Saturday, August 19, 2006

Tipping Point

There's often a tipping point where choices have more than a casual effect: they affect our lives. Sometimes, perhaps more often than we imagine, those decisions are made incorrectly, misguided or even purposely misdirected.

In a recent Newsweek article about Billy Graham, Jon Meacham wrote:
As he has grown older, Graham has come to an appreciation of complexity and a gentleness of spirit that sets him apart from many other high-profile popular religious figures. Graham prizes peace. He is a man of unwavering faith who refuses to be judgmental; a steady social conservative in private who actually does hate the sin but loves the sinner; a resolute Christian who declines to render absolute verdicts about who will get into heaven and who will not; a man concerned about traditional morality who will not be dragged into "hot-button issues" of the hour. Graham's tranquil voice, though growing fainter, has rarely been more relevant.

We are constantly being influenced to see and do things in ways that are often not our own choices: to buy, do, vote for or against, go places, etc. These temptations often tip our judgement and bend our personal ethics. When this happens in high places, it can affect our lives and livelihoods as has been the case with President Bush. We are tipping downward and wobbling out of control because of misguided or misdirected decisions he has made on our behalf.

Fortunately there is an election coming this November which can - if enough new and vocal congresspeople get elected - wobble us back up to a wavering tipping point once again - and this time we might be able to make the right choices.

Jon Meacham said it right (about Billy Graham) when he said that
Complexity should be appreciated and leadership should reflect and maintain a gentleness of spirit and a sense of brotherhood for all.
We've tipped away from that with polarizing "hot-button issues" like immigration, gay marriage, and mean-spirited aides to the President like Cheney and Rove. It's time to tip back toward fairness, gentleness, altruism and brotherhood.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Timely Indian Prayer

By Tom Whitecloud
Florida, circa 1700

Oh Father whose voice I hear in the woods
and whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me.

I am a man before you; one of your many children.

I'm small and weak; I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold
the red and purple sunset.

Make me wise so that I may know the things you have taught my people;
the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.

Make my hands respect the things you have made;
my ears sharp to hear your voice.

I seek strength Father; not to be superior to my brothers,
but to be able to fight my greatest enemy: myself.

Make me ever ready to come to you with clear hands and straight eye,
so that when life fades as the fading sunset,
my spirit may come to you without shame.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Legacy/Schmegacy! Ex-Pres. Carter Speaks Out.

As a followup to my open letter to Ex-President Clinton (and my response to a reporter friend's questions about Clinton's legacy issues), here's an example of how a legacy is being created, day-by-day, by another ex-president.

In an August 2nd interview with Der Spiegel, Ex-President Jimmy Carter said:
CARTER: Our country always had a policy of not going to war unless our own security was directly threatened and now we have a new policy of going to war on a preemptive basis. Another very serious departure from past policies is the separation of church and state. This has been a policy since the time of Thomas Jefferson and my own religious beliefs are compatible with this. The other principle is basic justice. We've never had an administration before that so overtly and clearly and consistently passed tax reform bills that were uniquely targeted to benefit the richest people in our country at the expense or the detriment of the working families of America.
SPIEGEL: But wasn't Israel the first to get attacked?

CARTER: I don't think that Israel has any legal or moral justification for their massive bombing of the entire nation of Lebanon. What happened is that Israel is holding almost 10,000 prisoners, so when the militants in Lebanon or in Gaza take one or two soldiers, Israel looks upon this as a justification for an attack on the civilian population of Lebanon and Gaza. I do not think that's justified, no.
And most importantly:
SPIEGEL: One main point of your book is the rather strange coalition between Christian fundamentalists and the Republican Party. How can such a coalition of the pious lead to moral catastrophes like the Iraqi prison scandal in Abu Ghraib and torture in Guantanamo?

CARTER: The fundamentalists believe they have a unique relationship with God, and that they and their ideas are God's ideas and God's premises on the particular issue. Therefore, by definition since they are speaking for God anyone who disagrees with them is inherently wrong. And the next step is: Those who disagree with them are inherently inferior, and in extreme cases -- as is the case with some fundamentalists around the world -- it makes your opponents sub-humans, so that their lives are not significant. Another thing is that a fundamentalist can't bring himself or herself to negotiate with people who disagree with them because the negotiating process itself is an indication of implied equality. And so this administration, for instance, has a policy of just refusing to talk to someone who is in strong disagreement with them -- which is also a radical departure from past history. And, of course, fundamentalists don't believe they can make mistakes, so when we permit the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, it's just impossible for a fundamentalist to admit that a mistake was made.

SPIEGEL: So how does this proximity to Christian fundamentalism manifest itself politically?

CARTER: Unfortunately, after September 11th, there was an outburst in America of intense suffering and patriotism, and the Bush administration was very shrewd and effective in painting anyone who disagreed with the policies as unpatriotic or even traitorous. For three years, I'd say, the major news media in our country were complicit in this subservience to the Bush administration out of fear that they would be accused of being disloyal. I think in the last six months or so some of the media have now begun to be critical. But it's a long time coming.
To Ex-President Clinton: I rest my case for alltruism rather than concerns of legacy.

To Ex-President Carter: Bravo for saying clearly and boldly what needs to be said. 

And to all of the rest of us, here's one more thing Carter said that involves us directly:
CARTER: There is a self-corrective aspect to our country. And I think that the first step is going to be in the November election this year. This year, the Democrats have a good chance of capturing one of the houses of Congress. I think the Senate is going to be a very close decision. My oldest son is running for the US Senate in the state of Nevada. And if just he and a few others can be successful then you have the US Senate in Democratic hands and that will make a profound and immediate difference.
Let's help that self-corrective aspect affect change this November.  Campaign for who you believe will make the boldest contribution, back your beliefs with money and action, and vote. I'll be doing the same.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Was "Reutersgate" A Planned Manipulation?

Different angles of the same photo re-used on different dates. Photoshop manipulated clouds to emphasize smoke and bomb devastation. Non-existent rockets attacking a non-bomb-dropping jet.

The Los Angeles Times wrote:
"There are two problems here, and they're the reason this controversy shouldn't be allowed to sputter to its inglorious conclusion just yet:
  • One of these has to do with the scope of what strongly appears to be wider fabrication in the photojournalism Reuters and other news agencies are obtaining from their freelancers in Lebanon.

  • The other is the U.S. news media's grudging response to the revelation of Hajj's misconduct and its utter lack of interest in exploring whether his is a unique or representative case."
It seems obvious that some of the photojournalists involved are either intimidated by or sympathetic to the Hezbollah terrorists for them to fraudulently manipulate photos as they have done.

Or perhaps there are some bigger players involved. This could be just the sort of trick that Rolling Stone's James Bamford wrote about when he was describing the activities of John Rendon and his Rendon Group on behalf of the CIA and DoD. In that expose Bamford described a scene where a terrorist described an event that was going to happen but when he was given a lie-detector he failed completely.
The fabrication might have ended there, the tale of another political refugee trying to scheme his way to a better life. But just because the story wasn't true didn't mean it couldn't be put to good use. Al-Haideri, in fact, was the product of a clandestine operation -- part espionage, part PR campaign -- that had been set up and funded by the CIA and the Pentagon for the express purpose of selling the world a war. And the man who had long been in charge of the marketing was a secretive and mysterious creature of the Washington establishment named John Rendon.

Rendon is a man who fills a need that few people even know exists. Two months before al-Haideri took the lie-detector test, the Pentagon had secretly awarded him a $16 million contract to target Iraq and other adversaries with propaganda.
If the shoe fits . . . ?

Perhaps we could eliminate from our governmental expenditures monies that pay for the Rendon Groups activities along with the blatently campaign activities being done from within the Whitehouse by Karl Rove. It might not save much in dollars but it could reduce tensions and false illusions by quantum leaps.

The Black Kettle* Has a Few Good Ideas

[* from the old saying "A pot calling the kettle black" which comes from old times when pots and pans were generally black and kettles were generally metallic and reflective. Therefore the pot sees its black reflection in the kettle and thinks that the kettle is black.]

"I am a politician," Rendon said in a 1998 speech to the National Security Conference (NSC), "and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior, and a perception manager. This is probably best described in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, when he wrote 'When things turn weird, the weird turn pro.'"

At a recent lecture in San Francisco, John Rendon, owner of The Rendon Group, was booed and jeered and his speech intrerrupted - but he also made some suggestions that merit repeating.

Rendon used to be a Democrat player. He worked in big campaigns and as the Executive Director of the DNC. But in 1991 he branched away from Democratic politics and began providing public relations services for the CIA and DoD (amongst others). He became a disinformation provider and privy to more polling and survey data than any single campaign or party could ever muster. He began using his campaign skills to enable our foreign policy and psyops programs to operate more successfully by missusing those very tools and practices very similar to the way the Reuters and AP photo journalists are missusing their photos from Lebanon by using Photoshop image manipulation techniques.

At the San Francisco lecture he recited facts and figures that could only come from the CIA's resource database (at least I hope they were "facts"). You can listen to the complete lecture by downloading the podcast from iTunes.

The lecture was interesting to me because of the case Rendon made of how little we really know about what we're doing throughout the world. The information isn't flowing in because we don't want to hear it, because we are often misdirected, and because there are some (himself included) that are using psychological and manipulation tools to make us too fearful to want to know. Further, our resources for alternate and competing information (returning travelers, foreign news sources, international travel) is being limited by the polarization that we see increasing daily in our congress and state and local chambers.

He claimed that as polarization increases (often accelerated by his company's efforts), balanced views of the world disappear and are replaced by selective information that supports the particular polarized group that the viewer belongs to and that these two suggestions would help mitigate that effect. Rendon suggested that we could alter our centrist view of the world by bringing more of the world to our news sources:
  • Require every news agency that has a federal license to have at least 10% of their reportorial staff exchanged with a foreign news agency

  • Require that before any college degree is awarded that the student have at least two years of foreign travel under his or her belt
He said that these two suggestions were the least that we could do to tip back America's lack of balanced information needed for understanding, planning and governance - an imbalance that, in part, he helped tip.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Re: Open Letter to Bill Clinton

A reporter friend asked me to comment about a story he is writing about the tension between Clinton's two great desires:
  • To be a beloved post-partisan ex-president helpful in all the world statements-type responses to international events

  • To be the Democratic Party's unofficial leader and first-ever First Gentleman
I think that Bill Clinton’s legacy would be enhanced if his immediate political activities were more altruistic than helping his wife get elected.

The new president has a lot to repair both within and outside the US. He or she should have the best team and support with the least diversion of attention to scrapping and other shenanigans.

Hence my suggestion that Clinton draft (and craft) Gore and participate in the solutions rather than contributing to the problems. Insuring that a Democratic President gets elected and a get-things-done team of straight shooters is placed is far more important in this next cycle than electing Hillary (who, in my opinion, is not the right person for this particular time).

Gore has a passion to effect change regarding our immediate environmental problems and he has knowledge and experience with cleaning up our government and extricating all of the cancerous corruption, evil policies, poison pills and hateful and wrongheaded initiatives that the present administration has embedded. He’s not a corrupt man and has the integrity to remain so. With the Clintons onboard as UN Ambassador and Secretary of Health and Human Services (for example) everyone would see by their selfless example that repairing our country is far more important than any sense of entitlement or legacy building.

What better legacy than that?