Monthly Archives: September 2015

Syria

My thoughts on Syria, this Sunday, September 20th.

The prophet Micah proclaimed, “Without a vision the people perish.” A vision empowers a people. It raises the bar of civilization.

Yes and No. The Nazi’s had a vision of world domination, as does ISIS.
What I hear from Carla and Trump and the rest – except Rand Paul – is an American Military so overwhelming that it will keep the world in paralyzing shock and wide-eyed awe.

Republicans don’t have a vision of world domination, but a vision that it is The Manifest Destiny of America to lead the world, its power unquestioned, based on a Military that dwarfs that of all other nations.

What is Obama’s vision: America is first among equals. Its power: Economics. Political History. And Diplomacy: “It is better to jaw, jaw, than war, war.”

Well, now we have Syria. Putin, allegedly, is using this Civil War to burnish Russia’s image with the West so as to re-integrate his country with Europe. He has sent military equipment to Syria. At the same time, he will woo the UN. He will be the peace-maker.

And what is Obama’s response? Kerry will meet with his Russian counterpart, Obama will sit down and talk with Putin. And what is the Republican response to Obama’s diplomacy? Putin is making Obama and America look weak.

The Syrian Civil War has gone on for four years. It has all but razed the country. It has unleashed four million refugees, hundreds of thousands of dead. It has destabilized the Middle East. Obama is not dealing with the Soviet Union. He is dealing with Russia. Russia is better in the tent of the West than outside of it. A recent example, Russia supported the Iran Treaty. Is it possible that this unspeakable war can be resolved by Jaw!Jaw!?

Russia has visions of former glory. They are fantastical. As are American visions of Manifest Destiny.

Nothing invites violence like a clash of visions. They are invisible but the most powerful force in a people. They unleash ignorant armies. They lead civilizations over a cliff. Or they strive to “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Obama knows Abraham Lincoln spoke those words at the end of a Civil War, which the American President had prosecuted ruthlessly – 620,000 American dead, the greatest violence up to that time in history. President Obama, like President Lincoln, knows that some wars, as was true of our deadly conflict to abolish slavery and preserve the Union, do not unleash ignorant armies. They are fought with the vision of achieving peace.

Our sixteenth President preserved his vision through war. Obama shares Lincoln’s vision for America. President Obama is striving, on this 20th day of September, 2015, to Jaw! Jaw! to preserve it through peace.

A Good Bath

Nietzsche advised reading one’s mail every ten days and then taking a good bath.

What Bernie Sanders experienced after two hours of the Republican debate on Wednesday, I experienced: a total loss of energy. Hope vanished. Bernie turned off his TV. I went catatonic, doomed to watch the Horror Show. I have nothing to add to the devastating reviews from The Right and The Left, especially by Paul Krugman and the Times Editorial Staff in today’s NY Times.

But on Thursday I found a “good bath!” It cleansed me of despair. Hope returned, that is, a sense of future. I share it with you happily. It concerns climate change, the gravest threat, in my judgment, to our planet.

Thursday’s mail brought the journal, Science. I will paraphrase the article titled, “Tailpipe to Tank.”

“Stuart Licht and his colleagues have designed the ultimate recycling machine. They take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use the energy from sunlight to turn it back into fuel. Water also is involved in the reaction, which produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide. They in turn can be stitched into LIQUID hydrocarbon fuels. Licht and company have produced the most efficient device of its type ever constructed. It is only one of the solar fuel technologies taking shape in labs around the world. They embody the prospect of bypassing fossil fuels and generating our transportation fuels from sunlight.”

The energy necessary for turning the carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide and splitting water comes from solar or wind, as well as the energy for stitching – “in the process ridding the atmosphere of some of the carbon dioxide our addiction to fossil fuels have dumped into it.” The product is called SUNGAS.”

After detailing the chemistry, which we don’t need here, the article ends on this happy note: “Someday, if renewable power becomes widespread enough, and the technology for making renewable fuels improves, we may be able to guzzle gas without guilt, knowing we are just burning sunlight.”

It’s just like going to the moon. We had then and have now all the necessary technology. It’s a matter of Will. And not electing Republicans.

What, Me Worry!

No one else worries – to my knowledge – that Republicans have taken a sledgehammer to our political structures. Why do I lose sleep? Why do I think their behavior is not ordinary rough and tumble politics, but destructive of our democracy. Why do I listen for a Paul Revere gallop through our land, shouting, “The Destroyers are coming! The Destroyers are coming!”?

I think they’ve arrived!

Republicans are systematicaly, relentlessly, inexhaustibly attacking the political instruments that, when used as intended, constitute the American Way of governance. Let me count the ways The Destroyers have taken aim at our Constitution. They are not interested in protecting that miraculous gift our Founding Fathers left us, but its destruction.

Number One

No sooner did Republicans gain control of state legislatures, they changed election laws, making it more difficult for minorities to vote. The bedrock of our way of life is protecting universal suffrage.

Number Two

The Republican Congress obstructed every piece of legislation with Democratic fingerprints. Like the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, they put permanent enmity between the two parties. Congress has become not a forum for debate, but a battleground for civil war. Mitch McConnell, by shameless use of the filibuster, made the minority a paralyzing force.

Number Three

When hated legislation, like Obamacare, got paased, Republicans submitted it to subsequent meaningless votes, again and again. Just wasting time. Why not? Nothing better to do. The need for a functioning government? Irrelevant. They didn’t hear the people gag.

Number Four

They brought Obamacare to the Supreme Court, having commissioned sleezy lawyers to comb through it, line by line, looking for a technical legal stumble. The Court refused to pass judgment on legislative responsibility.

Number Five

The Iran Treaty, legislation supported by the world, including Russia and China, Republicans voted down with no dissenting vote. (Many factions in Israel supported the agreement.) Nonetheless, it passed the Senate. Like with Obamacare, Republicans are bringing it back to the Senate for repeated roll calls, showing the world the government of the United States is demonstrably impotent.

Number six

For the first time in history, the Legislative branch is bringing suit against the Executive, the Speaker of the House destroying thereby our most fundamental principle of government, the separation of powers. He intends the Judiciary to join battle with the Legislative against the Executive.

Number seven

When legislation doesn’t go their way, in this case Planned Parenthood, Republicans will shut the government down entirely. In two weeks, if no surrender, that’s the plan. It’s not an idle threat. They’ve done it before, two years ago. It cost our government 24 billion dollars. That’s blackmail!

Number eight

Tom Cotton, five months in the Senate, beginning his first term on January 15, 2015, wrote a letter to the leaders of Iran. The stakes could not be higher: how to prevent Iran, the dominant power in the Middle East, from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Negotiations had gone on for two years. The freshman Senator told Iran leaders not to work with our President and Secretary of State. Well, there’s often a wild hair in every organization, even in the world’s greatest deliberating body.

Whoa, Nellie! Take a deep breath. This you won’t believe.

47 REPUBLICAN SENATORS SIGNED THE LETTER! THAT’S TREASON!

Number Nine

Bill Maher stated last night: Republicans pay no attentiom to facts!

The Republicans sowed the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind in the person of Donald Trump. Ron Reagan predicts that if Trump continues to remain a political force, that will destroy the Republican Party. In the second century, B.C., Cato the Elder ended every speech, “Carthago delenda est,” Carthage must be destroyed.

Cato the Elder keeps me awake at night.

Stupidity

A colleague sent me a brilliant short essay on Stupidity by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is breath-taking. He recognized the thought disorder, Narrow and Deep, at a Group level. If a Group strangles its experience of reality by shutting down the senses that don’t please, it will end up acting stupidly.
Bonhoeffer knew only too well that stupidity is the handmaiden to evil. By examining it as a thought disorder, however, he brings fresh insight to our political life.

Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran theologian and pastor, a German citizen. He came to New York in the summer of 1940 and was urged to stay in America. Knowing full well that he stood at severe risk, his country gone mad, he returned to Germany. He did not spend his time expounding Luther’s Catechism. Bonhoeffer was implicated in the failed plot to kill Hitler. In a freezing courtyard, a month before the end of the war in Europe, naked, he was hanged. He was 39, the same age as Martin Luther King when he was murdered.

Here are highlights from his essay, with comments on Mitch McConnell’s Group.

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than evil. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Reasoning has no effect. Facts only need to be disbelieved.”

– What is our experience with Climate Change in the Senate? Link the problem to CO2 emissions, a by-product of burning fossil fuel, which we’ve been doing on an unprecedented scale for the last 200 years. Reasoning has no effect. McConnell’s minions insist climate change is not our doing.

– What is our experience with the Iran Treaty in the Senate? 99.9% of the world supports it. Designed to keep this major power from obtaining a nuclear weapon, not one Republican Senator hears the chorus of scientists, the military, the countries world-wide, all in favor. The treaty is of such importance that our solons claim to have read every page, often twice, and come to his/her own thought-through position. Yet not one Republican Senator finds reason to support it! Not one! Mitch McConnell’s Narrow and Deep thought disorder has gone viral. (Yesterday, all 54 Republican senators voted against the Iran Treaty.)

“Against stupidity, neither with protest nor with force can we do anything. Facts that contradict one’s own prejudice only need to be disbelieved – when facts are unavoidable, they can simply be swept aside as meaningless, isolated cases.”

– Bonhoeffer recognized there is nothing to be done with Group stupidity. In our political system, the only option for bringing about change is through elections. Elections have consequences. As my correspondent noted in my last blog, it is precisely elections that are now subject to Republican stupidity. Without elections which can throw the rascals out, protests won’t get it. Neither can force – unless, ultimately, on a terrifying scale. It is this realization that made Bonhoeffer join the effort to kill Hitler. That effort failed. In the end, only overwhelming force from a united world brought the madness to an end. Group stupidity is the greatest threat to our planet. Once it takes hold, any horror is possible. That’s wWhat we’re seeing with the stupidity of ISIS.

“Stupid people, in contrast to evil ones, are satisfied with themselves. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, because it at least leaves people with a feeling of uneasiness.”

– This is a wonderful observation. Under Bush, the country blundered into the most stupid war in its history. Under Bush, the country was brought to the edge of financial collapse. Under Bush, the top 1% were given the keys to the kingdom. Do Republicans remain satisfied with their Party? Absolutely. Is Jeb running for President? Are Republicans embarrassed to trot out the same solution year in and year out to every problem: “Cut taxes. Cut regulations. Cut spending?” Not if you think Narrow and Deep. If you strangle sense experience, you will remain satisfied. And stupid.

“Close examination reveals that every strong, external development of power, whether of a political or religious nature, strikes a large portion of the people with stupidity.”

Bonhoeffer witnessed an entire nation, under Hitler’s development of power, getting struck down with this thinking disorder. Bonhoeffer suggests a profound observation. In politics, Narrow and Deep results in stupidity. In religious Groups, it results in fanaticism. With both, of course, evil walks the earth.

Narrow and Deep

The race has always preferred fantasy. What else would one expect? Until the last 500 years, we lived at the mercy of forces invisible, bullying our lives, scaring the hell out of our “little world of man.” So we countered with gods invisible, with magic and incantations and all the rest. It’s a well known story, and it goes on and on.

Freud did not discover fantasy. What he found is that we distort reality when it gives us Unpleasure. By an act of will we substitute our wishes, countering the facts of life to avoid Pain. We waylay the messengers that inform us about the objective world – our five senses – and put ourselves in charge. Fantasy storms our centers of communication. This is what accounts for the far-reaching consequence of Post-Truth Politics. Hallucination is not merely a thought, or an idea. WE REVERSE THE FUNCTION OF OUR SENSORY APPARATUS. Our eyes spin out visions, our ears voices. We become the creators, omnipotent. Fantasy is not simply an exercise of the imagination. It is an open invitation all our life to escape uncomfortable facts by overriding the senses when bringing news we don’t want to hear.

From the very start of his work, Freud recognized that conflict shapes our lives. Living in the truth is not a given. We have to struggle against taking the easy way out. Freud’s most inmportant contribution, the foundation of all his work, is enlarging human responsibility. By revealing the hidden workings of our mind – what we don’t know compromises our autonomy – Freud intended to clear road-blocks from the full exercise of that responsibility. He began by discovering the Unpleasure Principle. Unpleasure or Pain is a constant throughout our life, endlessly seducing us to exercise our omnipotence by simply spinning fantasies and shutting down the five senses. Nowhere is this more evident than in our current politics.

Recall Krugman’s definition of what he calls, “Post-Truth Politics.” “We live in an era in which politicians and the supposed experts who serve them never feel obliged to acknowledge uncomfortable facts, in which no argument is ever dropped, no matter how overwhelming the evidence that it’s wrong.” Straight out of Freud. Wilfred Bion named this behavior ARROGANCE. That is not an adjective. It is a noun, a noun with real heft, an ontology, if you will. ARROGANCE is not an action. It is a state of mind that pits its wishes against facts. “I do it my way.”

But there’s a problem if we want to make sense of current American politics. For example, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, is not hallucinating. He seems normal enough. After all, folks have different points of view. It’s the heart of political life. What’s his connection with hallucinations? Good heavens, that’s a serious allegation! How is his thinking disordered and not ordinary, The Right and The Left simply going at it?

If we examine McConnell’s thinking, the problem isn’t that he invents facts. He doesn’t have visions. He doesn’t provide data that the rest of us don’t recognize. His thinking is not the result of hallucination. Where then is his attack against sense experience?

HE MAKES IT ONE-DIMENSIONAL, DIGGING DEEPER AND DEEPER INTO ONE ISSUE.

Bion recognized it as a thought disorder resulting from a sense apparatus that is rendered “Narrow and Deep.” The key element is that we strangle information necessary for the complexity of our place in the world. McConnell said repeatedly his agenda was to make Obama a one-term president. That was it! Not infrastructure, not education. Not health insurance. Not any legislation that might redound to Obama’s success. Or the country’s! Nothing out of the narrow confines of that one single idea. How narrow and deep? – oppose all Obama policies, frame an entire party’s political agenda driven by this narrow criterion. That’s “digging yourself a hole.” Sense experience is manipulated by omission. Its full function is not appropriated. It is strangled. The consequence of McConnell’s thought disorder in our political life has been severe. It accounts for the relentless obstructionism that threatens to paralyze the ability of our government to function at all. It disheartened the citizenry and empowered The Donald.

An astute colleague recognized the problem. Stunning. Here’s what she wrote.

“The Republican Party has not always resided in the domain of a far outlier. The election of Obama clearly served as the slingshot that hurled so many members of them into the far-right stratosphere. Before Obama’s election, there was little concern or interest in voter fraud. By 2010 — when many states had swung from blue to red and Republicans had wrested control of state legislatures — there was an explosion of voter-ID laws…The ascendency of a black man to the presidency made many whites in America painfully uncomfortable, including the leadership of the Republican Party. It is a pain they are not going to tolerate. They are making damn sure it goes away. Thank you, Roberts Court. Southern States that were previously held accountable by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act can change voting laws any time they want. Feeling better, G.O.P?”

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