14, 2008


This is my new translation of the second of Shitou's known odes. Both are now on my Buddha Verse webpage.

-- 艸庵歌 Caoan Ge (J. Soanka)

By Shitou Xiqian (Shih-t’ou Hsi-ch’ien, J. Sekito Kisen)
(b.700 - d.790)

I tied up the straw thatched hut without precious objects.
With the cooked rice finished, I followed the aim of appearances and soon slept.
As the first season was accomplished, I saw the thatch was new.
Later when it is worn out, I will pay my debt and reconstruct the thatch.

The resident hermit -- subdues permanent residency,
And does not categorize the middle space with inside or outside.
A worldly person resides in a place; I do not reside.
A worldly person has affection for a place; I do not have affection.

Although the thatched hut is small -- it contains the Dharma-realm (Dharmadhatu).
In a square ten feet, an old man studies liberation of the essential body.
A bodhisattva of the Supreme Vehicle trusts without doubt.
The middle and inferior hear it and surely give rise to (a sense of) strangeness.

Asking about this thatched hut -- poor or not poor?
Poor and not poor: the original master is present.
Not dwelling south or north and east or west
A foundation on top of "the firm and stable" therefore becomes superlative.

Green pines below -- light inside of the window.
The Jade Palace (of Heaven) and the Vermilion Tower (of Hell) do not compare.
With a patched cape covering the head, the 10,000 affairs come to rest.
Here and now, this mountain monk already does not meet (anyone).

Residing in this thatched hut -- ceasing to work on liberation.
Who boastfully spreads out a mat aiming for customers?
Revolve the light and turn back your illumination, then you come back to the origin point,
Breaking through to the boundless root of the spirit, you do not face backwards.

Meet the ancestral masters -- be intimate with the teachings.
Tie straw for a thatched hut; do not create backsliding.
Abandon your 100 years (of your lifespan), yet be alive vertically and sideways.
Wave a hand, then do, just without doing wrong.

One thousand kinds of words -- ten thousand categories of liberation,
Are only necessary not to obscure the teaching for long.
If you desire to know the undying person inside the thatched hut,
How can it be separate, and yet right now be covered by the skin bag?

For comparison with four other translations see the following webpages:

Song of the Grass Shack

Song of the Grass Hut

Soanka: Song Of The Grass Hut

A Song About My Grass-Thatch Hut

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Case 42 龐居士雪 Layman Pang's Snow

42. Layman Pang's Snow

Raised: Layman Pang bid adieu to Yaoshan. Shan ordered ten people who were Zen travelers to go together to the main gate to see him off. The Layman pointed to the snow in the middle of the sky and said, "The excellent snow; flake by flake it does not fall at another spot."
At that time there was Zen traveler Quan who asked, "At what spot does it fall?"
The gentleman hit once with a slap.
Quan said, "A Layman too cannot get careless."
The gentleman said, "Like this you call yourself a Zen traveler. Lao-tzu has not liberated your dependence."
Quan said, "Layman how do you make it alive?"
The gentleman again hit once with a slap and said, "The eye sees like a blind person; the mouth speaks like a mute."
Xuedou separately said, "At the first questioning point, yet grab a snowball then hit."

Xuedou's own ode, placing another hit, says:

A trap.
Hit with a snowball, hit with a snowball.
The checkpoint of Elder Pang's function is unable to be grasped.
The superior person of Heaven does not personally know of the opening.
Inside of the eye, inside of the ear, decidedly easy-going.
Easy-going decidedly.
The blue-eyed barbarian monk is unable to differentiate.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Case 41 of the Blue Cliff Record

41. 趙州問死 Zhaozhou Asks About Death

Raised: Zhaozhou asked Touzi, "So, what about the time when the person of great death returns to the living?"
Touzi said, "It is not permitted to go traveling by night; the light must be cast to arrive."

The Ode says:

In the middle of life there is an eye; turning back is the same as death.
Why must the jealous physician do an exam of the family?
The esteemed words of the ancient Buddha did not arrive together.
One doesn't know who is let loose to scatter dust and sand.


Zen is the Heart of the Vehicle of Oneness: A survey of Ekayana Buddhism - Introduction

[This is the first draft of the introduction to an essay I'm working on. (c) 2008]

Introduction To Ekayana

The thesis of this essay is that Zen is the heart of Ekayana Buddhism, that is, the Buddhism known as the One Vehicle or more accurately the Vehicle of Oneness. While many have heard of Zen Buddhism and of the major branch of Buddhism known as Mahayana (Great Vehicle) Buddhism, within which Zen is usually located, and heard also of the Mahayana charge of Hinayana (Small Vehicle) views against opposing branches of Buddhism, few in the West have heard, fewer still have appreciated, and even rarer have been those who realize the meaning of Ekayana Buddhism. By Zen I do not mean Zen as a religious institution but the Zen of awakening that is the unity of meditation (dhyana-chan-zen) and wisdom (prajna) within the context of one's straightforward daily activities (sila). The primary purpose of this paper is to inform English speaking Buddhists about the importance and centrality of Ekayana Buddhism as it relates to their own Buddhist practice in whichever tradition they find themselves. Secondarily I hope to speak to non-Buddhists who are wondering how Buddhism relates to their own spiritual practice.
Though the Ekayana is Shakyamuni's true and direct Dharma, the basic problem is that even most Buddhists have failed to see and acknowledge the central role of Ekayana. This is a problem of failing to see the forest for the trees. This problem is explained by the Ekayana as being the result of that essential aspect of consciousness that divides the world into the images of separate categories and things and turning this divisive mental process onto Buddhism as well. Thus, instead of having a clear appreciation of Ekayana Buddhism and how it functions as the complete unification of Buddhism, we have Buddhist sectarianism and arguments over the centrality of one sutra or another, the methods of one sect over another, or even sometimes the nature of the goal of Buddhism itself. The history of Buddhism is in large part a history of the resurgence of the Ekayana spirit and its subsequent re-fracturing when the spirit is overtaken by the religious politics of the day.
There are certain myths in Buddhism and Buddhist studies that Ekayana does not accept. Among them are the notions that Hinayana and Mahayana are irreconcilable, that Chinese Buddhism is not based on Indian Buddhism and that the Chinese development of the sects of Tiantai, Huayan. Zen, and Pure Land are inherently different from each other or have different goals. And there are beliefs about Buddhism in Buddhist studies circles that make no sense without an understanding of Ekayana. For example, it is often said and commonly believed that Zen and other forms of Buddhism "look to Hua-yen for their philosophical foundation." (Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra, p. xii) However, this implies a sectarian reliance that doesn't make sense. It is not that Zen looks to Huayan as a separate school for its philosophy, but that both Huayan and Zen are parts of the Ekayana as a perennial spiritual movement within Buddhism. The teaching of the Huayan Sutra may be said to represent the grand philosophical aspect of Ekayana while Zen presents the direct practice aspect of Ekayana. In this way, all of the Ekayana Sutras and their schools of study (not just the Huayan) are the lobes of the brain-mind of Ekayana as Zen is the heart-mind.
A caveat: One of the most primary ways we learn is by assimilating strange ideas and images through metaphors relating to something we are already familiar with, e.g., body parts like brain and heart. The downside of that learning method is that we may take the metaphor too literally and come to falsely believe something about the strange new thing that is not true simply because the idea is contained in the transitional metaphor and not in the new thing. For example, someone who had never before seen or heard of a lion or tiger may learn something accurate about a lion or tiger by being told it is like a very large house cat. But then the person would be misled upon taking the metaphor to mean that the usual lion or tiger was as docile as the usual house cat. Metaphors are good for making strange things familiar, but they are not substitutes for the facts themselves.
To be introduced now to Ekayana may seem strange to many if not most Western Buddhists who have heard frequently of Mahayana and of the debate over the uses of the term Hinayana, and who even may have heard of Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle), but have not heard the term Ekayana before or having heard it not really registered it as a term of significance. This sense of strangeness might be reduced by learning that Ekayana is a little like Gnosticism within Christianity; it is an essentially ecumenical movement within Buddhism that refuses to allow itself to become a separate sect and so, to deal with the sectarian mentality of human beings, it appears within all the sects to greater or lesser degrees. In other words, while there are the sectarian divisions known as Zen, Pure Land, Huayan, Theravada, Vajrayana, etc., just as the word Buddha means the Awakened One, the threads that weave the tapestry of the Ekayana movement will be found throughout Buddhism wherever an individual in a particular sect has had a real and genuine awakening which is the one goal shared throughout all Buddhism.
Another caveat: to see Ekayana Buddhism as the "One Vehicle" or "One Path" does not mean what it may seem to imply if taken narrowly: that Ekayana is an exclusive form of Buddhism. For example, those Buddhists who are already familiar with the term Ekayana, or the One Vehicle, through the Lotus Sutra may be surprised to learn that the Ekayana doesn't mean believing in the Lotus Sutra as the one and only best teaching of Buddha. This mistaken belief about Ekayana -- taking it to mean only one framework of belief based on one sutra as the "One Vehicle" -- is as mistaken in the Buddhist context as the mistaken notion that taking Jesus as personal savior is the only "one Way" in the Christian context while denying that every other view of Christianity has any legitimacy. Such narrow mindedness is best known under the label "fundamentalism" which, as a human dilemma, affects Buddhism just as much as it affects every other religion. Taking one sutra or another as "the One Vehicle" is the mistake of literalizing the Ekayana and seeking the Buddha's Dharma of Ekayana in the words of the Buddha and not in the practice, realization, and manifestation of Buddha's awakening.
Woven in the history of Ekayana are several common themes which may be outlined as: (1) Buddhism is the religious science of the One Mind, (2) the One Mind is known by many names such as Dharmakaya (the body or essence of Dharma), Buddha-nature, Tathagata-garbha (the womb of the One-Who-Comes-Thus), Sunyata (Emptiness), Alaya-vjnana (the Storehouse of Consciousness), etc., (3) since all the teachings of Buddhism, including both Mahayana and Hinayana, are essentially teachings about the One Mind they must be taken as an organic whole and this reconciliation of apparent oppositions or contradictions within Buddhist teachings is the synthesis of Ekayana, (4) as all beings share equally the One Mind there is an absolute basis for human equality, (5) realizing this absolute basis of the One Mind is not accomplished as an intellectual pursuit but must be accomplished by experiential practice, and (6) since all people share This One Mind there is no fundamental distinction between monk and lay practitioner in the potential for -- or actual realization of -- awakening in Buddhism.
The Ekayana has played a crucial role at every stage in the outward movement of maturing Buddhism from its birthplace in the borderlands between India and Nepal. Ekayana was central to the development of what became known as the Mahayana when Buddhism spread to Southern India and northwest into Kashmir and across the Hindu Kush where it met the Silk Road in what is now Afghanistan and Central Asia. The Ekayana also played pivotal roles in the transplantation of Buddhism to China, Korea, and Japan. Now that Buddhism has come to the West, and especially with an emphasis on lay practice, it is necessary for Western Buddhists to at least understand and appreciate -- and hopefully realize -- the meaning of Ekayana for Buddhism to become meaningfully alive within our Western cultural framework. It should not be a surprise that the religion of Buddha's enlightenment has met fertile soil in the West today where we can see the ecumenical spirit of Ekayana working unconsciously in the Western Buddhist communities as it touches those aspects of the Western psyche that are Ekayana in spirit and grounded in the psychological and philosophical traditions of gnosis, the Age of Reason, and the Western Enlightenment. When individuals awaken and express their awakening, which then comes to a shared awareness in a living community, then that is the presence of the living Ekayana of Buddha Dharma.

#end Introduction#

The outline of the essay continues with the following section headings:

Bodhidharma's Ekayana
Ekayana in Pali Scriptures
Ekayana in Mahayana Scriptures
Ekayana in Chinese Buddhism
Fazang's Ekayana
Huineng's Ekayana
Zongmi's Ekayana
Ekayana in Japanese Buddhism
Prince Shotoku's Ekayana
Hakuin's Ekayana
Ekayana Today

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Protest should mean not placating.

This is a response to the article "Obama Needs a Protest Movement" by Francis Fox Piven in The Nation (see below.)

Oh my, I am astonished. Frances Fox Piven says, "The astonishing election of 2008 is over. Whatever else the future holds, the unchallenged domination of American national government by big business and the political right has been broken."

What election is she talking about? While, for the time being only, government has been wrestled from the hold of the political right wing of the big business party, Obama and his centrist Democrat supporters are as equally dominated by the liberal wing of big business as the political right wing of big business ever dominated the Republicans. Otherwise, for just one example, Joseph Lieberman wouldn't still be chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and instead, there would be talk about the dismantling of the Department of Homeland Security.

If Piven's premise is true that the domination by big business was “unchallenged”, then it can only be true because the Democrats were the ones not challenging in Congress, There were plenty of challenges from outside government. Every indication of Obama's transition decision making so far shows that there will continue to be no challenge to those big business interests coming from the White House and Congress shows no signs of challenging bib business either.

Since Piven's whole article, and excellent history lesson, is really about the need to have a challenge to the continuing domination of American national government by big business, I wonder why she opens with such a patently false premise? In my view, such placating of Democratic centrists by massaging their egos and self-delusion when it comes to their being dominated by big business is exactly the problem we progressives have, not our solution. The bottom line is that if Obama needs a protest movement it is only because he doesn't want one, and that is the problem the American people have with the big business interests controlling Obama and Congress, whether they are called Democrats or Republicans.

Gregory Wonderwheel

----- Original Message -----
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG
Sent: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 5:30 PM
Subject: Obama needs a protest movement

Obama needs a protest movement
by Frances Fox Piven

The Nation - 11/15/08 this article appears in the Dec. 01, 2008 issue

The astonishing election of 2008 is over. Whatever else the future holds, the unchallenged domination of American national government by big business and the political right has been broken. Even more amazing, Americans have elected an African-American as president. These facts alone are rightful cause for jubilation.

Naturally, people are making lists of what the new administration should do to begin to reverse the decades-long trends toward rising inequality, unrestrained corporate plunder, ecological disaster, military adventurism and constricted democracy. But if naming our favored policies is the main thing we do, we are headed for a terrible letdown. Let's face it: Barack Obama is not a visionary or even a movement leader. He became the nominee of the Democratic Party, and then went on to win the general election, because he is a skillful politician. That means he will calculate whom he has to conciliate and whom he can ignore in realms dominated by big-money contributors from Wall Street, powerful business lobbyists and a Congress that includes conservative Blue Dog and Wall Street-oriented Democrats. I don't say this to disparage Obama. It is simply the way it is, and if Obama was not the centrist and conciliator he is, he would not have come this far this fast, and he would not be the president-elect.

Still, the conditions that influence politicians can change. The promises and hopes generated by election campaigns sometimes help to raise hopes and set democratic forces in motion that break the grip of politics as usual. I don't mean that the Obama campaign operation is likely to be transformed into a continuing movement for reform. A campaign mobilization is almost surely too flimsy and too dependent on the candidate to generate the weighty pressures that can hold politicians accountable. Still, the soaring rhetoric of the campaign; the slogans like "We are the ones we have been waiting for"; the huge, young and enthusiastic crowds--all this generates hope, and hope fuels activism among people who otherwise accept politics as usual.

Sometimes, encouraged by electoral shifts and campaign promises, the ordinary people who are typically given short shrift in political calculation become volatile and unruly, impatient with the same old promises and ruses, and they refuse to cooperate in the institutional routines that depend on their cooperation. When that happens, their issues acquire a white-hot urgency, and politicians have to respond, because they are politicians. In other words, the disorder, stoppages and institutional breakdowns generated by this sort of collective action threaten politicians. These periods of mass defiance are unnerving, and many authoritative voices are even now pointing to the dangers of pushing the Obama administration too hard and too far. Yet these are also the moments when ordinary people enter into the political life of the country and authentic bottom-up reform becomes possible.

The parallels between the election of 2008 and the election of 1932 are often invoked, with good reason. It is not just that Obama's oratory is reminiscent of FDR's oratory, or that both men were brought into office as a result of big electoral shifts, or that both took power at a moment of economic catastrophe. All this is true, of course. But I want to make a different point: FDR became a great president because the mass protests among the unemployed, the aged, farmers and workers forced him to make choices he would otherwise have avoided. He did not set out to initiate big new policies. The Democratic platform of 1932 was not much different from that of 1924 or 1928. But the rise of protest movements forced the new president and the Democratic Congress to become bold reformers.

The movements of the 1930s were often set in motion by radical agitators--Communists, Socialists, Musteites-- but they were fueled by desperation and economic calamity. Unemployment demonstrations, usually (and often not without reason) labeled riots by the press, began in 1929 and 1930, as crowds assembled, raised demands for "bread or wages," and then marched on City Hall or local relief offices. In some places, "bread riots" broke out as crowds of the unemployed marched on storekeepers to demand food, or simply to take it.

In the big cities, mobs used strong-arm tactics to resist the rising numbers of evictions. In Harlem and on the Lower East Side, crowds numbering in the thousands gathered to restore evicted families to their homes. In Chicago, small groups of black activists marched through the streets of the ghetto to mobilize the large crowds that would reinstall evicted families. A rent riot there left three people dead and three policemen injured in August 1931, but Mayor Anton Cermak ordered a moratorium on evictions, and some of the rioters got work relief. Later, in the summer of 1932, Cermak told a House committee that if the federal government didn't send $150 million for relief immediately, it should be prepared to send troops later. Even in Mississippi, Governor Theodore Bilbo told an interviewer, "Folks are restless. Communism is gaining a foothold. Right here in Mississippi, some people are about ready to lead a mob. In fact, I'm getting a little pink myself." Meanwhile, also in the summer of 1932, farmers across the country armed themselves with pitchforks and clubs to prevent the delivery of farm products to markets where the price paid frequently did not cover the cost of production.

Notwithstanding the traditional and conservative platform of the Democratic Party, FDR's campaign in 1932 registered these disturbances in new promises to "build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid." Economic conditions worsened in the interim between the election and the inauguration, and the clamor for federal action became more strident. Within weeks, Roosevelt had submitted legislation to Congress for public works spending, massive emergency relief to be implemented by states and localities, agricultural assistance and an (ultimately unsuccessful) scheme for industrial recovery.

The unruly protests continued, and in many places they were crucial in pressuring reluctant state and local officials to implement the federally initiated aid programs. Then, beginning in 1933, industrial workers inspired by the rhetorical promises of the new administration began to demand the right to organize. By the mid-1930s, mass strikes were a threat to economic recovery and to the Democratic voting majorities that had put FDR in office. A pro-union labor policy was far from Roosevelt's mind when he took office in 1933. But by 1935, with strikes escalating and the election of 1936 approaching, he was ready to sign the National Labor Relations Act.

Obama's campaign speeches emphasized the theme of a unified America where divisions bred by race or party are no longer important. But America is, in fact, divided: by race, by party, by class. And these divisions will matter greatly as we grapple with the whirlwind of financial and economic crises, of prospective ecological calamity, of generational and political change, of widening fissures in the American empire. I, for one, do not have a blueprint for the future. Maybe we are truly on the cusp of a new world order, and maybe it will be a better, more humane order. In the meantime, however, our government will move on particular policies to confront the immediate crisis. Whether most Americans will have an effective voice in these policies will depend on whether we tap our usually hidden source of power, our ability to refuse to cooperate on the terms imposed from above.

Copyright c 2008 The Nation

[Frances Fox Piven is on the faculty of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the author, most recently, of Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America ].

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people on the left that will help them to interpret the world and to change it.

Submit via email:
Submit via the Web:
Frequently asked questions:
Account assistance:
Search the archives:

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Your Wish List for President Obama

The BBC has a story titled "Inside the presidential in-tray" that made me think of what I would put in President Obama's in-tray as my wish list of things that President Obama could do in the first few weeks of his presidency to make the hope of change be real and actual.

What I'm talking about are executive orders and presidential letters and decisions that do not require legislation or congressional confirmation. These are not legislative packages, and I'm not talking about cabinet appointments (which I assume is a discussion going on elsewhere), but about the kinds of things that President Obama can do on his own by presidential fiat or initiative.

I'm talking about what very practical actions President Obama can take and not just statements of philosophical or political postions. The idea is that these are very direct things to do or say that the President could hand to a staff person and say, "Write it up in the proper language and I'll sign it."

What's on your wish list?

Here's my wish list of presidential orders, just in the order that they percolated to awareness:

Foreign Relations Military issues:

- Order Guantanamo prison closed within two months and all prisoner immediately transferred to federal prisons where they will have the right of habeas corpus and access to attorneys.

- Order the immediate halt to the military tirbunal trials of prisoners in Guantanamo and that all trials be conducted in Federal courts.

- Order the immediate closure of all extra territorial prisons being operated for the benefit of the USA.

- Order the immediate cessation of all rendition programs whether they are "ordinary" or "extraordinary."

- Order the immediate halt of incursions by military actions by both troops and drone missle attacks on the soverign territories of Pakistan and Iran.

- Order the immediate cessation of all torture and so-called "enhanced interrogation" methods.

- Order that the US join and sign the Cluster Munitions Convention of 2008, and the global ban on Landmines with the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, and the US will comply with the terms of those treaties pending ratification by Congress.

- Order the immediate cessation by the Defense Dept of all unanium or other radioactive material munitions on the battlefield without specific and personal approval by the Commander in Chief.

-- Order the immediate removal of three brigades of troops from Iraq.

-- Order the cessation of the "stop loss" program.

-- Order clemency or pardon for all military personal convicted in courts martial for resisting the Iraq War.

-- Write a diplomatic letter to the Iraqi President and negotiators of the Status of Forces Agreement that the US will not keep any troops, even noncombat troops, in Iraq past 18 months without a vote by the Iraq parliment requesting that troops stay.

-- Write a diplomatic letter to President Karzai of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan telling him that the Afghanistan National Assembly must formally request the continuation of US and NATO troops within 12 months and set clear goals for the continued occupation for the troops to remain in Afghanistan. (Did you know that the Afghanistan Constitution prohibits non-muslims from being elected President? Something to think about in light of the current unconditional suuport of Afghanistan.)

- Order immediate compliance with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons [NPT] and especially (1) beginning implementation of the treaty provison in Article VI, to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control," and (2) providing a complete declaration to the IAEA of all nuclear materials in peaceful civil facilities under the jurisdiction of the USA and give IAEA inspectors routine access to the facilities for periodic monitoring and inspections as required by the Treaty.


- Order the immediate cessation of arrests at all ICE raids and the break-up of families in such immigration raids. If ICE raids are conducted the ICE officers may only issue tickets to appear at immigration hearings and must also issue citations to managers and owners at the same time or not do the raid at all.

Open Secrets:

- Order that all documents under presidential control related to the runup to the Iraq war be made available to the public to determine who was lying and when.

- Order that all defense department documents related to UFOs be made open to the public. (This may seem silly, but it is symbolic of a "nothing to hide" change in government.)

- Order that all documents under presidential control related to 9/11 and its investigation be opened to the public including all videos, photos, recordings or other evidence of the attack on the Pentagon.

Israel and Palestine:

- Give diplomatic notice to Israeli government affirming support for Israel but condemning Israel for its methods of self-preservation in violation of international law and the human rights of the Palestinians and informing Israel that it must immediately cease to blockade Palestian territories from outside air and sea transportation and the land travel from the Egyptian and Jordanian borders or as a STICK failure to cease this violation of international law will result in the US stopping all military aid to Israel and withdrawing the US veto that is protecting Israel in the UN.

- Give diplomatic notice to the two Palestinian governments that they must immediately cease attacking Israel and as a CARROT the USA will recognise the right of the Palestinians to their own state or states as they choose or as a STICK the US will approve the invasion of Gaza by international-- not Israeli -- troops in order to allow the Palestinian people to elect a new government that will enforce the cease fire and to hold a constitutional convention if the current governments do not begin planning for one.

- Tell both sides they are acting like knuckleheads and they have to fix this situation by Israel returning to the 1967 borders and both sides negotiating over how to settle the right of return issue (either land swap or reparations) and how to share Jerusalem; and they have to come to terms for a treaty within 18 months.

Domestic stimulus:

-- Order rhe immediate cessation of all no-bid contracts in the military and elsewhere.

-- Order the immediate review by FEMA of the unfinished related to damage by hurricane Katrina and report a recommendation for Federal assistance for the immediate return of all remaining displaced persons.

- Order the EPA to create a comprehensive plan for a national service Environmental and National Resources Conservation Corps.

- Order a review of the bloated Homeland Security Dept. to increase homeland security by dismantelling the HSD and redistributing the servives to appropriate agencies.

- Order all Federal Agencies to stop purchasing regular gasoline powered vehicles unless having a specifically approved exception and to purchase only alternative fuel vehicles such as either natural gas, biodiesel, or hybrid plug-in, behicles.

- Order the Defense Department to prepare alternative energy conversion plans for use of solar and other alternative energy sources for military use.

Presidential responsibility:

- Order the Justice department to conduct an investigation for possible prosecution of President George W. Bush, including but not limited to the charges of torture and murder as outlined in The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder by Vincent Bugliosi and the Recommendations From Bush War Crimes Prosecution Conference to recommend whether an independent counsel should be appointed.
Obama has already stated that this is part of his thinking so there is no need to delay beginning the inquiry:
“What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that’s already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can’t prejudge that because we don’t have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You’re also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.”

"I think it’s important– one of the things we’ve got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing betyween really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I’ve said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law — and I think that’s roughly how I would look at it.”

Okay that's enough for now. I am very interested in see what others would put in President Obama's "to-do without delay" in-tray.

I first posted the above at at Daily Kos but I got very few responses on the subject of a wish list for "to-do" items that would go into President Obama's "in-tray," that is, those things which a president can get accomplished merely by signing his name and not needing the cooperation of Congress to pass the legislation or confirm the appointment.

Apparently the concept of "what can President Obama do with the stroke of his pen?" is not as interesting to others as it is to me.

Now here is a website that may appeal to more people because it is not so policy wonky as I am and not about detailed action items but priority goals. At you can add your own priorities to the collective consciousness without becoming too bogged down in specifics.

Jim Gilliam says our priorities are combined on his website like TV's Neilson ratings to create a master list of priorities of the people.

From the website:
White House 2 is completely independent of the U.S. government, the official White House website at, and any political party. The only ideology here is the collective will of the American people. If you disagree with something, change it!

The site is managed by Jim Gilliam, under the direction of U.S. citizens like you. More about the site, our three simple rules, and strict privacy policy. Feedback and suggestions are welcome here, and please email press inquiries to

You can add priorities and change your ranking of your previously ranked priorities.

My first personal top ten priorities were:
1. Stop the Iraq War
2. Stop the Afghanistan War
3. Kill the Patriot Act
4. Enact Universal Single-payer Healthcare
5. Shut down Guantanamo
6. stop torture
7. restore habeas corpus
8. End using landmines, cluster bombs, and uranium munitions
9. End Bank's Power to Create Money- Only Create Money
10. Rebuild New Orleans making sure EVERYONE has a home

Check it out for yourself.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

What McCain's Hero Really Stood For

WWTRS? What would T.R. say?

John McCain claims Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt as one of his personal heros. For anyone who actually knows the life and legacy of T.R. it is painfully clear that McCain doesn't know what he is talking about and that his feigned admiration for T.R. is just another of McCain's unending stack of lies. Wouldn't it be interesting if McCain actually took the time to read and follow T.R.'s words?

We've seen how McCain's campaign has become one long character attack. Here's what T.R. said about character attacks.
Gross and reckless assaults on character, whether on the stump or in newspaper, magazine, or book, create a morbid and vicious public sentiment, and at the same time act as a profound deterrent to able men of normal sensitiveness and tend to prevent them from entering the public service at any price.
Speech, "THE MAN WITH THE MUCK RAKE" April 15, 1906

The words of President Roosevelt himself give the lie to McCain's claim of admiration for the legendary Rough Rider. While T.R. used his military experience to forge a deep sensibility for peace and justice, McCain has only bulit a career of pettiness and poison with his military background.

Recently, Timothy Noah in Slate Magazine has pointed out the discrepancy of McCain calling Obama a socialist when Teddy Roosevelt was called the same thing, and in fact was far more openly sympathetic to socialists than Obama can ever be expected to be in the current atmosphere of American politics. Here's how Noah's article begins:

McCain's Hero: More Socialist Than Obama!

McCain can call Obama a socialist or he can call Teddy Roosevelt his hero. He can't do both.

By Timothy Noah
Slate Magazine
Oct. 23, 2008

Imagine that instead of telling Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher that "when you spread the wealth around it's good for everybody," Barack Obama had said the following:

We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

The New York Post's Page One would blare: "OBAMA: I'LL
SEIZE 'SWOLLEN FORTUNES'!" Bill Kristol would demand to know, in his New York Times column, what godly powers enabled Obama to discern precisely whose wealth-David
Geffen's? George Soros'?-would "benefit the community." On Fox News, Bill O'Reilly would start to say something, then sputter, turn purple, and keel over backward in a grand mal seizure.

John McCain, meanwhile, would have to stop saying that Teddy Roosevelt is his hero, because the passage quoted above is from T.R.'s "New Nationalism" speech of 1910. Either that, or McCain would have to quit calling Barack Obama a socialist.

T.R. justified progressive taxation straightforwardly as a matter of equality. In his 1907 State of the Union address, Roosevelt said:

Our aim is to recognize what Lincoln pointed out: The fact that there are some respects in which men are obviously not equal; but also to insist that there should be an equality of self-respect and of mutual respect, an equality of rights before the law, and at least an approximate equality in the conditions under which each man obtains the chance to show the stuff that is in him when compared to his fellows [(bold) italics mine].

Noah goes on to compare the anti-socialist drivel coming from McCain with its witchhunt against "spreading the wealth" with T.R.'s plain contempt for people with "swollen fortunes" and "malefactors of great wealth."

As Noah also shows, T.R. was more like Obama than McCain as it was T.R. who also had to face the character attacks of being called a socialist.

T.R., of course, was no socialist. Indeed, his purpose was largely to prevent socialists from coming to power. But the trust buster got called a socialist a lot more often than Obama ever will. He writes in his autobiography:

Because of things I have done on behalf of justice to the workingman, I have often been called a Socialist. Usually I have not taken the trouble even to notice the epithet. Moreover, I know that many American Socialists are high-minded and honorable citizens, who in reality are merely radical social reformers. They are opposed to the brutalities and industrial injustices which we see everywhere about us.

T.R. then goes on to outline his strong differences "with the Marxian Socialists" and their belief in class warfare and the inevitable demise of capitalism. Later, he returns to his earlier theme:

Many of the men who call themselves socialists today are in reality merely radical social reformers, with whom on many points good citizens can and ought to work in hearty general agreement, and whom in many practical matters of government good citizens can well afford to follow.

Beyond the question of economic equality, progressive taxation, and the charge of socialism there are other ways in which McCain does not follow T.R. As stated in the introduction above, McCain has no compunction to run a campaign centered on character attack.

But T.R. also was capable of rising to the highest levels of public spirit far above the sloganeering of McCain. On the occasion of the celebaration of Lincoln's birthday in February 13, 1905, Roosevelt gave a speech on "LINCOLN AND THE RACE PROBLEM". One can only imagine what kind of different world view McCain would have to have to make a speech that included these following sentiments. I mean, has McCain ever made a speech on race issues in America, much less can you imagine McCain ever saying anything remotely like these words of Teddy Roosevelt?

Most certainly all clear-sighted and generous men in the North appreciate the difficulty and perplexity of this problem, sympathize with the South in the embarrassment of conditions for which she is not alone responsible, feel an honest wish to help her where help is practicable, and have the heartiest respect for those brave and earnest men of the South who, in the face of fearful difficulties, are doing all that men can do for the betterment alike of white and of black. The attitude of the North toward the negro is far from what it should be, and there is need that the North also should act in good faith upon the principle of giving to each man what is justly due him, of treating him on his worth as a man, granting him no special favors, but denying him no proper opportunity for labor and the reward of labor. But the peculiar circumstances of the South render the problem there far greater and far more acute.

Neither I nor any other man can say that any given way of approaching that problem will present in our times even an approximately perfect solution, but we can safely say that there can never be such solution at all unless we approach it with the effort to do fair and equal justice among all men; and to demand from them in return just and fair treatment for others. Our effort should be to secure to each man, whatever his color, equality of opportunity, equality of treatment before the law. As a people striving to shape our actions in accordance with the great law of righteousness we can not afford to take part in or be indifferent to oppression or maltreatment of any man who, against crushing disadvantages, has by his own industry, energy, self-respect, and perseverance struggled upward to a position which would entitle him to the respect of his fellows, if only his skin were of a different hue.

Every generous impulse in us revolts at the thought of thrusting down instead of helping up such a man. To deny any man the fair treatment granted to others no better than he is to commit a wrong upon him - a wrong sure to react in the long run opon those guilty of such denial. The only safe principle upon which Americans can act is thatt of "all men up," not that of "some men down." If in any community the level of intelligence, morality, and thrift among the colored men can be raised, it is, humanly speaking, sure that the same level among the whites will be raised to an even higher degree; and it is no less sure that the debasement of the blacks will in the end carry with it an attendant debasement of the whites. [bold added]

Yet how "indifferent to oppression adn maltreatment" McCain and the Republicans continue to be!

And while McCain and Sarah Palin go around the country stiring up the flames of regionalism with their "real America" campaign, Teddy Roosevelt talked like Obama about the United States and out people being the same throughout our nation.

Let us be steadfast for the right; but let us err on the side of generosity rather than on the side of vindictiveness toward those who differ from us as to the method of attaining the right. Let us never forget our duty to help in uplifting the lowly, to shield from wrong the humble; and let us likewise act in a spirit of the broadest and frankest generosity toward all our brothers, all our fellow-countrymen; in a spirit proceeding not from weakness but from strength; a spirit which takes no more account of locality than it does of class or of creed; a spirit which is resolutely bent on seeing that the Union which Washington founded and which Lincoln saved from destruction shall grow nobler and greater throughout the ages.

I believe in this country with all my heart and soul. I believe that our people will in the end rise level to every need, will in the end triumph over every difficulty that arises before them. I could not have such confident faith in the destiny of this mighty people if I had it merely as regards one portion of that people. Throughout our land things on the whole have grown better and not worse, and this is as true of one part of the country as it is of another. I believe in the Southerner as I believe in the Northerner. I claim the right to feel pride in his great qualities and in his great deeds exactly as I feel pride in the great qualities and deeds of every other American. For weal or for woe we are knit together, and we shall go up or go down together; and I believe that we shall go up and not down, that we shall go forward instead of halting and falling back, because I have an abiding faith in the generosity, the courage, the resolution, and the common sense of all my countrymen.

The Southern States face difficult problems; and so do the Northern States. Some of the problems are the same for the entire country. Others exist in greater intensity in one section, and yet others exist in greater intensity in another section. But in the end they will all be solved; for fundamentally our people are the same throughout this land; the same in the qualities of heart and brain and hand which have made this Republic what it is in the great today; which will make it what it is to be in the infinitely greater to-morrow. I admire and respect and believe in and have faith in the men and women of the South as I admire and respect and believe in and have faith in the men and women of the North. All of us alike, Northerners and Southerners, Easterners and Westerners, can best prove our fealty to the Nation's post by the way in which we do the Nation's work in the present; for only thus can we be sure that our children's children shall inherit Abraham Lincoln's single-hearted devotion to the great unchanging creed that "righteousness exalteth a nation." [bold added]

Also in his "New Nationalism" speech at the beginning of the twentith century, Roosevelt can almost be heard to be chiding McCain and today's twenty-first century Republicans directly when he said:

It is half melancholy and half amusing to see the way in which well-meaning people gather to do honor to the man who, in company with John Brown, and under the lead of Abraham Lincoln, faced and solved the great problems of the nineteenth century, while, at the same time, these same good people nervously shrink from, or frantically denounce, those who are trying to meet the problems of the twentieth century in the spirit which was accountable for the successful solution of the problems of Lincoln's time.

Today McCain, Palin, and the rabid Republican rank and file "frantically denounce" anyone who would try to meet the problems of this twenty-first century with the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt.

Excuse me, but T.R. quoted Lincoln saying:

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

This is the truth that years and years of conservative capitalist controlled education and propaganda has buried deep and out of sight of the collective consciousness of our nation.

What did McCain's "hero" have to say about the dangers of corporations? Originally the corporation franchise was a public benefit enterprise of limited duration. Since corporations was a term that implied "public-service" the term corporaiton was not used for for-profit enterprises and instead the term "combinations" was used. Here's an example, also from the "New Nationalsm" speech, of how "hero" T.R. felt about the necessity of control over for-profit corporaitons.

We have come to recognize that franchises should never be granted except for a limited time, and never without proper provision for compensation to the public. It is my personal belief that the same kind and degree of control and supervision which should be exercised over public-service corporations should be extended also to combinations which control necessaries of life, such as meat, oil, and coal, or which deal in them on an important scale. I have no doubt that the ordinary man who has control of them is much like ourselves. I have no doubt he would like to do well, but I want to have enough supervision to help him realize that desire to do well. I believe that the officers, and, especially, the directors, of corporations should be held personally responsible when any corporation breaks the law.

Combinations in industry are the result of an imperative economic law which cannot be repealed by political legislation. The effort at prohibiting all combination has substantially failed. The way out lies, not in attempting to prevent such combinations, but in completely controlling them in the interest of the public welfare.

Bearing in mind thia quote from T.R., what does McCain have to say about "completely controlling" the for-profit corporations of today "in the interest of the public welfare"? If we had any adequate moderators of the presidential debates this is a question that would have been asked of McCain.

It is said that failure to learn from history makes us bound to repeate it, and again the words of T.R. ring as true today about Wall Street as they did 98 years ago.

The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. [bold added]

This is a prescription to change the system of "money-getting", and is a call to action that today McCain has not even acknowledged much less embraced. We know that Obama has given at least some lip service to minor incremental change even while he receives campaign comtributions from the same class of "enormously wealthy". Whether or not he can lead any real change is an open question. But McCain adamently opposes even any discussion of change or restraint on the "unfair money-getting" and the conditions enabling those men to accumpulate power.

Lastly, let us consider that McCain, Palin, and the Republicans would call anyone who criticizes President Bush and his Iraq war unpatriotic. WWTRS? (What woould T.R. say?) Fortunatley, there is no need to speculate because here are his words:

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else. [bold added]

McCain's entire public political personna, as it is built up around such images as holding Teddy Roosevelt to be his "hero," is shown by the very words of T.R. to be nothing but a sham, a phony con-game on the voters.

P.S. For a lighter side of calling Obama a socialist, here's a segment of the Colbert Report interviewing Brian Moore, the actual Socialist candidate for President,

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Imagining what a real debate might be like.

People who grow up in the USA knowing only the bizarrely bland events called debates that are orchestrated by the corporte plutocrats called "the main stream media" can only have a vague sense that surely there must be a better way to do it.

Indeed there is. It is called having a "debate" everywhere else in the world.

People who have been on high school or college debate teams are the small minority of Americans who know that there is a long tradition of debating that ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and FOX totally ignore in their propagandized sanitations that they call debates.

Imagine what a real debate would be like.

In the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates in their campaign for the US Senate, that ranged over several weeks across seven different cities in Illinois, the 3-hour debates began with the opening speaker speaking for an hour, the second speaker for 90 minutes, and the opening speaker then closed with 30 minutes. There were no moderators at all.

This well know example begs the question why do we need moderators? What is the role of the moderator?

Among the other traditions of debate in the English speaking world is the Oxford Union style of debating. For a great online source of how this works see the Doha Debates moderated with the superlative skills of Tim Sebastion.

The Doha Debates are a public forum for dialogue and freedom of speech in Qatar.

They are chaired by the internationally renowned broadcaster Tim Sebastian, formerly of the BBC's HARDTalk programme, and held in the headquarters of the Qatar Foundation in Doha each month during the academic year.

For the past three years, the Doha Debates have been providing a platform for serious discussion of the hottest issues in the Arab and Islamic worlds, striving to be both controversial and informative. They have gained a huge international following through their broadcast on BBC World - the BBC's international television channel.

The Doha Debates are modeled on the Oxford Union debates. A motion is presented to the 350-strong audience and two speakers argue on behalf of the motion and two speak against it. Tim Sebastian questions the speakers on their positions, then opens the debate to questions from the audience. Finally, the audience votes for or against the motion, based on the merit of the arguments they have heard. Our invited speakers are highly regarded academics, politicians, religious figures, government officials, policy experts and journalists from around the world.

What we now have are highly orchestrated debates with the moderator asking the same simple-minded questions to each candidate who gets about 90 seconds to reply. Instead of being a Devil's Advocate, the moderator in American debates seems to be there to keep the debate bland and unexciting. The candidate's answer is not challenged by the moderator, because they seem to fear being called biased by one side or the other.

You have to see Tim Sebastian in action to fully appreciate what a really skilled moderator can do. After each side makes its introductry statement Mr. Sebastian takes the role of Devil's Advocate and really peppers the person with pointed questions aimed at that person's weak links. When playing Devil's Advocate Mr. Sebastian shows a devilishly sly smile as he zings the presenter in the soft spots of their argument while they dodge and weave attempting hide their logical inadequacies. This is the real balance and objectivity of moderation: equal jabbing to each candidate, not the phony objectivitiy of letting the candidate answer without challenge.

What might a real Presidential Debate look like?

First, of all, the debates would have to be open to legitimate presidential candidates other than the two parties that are now dictating the format for the debates. For example, one way to determine who would debate would be to take the candidates who are on the ballot in a minimum number of states, such as in enough states to have the number of electoral college votes to win if they won each state they were on the ballot in.

Then, in the debate format, the candidates would go in random order and begin with a 5 to 10 minute (depending on the number of candidates) statement of their platform and most important concerns. Then before going to the next candidate, the moderator like Mr. Sebastian would take 5 to 10 minutes to question the candidate on weak points of their positions or logic. Then the next candidate woould make their opening statement followed by being questioned hotly by the moderator.

The next segment could include one question by each of the candidates to be answered by the oppponants.

The last segment of the dabate could be questions from the audience with the moderator making sure that the questions are distributed evenly and most importantly, to make sure that the candidates' answers don't get a free ride absent logic.

Most important is the role of the moderator who establishes the debate's contextual culture where there is no free ride and the moderator is able to question sharply each candidate on any point.

Again, to see how a real moderator can function as a fair Devil's Advocate aimed at each side, see any one of the Doha Debates such as "This House believes the Palestinians risk becoming their own worst enemy"

This is just one way to imagine an alternative debate format. Basically just about anything would be better than the debates we have today that are planned by the two ruling parties to be as bland and nonconfrontational as they can be allowing the candidates to simply present their talking points, even when the candidates makes mistakes or outrageously absurd claims.

For example, Sarah Palin misnamed Gen. McKirnan, calling him "McClellan" twice, but Joe Biden couldn't correct her without looking "ungentlemanly" and the moderator would be believed by Republicans to be taking sides. The result is those listening to the debate were never informed that Palin could not remember the name of the general she was claiming to be quoting.

Also, Palin was able to get away with this absurity:
Now you said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that's not patriotic. Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper.

CNN Transcript of Palin, Biden debate

A moderator like Tim Sebastian would certainly have asked if she really meant to say that John McCain is unpatriotic for, you know, asking government to be the solution to the financial crisis by voting for the $700 billion bailout bill?

Back Street Gets the Shaft While Wall Street Gets Welfare & Main Street Gets Conned

We hear a lot about Wall Street and Main Street these days but the politicians and the main stream media are doing their absolute best to ignore the Back Street as usual.

Every single Democrat and Republican who is supporting the Wall Street welfare plan is nothing but a hypocrite!

Republicans voting for the $700 Billion gift to the rich, whose platform is to oppose the "welfare" state, are completely hypocritical because they support the welfare-for-the-rich state. Hating the very word "socialism," the Republicans eagerly engage in privatizing their profits while socializing their risk.

Democrats who are voting for the boondoggle are hypocritical because, while they may support welfare (as I do), they are not giving the welfare to the people who need it and instead are giving it to the rich who don't. While claiming to be for working people the Democrats are working against the interests of working people and those on the back streets.

This scenario is as old as our nation and is the direct echo of the first Congress' consideration of the first funding bills in the new Congress of 1790.

Among the most important of the very first issues the new Congress had to deal with was the funding crisis. The primary issue was paying off the national debt owed to people holding Continental Dollars that were the script issued by the Revolutionary Army to fight the war. Most of the debt was owed to farmers and shopkeepers when the Army was taking supplies to fight the war. Much of it was also in soldier's pay some of it held by the widows of the soldiers. The Continentals had the name of the person they were issued to written on them along with the dollar amount. They were more like today’s checks than currency.

During the time of the Articles of Confederation between 1783 and 1789 there was no assurance at all that these Continentals would be paid by the new nation while the Confederation Congress fought over whose responsibility it was to pay, the states or the federal government.

Some states, like Pennsylvania, just went ahead and honorably paid off the Continentals. Others did not, claiming it was the National debt.

When the first Congress convened under the new Constitution the debt payment issue came up again. In the mean time speculators had been going around the country buying up Continentals paying widows, poor farmers and other note holders at only pennies on the dollar. While the debate was going on in Congress, many Congressman were buying up Continentals using agents and brokers.

The Debate boiled down to the positions between Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Hamilton wanted to give anyone currently holding the Continental its full dollar value. That of course meant that anyone holding them in speculation having paid only pennies on the dollar would make a giant windfall profit. Hamilton used the exact same arguments we are hearing today: it is necessary to being about confidence in the financial system, the people who bore the risk should not have to lose anything, it is good for the country.

Madison's position was that any original note holder currently holding a Continental should be paid full face value but if the current note holder was not the original person it was issued to then the current holder should only get a reasonable rate of interest on his investment and the remainder should go back to the original note holders, the widows, farmers and merchants who had to sell them to survive while Congress diddled.

Needless to say with so many Congressmen themselves holding Continental notes in speculation the Hamilton position won out and the rich shared in the spoils at the taxpayer's expense.

The parallels should be obvious today as we watch the rich both inside and outside of Congress put out the phony claim that this is needed for Americans to have "confidence" in the system when what they are doing is actually a confidence game on American taxpayer no less egregious than Hamilton's was.

There are many good solutions out there but the majority in Congress are not interested in listening. They know where and how their bread is buttered and even with all their stated concerns about Main Street, their only care is for Wall Street. And Wall Street is only a legalized gambling institution.

Where are the Back Streets in this debate?

Some Democrats and Republicans supporting this Wall Street welfare would tell you that there is help for Main Street in this package. But I don't take tax breaks for Microsoft, Wal-mart, and Harley-Davidson to be helping the people on the Back Streets. I don't see the tax breaks for toy wooden arrow makers in Oregon and Wisconsin to be helping the Back Streets or Back Roads. Those business interests are on the up side of the tracks and such pointed specific tax breaks are exactly the kind of special interest loopholes that the people want Congress to stop dealing out.

The increase of FDIC insurance from $100K to $250K isn't about the Back Street or even most of Main Street. The people I know are going from pay check to pay check and if they have $10,000 in the bank they feel lucky.

Only the Progressive Democrats like Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, et al., have so far seemed to really care about the Back Streets of America.

What does the Bible have to offer?

As a Buddhist, I find it very hypocritical of Republican and Democratic congresspeople voting for the Wall Street welfare package to be claiming to be good Christians in this con game.

It used to be--in the long ago days before Nixon and Reagan--that good Christians saw Wall Street as a dens of gamblers who were nothing but parasites on society. Nixon began and Reagan solidified the unholy marriage of fundamentalist Christians and Republican Wall Street gamblers where each agreed to ignore their animosity for the other if they agreed to support the specific narrow issues of the other. Essentially Wall Street speculators said, "If you support us and stop calling us parasites we will support you and you anti-abortion crusade."

Of course the fundamentalist evangelical Christians were sold on that con-game and even though the promise was false from the beginning-- because Wall Street knew it could not deliver--the gamblers of Wall Street have reaped the profits of their con.

If anyone considers themselves to be a Christian, then I tell you the Bible couldn't be clearer: the rich are not on your side, they are not to be trusted, they are not to be honored, they are gamblers and thieves who are parasites on society. There is nothing at all in the Bible about being against abortion, yet how many Christians really take the teachings on riches to heart?

Sure there are some nice rich people, but the fact remains that no wealth has ever been amassed in the entire history of the world that was not at root ill-gotten gains, created in some manner by greed, hatred, or ignorance.

Most of us know the Jesus quote from Matthew 19:23-24:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
How many really give it their attention?

And take these for instance:

Proverbs 28:5-7:
5 Evil men do not understand justice,
but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.
6 Better a poor man whose walk is blameless
than a rich man whose ways are perverse.
7 He who keeps the law is a discerning son,
but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.

Proverbs 28:27:
He who gives to the poor will lack nothing,
but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

Proverbs 20:9:
A generous man will himself be blessed,
for he shares his food with the poor.

Proverbs 22:16:
He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth
and he who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty.

Proverbs 22:22-23:
Do not exploit the poor because they are poor
and do not crush the needy in court,
for the LORD will take up their case
and will plunder those who plunder them.

Psalm 49:16
Do not be overawed when a man grows rich,
when the splendor of his house increases;
17 for he will take nothing with him when he dies,
his splendor will not descend with him.

Micah 3:
9 Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob,
you rulers of the house of Israel,
who despise justice
and distort all that is right;
10 who build Zion with bloodshed,
and Jerusalem with wickedness.
11 Her leaders judge for a bribe,
her priests teach for a price,
and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they lean upon the LORD and say,
"Is not the LORD among us?
No disaster will come upon us."
12 Therefore because of you,
Zion will be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,
the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

Micah 6:
6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

What's the point? The Wall Street Welfare for the rich has nothing to do with benefitting the people of Main Street or the Back Streets. Those who support the Wall Street Welfare are not doing so for any religious or moral reason. So, why are they doing it?


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Is Afghanistan the Sign That the Democratic Party Is Self-Destructively Chasing Moby Dick?

By Gregory Wonderwheel
August 31, 2008

In the best tradition of propaganda sloganeering, the Democrats labeled each day of their recent convention with a titled slogan intended to tell the party faithful what the sermon was to be about. The final day of the convention culminating in Barack Obama’s acceptance speech was titled with the religiously tinted slogan, “Change You Can Believe In.” Let the buyer beware. As Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote in January 1849, “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing” (“plus çça change, plus c'est la mêê me chose," commonly rendered as "the more things change, the more they stay the same"). With a triumph of staging, Barack Obama is selling the elixir of change in the political market places as well as preaching it from the political pulpits, still one must ask in all honesty and daring to speak truth to the power of Democratic propaganda: Where is the “change” when it is more of the same thing?

The 2008 Democratic convention is now history, yet like the lingering sour taste of the 2004 Democratic convention, the unsettling queasy sensations of altitude headiness now roll down the mountain like echos from Mile High Stadium. In 2004, the hope for change in the face of 18 months of war, was dashed in the hearts and minds of progressives who watched the micro-managing by the Kerry campaign turn what should have been a calling to the nation of a clearly enunciated antiwar message. Instead, we witnessed the nominee “report for duty” and promise that if he were elected he would win the war the right way.

Now, in 2008, we have just witnessed this election season’s central hope for change -- a world without lies and deception leading us to war – be dashed once again in the Democratic Party’s search for the great white whale, the White House. Obama staked his claim on the party’s nomination by asserting the evidence of his good judgement against the war in Iraq, and as his reward, in the convoluted primary process of caucuses and open or closed party voting, the majority of voters agreed. However, the progressive anti-war sentiments that are hung on the hook of hope espoused in the mantra of change by Obama continue to fall on the deaf ears of this captain of the Democratic Party as surely as First Mate Starbuck’s pleas to turn back were unheard by Captain Ahab. Progressives say to Obamam as did Starbuck to Ahab, "Thou hast outraged, not insulted me, sir; but for that I ask thee not to beware of Starbuck; thou wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man." Just so to you Obama, in your voyage to war in Afghanistan, Obama beware of Obama; beware of thyself.

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is quite instructive for those seeing insight into he ways of the Democratic Party. We progressives among the Democrats are too as the native islander and harpooner Queequeg was: pagans among the Christians. The protagonist storyteller Ismael relates how he learned of the cannibal Queequeg’s desire to see the world among the Christians:

For at bottom- so he told me- he was actuated by a profound desire to learn among the Christians, the arts whereby to make his people still happier than they were; and more than that, still better than they were. But, alas! the practices of whalemen soon convinced him that even Christians could be both miserable and wicked; infinitely more so, than all his father's heathens. Arrived at last in old Sag Harbor; and seeing what the sailors did there; and then going on to Nantucket, and seeing how they spent their wages in that place also, poor Queequeg gave it up for lost. Thought he, it's a wicked world in all meridians; I'll die a pagan.

Among those of us who belong to the progressive persuasion, there are those who convert to the self-delusions of the Democratic Party like pagans converting to Christianity, yet others of us remain unconvinced. We observe the practices of the Democrats and are soon convinced that even liberal Democrats can be both miserable and deceptive, and arriving at the conclusion that it is a deceptive world in all political meridians, we choose to remain and die progressives. Many progressives rather than return to their native lands live among the Democrats and look to Democrats themselves to be better, and like Queequeg say, "It's a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians. We cannibals must help these Christians."

In such spirits, progressives like Katerina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation writes in her essay titled “Don’t Make Afghanistan the Democrats’ War”:

Barack Obama not only had the good judgment to oppose the war in Iraq, he argued for the need "to end the mindset that took us into" that war. So it is troubling that a man of such good judgment is now ramping up his rhetoric about how we need to end the war in Iraq to focus on what he calls the "central front in the war on terror"--Afghanistan.

However, one didn’t need to be schooled in Melville to see in their Convention the persistence of the same old mindset by the Democrats in their clear call to arms to Afghanistan. Now that the people, who were bamboozled by a lying president into believing that a war with Iraq was both legitimate and moral, have mostly woken up from that hypnotic delusion, they seem all too willing to be entranced into a similar slumber regarding Afghanistan. Here are some examples of the mesmerising mantra delivered on the day of “Change You Can Believe In”:

Barack Obama said:

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression.

Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration (Ret), a self-confessed recent Republican said,
When I consider who should be commander-in-chief, I ask four questions.

First, who has the judgment to make the right decisions about when to use force? In his words of caution before the invasion of Iraq, and in his consistent calls for more force against al-Qaida and the Taliban, Barack Obama has shown the judgment to lead.

And on the previous day labeled with the slogan, “Securing America's Future” Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden chanted:
For the last seven years, this administration has failed to face the biggest forces shaping this century: the emergence of Russia, China and India as great powers; the spread of lethal weapons; the shortage of secure supplies of energy, food and water; the challenge of climate change; and the resurgence of fundamentalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the real central front against terrorism.
Should we trust John McCain’’s judgment when he said only three years ago, ““Afghanistan——we don’’t read about it anymore because it’’s succeeded””? Or should we trust Barack Obama, who more than a year ago called for sending two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan?

The fact is, al-Qaida and the Taliban——the people who actually attacked us on 9/11——have regrouped in those mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan and are plotting new attacks. And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff echoed Barack’’s call for more troops.

These calls for the continued war in Afghanistan are nothing more than a Democrats version of the Republican lies that got us into Iraq. Contrary to what the so-called foreign policy “expert” Biden claims, the fact is that the Taliban had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. There is as much evidence that the Taliban were the “the people who actually attacked us on 9/11" as there was that Saddam Hussein was buying yellow cake uranium and aluminum tubes for development of weapons of mass destruction, that is, none.

Now the question the American people must dare to ask themselves if they are ever to see the wizards behind the curtain of power in Washington DC is this: Was Biden’s false allegation that the Taliban attacked us on 9/11 just a campaign gaff or a part of the concerted plan by the military industrial complex to re-mesmerize the populace into continuing with the same war profiteering mindset that brought us Iraq?

I think the answer is abundantly clear by this thread woven through the convention advocating the need to move troops from Iraq to Afghanistan and stated explicitly also by Obama. The military contractors and war profiteers have seen the writing on the wall: that the war in Iraq is no longer popular. So what have they done? They have convinced the leadership of the Democratic Party, who are always afraid of being labeled "pacifists" or "wimps" unwilling to go to war, including Barack Obama, that reducing the war in Iraq is allowable as long as they can recoup some of their profits by increasing the war in Afghanistan with the hope of spreading it to Pakistan and Iran. And Obama has fully embraced this twisted vision of the new “just” war and appears dead set on making Afghanistan the Democrat’s war in yet another reprise on the theme of Viet Nam. This is nothing less than the Democratic leadership's purposeful collusion with the Republicans to transformation the American Dream into the Orwellian dream of perpetual war.

An honest person must ask, is this change we can believe in? Where is the change when all we are offered is the continued mindset of war with only a change in venue from Iraq to Afghanistan and with continued saber rattling threats of war with Iran? Where is the change when the lies of Hussein’s involvement in 9/11 are simply changed into lies about the Taliban being the perpetrators of 9/11?

While I detest the Taliban's politics and religious dictatorship, including their destruction of sacred Buddhist sites which is nothing less than the self-destruction of their own national heritage and potential sources of tourist income, the reality is that the Taliban never once threatened the United States and even now are only acting as nationalist insurgents seeking to throw out the current US-NATO invaders and occupiers, like they threw out the previous Soviet invaders.

There is absolutely no evidence of participation by the Taliban in 9/11 and when the USA wanted Bin Laden turned over, the Taliban did only what any sovereign government does in like circumstances, it exercised its sovereign right to hold an extradition hearing. This was, for example, what the government of the United Kingdom did when the Spanish authorities asked that Augusto Pinochet be handed over. The English did not hand him over without an extradition hearing in the courts with the right of appeal.

Would the USA turn over someone to Russia or China just because they demanded it be done without an extradition hearing? When the Taliban said they would hold an extradition hearing to determine whether Bin Laden should be turned over to the USA as soon as the evidence to do so was presented by the USA to the Afghanistan government, it was the USA that refused to participate by refusing to provide any evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11. Instead the USA and the Bush administration used the Taliban's adherence to and exercise of international law as an excuse to put into motion their pre- 9/11 plans to invade and occupy Afghanistan. Now Obama perpetuates the false legitimacy of those plans.

By failing to let the Taliban government hold Bin Laden under house arrest while an extradition hearing was conducted in tandem with continuing diplomatic negotiations with the Taliban, the Bush administration was directly responsible for Bin Laden being able to escape under the cover of the fog of war.

In order to show they can be just as militaristic as Republicans, as if, after Presidents Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton, anyone ever had any real doubts that Democrats can bomb and invade with the best of them, the Democrats are now urging a surge in the war in Afghanistan. The Democrats are using Afghanistan and 9/11 as their talisman for victory in their search for the White House just like Captain Ahab used his rage for his past injuries and peg leg in his search for the white whale. Yet Ahab at least was raging against the beast who was responsible for his injuries, while there no evidence at all that the Taliban government or the people of Afghanistan ever threatened the USA, either by 9/11 or at any other time. So we continue to invade and occupy Afghanistan unnecessarily killing innocent civilians and protecting the poppy growing and heroin trade, all based on lies that are just as pernicious and monomaniacally wrong as Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

There are some who fervently hope that Obama is just posturing and playing the war card for political gain, that once elected, Obama will remove it from the table. However, this seems like a false hope not even remotely connected to the hope that Obama is offering.

Continuing the war of occupation in Afghanistan will only further alienate the people of Afghanistan as the inevitable civilian casualties continue to add up. There is no military solution to an occupation opposed by nationalist insurgents.

In 1851 when Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick the world was not that different of a place from today. Ishmael, the narrator and sole survivor left to tell the tale of the demise of Captain Ahab, in a state of reverie considering his own fateful excursion into these well charted waters as a pawn in the greater story of world events recounts:

Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome exercise and pure air of the fore-castle deck. For as in this world, head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is, if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part the Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first; but not so. In much the same way do the commonalty lead their leaders in many other things, at the same time that the leaders little suspect it. But wherefore it was that after having repeatedly smelt the sea as a merchant sailor, I should now take it into my head to go on a whaling voyage; this the invisible police officer of the Fates, who has the constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me in some unaccountable way- he can better answer than any one else. And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:

"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.

What “change to believe in” is this that Obama, now in 2008, over one hundred and fifty years after Melville wrote those words, can only offer us another “bloody battle in Afghanistan.”? What change is there when the bill of the grand program of the Democratic Party has the whaling voyage of the campaign placed in the fated interval between a “Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States” and a further battle in Afghanistan?

In the entire four days of their Convention, the only true progressive voice within the Democratic Party came on day two from candidate Dennis Kucinich who was relegated to five minutes of sub-prime time. Kucinich, in his speech censored by the Obama campaign that prevented him from calling for the incarceration of he Republicans for their crimes, was the only speaker to draw the direct connection between Iraq and Afghanistan and the looming threat of war with Pakistan when he said, “Borrowed money to bomb bridges in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. No money to rebuild bridges in America.” Only Kucinich dared to speak truth to the actual power of the energy companies and weapons merchants who share control of he Democratic Party just as much they have control of the Republican Party:

Wake up, America. We went into Iraq for oil. The oil companies want more. War against Iran will mean $10-a-gallon gasoline. The oil administration wants to drill more, into your wallet. Wake up, America. Weapons contractors want more. An Iran war will cost 5 to 10 trillion dollars.

The ongoing dilemma of progressives in relation to the Democratic Party is whether to ship on board the doomed Pequod of the Party as it sails in a voyage that offers once again to use militarism and war as the instrument of its foreign policy and as the rallying cry of a fake patriotism. I have total sympathy for progressives who refuse to climb on board this damned ship and chose instead to sail the seas aboard the more modest vessels like the Green Party, searching for lost progressives like the ship Rachel searched for its lost children thrown overboard from whale boats capsized by Moby Dick. But I also have complete sympathy for those progressives who sail with the Democratic Party in its compulsive quest and who say, paraphrasing Queequeg’s words, "It's a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians. We progressives must help these Democrats."

Still, it does no good for progressives to attempt to help the Democrats by silence. Progressives who wish to help the Democrats must raise their voices without embarrassment to warn against the Ahab-like obsession with war in the Democratic Party's quest for the White House.