Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

Brexit Musings

Monday, July 4th, 2016

you just looked up at the stars site

You Just Looked Up At the Stars painting by Nolan Winkler

“Greece should go back to a national currency to have more autonomous decision-making with regards to it own economy, which it needs if it wants to pave a more sustainable path.” Jennifer Hinton, co-author of How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050

When I heard that a majority of British voters wanted to leave the European Union, my first thought was, “Well, I would want to leave, too, after what that union did and is continuing to do to the people of Greece and Spain in order to funnel more billions into the coffers of the corporate overlords via their putrid toxic derivative hedge funds.”

A friend and I were discussing Brexit and she said she had spoken to a British couple residing in Mendocino and was told that many people in England voted to get out of the union because EU laws allow member nations to plunder the dwindling fisheries of England, and the British people were fed up with that. Didn’t read that anywhere in the mainstream news.

The results of the election showed that sixty per cent of London voters wanted to remain in the EU, while the majority of people outside that largest of corporate-controlled city-states wanted out. What does this tell us? One sector of British society is flourishing at the expense of the rest of the society. Sound familiar?

I’ve read dozens of articles about what a disaster Britain’s exit portends, but so far the only disaster to have manifested is that stock markets, otherwise known as Ponzi schemes for rich people, went down for a day or two all over the world because the rigged game was temporarily upset by this unexpected rebellion of working people tired of seeing the quality of their lives deteriorate.

Meanwhile, Hillary, the darling of the corporate overlords, is preparing to push through any and all trade agreements favoring corporations over the states composing the United States of America, and this one aspect of her criminality not only portends disaster for anyone not among the super wealthy, but is an echo of what the European Union does, which is give corporations disguised as the EU governing body the power to supersede the will of the peoples of supposedly sovereign nations.

Had not Greece given up their national currency when they joined the EU, they could have Grexited long ago, and the Greek people, save for a tiny elite class, would be a thousand times better off than they are today. The media does not report that Greece has been ransacked to serve a few obscenely wealthy hedge fund crooks, something that could never have happened if Greece had been equipped to leave the EU, which I think they will do eventually.

Our media’s coverage of Brexit reminds me of our media’s coverage of Bernie Sanders, Single Payer Healthcare, the accelerating poisoning of the biosphere resulting from the constant increase of greenhouse gases, and everything else we desperately need to be informed about but aren’t unless we have the chutzpah to go looking for the truth. Thus when I hear people parroting the media consensus that Brexit is terrible and nothing good will come of it, I think about the media consensus on Single Payer Healthcare versus what the vast majority of people want and need, and then I’m not so sure Great Britain choosing to leave the EU is a bad thing.

Certainly on paper the idea of a unified egalitarian Europe is a good idea, but the idea has never matched reality. The European Union, NAFTA, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the soon-to-be ratified Trans-Pacific Partnership were all designed by and for multinational corporations to facilitate the takeover over of more and more of the global economy, and specifically to disempower working people, labor unions, and most people on earth.

Oh, but Scotland wants to stay in the EU. How come? Scotland has never wanted to be part of Great Britain. The history of England going back a thousand years is rife with wars between Scotland and England. This is yet another opportunity for Scotland to break free of the yoke of their imagined oppressors.

The mainstream media also continues to report that many of the people who voted for Great Britain to leave the EU didn’t know what they were voting for and now would like to change their minds. I wonder how the media found that out. Or maybe they just knew those people were flummoxed and pixilated because otherwise how can we explain why so many people would vote to leave such a wonderful organization?

I heard two young British socialists, one for leaving the EU, one for remaining, debating the decision to leave, and the one who wanted to remain in the EU said, “We should have stayed and reformed the EU, worked within the system to make it better.” And the one for leaving said something to the effect of, “Poppycock.”

Imagine trying to reform American politics or the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. Imagine Hillary running a campaign without money from major corporations. Without hedge fund Wall Street crookster money she would be Hillary who? Imagine Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination in a country where the trillions spent on war every year were instead spent on the health and education and economic security of the American citizenry. Imagine a media that actually reported the truth so the citizenry could make reasonable choices about who and what they voted for.

In the big global picture, the possible breakup of the European Union is part of the breakdown of human systems all over the world in the face of overpopulation, resource scarcity, climate change, and the limitations of our collective capacity to live within our means. Technology has enabled the banksters to engineer a system that would eventually lead to a few people on earth owning everything, if only the eight billion other humans would just keep quiet and allow that to happen. But darn it, they won’t keep quiet.

Refugees

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Homage to the Kumulipo

Homage to the Kumulipo (Na Lei Hulu) © 2012 David Jouris / Motion Pictures

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2015)

Number of people displaced internally in Syria: 6 million

Syrian refugees registered in other countries: 4 million

Mediterranean Sea crossings by refugees so far in 2015: 300,000

Expected asylum seekers in Germany 2015: 800,000

Refugees United States will accept in 2015: 70,000

Hundreds of thousands of refugees from the ongoing wars in the Middle East have walked and are walking to Western Europe. Thousands of Africans have traveled through Spain into France and reached Calais where they hope to walk or ride through the tunnel under the English Channel to get to England. Thousands of Libyans and Tunisians have crossed the Mediterranean in boats, hoping to find food and shelter in Greece and Italy and Spain.

Germany reports they have accepted a million refugees in the last few years. Austria is receiving thousands of Syrian refugees who rode buses from Hungary because Hungary lacks the financial resources to take care of tens of thousands of refugees. Hungary is erecting a huge fence along its entire border with Serbia from whence the Syrian refugees are coming. Iceland and Finland say they will accept Syrian refugees. France has taken in millions of migrants from Africa in the last few decades, many of them now living in poverty, the social infrastructure of France inadequate to support the vast numbers of migrants, many of them unemployed and unemployable.

The prevalent narrative is that the refugees are fleeing war and squalid refugee camps where they lacked adequate food, shelter, and medical care—families desperate for a better life willing to risk everything to reach the more affluent countries of Europe.

What is not much discussed in the mainstream news is that this refugee problem is but the tip of a crisis so vast, the mind boggles when one reads what climate scientists are predicting. As many parts of Africa and the Middle East become too hot and drought-stricken to support human life, and with those areas now grossly overpopulated, 50-200 million people will attempt to migrate into Europe in the coming decades, depending on how quickly the earth heats up and drought causes massive crop failures.

In other words, what was predicted twenty years ago is now underway. Yes, wars have exacerbated the crisis at this moment in time, but social chaos resulting from skyrocketing food prices, lack of water, and inevitable famine will make the current refugee/migrant situation thousands of times worse.

And the governments of the world are doing nothing substantive to address the underlying problems causing this now irreversible crisis.

I find it incredible that the German government in collusion with Goldman Sachs is willing to torture the entire population of Greece in order to keep the international financial Ponzi scheme going, yet Germany is going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade to take in millions of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Why not take in millions of refugees from Greece? Or better yet, why not leave Greece alone so the Greeks can recover from economic brutalization and stay in Greece?

Here in California, the ongoing drought threatens to change our social and economic reality so dramatically our state may not be recognizable a decade hence. People from southern California are moving to northern California in droves, and every other person I know in northern California is moving to Oregon or Washington. Ere long, the Canadians will find millions of Americans trying to cross the border into those cooler northern climes where scientists tell us wheat and other grains will still be able to be grown when southern North America becomes uninhabitable a decade or so hence.

None of what I have written is hyperbole. Nor can the ongoing insanity of our national policies be exaggerated. When a recent New Yorker article described what might happen to Washington and Oregon and northern California should a massive earthquake and tsunami strike the area, millions of people bought survival kits, and contractors were besieged with calls from people wanting to bolt their houses to their foundations. Yet permanent life-ending disaster from climate change barely causes a ripple of concern.

Thus, I suppose, it has always been. Many times in human history our species migrated north and south and east and west in response to climate change. Our arboreal hominid ancestors came down out of the trees when climate change caused forests to become veldt, and fifty thousand years ago our ancestors moved out of Africa into Europe en route to becoming Vikings.

The difference today is that the world is divided into hundreds of nations with borders and unwieldy governments and armies possessed of sophisticated weaponry, none of which makes mass migration as natural and doable as it must have been when much of the earth was uninhabited.

Chaos may soon be the new norm everywhere, as it is in vast areas of Africa. A recent National Geographic article about the illegal ivory trade reads like a post-apocalyptic horror story, describing in gory detail how most of the slaughter of thousands of elephants for their ivory tusks is being carried out by guerilla soldiers fighting against the governments of Sudan, Darfur, Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The illegal sale of ivory is the primary funding source for the guerrillas’ war efforts, which involve raping and slaughtering thousands of women and children and men. Meanwhile, the soldiers of those corrupt and barely functional nations frequently collude with the elephant-killing guerillas to supplement salaries inadequate for survival.

On a hot sunny day last week, I stood in front of the Mendocino post office talking to a man who moved here in the early 1960s. He opined, “Most of the people who moved here in the last fifteen years would not want to live here if the weather was like it was back in the 60s and 70s. Long wet winters. Freezing cold from November to April.”

Which reminded me of my first winter here ten years ago when it rained eighty inches and the days and nights were icy cold. On many a morning I found the water in the cat’s bowl frozen solid and the front steps covered with ice. I would hunker down by the woodstove and gaze out at the tempest and wonder if I’d made a big mistake coming to this place of perpetual rain and cold.

Brutalizing Greece

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Passion Play Nolan WInkler

Passion Play painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“Greece should go back to a national currency to have more autonomous decision-making with regards to it own economy, which it needs if it wants to pave a more sustainable path.” Jennifer Hinton, co-author of How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050

Near the top of the list of horrible things I’ve witnessed in my life are the beatings of small weak defenseless people at the hands of big strong brutal people. We had two big vicious bullies at my elementary school, and when I started Third Grade, I was sick with fear for days after I saw those two brutes pummel a little boy. And the more I read about what the international hedge fund criminal banking consortium and their elected lackeys Merkel and Obama are doing to Greece, the more I feel the same disgust and hopelessness I felt when I watched those giants beating that little boy.

“The Greek government should nationalize the banks and encourage people to start credit unions.” Jennifer Hinton

Mainstream American media outlets are reporting on the Greek financial crisis in the same way they report on everything: falsely. Yes, the situation is somewhat more complicated than how points are scored in baseball, but not much more. Greece had a corrupt government further corrupted by entanglement with Wall Street bankers and investment firms, specifically Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. Lloyd got the Greek government to borrow billions of dollars to invest in the great stock and toxic asset bubble that burst in 2008. Rather than punish Lloyd or the corrupt Greek bankers and the corrupt government officials for their folly, the international banking system demanded that the Greek government pay off the astronomical debt by cutting pensions, raising taxes on everyone except the rich, selling public property and public utilities to multinational corporations, and forcing Greece to borrow more money to keep paying the interest on the money owed to the criminals who had ruined their economy.

That’s what happened. Today Greece is in a deep economic depression because hundreds of thousands of doctors, computer programmers, engineers, college professors, and other well-educated and employable people fled the country rather than stay there and starve under the heel of the vicious bullies who keep beating the crap out of Greece, though Greece is already supine and literally in its economic death throes.

“Greece should keep for-profit interests from buying up its common wealth.” Jennifer Hinton

Sadly, as Robert Reich reminds us, “People seem to forget that the Greek debt crisis—which is becoming a European and even possibly a world economic crisis—grew out of a deal with Goldman Sachs, engineered by Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein.”

Lloyd Blankfein is the current CEO of Goldman Sachs, an American Wall Street banking and investment firm that is the headquarters of the supranational financial overlords. Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton are the current darlings of Goldman Sachs, which suggests, barring a Bernie Sanders miracle, that Hilary will be the next President of the Unites States. The Republican candidates are so silly and/or terrifying that it should be no great trick to scare the voters of America into voting for Hilary, who will campaign on a platform of…wait for it…helping the beleaguered middle class, never mind about anyone lower than the shrinking middle; they don’t vote much anyway.

We will be told that Hilary will appoint better Supreme Court justices than her Republican opponent, she will be better for women’s rights in general, and that she really cares about the people of America. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you and I’ll give you the name of my very good friend who will build you the tollbooth after your check to me clears. We will not be told that Hilary has been chosen by the international oligarchy currently destroying the earth and forcing the Greeks and anybody else who defies them to suffer and starve and die needlessly for lack of basic human services and decent medical care. And if you don’t believe that, you live in a different dimension than I do.

“The Greek government should encourage not-for-profit enterprise in every sector to prevent the extraction of profits from the real economy and encourage social entrepreneurs and innovators to start up their own not-for-profits. These enterprises would help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Greece, create a more stable economy and keep the financial surplus in the real economy.” Jennifer Hinton

During recess at the beginning of Fifth Grade, I happened upon those two big bullies beating the crap out of a kid who had just skipped Fourth Grade and was now in my class. He was half the size of the bullies and was being badly beaten, while a gaggle of boys and girls stood nearby watching in horror and feeling helpless.

I liked this kid who was getting beaten up. He was funny and smart and he laughed at my jokes. So because I liked him, and maybe because I’d had a recent growth spurt and was feeling cocky, I grabbed one of the bullies by the arm, pulled him away from the kid and said, “Leave him alone,” which inspired the bullies to start pummeling me. I, however, was a fairly large kid and started swinging wildly at those big idiots and one of my swings connected with one of the bully’s cheeks and he yelped like a dog when you accidentally step on his tail, and the next thing I knew four of my pals were fighting the bullies with me, and lo and behold the big meanies ran away.

If only there was some way for us, you and I and a few hundred million other people, to come to the aid of the Greeks against those big greedy sadistic idiot money monsters. I’m not talking about helping Greece pay off the criminally created debt. I’m talking about helping them start anew after the bullies finally leave them alone.

Bubbles & Blobs

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

3 skips to each stone

Three Skips To Each Stone painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“In the San Joaquin Valley, pumping now exceeds natural replenishment by more than half a trillion gallons a year.” Marc Reisner

As I was walking home from town today, it occurred to me that nothing can prepare us for what is going to happen very soon in California, because nothing like what is about to happen has ever happened before. Forty million people did not live in California the last time, if there ever was a last time, so little water flowed in our rivers. Millions of cows were not being raised here, and millions of acres of water-hungry crops, including alfalfa to feed those millions of cows, were not being grown here during previous mega-droughts. Yes, there have been a few longish droughts in the last century and a half, but nothing like the current drought.

Shortly before he died in 2000, Marc Reisner, author of Cadillac Desert, the great opus on water and politics and greed and stupidity in the American West, suggested that when the current chronic drought eventually took hold in California, tens of millions of California residents would be forced to move elsewhere. He predicted most of them would move to the wetter eastern side of the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile, California farmers are up in arms because state water controllers are telling them they cannot have their usual allotments of water because there will soon be no water to allot. Curtailment is the official word for when a decrease in the expected amount of water is imposed on a farmer or city. The state recently issued hundreds of new curtailments, one of which severely limits San Francisco’s allotment of water from the Tuolumne River that supplies a large part of San Francisco’s water. How will San Francisco replace that allotment? They won’t.

Here’s an interesting factoid. If every American abstained from eating meat one day per week, more water would be saved than the annual flow of the Colorado River in a high-flow year. By the way, California’s allotment of Colorado River water is soon to be curtailed. Here is what Marc Resiner had to say about that:

“If the Colorado River suddenly stopped flowing, you would have two years of carryover capacity in the reservoirs before you had to evacuate most of southern California and Arizona and a good portion of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The river system provides over half the water of greater Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix; it grows much of America’s domestic production of fresh winter vegetables.”

It would take several years of normal (whatever that is) or above-normal rainfall in California to replenish our surface water supplies and superficially ease the drought, though no computer models by any meteorologist suggests such replenishment will occur in the foreseeable future. But the Central Valley aquifer, which is nearly gone, will take centuries to replenish should the state ever be inundated with water and snow again.

And check this out: scientists have been puzzling over the 2014 discovery of what one report referred to as a “warm patch of water” off the coast of California and Oregon thought to be linked to the “weird” weather being experienced across the United States. This warm patch is more than 1500 kilometers in every direction and over a hundred meters deep. Meteorologists have never found such a “blob” in this part of the ocean and they are certain there is a link between this blob and the persistent high-pressure ridge keeping Pacific storms from reaching California and Oregon and Washington.

A recent study links this “warm Pacific puzzle” to the big freezes in the eastern United States in 2013 and 2014, but several scientists hasten to add there does not seem to be any obvious connection between the blob and global climate change. Huh? However, the blob and its devastating effect on human society in California and the American Southwest is “a taste of what the ocean will be like in future decades.”

As one politic scientist opined, “The blob wasn’t caused by global warming, but it is producing conditions that will be more common when such things are caused by global warming.” Why are we not reassured?

Then there is the global financial bubble that good old Greece and a bankrupt Puerto Rico are about to burst. As the world’s stock markets and fragile economies wobble in the face of myriad debt defaults, the Bank for International Settlements has issued a report warning that low interest rates not only undermine economic health, but by allowing greedy amoral banksters to take trillions of just-printed dollars at zero interest from our so-called government in order to keep the stock bubble inflated, when that bubble does burst, any day now, central banks will have no means to counter the ensuing economic collapse because the main counter measure is to lower interest rates. Oops.

Which is to say, we are in the eye of a perfect storm. We’re running out of water, the financial markets are on the verge of collapse, and if there was ever a time to plant potatoes, this is that time. If you plant potatoes now, you should have a good crop in October. Plant several kinds in case you incur the wrath of the potato gods against one of the varieties you’ve chosen.

Other measures to consider now are buying several cases of canned beans, a couple big bags of rice, before rice gets insanely expensive, and a good supply of olive oil. Along with your potatoes, plant lettuce and kale and chard.

If you live in Los Angeles or inland California, you should quickly look into buying a house east of the Mississippi while prices there are still reasonable and your house in California is still worth something. When twenty million hyper-thirsty Californians try to relocate to Missouri and Iowa and Tennessee and Pennsylvania, real estate prices there are going to soar. And it won’t be a short-term bubble.

Well, that’s all for now. Gotta take a long shower, wash my car, water the lawn, grill some steak, and top off the swimming pool before I hose the dust and leaves off the driveway and drive to the store to get some snacks and stuff. Ciao!

Blame

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Baby Goats

Photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2013)

“Blaming speculators as a response to financial crisis goes back at least to the Greeks. It’s almost always the wrong response.” Lawrence Summers

Speaking of speculators and the Greeks, hundreds of thousands of the most highly educated and technologically skillful people in Greece have fled that country in the last two years, and more are leaving every day. Why? Because the austerity programs imposed by the European Union in response to Greece’s speculator-caused debt crisis have created such a severe economic depression that there is little hope of an economic recovery in Greece for many years to come. Greece only has ten million people, yet in the face of this massive brain drain and the elimination of tens of thousands of public sector jobs, the European Union has just decreed that Greece must amplify her austerity campaign and get rid of tens of thousands more public sector jobs.

Here in the United States, our own government is treating the public sector, including state and county governments, as if they are Greece and the federal government is the European Union. The postal service is being intentionally sabotaged and demolished, our social safety nets are being shredded, our states and counties have been bankrupted by vampiric private health care insurers and pension programs built on the shifting sands of hedge-funded banks, and we the people are as supine before the corporate oligarchy as are the Greek people. But where can we flee to in the face of this concerted attack on the public domain?

Most recently, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Ronald Obama, I mean Barack Obama, has proposed a budget that will severely reduce the amount of money that poor people, elderly people, and veterans will receive in Social Security payments. To celebrate this latest proof of Obama’s perfidy, I contacted a few friends who, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, have steadfastly insisted that Obama is a much better choice to ruin, I mean run, our country than the two Republican candidates he defeated, as well as being much better than the Democratic challengers he defeated prior to the 2008 election, including Billary, I mean Hillary, Clinton. For the record, I voted for Obama in 2008, but not in 2012.

“He’s good on gay marriage and…I just like the guy,” said one of my Obama-loving friends when I asked what he thought about Obama proposing to cut Social Security after vowing he never would. “And healthcare, he’s good on that, too.”

“That remains to be seen. But what about his proposal to reduce Social Security payments?”

“I’m sure he has a good reason.”

“Why are you sure of that?”

“He’s a good person and his wife is terrific. She cares about poor people.”

Another Obama-supporting friend said, “He’s way better than the Republicans on women’s reproductive rights and appointing liberal judges.”

“Maybe,” I said, “but what about his attack on Social Security?”

“It’s the obstructionist Republicans. They won’t let him do anything.”

“What does that have to do with his proposal to cut Social Security?”

“He’s got to do something to pass the budget, doesn’t he? This is all they’ll let him do.”

And a third Obama fan said, “I’m sure he doesn’t want to, but what choice does he have?”

“How about raising taxes on the rich and on corporations that currently pay little or no taxes?”

“They won’t let him. He would if he could. He can only do what they let him do and the Republicans won’t let him do anything.”

“Our culture peculiarly honors the act of blaming, which it takes as the sign of virtue and intellect.” Lionel Trilling

There was a fascinating article, fascinating to me, recently published in our own Mendocino Beacon with the catchy headline Alcohol Outlet Density Study. An alcohol outlet is defined as a place where the alcohol sold is taken elsewhere to drink, so not a bar or restaurant but a liquor store or grocery store. According to the study, Mendocino County has an extremely high density of alcohol outlets compared to the state average, and the authors of this study say that this higher density of alcohol outlets corresponds to a higher-than-state-average incidence of underage drinking, alcohol-related violence, unprotected sex, and driving after drinking. If I understood the article correctly, the authors of the study conclude from their data that it is not alcohol or drinkers of alcohol that cause these unfortunate behaviors, but the alcohol outlets.

We recently watched the movie Smashed, and when Netflix asked us to rate the film we gave it five stars. Smashed focuses on a young heterosexual alcoholic couple at a juncture in their lives when the woman in the couple, an elementary school teacher, decides to stop drinking and get with the Alcoholics Anonymous program, while the man in the couple continues to drink. The power of the film for me resides in the superb and subtle performances of the actors portraying the couple, and the truthful presentation of the alcoholic’s dilemma in the absence of violence, abuse, and other stereotypical behavior patterns most frequently portrayed in movies about people struggling with addiction. The end of the film, which I will not reveal, is one of the most perfectly honest endings to a movie I have ever seen.

“One should examine oneself for a very long time before thinking of condemning others.” Moliere

At a party in Berkeley some years ago, I found myself in conversation with two psychotherapists, a female psychiatrist and a male psychologist, neither of whom I knew. I cannot recall exactly what prompted me to say, “I think everyone is doing the best they can,” but I do recall that my saying this caused both therapists to look at me as if a large horn had suddenly sprouted from my forehead.

“You can’t be serious,” said the psychiatrist. “If that were true, I’d be out of business.”

The psychologist said, “Why would you ever think something like that?”

And I replied, “I am serious and I think everyone is doing the best they can because that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after being alive for fifty-five years.”

“That’s idiotic,” said the psychiatrist. “Most people barely scrape the surface of their potential.”

“Most people have no idea what they’re capable of,” said the psychologist. “And so they rarely fulfill their potential.”

“I’m not talking about potential,” I replied. “I’m saying that people, from moment to moment, are doing the best they can. The baseball player may be capable of hitting a home run, but in that particular at bat, he grounds out, and that was the best he could do. An alcoholic may have the potential to cease drinking, but in the moment the best he can do is drink. And I assume when you’re with a client or a patient or whatever you call them these days, you do the best you can and sometimes get a great response or a wonderful result, but sometimes nothing much happens or the person quits therapy, yet you were still doing the best you could.”

“What’s your point?” asked the psychologist, frowning at me.

“I need to sit down,” said the psychiatrist. “This is idiotic.”

“My point is that when I assume other people are doing the best they can, I am much less likely to dismiss them or objectify them or blame them or judge them, and I am much more likely to empathize with them as fellow travelers.”

“Beware the lowest common denominator,” said the psychologist.

“I need a drink,” said the psychiatrist, smiling painfully at the psychologist. “Get me a glass of red?”

Off went the psychologist to fetch the psychiatrist some wine, and the psychiatrist said to me, “I don’t really think you’re an idiot. It’s been a crazy week. Forgive me.”

“Of course,” I said. “You were doing the best you could.”

“There is only one time that is important—NOW! It is the most important time because it is the only time we have any power.” Leo Tolstoy

President Obama and Lawrence Summers and the corporate oligarchs and the shortsighted people in Congress are all doing the best they can. Try to wrap your mind around that idea. The last time I tried to wrap my mind around the idea that Obama is doing the best he can, I was reminded of one of my favorite Buddhist parables.

A long time ago, long before the invention of firearms, a ferocious warlord and his army invaded a defenseless town. During the rampage, the warlord came upon a Buddhist temple. The bloodthirsty warlord broke down the temple door and found a monk meditating in the presence of a statue of Buddha. Something about the stillness and calmness of this monk in the midst of the terrible pillaging and slaughtering infuriated the warlord even more than he was already infuriated.

So the warlord drew his sword, walked up to the monk, held the tip of his razor-sharp blade a few inches from the monk’s face and snarled, “You think you’re so smart, so enlightened. Well, if you’re so spiritually advanced, tell me the difference between heaven and hell.”

The monk remained unmoving, his face expressionless, which only made the warlord even more furious.

“Listen you pompous fool,” shouted the warlord, “tell me the difference between heaven and hell or I’ll cut your head off.”

But despite the warlord’s threat, the monk remained unmoving, his face expressionless. And this so enraged the warlord that he raised his sword to behead the monk and was just about to do the terrible deed, when the monk pointed at the warlord and said, “That’s hell.”

The monk’s words struck deep in the heart of the warlord and he dropped his sword and burst into tears.

“And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”

Giants and Greece

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2012)

“We don’t have to look far to see how pervasive suffering is in the world.” Joseph Goldstein

Matt Cain recently pitched a perfect game for the San Francisco Giants while Greece is in the midst of a massive economic collapse. Gregor Blanco made one of the great catches in Giants history to preserve Cain’s perfecto while Spain is in economic freefall with over 25% unemployment and Spanish real estate prices falling falling falling. Cain gave his catcher Buster Posey much of the credit for the no-no while Syria is in the midst of a horribly bloody civil war with thousands of casualties, many of them women and children.

Cain’s perfect game is only the twenty-second perfect game in the 130-year history of baseball while the Japanese government has ordered the restarting of several of their dangerously unsafe nuclear power plants despite a vast majority of the Japanese people opposed to nuclear power in the wake of the ongoing catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plants.

And how about Melky Cabrera, the Melkman, leading the National League in hitting while the American economy is collapsing around our ears. True, Tim Lincecum is having an awful year so far and Barry Zito is showing signs of faltering after a strong start, but the rest of the Giants starters are pitching magnificently while California’s budget deficit is several billion dollars more than state officials anticipated, though anyone with half a brain knew that such drastic cuts in government spending would guarantee equally drastic economic contraction.

“We may have compassion for the victims of social or political injustice, but can we feel compassion for those who perpetrate that injustice?” Joseph Goldstein

For many years I have been in the habit of listening to Giants baseball games on a little silver transistor radio I carry from room to room and out into the garden. When I lived in Berkeley, I had a neighbor who was bothered by my interest in the Giants, and he told me so one day when he found me in my vegetable patch listening to a game while I pulled weeds and watered.

“You’re such an intelligent person,” he said, shaking his head. “How can you listen to that meaningless junk when there’s so much suffering in the world?”

This fellow, I hasten to add, walked his talk. He was a medical doctor who worked long hours in a clinic for poor people and spent the rest of his time reading books about social injustice and political corruption and writing passionate letters to government officials and marching against social injustice and wars waged for corporate hegemony. He lived frugally and gave away most of the money he made to help fund the clinic where he worked, so…

“This is an antidote to my own suffering,” I replied, comforted by the inimitable ambience only baseball on the radio provides. “A form of guided meditation.”

“Sponsored by earth-killing corporations,” he said, pointing at my radio dangling amidst the snow pea vines. “Listen. Yet another ad for Chevron.”

“I studiously do not buy gas from Chevron,” I said—an easy boast since I didn’t own a car.

“But why do you like that garbage?” he asked, visibly upset. “You like basketball, too, don’t you?”

“Love basketball,” I said, nodding. “Basketball was my salvation and succor for many years.”

“And you actually care who wins?” He sighed despondently. “What a waste.”

“I care and I don’t care,” I said, as one of our boys led off the seventh with a single. “The game matters in the moment and doesn’t matter in the next moment. I’m not attached once the game is over. For long.”

“But do you know why the major corporations sponsor these games?” he asked, waving his arms in frustration. “Because it keeps people occupied so they won’t take any meaningful action to create substantive change. It’s a mechanism of social control. And look what they’re selling. Gasoline, beer, cars, insurance, computers, plastic, Las Vegas.”

“So what do you think I should do?” I asked, trying not to hold him responsible for altering the game with his negative attitude (see quantum physics) and causing the double play that just wiped out our first decent scoring opportunity since the first inning. “I don’t have a television or a car or health insurance or really much of anything except a piano, a guitar, a very slow computer, and things to cook with. You want me to toss the little radio and take a vow of chastity and silence? Gimme a break, it’s baseball. I love baseball. I played baseball growing up. Baseball is in my bones, in my blood.”

“Entrained since childhood,” he said, nodding dolefully. “That’s what they do. Cradle to grave entrainment disguised as entertainment.”

Then it hit me: this guy did not play baseball growing up. Baseball was not in his bones, in his blood. He did not understand what I was experiencing when I listened to a game on the radio because he had no real understanding of the language of baseball. He might as well have been listening to someone speaking Greek, assuming he didn’t understand Greek, which I think is a fair assumption.

And the moment I realized that his antipathy was as much about what he didn’t understand about baseball as it was about what he did understand about corporate control of the media, I was filled with compassion and said, “Want any lettuce? I have a vast surplus in need of harvesting.”

“Love some,” he said, his frown giving way to a smile.

“Compassion is the tender readiness of the heart to respond to one’s own or another’s pain, without resentment or aversion.” Joseph Goldstein

There are only eleven million people in Greece, about a quarter of the population of California, and because Greece is so small, relatively speaking, the annihilation of Greek society by their corrupt government in collusion with their corrupt banking system is easier to discern than the annihilation of American society by our corrupt government in collusion with our corrupt banking system. But the mechanisms of both annihilations are identical (not to mention intertwined), and what unfolds in Greece is predictive of things about to unfold here if the powers-that-be don’t quickly and dramatically shift current fiscal policy away from austerity to something resembling the stimulating policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

That is to say, a small minority of unscrupulous people in the banking/government system of America, stole trillions of dollars from the people of America, kept billions of those dollars in their personal bank accounts, and gambled away the rest. Then when the financial system began to totter and fall, these same criminals stole trillions more to prop up the markets and the banks a little while longer—which is where we are today.

In their most recent election, enough Greeks were scared by erroneous propaganda into voting for the same criminals who created the current economic mess so that the annihilation of their country will continue, in the same way that enough Americans in our upcoming election will be scared into voting for the same criminals who created our portion of the global mess so the annihilation of our country and the world will continue.

The good news is that the Giants are doing remarkably well this season and are poised to make a strong run in the second half. If Lincecum can get back on track and Pablo will shed twenty pounds and stop swinging at high pitches out of the strike zone, and if Blanco can keep getting on base ahead of Melky, and Melky and Buster keep hitting well, and Crawford keeps being Crawford, we might very well go deep into the post season if not all the way to the World Series. And once there, as we know from recent experience, anything is possible.

As Charles Dickens wrote to begin A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

And as Joseph Campbell said so eloquently on his eightieth birthday, “The field of time is a field of sorrow. Life is sorrowful. How do you live with that? You realize the eternal within yourself. You disengage and yet re-engage. You—and here is the beautiful formula: you participate with joy in the sorrows of the world.”

Greek To Me

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2012)

“The church is the great lost and found department.” Robert Short

The terrace at the Presbyterian in Mendocino can be a wonderful place to sit and read and write and eat a snack, especially on a sunny day. From every bench one has a view of either the ocean sparkling in the distance or of the stately white church with its impressive shingled spire. Tourists and itinerants frequent the terrace, and sometimes these visitors will notice me there on a bench, deduce from my appearance and demeanor that I am a local character, and then ask me questions, which I do my best to answer.

“Where is the historical monument?” I think you mean historical landmark, and this church is the landmark.

“Is it a Catholic church?” No.

“Can you go inside the church?” I can, but I prefer to stay out here.

“I mean can we go inside the church?” If the door is unlocked, ye may enter.

“Is there a good Mexican restaurant in the village?” No.

“Is there a homeless shelter around here?” Not in Mendocino, but there is Hospitality House in Fort Bragg providing shelter for well-behaved homeless people.

“How far is it to Fort Bragg?” Eight to ten miles depending on which sign you believe.

“Is there an inexpensive motel around here?” No.

“Where is the best place to watch whales?” Alaska.

“We meant around here.” Take Little Lake Road to where it ends at the ocean. Get out of your car and…

“We have to get out of our car?” No. You can watch from your car, though your chances of actually seeing a whale or a whale spout will be greatly diminished if you stay in your car.

“Is there a good Chinese restaurant around here?” No.

“German?” Nein.

“Pizza?” Frankie’s.

“Any spare change?” Let me see.

“Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” the Dalai Lama

One fine day in February, the sun playing peek-a-boo with puffy white storybook clouds, I look up from my scribbling at the approach of a young couple and their dog, a trio extraordinaire I have seen several times of late around the village and hitchhiking north and south along the coast highway. The fellow has fantastically curly brown hair, a wild beard, and dusty black clothing. The gal is a cute brunette with big almond eyes and kiss-me lips, and in contrast to her dusty mate, her clothing is clean, her jeans blue, her Mexican blouse sparkling white. They both carry green canvas knapsacks and the gal totes a basket full of books and assorted odds and ends. Their dog, a smallish pit bull mix, is reddish brown, slightly cross-eyed, and held close to them by a six-foot length of white rope knotted to his leather collar.

“Hey,” says the young woman, her smiling eyes lit from recent puffs of pot. “How’s going?”

“Hey,” I reply, expecting they will ask me for money. “Going okay.”

“Can we ask you something?” Her voice, deep and strong, reminds me of a favorite friend, so I decide to give them ten dollars when they make their pitch.

“About Greece,” says the young man, whispering gruffly.

“Greece,” I say, looking down at my notebook wherein I have just written Greece.

“About why they’re rioting,” says the young woman, sorrowfully. “Burning the old buildings.”

“We saw pictures in the paper,” whispers the young man. “Of this beautiful old building on fire.” He frowns and shakes his head. “Is it like a revolution?”

As it happens, I’ve been sort of following the Greek crisis by reading various news reports and articles, only a few of which mention that Greece, and especially the people of Greece, are victims of the massive interlocking Ponzi schemes otherwise known as the global stock market and banking systems.

“Who do they owe money to?” asks the young woman. “Other countries?”

“Well…”I begin, realizing the impossibility of answering their questions without first explaining how the international financial system used to work before it was thoroughly corrupted by Clinton and Thatcher and their amoral cronies throughout the world, so that I can then try to explain bundled mortgages and delusional derivatives in order to set the stage for the greedy and shortsighted Greek government feeding at the trough of… “Have you got a half-hour?”

“At least,” says the young woman, nodding to her companion. “See? I told you he’d know.”

“I only sort of know,” I say, wondering if even sort of is overstating my understanding of the Greek, Portuguese, Italian, European, Japanese, American financial quagmire and the criminals who caused the mess and continue to make the mess worse.

So the young man sits beside me on the bench and the young woman sits cross-legged on the ground in front of me, their pooch napping beside her, and we discuss the international Ponzi scheme masquerading as global finance, and the coming collapse that will make all previous collapses pale by comparison.

In the course of our rambling discussion, I learn that the young woman is twenty-two and thinking of becoming a nurse because, “no matter how bad it gets, they’ll need nurses,” though what she’d really like to do is “work in a bookstore and rent a little place, maybe have a garden. Get a cat. Just, you know…live a simple life with no hassles.”

I learn that the young man is twenty-three and a triple Leo, an astrological alignment that strikes me as a wonderful name for a band—Triple Leo—especially if there were three guys in the group named Leo. “I’m a super-fast trimmer,” he confides in his gruff whisper. “Trying to get hooked up with local growers until I get my own grow situation going.” He says he has been playing the mandolin since he was twelve-years-old, but recently sold his instrument because “we were starving and sick and it bought us a week in a motel.” He describes his music as “kind of blue grassy folk rock.” He is unsure of what caused the loss of his voice, but it’s been gone for a week and shows no sign of returning.

The young woman has been homeless for eighteen months, the young man for two years. They met six months ago at a homeless encampment in Tilden Park—“up behind Berkeley”—which is also where they got their dog, and they have been traveling together ever since. They like Mendocino “better than almost any place we’ve been,” says the young woman, “but unless we can find a safe living situation pretty soon, we’ll go up to Arcata. I know a guy there with a house where we can crash if I’ll cook and clean for him, and stuff like that. It’s not safe being homeless around here. Too many crazies and the drug scene is bad. Really bad.”

To make the current Greek collapse comprehensible to my new friends (and to myself) I compare Greece to an American homeowner. As the economy was fueled by real estate and stock market bubbles, the house (Greece) was said to be worth 500,000 dollars. The bank offered the homeowner (Greece) an equity line of credit, meaning the homeowner could borrow on the ever-increasing value of his house (country). So the homeowner borrowed 300,000 to remodel, travel, send his kids to college, and to invest in delusional derivatives that paid him 15-30% interest per year. Greece invested this borrowed money in derivative junk to pay for pensions and government expansion and to invest in more junk. As the bubbling continued, the house (country) was said to be worth 700,000. The homeowner thought he’d eventually sell his house for a profit and pay off the loan, and Greece thought the economic boom would eventually pay off the debt. In the meantime, the homeowner (Greece) borrowed another 200,000 dollars on the ballooning equity and bought more high yield delusional derivatives.

Then the bubble burst and the house (Greece) was only worth a tiny fraction of what was owed. The investments of both the homeowner and Greece turned out to be worthless. But, oops, the homeowner and Greece owed the bank (the crooks) 500,000 dollars plus interest on the house (and hundreds of billions on their country). They couldn’t pay. The bank foreclosed. The homeowner was kicked out of his house. However, Greece is a country, not a house, and the people cannot be forced to leave their country (though thousands of Greeks, including many of the best and the brightest, are emigrating rather than live in poverty.) So the people of Greece are being asked to give up everything they have to corporate invaders in order to pay off the crooks (those same corporate invaders) that perpetrated the fraud.

“Which is why,” I conclude, “we, the collective we, need the financial systems to sink to their true values, which is not much, so we can rebuild our society on the real value of things.”

“Man, I’d riot, too,” whispers the young man. “It’s like they’ve been conquered.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” says the young woman, glaring at him. “You didn’t riot when it happened to us.”

“What do you mean?” I ask. “When did it happen to you?”

“We were both living at home,” she says, bowing her head. “With our parents. I was going to community college and, you know, having a life, and then they got foreclosed and had to move into this dinky little apartment and…I was on my own.” She gazes forlornly at the young man. “Same with him.”

A silence falls. A big white storybook cloud drifts in front of the sun and the temperature plummets.

“Hey,” says the young woman, smiling wearily. “Any chance you could give us a few dollars?”