Clinton’s Adaptive Corruption — Not That Bad!



The point isn’t that the massive amounts of money corporations have donated to Hillary directly influenced her votes.

You will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received.
– Hillary Clinton

Out and out bribery – I don’t know how often that happens, and it’s hard to prove since obviously neither party wants it known.  But that’s only one form of corruption.
Suppose you’re a legislator considering introducing a bill that you know Wall St. wouldn’t like.  You know that if you do, an opponent will be found to run against you and lavished with donations.  You may lose your seat.  So you don’t introduce the legislation, or you water it down and insert loopholes. There are lots of ways the powerful can get what they want and make your life difficult.  And it’s legal.

If the system is corrupt, what does it mean to be well adapted to it?  In a corrupt system, what does it mean to say that you are able to “get things done”?  I don’t think that Clinton proudly claiming never to have taken a bribe is going to be an adequate defense.  Not taking a bribe is a pretty low bar!  The more important question involves the manner in which Clinton has adapted and thrived in a context where corruption is endemic.  Is “hey, that’s how the system works, everyone is doing it” a valid defense?  Not when it’s the system that is being attacked!

The fact that Hillary has been the recipient of such largess from these corporations over which she had the power to enact regulatory legislation indicates that, at the very least, their interests are aligned.  Goldman Sachs was not paying her to tell them they were con artists who should be jailed!

In fact, if you currently have political or economic power in virtually any capacity your interests are aligned.  It’s what makes you part of the establishment.  Conformity to the existing power structure is rewarded and non-conformity is punished.

That means many are complicit – they’ve gone along to get along.  That’s not necessarily an immoral choice.  Sometimes a system is too pervasive and powerful, and it’s advantageous to adapt to it instead of trying to destroy it to create something better.  One can make that argument.  However, I think, I hope, that the nation now realizes that the system is the problem, and that the establishment is incapable of making the changes that we desperately need to enact.  The people currently in power are not going to change if the change entails them not being in power.

Clinton and Sanders represent this difference vividly.  Clinton would not challenge the current distribution of power and wealth.  She made that clear in the South Carolina debate.  She would reinforce the meagre gains made by President Obama, and attempt some incremental changes that are deemed “realistic” and “achievable” given the current structure of power.  Sanders, on the other hand, would take on the system.  Not by himself, of course.  It simply won’t happen without a whole lot of people getting behind him.

For many people the system is so pervasive it’s invisible.  It functionally is their reality.  For them, it is inconceivable that we would prosecute and jail Wall St. fraudsters, or institute a tax on speculation.  Or jettison the entire health insurance industry in one fell swoop.  Or pull the plug on the fossil fuel industry.  Those things are impossibly unrealistic in the current plutocracy.  But they are possible in a democracy, which is the vision that is resonating with voters in this election.

When Bernie says he’s a democratic socialist some people freak out about the “socialist” part.  But maybe the most powerful part of that is actually “democratic.”

O, People Of Iowa

paintbushO, people of Iowa. If we have neglected you, if we have quarrelled, let us be reconciled! This is the first battle in a war we cannot afford to lose. The future of this nation, our future, our nation, is in your hands. So many of us are depending on you, so many want our own voices to be heard.

It is you who will speak first.

It is you who will make the first brush stroke on the canvas of our future, the first visible mark that our aspiration for justice is shared, that our dreams of a true democracy may be realized.

After so much talk, the time for action has come. This precious opportunity to transform our world demands our courage, our fortitude, our commitment.
We’ve done what we could do. Now, it’s up to you.

Hillary Attack Backfires

bernie on health careThe more misleading attack ads that Hillary’s Super PAC runs, the more money Sanders has to refute them.   In systems theory it’s called a balancing feedback loop; it blunts the effect of the ads.

In addition, the attack ads contribute to two narratives.  First, they reinforce the already prevalent notion that Clinton is dishonest and untrustworthy.  She currently has a 51.9% “unfavorable” rating in national polls.  Second, they remind voters of one of Sanders’ central themes: the pernicious effect of money in politics.  Those are reinforcing feedback loops.  The more ads from Hillary that are perceived as misleading, the more “unfavorable” she becomes.

Together, these feedback loops probably mean misrepresenting the truth is a losing tactic for the Clinton campaign.  She ends up looking more dishonest, calling attention to that existing narrative about her, and the Sanders campaign has more money to counter the deception she is propagating.

If you are a Sanders supporter the logic is clear.  When Hillary’s super PAC runs a misleading ad:

  1. Contribute to the Sanders campaign, even if it’s just $3.
  2. Point out the way the attack ad is misleading and post far and wide.

These are two very simple, easy to accomplish things anyone can do.  If you are on the Bernie Sanders email list they even send out a donation link when these attacks occur.  A few people doing this is inconsequential, but more than a million people doing these simple things is unstoppable.  It’s a movement.

Now, on to the deception itself.  The Clintons (Hillary and her daughter Chelsea) are attacking Sanders on his single-payer healthcare initiative.  An analysis of the Chelsea statement is available at PolitiFact which rates it “mostly false.”   In addition, Clinton has misstated the cost of the Sanders plan, following the logic of the debunked Wall Street Journal analysis which calculated the substantial tax increases while ignoring the even more substantial savings of not having to pay private insurance premiums.
More info about the Hillary attack here.

It will be interesting how this plays out.  I think it’s going to backfire.

Guns Are a Distraction From the Sanders Revolution

handgunWith Sanders posing a real threat in Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton is now going on the offensive, attacking him for his voting record on guns. It’s a sign of desperation. Let’s keep things in perspective.

The crucial choice in the 2016 presidential election is this: will we continue to have an oligarchy, or will we have a revolution to reinstate democracy. To be sure, there are many other issues Americans are passionate about, but the question of who has the power is the pre-eminent one. It’s crucial because it touches every other issue. Would getting money out of politics improve our ability to make progress on climate change, health care and education? On guns, even? Of course it would! Sanders’ single-mindedness about economic and political power is the issue that is driving his popularity.

Now, if you have been following mainstream news you know that the media has not exactly been focusing on the issue of power. They spend endless hours replaying the latest inane Trump-ism, or reciting the litany of a Clinton coronation.

The latest distraction in the Democratic race is guns. Sanders and Clinton have voting records that are remarkably similar.  On guns, they both support enhanced background checks, closing the gun show loophole, prosecuting straw man purchases, and restrictions on assault weapons. Despite the similarity, a desperate Clinton campaign is now trying to use guns as a wedge issue.

When it really mattered, Senator Sanders voted with the gun lobby and I voted against the gun lobby. So this is a significant difference, and it’s important that, you know, maybe it’s time for Senator Sanders to stand up and say, ‘I got this one wrong.’ But he hasn’t.
— Hillary Clinton on Hardball, January 8, 2016

What Clinton is referring to is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, enacted in 2005. Sanders voted for it and Clinton voted against it.  The context in which the bill was passed was that cities were suing gun manufacturers, attempting to hold them liable for gun-related injuries and deaths. This was essentially an attempt to achieve via lawsuits what had been impossible to achieve via legislation. If you could tie gun manufacturers up in court and get potentially massive judgments against them, you could bankrupt them and make gun-control legislation unnecessary.

The larger context is that the law affirms that citizens have an individual right to bear arms founded in the Second Amendment. One may agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling, one may like it or dislike it, one may want to change it or not, but in the end there it is. It is legal to possess guns, and to buy and sell them.

If gun-control advocates want to regulate guns, or even make them illegal, that’s their prerogative. They can point to countries that disallow gun ownership and their relatively minuscule level of gun violence and emulate that. However, in seeking that level of gun regulation, they have their work cut out for them: Over 40% of Americans have a gun in the home, there are an estimated 357 million civilian-owned guns in circulation, and changing an amendment presents daunting hurdles.

Although the PLCAA protects gun manufacturers from product liability lawsuits, note that it does not protect them from liability for defective products. It implicitly recognizes that a properly functioning firearm is capable of inflicting injury and death, indeed that is what it is designed to do. A firearm is unlike any other product in that regard.  Basically, the law prevents the manufacturer of a weapon from being held liable for its criminal use.

So Hillary Clinton is being disingenuous. It wasn’t a question of voting “with the gun lobby” or not. That’s her clever way of associating Sanders with the unpopular NRA.

Sanders should not say he got it wrong. He got it right! It may be possible to make some revisions in the law, to fine tune it, but the principle that a manufacturer or dealer is not liable for criminal acts committed using their legal, non-defective product is simply common sense.

There are policy changes that can be made to decrease gun violence that are legal and that are supported by a large majority of Americans, including gun owners. President Obama has just announced some of these common sense measures, which are supported by substantial majorities, including gun owners. However, there is not a similar consensus regarding product liability lawsuits and the PLCAA. Many people view such lawsuits as infringing a legal right, and are understandably angry about this attempted “end run” around the law.

It also happens that Sanders’ common sense approach on guns is more likely to be well received in the general election. Hillary’s “leftier than thou” approach appeals to a segment of Democratic primary voters; it is a wedge issue she’s trying to exploit, and it’s opportunistic. But if she were to end up being the nominee it would hurt her in the general election.

Obviously, gun control is an emotional issue, and an important issue, but it’s a distraction in the current election. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize: supplanting the oligarchy with a democracy.  That is a revolution worth fighting for.

Bernie Can’t Win: The Myth

Photo: Benjamin Kerensa

Sanders addressing rally.
Photo: Benjamin Kerensa

 As I follow the 2016 presidential election one phrase I’ve been seeing crop up recently is “Bernie can’t win.” To be honest, I’m finding it a little irritating. A candidate wins when they get enough votes. The whole point of an election is to count the votes and determine a winner. People who present themselves as hard-headed political realists with their “Bernie can’t win” prognostication don’t realize that there are problems inherent to making predictions that make theirs unreliable.

Additionally, to say “Bernie can’t win” is to participate in the propagation of a myth. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Failing to understand the unreliability of prediction makes it easy to slip into behavior that turns fiction into a reality.

The problem with predictions

Speculation is fueled by the latest polling results. One problem with polls, though, is that they only give you a snapshot of voter inclination as it exists at the moment. They don’t take into account all the politically significant events that may occur between now and the primaries. I’m thinking of those events that are impossible to predict, and yet likely to occur.

You can identify those Black Swan events in retrospect, of course, but we lack the ability to predict them.

There are already forces shaping the election that would have been impossible to predict. The Pope has strongly admonished his followers – and the US Congress – on income inequality and climate change, two of Sanders’ core issues. Donald Trump continues to be a human wrecking ball in the Republican party. The Benghazi “hearings” intended to pull down Hillary’s popularity have backfired. Record-breaking storms have inundated the red states of South Carolina and Texas, perhaps persuading some voters of the urgency of addressing climate change. ISIS has staged a bloody attack in Paris.

And who predicted that a 74 year-old Jewish, democratic socialist would be drawing record crowds in conservative strongholds like Arizona and Texas?

The point is that the trajectory of the election and its outcome are going to be affected by events we can’t predict. Therefore, the best strategy is to be prepared for the unexpected, whether it be a celebrity endorsement, a market crash, a catastrophic climate event, or a terrorist attack.

This bears repeating: we don’t know who will win the election. Resist the temptation to fill in the not-knowing with a narrative of winning or losing, of hope or of despair. Certainly, don’t accept anyone else’s narrative. Hold the not-knowing lightly, as an empty space of possibility that your actions can and will influence. And take your friends’ predictions with a grain of salt. We can’t help filling in the blank, it’s how our brains are wired! Your friends don’t know what will happen, and neither do the “experts” on TV and in the blogosphere.

Speaking of the “experts,” not-knowing doesn’t stop them from treating the election like a horse race! But in a horse race there’s nothing you can do to make the horse run faster. In a political race there’s a lot you can do to affect the outcome. You can contribute money, you can work for the candidate, you can promote them on social media sites and you can persuade your friends and family to join your cause. That is an important distinction that many pundits don’t seem to appreciate.

It has been said that no one was ever fired for recommending Microsoft. Hillary is this election’s Microsoft, and no pundit will be criticized or ridiculed for predicting that she will win – even if she loses. Why not? First, because within the groupthink of the punditry class, there is agreement, and to criticize one is to implicate all. She’s a safe bet. Second, for her to be defeated something novel must happen, something outside their predictive model, something they couldn’t possibly anticipate and for which, therefore, they don’t feel accountable.

When you don’t know something it’s good to know that you don’t know it. People who confidently claim that “Bernie can’t win” presume to know something that is not knowable. They are in the realm of speculation but they don’t realize it.

The challenge for Sanders supporters (or anyone, really) is to act, and continue taking action, while embracing the not-knowing; to remain open to the possibility of defeat, or perhaps more daunting, victory. The best way to predict the future – or at least influence it – is to go out and create it.

Predictions as propaganda

The other thing about predictions is that they are self-fulfilling. If you expect a certain outcome you will tend to act accordingly. To wit, if you expect Bernie not to win you are less likely to engage in the behaviors that increase his chances of winning. It’s human nature.

Predicting that “Bernie can’t win” is not a politically neutral or objective action. It is essentially an endorsement of Hillary. If someone likes Hillary, the straightforward choice is to say so, and then vote for her. But to cite “Bernie can’t win” as a reason to dismiss him is disingenuous.

We hear a lot of “Bernie can’t win” predictions in the mainstream media. The effect is to depict Hillary as the inevitable candidate. It’s well documented that Hillary is supported by corporate interests, including large media companies like Time Warner, owner of CNN, so you can’t discount the theory that it’s deliberate propaganda. But even if it’s not an actual conspiracy, the effect is still to skew the election in their candidate’s favor. It’s hardly a surprise that they would put their mouth where their money is, but I hope everyone recognizes that they are neither objective nor credible.

Hillary’s inevitability isn’t reality, it’s a story some people wish were reality. It’s a myth.

The “Rational” Arguments

As I said above, I think any conversation that revolves around a prediction, e.g. “Bernie can’t win,” is misleading and should be avoided. The most accurate rejoinder is to point out that when you don’t know something, you simply don’t know it. An election is decided by votes, not polls. However, despite the fact that it’s the rational approach, it is not the most productive approach to the conversation. The fallacy of believing in one’s predictions is deeply entrenched. Most people would rather believe in something, anything, than be with the discomfort of not knowing.

I should mention here that rational arguments are not the most persuasive ones if you happen to be arguing with a conservative. As George Lakoff says, “What counts as a ‘rational argument’ is not the same for progressives and conservatives. And even the meaning of concepts and words may be different. Cognitive linguists have learned a lot about how all this works, but few progressives have studied cognitive linguistics.” I’ll leave that discussion for another article.

These rational arguments are more intended for progressives who share a similar frame of understanding, in other words, they are more applicable to people likely to vote in the Democratic primary.

Anyway, just for fun, let’s engage in some counter-speculation – while not forgetting that we, too, are speculating. Here are some of the “rational” arguments I’ve heard for why “Bernie can’t win,” along with my counter-speculations.

Entrenched establishment politicians and their corporate masters won’t let Bernie win

This is essentially a cynical argument that endorses the status quo. It’s an argument for one’s own powerlessness that starts with defeat and then has nowhere to go. Of course they will do everything they can to prevent him from winning! Duh!

Sanders’ central theme is that we must get money out of politics. This is a savvy political move: 87% of Americans agree with the statement that “Campaign finance should be reformed so that a rich person does not have more influence than a person without money.” It’s an issue that cuts across traditional political divides.

In the past, having deep pockets has been an overwhelming advantage. Suppose we imagine that the situation has changed, and that enough people feel strongly enough about getting money out of politics that they vote accordingly. In that case, being funded by Super PACs becomes a disadvantage. People will closely consider who is bankrolling the candidate. Suddenly, all that Super PAC money becomes the indelible imprimatur of oligarchy.

I’m not saying that this will happen. I’m saying it could happen. It will be more likely to happen if conversations are framed as a question of democracy vs oligarchy. Follow the money: Sanders is funded by ordinary individuals, while all the other candidates are beholden to their Super PACs and the 1%.

America isn’t ready for a Socialist

After so many years of Republican name-calling, it is richly ironic to have an actual democratic socialist running. Is America ready? Well, many Americans are enthusiastic about the policies Sanders is campaigning on. His platform is only revolutionary in terms of current American political norms, not when compared to other modern countries or even to past Democratic positions.

In the mouths of Republicans, the word “socialist” has become a meaningless epithet. It has lost it’s descriptive value. This opens up an opportunity for Sanders to redefine it himself, as he did in his speech at Georgetown University. Since many Americans are enthusiastic about the policies Sanders is campaigning on, I expect this to work out in his favor.

And isn’t this the same kind of argument that was made about Obama: the US isn’t “ready” for a black president? Here’s a list someone made of pundits confidently predicting Why Obama will never, ever be elected president.

How could they have been so wrong? It’s the same error in thinking that may be making them wrong about Bernie now. It’s a fallacy to believe that because something has been true in the past it will continue to be true in the future.

He can’t win in the general election

Again, this is something we can’t really know. There are too many unknowns to predict with certainty. However, in a hypothetical match-up with Trump, the current Republican front-runner, polling indicates Sanders would win, and by a larger margin than Clinton. For Democrats emphasizing the importance of preventing a Republican victory, especially ones who reference possible appointments to the Supreme Court, Sanders is currently looking like the wiser choice.

Consider, too, the current chaos of the Republican party. The necessity for candidates to embrace the lunatic fringe in the primary ensures that the winner will be saddled with some very unpopular and hard to defend positions in the general election. Right wing Republicans are decidedly out of step with American opinions on gay marriage, climate change, the Iraq war. The breakdown has left some Republicans looking outside their party, and apparently some of them love Bernie!

People who say Bernie can’t win the general election, in addition to making the mistake of believing their own prediction, are going to have a hard time supporting that assertion. Especially in a Sanders-Trump scenario, I would predict a huge turnout and a Sanders landslide.

He does not have sufficient support from minorities, especially African-Americans

 While it’s true that Clinton has a huge advantage in African-American communities, that lead may be vulnerable. Why? Polling shows that 92% of African-Americans are “familiar” with Clinton, while only 23% are familiar with Sanders. As Sanders becomes more familiar to black voters, will they respond positively to his message? His position on economic and social justice should appeal, and he has also been emphasizing the importance of racial justice – at the urging of Black Lives Matter. But Sanders’ emphasis on the systemic nature of our problems may be most persuasive. Economic justice, social justice and racial justice are interconnected systemic problems that disproportionately impact minority communities.

Clinton has some negatives that could potentially hurt her with the demographic. For example, the support she has received from private prison lobbyists is probably not going to help. The Sanders campaign has months to reach out to minority voters before the first vote is cast, and four upcoming debates. There will be plenty of opportunity to move those numbers. Check out this ringing endorsement from rapper Killer Mike!

If elected, Sanders wouldn’t be able to govern

This argument rests on the assumption that if Sanders were elected there would be overwhelming intransigence and push back from the existing power structure. No doubt that would be true! It says, essentially, “better a functional oligarchy than a dysfunctional democracy.” But the very fact of a Sanders presidency would have already changed the balance of power. It would mean that there was a significant number of Americans who wanted to change that power structure, that there was a movement. That in itself would lead to changes in the composition of Congress.

Sanders acknowledges the difficulty, and has repeatedly emphasized that he can’t implement the changes he is proposing alone. Could a president with a popular mandate mobilize the people who voted for him to make changes at the national, state and local levels? Again, we don’t know, but I’m going to imagine that, yes, it’s possible.

Clinton has an overwhelming advantage in “superdelegates”

It may come as a surprise to discover that the Democratic party is not democratic in how it selects its nominee, but that’s a fact. Superdelegates are formally unpledged delegates who are chosen by position, not by voters in primaries and caucuses. They are governors and congressmen and other party members, and can vote for whomever they want.

The Clinton campaign claims to have commitments from more than 440 of the 712 superdelegates. (There is a total of approximately 4,492 delegates, therefore a majority of 2,247 delegates needed to win the nomination.)

If Sanders does well enough in the popular vote, Hillary’s advantage in superdelegate commitments might not be enough to prevent him from winning. That’s assuming that her superdelegates don’t jump ship, which some probably would do if Sanders won the popular vote. Superdelegates are people too!

It would be interesting to see whether the superdelegates would go against the popular vote. That would delegitimize the Democratic party, and infuriate the millions of people who had voted for Sanders, perhaps leading to a revolt within the party. Would the Democratic party deny the nomination to the popular vote winner and run with the loser in the general election? I think that’s a hard sell, even to a publicly committed delegate.

Hypothetically, that scenario might lead Sanders to run as an independent. He has said he will not do that, but as far as I know that is not legally binding. If he were to prove his viability by winning the popular vote in the primary and the party were to give the nomination to Hillary despite that, it might be tempting.

Lots of speculation here. We don’t know what would happen, but you don’t get to find out unless you create the conditions that make the question relevant.

Sanders is a spoiler who will split the vote, causing a Republican victory

This argument reflects a misunderstanding of the electoral process, and perhaps an erroneous association with the Nader candidacy of 2000. I include it because apparently some people are misinformed.

Back to basics: Bernie Sanders is running in the Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton. After that contest has been decided by mid-summer of 2016 there will be a general election on November 2 between one of them and whoever ends up being the Republican nominee. This is not a scenario in which a “spoiler effect” can occur.

Since polls predict either Sanders or Clinton winning against likely Republican nominees, not only is Sanders not a spoiler, voting for him is guilt free. If you like him, vote for him! If he wins, then great, you got what you wanted. If Clinton wins you are not any worse off than if you had voted for Clinton in the first place.

There isn’t a downside

Saying Bernie can’t win is what you say if you don’t want him to win. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy you make if you are cynical, resigned to the status quo, or if you simply want Hillary to win.

People who make that prediction are essentially saying, “assuming everything is the same as it has been in the past…” As in, assuming money remains the determining factor in winning elections, assuming that people remain ignorant about what Sanders’ platform really is, assuming that people can be convinced that the mainstream candidate has a better chance of beating the Republican, assuming minority voters do not respond to his message, basically, assuming everything in the future is as it has been in the past and nothing happens to change that. Also, assuming that the millions of passionate Sanders supporters are unable to affect the horse race. I wouldn’t bet on it!

In this election, there really isn’t a downside to voting for Bernie if you like what he stands for. If he loses in the primary, you are left with an unexciting second choice, but at least there is the consolation of having forced Hillary to the left. A Hillary victory is a disaster in many ways, but of course, less of a disaster than electing any Republican.

Change is exciting

Change is exciting, and this is an election that is offering the possibility of actual change. All presidential elections I can remember have been ones where the nominees were products of the status quo. They played by the rules and colored within the lines. In this election, however, establishment candidates are being challenged in both parties. Establishment Republicans have been struggling desperately as their anti-establishment candidates surge in the polls. On the Democratic side, Clinton is hands down the establishment candidate, while Sanders is the one leading the revolution.

“Don’t worry about what the world needs. ask yourself what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is more people who are alive.” – Howard Thurman

Why the excitement around the Sanders candidacy? Because some people realize that he  can win. And the reason he can win is that people are excited. It’s a positive feedback loop. Excitement is infectious, and it feels good.

Look, Bernie is not perfect. There are several issues where I find myself in profound disagreement with him. But on most issues, especially on getting money out of politics, he offers a significant change, a revolutionary change.

I used the word “myth” above, but maybe a better word is “vision.” To say “Bernie can’t win” is to cling to a vision of political stasis and the deeper entrenchment of an oligarchy. People who are “feeling the Bern” are holding the vision of a genuine realignment of power in this country, the overthrow of oligarchy and the re-establishment of democracy.

The key to understanding this election is appreciating the shared excitement of that vision.

Minimizing surveillance over broadband networks

nsa-eagle-no-circle-effThis post describes how you can defeat the surveillance employed by AT&T, Comcast, and other service providers, while taking advantage of faster connection speeds they may offer in your area. In some parts of the US you don’t have much choice in service providers. Here’s more information on why you should consider using a VPN. In my case I wanted to use the VPN because it was included in the service I was already paying for, and Sonic has a solid rating from the EFF. The VPN is fast and reliable although it doesn’t offer some features of other VPN providers like international exit servers.

The setup described below is way more involved than what you need if you have a single computer. If that is the case, and you are a customer, then just go to, and in a few clicks you will have a working VPN!

In my case, I have multiple computers on a LAN, and a couple of additional requirements:

  • I wanted to avoid using the AT&T-supplied VDSL modem, since it is essentially a black box. You don’t have control over certain features, and there’s really no way of knowing what it’s doing, or might do in the future. I didn’t want something like that on my LAN where it could potentially monitor my local traffic!  Therefore, I had to add a supplementary router.
  • I wanted to have the router handle my end of the VPN, so I didn’t have to manage it on each computer on my LAN.

If you have an ISP other than, you can still use this approach, just pick an alternative VPN provider that suits your needs. If you can get, then go with that. They have great customer support. (Although, they will not be able to provide you with support on the instructions in this article! Get the standard VPN configuration working first before trying this.)

This article, although written for a particular configuration of ISP, router, VDSL modem and VPN provider may be relevant in other cases. In my case, it looks like this

ISP FTTN 18Mbps service (over AT&T network — essentially the same as U-verse offering)
Modem NVG589 supplied by AT&T
Router Netgear R7000 (flashed with free and open-source DD-WRT)
VPN offers VPN service for free if you already have an account. It formerly only supported the Cisco/IPSEC flavor, but OpenVPN is now supported in Beta.

You can also use a different Router/Modem combination. Best case scenario is a router that you can flash with DD-WRT.

Configuring the NVG589

  1. On Home Network → Subnets & DHCP I left the IP Address at and changed the Subnet Mask to I changed the DHCPv4 Start/End Addresses to As it currently stands, I only have the one DHCP-static passthrough route to the R7000. Changing the Subnet Mask is optional, but was recommended somewhere as creating a more efficient broadcast.
  2. To configure the NVG589 for Passthrough
    1. Go to Firewall → IP Passthrough
    2. Set Allocation Mode to Passthrough
    3. I set Passthrough Mode to DHCPS-fixed, and chose the router address from the list.
  3. I turned off the wireless capability of the NVG589, and am using the R7000 for wireless.
  4. I turned off Firewall Status → Packet Filter
  5. I did not turn off any of the Firewall Advanced options. I don’t think it will hurt to leave them on. They are redundant with what is provided by the R7000.
  6. This link was helpful for configuring the modem in bridge mode
  7. The NVG589 Manual
  8. These changes required a reboot.

Configuring the R7000

I bought a Netgear R7000 (about $180 on Amazon) and loaded it with DD-WRT router software. A cheaper router will work, you might even have one lying around that will work, just make sure it supports a flash image of DD-WRT that includes VPN.

  1. To load DD-WRT I followed these simple instructions.
    1. Note: The WPS feature that allows the router to automatically link up with devices like printers is not supported in DD-WRT.  Minor inconvenience.
  2. Initially, I set it up with the Setup → WAN Setup → Automatic Configuration DHCP option. This is a good start, because it will automatically get the correct values via DHCP from the NVG589, so I recommend doing that first. However, ultimately I ended up going with the Static IP option, because it insisted on adding the AT&T DNS server and I didn’t want that. On my Linux and OSX platforms it’s possible to select something like “DHCP addresses only,” but DD-WRT doesn’t have that option. With the Static IP option I can specify my own DNS server. (It may also work to fill in all three of the DNS server fields, which should prevent the AT&T DNS server from being added, but I didn’t test that.)
  3. Why is the DNS issue important? Because in some cases your operating system or software may leak information about what sites you are visiting via the DNS service. Read more about DNS leaks here.  You can also test for DNS leaks here. AT&T makes it impossible to change the DNS settings on the NVG589; you have to change DNS settings in a separate router, as we’re doing here, or manually on each computer.
  4. Note that your DNS server must allow recursive queries from your AT&T IP address.’s default DNS servers do not allow that, although they have alternate servers that do.
    Without the VPN connection, the R7000 will receive the WAN IP Address of the NVG589 which is in AT&T’s address block, and you won’t be able to use and However, when you are connected to the VPN, then it’s fine to use their DNS servers, because your VPN address is allowed. That is what I recommend. In my case, I’m running my own DNS server, but most people won’t have that option. You might want to try OpenDNS. Here’s more information about using DD-WRT with OpenDNS.
    Ultimately, with the OpenVPN configuration, I did add and, and then I had to change the IP/Name field of the VPN configuration from to  This makes sense – DNS won’t work until the VPN is established, so you have to use the IP address when establishing the VPN connection.
  5. The NVG589 and R7000 must be on separate subnets. I left the NVG589 at its default of and reconfigured the R7000.
    1.  On the R7000, set Basic Setup → Network Setup → Local IP Address to, subnet mask 255.2555.255.0.
    2. On the R7000 Basic Setup → Network Setup → Network Address Server Settings (DHCP)
      1. DHCP Server: enable
      2. Start IP Address:
      3. I checked the checkboxes for DNSMasq for DHCP/DNS and DHCP-Authoritative
  6. On my LAN I had various machines I wanted to give consistent IP Addresses. This may not be an issue for others. I decided to let DHCP assign them, but remember them by MAC address so that they always are assigned the same IP address. This makes it easy to administer everything in the router.
    1. On the Services page under DHCP Server, I selected “LAN & WAN” under Used Domain. This makes the hosts on your LAN mutually accessible by the names you enter under Static Leases. For LAN Domain you can put anything, like “mylocal.lan.”
    2. I added static leases under Services → DHCP Server by clicking Add and filling in the fields, and then clicking Save and Apply Settings at the bottom of the page. I repeated this for the hosts I wanted to have static IP addresses. You can easily find the MAC addresses on the Status → LAN page.
    3. Under Services → DNSMasq, enable DNSMasq and No DNS Rebind.
  7. Under Basic Setup → Network Setup → Time Settings, choose the time zone (America/Los Angeles) and enter the ip address of a time server.  Initially I entered the name, but that caused a connection error: when DNS was not yet set up, the time got set to 1969, and then OpenVPN wouldn’t connect because the certificate was invalid due to the incorrect time.

    dig +short

Connecting other devices

  1. I have an Airvana/Airrave 2.5+ which is like a local cell tower that allows me to use my cell phone where I live (otherwise, no cell signal). I plugged it into the R7000 and it worked fine.
  2. The ATA box that supplies VOIP via Sonic also is plugged into the R7000.

Setting up the VPN

The first step is to test the VPN by connecting to it with your computer. If you have a simple network configuration (i.e. one computer and no supplementary router) then this is all you need.  If you have a more complex network, test the VPN first from your computer before continuing to the next step of getting it running on your router.

  1. For OpenVPN go here and follow the instructions. (Recommended!)
  2. For IPSEC go here.  I did this for both Ubuntu Linux and Mac OSX. Enter the values you get from your VPN service provider.
    1. On the Mac, go to the the Network Settings preferences, and create a new network entry (the “+” sign in the lower left corner).
    2. On Ubuntu I used Network Manager → Configure VPN → Add to create a new VPN connection.
    3. Reconnect.  If you are running the VPN from your computer (as opposed to the router configuration described below) you may want to consider how to make sure the VPN connection stays up. I notice that it tends to drop back to my default (AT&T) connection when using IPSEC.  Reports on the forums indicate there is a timeout of 13 hours.  On Debian/Ubuntu they have enhanced the /etc/vpnc/vpnc-script so that you can insert your own custom action scripts to take in the following events.
      If you are on Linux you can force a reconnect in the script-post-disconnect-action.  Just create a script of that name in the /etc/vpnc directory.   One other tweak is that you may have to change the Network Manager config file.
      This may not even work when using Network Manager.  The following configuration worked for me on Unbuntu 12.04, when running openvpn from the command line.

      1. /etc/vpnc/vpnc-script-post-disconnect-action
        # After losing the VPN connection attempt to reconnect with
        # Network Manager.
        logger "VPNC restarted due to disconnect"
        nmcli con up id
      2. /etc/NetworkManager/system-connections/
        NAT Traversal Mode=natt
        #IPSec secret-flags=0
        Xauth username=my_user_name
        IPSec gateway=
        Xauth password-flags=0
        IPSec ID=Standard VPN
        Perfect Forward Secrecy=server
        IKE DH Group=dh2
        Xauth password=my_password
        IPSec secret=standard

On OSX I followed the instructions here.  However, this did not seem to work. If you get this working, let me know.

VPN on the R7000/DD-WRT router

I wanted to have the VPN connection created by DD-WRT, so that all the traffic flowing through the router would be routed through the VPN. I also wanted to have it auto-reconnect dropped connections.  Sonic now supports both IPSEC and OpenVPN protocols (beta).  I succeeded with both IPSEC and OpenVPN.  However, OpenVPN is much easier to set up and doesn’t appear to drop connections.  Choose OpenVPN if at all possible.

  1. OpenVPN This is much easier!  OpenVPN is supported directly by the DD-WRT interface.  Go to Services → VPN and enable OpenVPN.  You will have gotten your openvpn.conf file from your VPN provider.  Copy the values from there into the VPN config page, then click Save and Apply Settings.  You can glean some information from Status → OpenVPN after starting it.
    1. Here is a screen capture of the configuration page.
    2. If using the DNS servers ( and you need to set the VPN IP/Name to the IP address, as shown in the screen capture, not the name (currently
    3. I added “keepalive 10 60” to the Additional Config section.  However, I still get periodic disconnection, which remains a problem.  If you figure out how to fix this disconnect problem, please let me know.
    4. Test it out!
    5. Check for DNS leaks.
  2. IPSEC Sonic is using a Cisco VPN Concentrator which uses the IPSEC protocol. In order to get it working I followed these DD-WRT VPNC instructions.
    1. In order to get tunneling to work I modified the iptables rules given in the instructions slightly, as follows. If you don’t do that it won’t work, because it will drop all your packets before they get routed to the tunnel.
      iptables -D FORWARD -j DROP
      iptables -A FORWARD -o tun0 -j ACCEPT
      iptables -A FORWARD -i tun0 -j ACCEPT
      iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -o tun0 -j MASQUERADE
      iptables -A FORWARD -i br0 -j ACCEPT
      iptables -A FORWARD -j DROP
    2. You can test the VPN connection from the command line if you are logged into the DD-WRT. Make sure that is working first.  Then check from a computer on your LAN.

DNS Leaks and WebRTC

There is another way you can leak your IP address.  After you’ve gotten your VPN setup, be sure to test for the WebRTC leak.  This link also has an explanation of what to do about it.

Click here for WebRTC leak test.


Whew!  That’s a lot of work.  Getting IPSEC working was a PITA, and it still appeared to drop connections, forcing more complicated configuration to make it reconnect.  On the other hand, with OpenVPN things were a lot easier.

But, also, this was complicated because I made it complicated, and opted for a higher level of security and convenience.  By forcing you to use their modem/router, and preventing root access, AT&T forces the use of a second router.

All this really should not be necessary!  However, we now know a lot about the collusion between AT&T and the NSA in the illegal collection of Internet traffic, so you can’t exactly ignore it if you value your privacy.  Here’s a NYTimes article on how AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet on a Vast Scale.

Using a VPN is a first line of defense.  If you want more anonymity you should use Tor.  You can run Tor over the VPN for an additional layer of security.

Note that you already should be using a VPN when you are using your laptop in public Internet cafés, airport lounges, etc.



Mad As Hell

Mad As Hell is a new film about The Young Turks, or more precisely, about its founder Cenk Uygur. I went to a preview screening last night in San Francisco.
To be honest, I have not followed TYT’s trajectory very closely. I have occasionally seen clips of Uygur savaging whichever party is in power, which is just fine by me. If you are the sort who likes seeing hypocrites exposed, and righteous expressions of anger, then the movie will not disappoint.

The film tracks Uygur’s career, which is a quintessentially American rags to riches story: second generation immigrant creates massively successful news organization through grit and determination.

Uygur, who attended the viewing, comes across in the film as contentious, irascible and so committed to the truth that he’s willing to change his mind when he’s wrong. (In his youth he was an ardent Republican, but obviously that did not last.)

I like those qualities. As far as I’m concerned there is way too little real conflict in the world, especially in US politics. That probably sounds strange, but what I mean is that people avoid the real issues, and instead engage in what is essentially bickering. I wonder if Uygur’s appeal (37 million monthly views on YouTube!) is due to him speaking the truths we would so much love to say ourselves.

The other thing I found interesting was the inside politics of the media establishment, specifically MSNBC. There is a ceiling in US media for someone who speaks the truth, and clearly he crashed into it by refusing to go soft in his political critique. And that is how it works. It’s not some fucking mystery why the US media is as insipid as it is.

Sex, Integrity and Truth

When I was invited to participate in a private online conversation about integrity in an open-sexuality community, I was a bit dubious. It’s a charged topic, and I strongly believe healing, connection and insight require a more direct, in-person approach. Online interactions often create more misunderstanding, not less. After mulling it over, though, I decided that it might serve to clarify what issues exist, and to explore some framework for working with them. Perhaps it will start a conversation that leads to more trust. However, I’m convinced that the best recipe for resolution is face to face interactions, not online discussion.

As I consider the several allegations of sexual integrity “issues” I’m aware of in this community, it strikes me that there are three aspects: the personal, the interpersonal, and the communal. I’ll avoid digressing into how I think those aspects are related and interact with each other, and just jump ahead to where I think we’re kind of stuck. Sometimes people engage in behavior that causes antagonisms they are unable or unwilling to resolve, which then start affecting the community at large. Those unwelcome behaviors fall in a gap where there is no agreed upon way of dealing with them. They aren’t literally criminal, which would provide a well-defined (and public) legal framework in which to pursue justice. But they are serious enough to create intense personal trauma and damaged relationships.

In a way, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sexuality is a predominant theme. Not to belabor the obvious, sexuality is deeply connected to many other aspects of our selves, and this community is largely defined by its non-mainstream approach to sexuality. People are experimenting with and practicing various forms of open relationship, and kink, or are involved in sex work, and so on. On the positive side, that creates an opportunity for acceptance and growth; on the negative side, a haven for unhealthy behaviors – exploitation, narcissism and addiction. But let’s not go down the rabbit hole of trying to label behaviors! People have very different interpretations of what is acceptable and what is not; different definitions of “sexual integrity.” It’s enough to note that there is a good deal of ambiguity.

The combination of ambiguity around sexual mores and the lack of structure for dealing with intense interpersonal conflict results in the problematic situations which occur. There is the strong likelihood of both misunderstandings and outright abuse. Without resolution, that can have an ongoing, profoundly negative impact on the individuals involved, as well as the entire community.

There seems to be an insidious meme: that one’s personal sexual gratification trumps all other considerations – including considerations of relational integrity and respect. Particularly problematic in this regard is that people with higher social status can and do engage in egregious abuses of their power with impunity. Why? Because they can. Power needs no justification. I question whether they would willingly subordinate their personal sexual gratification to considerations of integrity and respect. I question whether addressing lapses in sexual integrity is an arena in which to expect leadership from leaders who may be compromised themselves.

In any case, there is a potential social cost to confrontation. A community member may disapprove an objectionable behavior, but still very much value the benefits of being on friendly terms with the abuser. Alienating them by taking a principled position might mean being shut out of some really fun events, or excluded from an important social circle. It’s pretty sure to cause friction. Also, as long as things simmer beneath the surface, it may seem that everyone else is okay with the behavior, so… it must not be that bad, right?

The ability to take advantage of that ethical ambiguity depends on a lack of transparency. As mentioned previously, sexuality is intertwined with many other parts of the psyche, including wounds like fear of rejection, vulnerability, belonging, guilt and shame. Understandably, there is a reluctance to expose those wounds. However, concealing them has the nasty side effect of enabling the perpetrator to continue their behavior, and of course prevents resolution. If you sweep something under the rug that’s where it stays.

It’s inevitable that people will talk, and people will take sides. What happened, and how people feel about it, will leak out, will spread like a virus. The competing narratives are injected into the “gossip channel,” the flow of whispered confidences that, while not exactly public, are nonetheless widely known. There they create distrust and schisms, or simply alienation and ostracization. Not good!

Sunshine is the best disinfectant. And while I do value introspection and dialog, there are times when it’s impossible to avoid some kind of community process – and some public acknowledgement of what exactly happened and how it is being dealt with. I suspect that just the existence of some structure of justice and reconciliation would serve to prevent abuse, since potential abusers might rethink their course of action if they thought they could be called to account. But isn’t seeking a shared understanding of the truth a legitimate and laudable endeavor in its own right?

Deida’s New-Age Misogyny

Here is a post from a fb friend, quoting David Deida. My response follows. It’s not just about David Deida, though, it’s all the talk about “the masculine” and “the feminine.” He just happens to the be one of the primary proponents of this way of thinking. There were a number of other comments, but I just included my own.

“You have probably met a woman who seemed fantastic, only to discover she has some emotional weirdness that you don’t really want to deal with. She seemed incredibly sexy, but also a bit “bonkers”, saying one thing one moment and another the next. You have probably also met some very reasonable and trustworthy women who don’t seem to constantly change their mind and, in fact, with whom you could have good conversations that don’t end up frustrating you. Although you may love these women and enjoy spending time with them, they don’t arouse your passion as much as the women whose words you wouldn’t trust to remain true for an afternoon, but who move their body in a way that drives you wild.

“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” many men have wondered. But, of course, it is precisely those ways in which a woman is least like a man that most attract you sexually, if you have a masculine sexual essence. A woman’s feminine shine, the energy that moves her body, her utterly refreshing spontaneity and mystery, not to mention her delightful smile, are what attract you. And the more feminine a woman is at her core, the less she is likely to evidence strong masculine traits, such as speaking clearly and unequivocally about thoughts and desires, rather than primarily expressing her feelings of the moment.

A woman with a more feminine sexual essence will say she loves you one moment, and then, when you have done something you are not even aware of, she will say she hates you. This is the beauty of the feminine; to her, the masculine grid of words and events is less relevant than the fluidity of relationship and feeling. Thank God for such women, who make no apologies for their oceanic depth and riptides of emotion.

When a woman is encouraged to be at home with her feminine essence she is at home with energy, be it sexual or spiritual. For such a woman, there is no disconnection between sex and spirit. Her sexual surrender, if she is with a worthy man, is the same as her devotional or spiritual surrender. She opens from head to toe, receiving divine love-force deep throughout her body, so that she is rippled, arched, and undulated by its boundless flow.

You will only be happy in intimacy if you choose a woman who is your sexual reciprocal as a partner (if you have a masculine sexual essence that would be a woman with a deep feminine essence). And, you will only be able to survive such an intimacy if her dark and light sides are equally embraceable to you. It takes time to develop such skill and strength, but in doing so you learn to provide your woman, as well as the world, with a man whose gifts are uncompromised by fear of feminine power and chaos.”

— David Deida
The Way of the Superior Man

Well, I did read Way of the Superior Man. Or, at least 3/4 of it, before I chucked it across the room. This quote is a good representation of what is contained in the book. As [a previous post] has already pointed out, Deida blithely conflates gender-irrelevant character traits and behaviors with abstract concepts of masculine and feminine. According to Deida “Speaking clearly about thoughts and desires” is a “masculine” trait — apparently one we should not expect to find in a woman, especially not an “incredibly sexy” one. To me that seems blazingly misogynistic.

“A woman with a more feminine sexual essence will say she loves you one moment, and then, when you have done something you are not even aware of, she will say she hates you. This is the beauty of the feminine…” Sorry, no. That is not the beauty of the “feminine.” That is simply childish, immature behavior from a woman with no self-awareness.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’re not insulted by the quote above, you really haven’t understood what Deida is saying. It’s patronizing. And the problem permeates all of Deida’s work, not just this quote.

Yet, he is inexplicably popular in certain circles. What to make of that?
There is much work to be done for all of us in being more compassionate people and better communicators, that’s for sure. That work is hard work, because it challenges us to grow, which entails some growing pains. It forces us to look at ourselves, to deal with ambiguity. If we want more peace, love and understanding between the sexes then that’s what we need to do.

Deida wraps his essentially reactionary message in new-age jargon and appropriated tantrik language, allowing his followers to sink back into the comforting familiarity of the dysfunctional status quo.
If temper tantrums and fickleness are passed off as simply “being in your feminine energy” then that lets you off the hook in terms of examining your behavior and how it affects those around you. That’s the appeal — you don’t have to do the hard work of personal growth, you can continue with your “emotional weirdness” (his term) and feel perfectly self-righteous about your deplorable behavior. The message for men is no better. The net effect is not a brave step into enlightenment, but a cowardly slide back to 50’s-era sex roles, albeit with a glitzy new-age-tantrik facade.

Thankfully, Deida is simply wrong. There exist women who are reasonable and trustworthy — and also drop dead sexy. In fact, those are exactly the kind I personally find sexy. There are also men who are sensitive, vulnerable and who like to “ripple, arch and undulate.” LOL
It’s not because the women have masculine traits, or the men have feminine traits. It’s just because those are human traits that are available to anyone, regardless of their sex. It is in all of our best interests to de-sexualize these traits — and Deida, in reinforcing and validating the idea that there are masculine and feminine traits, is doing exactly the opposite. I think Deida’s philosophy is actively harmful to relations between the sexes.

I’m pretty sure he denies that this is what he’s doing, but after reading some of his work and seeing him in person, that’s my opinion.

NSA Surveillance

I’ve been meaning to write about the NSA surveillance program for some time now. Finally, prompted by the October 26 demonstration in Washington, D.C., I’m getting around to it. Who has been following the continuing controversy? I have the impression that many Americans are apathetic, cynical and resigned to the idea that government surveillance is here to stay and there’s nothing that can be done about it. In my opinion that’s an insidious and dangerous viewpoint.

For those who have not been paying attention, the upshot of whistle blower Edward Snowden’s revelations is that the NSA has been secretly monitoring truly massive amounts of phone and Internet data. Who you contact, when and where, in some cases what you say – all that information is being tracked and stored. You can get caught up on the details here. Also important, and not mentioned in that link, is the issue of “parallel construction.”

There are lots of reasons why this is important. I’ll mention one aspect of the context in which this is going on that I think is particularly significant.

As a nation and as a planet we are confronting some very serious issues. Climate change, environmental degradation, human rights abuses, overpopulation, water scarcity, poverty, and so on. These problems are the natural result of the systems which have created them. I say that without expressing any moral judgment about the systems themselves. Those systems have also created some benefits. But we are at a tipping point where the problems caused by existing systems are leading to some very nasty consequences.

Since those pressing problems are so deeply embedded in our existing systems they are difficult to eradicate. You can’t just change the problem, you must change the system which has given rise to it. In particular, we must change our political system, that is, the system by which power is allocated and exercised.

“America does not have a functioning democracy at this point in time.”
– former US president, Jimmy Carter quoted in Der Spiegel

Unfortunately, political change is extremely problematic. Our democracy has been compromised. Corporate lobbyists write the laws, inserting language that exempts them from legal liability and from application of existing laws. Heard of the “Monsanto Protection Act” or the “Halliburton Loophole”? We’re not even talking about the meetings behind closed doors. This kind of stuff is right out in the open!

Our electoral process has also been destroyed though gerrymandering, voter id laws, and Supreme Court decisions like Citizen’s United which ensure the continuing, corrupting influence of money.

“Congress maintains a 90% incumbency rate despite only having a 10% approval rating.”
– Daily Show correspondent John Oliver

The idea that we are living in a democracy is dangerously naïve. It’s foolish to think a system will engineer its own demise. If you are waiting for the US government to take meaningful action on Climate Change, you can stop holding your breath. It’s not going to happen. Meaningful action entails more than just driving a Prius. It means huge collective changes in the way we live – and in the profits of Exxon.

If we are going to change the systems that are killing our planet and creating so much suffering, we need to “alter or abolish” the existing political system. Yes, we have the legal right to do that, and I would argue, the moral obligation. And in order to create that kind of popular, sweeping change we need to organize.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The reason NSA surveillance is so troubling is that it’s an incredibly powerful tool in the hands of the government-corporate complex. It will be used to reinforce the power of those already in power, to fortify the economic and political systems which must be demolished if we are to create a livable future. It will be used to prevent us from organizing and creating peaceful political change. And the alternative to peaceful political change is some horrifying combination of “no change” and “not peaceful.”

So, I hope you will join me in making your voice heard, in speaking out against NSA surveillance, and in creating peaceful political change. Because, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Newt Gingrich: Poster Boy for Polyamory?

Newt Gingrich seems like an unusual poster boy for polyamory.
Of course, he was quick to distance himself from the allegations by his ex-wife that he had asked her for an “open relationship.” What else could he do, embroiled as he is in a contest to be the least disliked Republican candidate? When asked about the issue in a recent debate he attacked the moderator with a premeditated fury, apparently gaining the audience’s approbation. But if you listen to him and you listen to his ex-wife — I mean, who you gonna believe?

There’s something funny because the more vehemently he denies it, the more I believe his wife. Regardless of whom you believe, it’s a bit startling to hear the allegation about him. Really? Newt Gingrich and “open relationship” in the same sentence? His denials are incredible, of course, and reek of hypocrisy — a scent that must be so omnipresent as to be undetectable.

And yet. There’s something genuinely poignant about him asking his wife for an open relationship. I don’t know why he asked her for that instead of for a divorce. However, I do know of the many reasons other people make that request. Generally it boils down to wanting to hold onto what is valuable in one relationship while exploring what there is to be learned in a new one. It’s a human experience. How we choose to answer that question is an individual matter, but most of us have had to grapple with it at some time in our lives.

Here is a BBC article with a sympathetic take on polyamory sparked by the Gingrich incident.

On the other hand, maybe Gingrich was just another liar trying to make the best out of a bad situation. When you get caught cheating you’ve got to think fast! Another divorce probably didn’t look good for a man with presidential aspirations in a party that extols “family values.” That’s the thing that gets me — by cheating he screwed up his “monogamous” relationship, and also of course screwed up any possibility there might have been for an open relationship. (And if you’re going to ask your partner for an open relationship, here’s a hint, you might want to do it in person, not on the phone after you’ve been caught cheating!)

So now Newt and open relationship are the linked topics of scandal, and prompting some interesting conversations. He’s done us a service by broaching the topic, however inadvertently, and in such a public way. Gingrich’s divorce and attempt at open relationship is probably a personal tragedy for him. For the rest of us: an invitation to a conversation that touches on honesty and love and respect and the role they play in the many permutations of partnership.

Toward a Diversity of Tactics

I attended the debate a few weeks ago, sponsored by Occupy Oakland’s Events Committee, between advocates of non-violence and advocates of a “diversity of tactics.”  It was held in the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, and the pews were packed, with people lining the walls.   What follow are my thoughts and comments.

For those new to this conversation, the phrase “diversity of tactics” is used both in the literal sense of a range of distinct tactics, and also as a euphemism for property destruction and more aggressive confrontations with police.  The phrase has been with us for quite a while; I remember its use by black bloc anarchists at the WTO protest in Seattle in 1999.

From the outset, I should say that framing the debate as being between nonviolence and “diversity of tactics” is not the best path to take. Understandably, none of the anarchists want to go on record publicly advocating illegal acts. This makes for a somewhat convoluted debate, since they can’t utter the thesis they are trying to defend! But the two sides are not balanced in the sense that nonviolent civil disobedience is relatively well defined in theory and praxis, whereas “diversity of tactics” is deliberately vague. You must always put it in quotes.

Also, we are likely to associate the word “diversity” with “racial diversity,” which, on the left at least, has positive connotations.  To be against diversity insinuates something unsavoury, which is probably why the term is used by its proponents.

Here, I don’t have to use the euphemism, so I’m going to talk about the tactic of “property destruction,” and “diversity of tactics” will retain its literal meaning.

Anyway, the underlying issue isn’t really the merit of one tactic versus another. It’s the unwelcome imposition of the property destruction tactic on the nonviolent civil disobedience tactic. Unwelcome, of course, in the eyes of the people engaging in NVCD. Is it really necessary to enumerate the problems that occur when you organise a large demonstration that you publicise as nonviolent, and then have a tiny minority of participants engage in property destruction? There are many. The one I’d like to single out, though, is the problem of coherency.

There is a clash of narratives. The NVCD thesis is that the hegemony of the state is dependent on its use of violence; and by exposing that violence the state’s illegitimacy is exposed, leading to radical (the root, not the leaves) change. I suppose this is predicated on the idea that the legitimacy of the state derives from the consent of the governed. On the other side is the idea that violence is ineluctable; if you are not subjected to violence it is only because you are not a threat to the existing distribution of power, that real change entails some level of violent confrontation. By provoking escalating levels of police violence, increasing numbers of people are “radicalised,” leading to revolutionary change.

I don’t mean to do violence to either side by abbreviating or misrepresenting their narrative! However, I do want to make an argument for coherency. Coherency is a “logical or natural connection or consistency.” Coherency is powerful! As an analogy, light that is not coherent is benign, but light that is coherent, in the form of a LASER, is very powerful indeed. Ideas are like that. Coherency makes them contagious, persuasive, powerful. The point is that these two narratives are inconsistent. That’s not to say they can’t be effective independently, just that they are different enough in significant ways that they are mutually incoherent.

A demonstration which is simultaneously violent and nonviolent is incoherent. A demonstration that is perceived as violent and nonviolent, or can easily be portrayed that way by the media, is effectively incoherent. Incoherency undermines either narrative. So, barring some unlikely capitulation by one side or the other, the solution with the most coherency would be to separate – in time and space – the demonstrations of mass civil disobedience from the acts of property destruction. I assume the NVCD panelists would welcome that proposition, and of the anarchist panelists I think at least two of them would probably accede to that.

If you don’t accede to that, what are you saying? That you favour an incoherency that undermines the best efforts of equally well-intentioned activists? That you’d rather do your thing even if it means preventing others from doing theirs? That you refuse to allow a diversity of tactics – in the literal sense of the phrase? If you understand that coherency is more powerful than incoherency, what justification can you make for creating an incoherent muddle of a demonstration?

It’s important to understand that the paradigm of power in which we live is one of domination. That is, power is typically exercised over someone or something. One race over another, men over women, rich over poor, mankind over nature… powerful over powerless. The nature of a paradigm is that it permeates our very being. Like the fish that don’t know they’re wet, we take domination for granted. It’s easy to see the paradigm of domination replicated in this schism.

On one side, people bringing property destruction to a nonviolent demonstration are imposing their tactic on the others. And on the other, “How do you control that many people?” asked one man from the audience. If one person in a crowd of thousands decides that now’s the time to smash a store window, what’s stopping him? Some of the anarchists were particularly incensed by the efforts of demonstration “peace keepers” to thwart their tactic. In both cases, the activists are acting within the paradigm of domination. How do you impose your will over another’s. It’s a zero sum game, and that’s a recipe for stasis.

This reminds me of something from game theory called the “prisoner’s dilemma.” I’ll write more about that in a separate post. For now, I’ll just say it’s encouraging that this debate took place, and I would love to see more of them. Let’s keep the conversation going! At the same time, a debate is probably not the best format. How about a dialogue? As long as there are people who are willing to engage, there are other ways of engaging that are more likely to produce results.

Fear was expressed by one woman in the audience – but I was already thinking that fear had pervaded the earlier debate. Fear of the brutality of a system that senses it is being threatened, fear that we may fail – ourselves, each other, future generations, the planet. Fear of each other.  “What happens if you win,” said the woman, addressing the anarchist side of the forum, “What happens to us?” Violent tactics inspire the fear that violence will be used against ourselves someday.

One of the panelists, a member of Iraq Veterans Against War, posed the question “How do you know that, instead of a revolution, you don’t end up with a civil war?”  No real answer was offered, and it hung in the air, a troubling reminder of our inability to predict the future. He also reminded the audience, if it was even necessary, of the overwhelming superiority and tactical advantages of police and military. It’s one thing to confront pepper spray and beanbags; quite another live ammunition.

If you support a real diversity of tactics you must allow other tactics their integrity, otherwise you are merely re-enacting the “power over” paradigm that is a fundamental part of the overall problem — and that is a self-defeating behaviour we cannot afford.

Comments are welcome.

Are you a pacifist?

“Are you a pacifist?” begins the leaflet passed out at Occupy Oakland, “YOU hold the cock of the Empire in your supple hands.”  Definitely an attention grabbing introduction to a screed that goes on to criticize non-violence and seeks the “total annihilation of capitalism.”  There is much to comment on here, not least the sexual allusion. But I can’t help but feel a certain ennui reading the puerile diatribe.  It takes me back to 1999-2000, when the same sorts of arguments promoted by a small group at the anti-WTO “Battle in Seattle,”  and the subsequent demonstrations the next year in Washington, D.C. and Prague.  Having seen these sorts of tactics up close and personal, and having thought about it quite a bit, I have a few comments.

Police know how to respond with force, and they have the unfortunate propensity to respond to every problem with what they know best.  In addition, they have the means to escalate that force well beyond what most people are willing to engage in.  So, all the bold talk of “taking on the police” is just that: talk.  However, pushing for violent interactions plays into the hands of police because violence is their strong suit.  Thus for peaceful revolutionaries, violence and property destruction is tactically a dumb approach.  Why else would a “law enforcement” agency field agents provocateurs to incite it?  Duh!

A revolution is a systemic change; it’s axiomatic that a revolution is illegal!  It is a radical restructuring of the existing order of things, particularly power relationships.  It’s not unreasonable to assume the power elite will resist the new order, and will resist movement toward that state of flux, of social anarchy, which precedes it.  Will they use physical violence to suppress it?  My magic 8-ball says, yes, if it appears violence would be effective.  Violence is what you use, what you need to use, when you are in danger of losing, for instance when you are outnumbered…  When you are 1% dominating the rest of the planet.  Now, if the power elite (and by that I mean to include the government they control) retains for itself the exclusive right to use force, up to and including physical violence, to keep themselves in power… what then?  I would suggest that the best strategy is to choose a different battlefield.  However, if push comes to shove, I do think there is an argument to be made that defending oneself from violence using whatever means are at your disposal is perfectly legitimate.

“I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”  
— Thomas Jefferson

Anyway, the main problem comes because the “wild ones,” as they call themselves, who want to incite violent confrontations with police are essentially taking advantage of the presence of the much larger presence of those who do not.  They argue for a “diversity of tactics,” while ignoring the fact that they are imposing their tactic on the rest of the demonstrators.  Among the negative side effects of this are that it 1) enables media to portray demonstrations as violent, 2) discourages people who eschew violence, for whatever reason, from participating, 3) endangers other demonstrators by provoking police retaliation.  No doubt they would like to think of themselves as the valiant vanguard of the revolution, but in fact their tactic validates the existing structure of power, and impedes efforts at change.  Our goal should be to demonstrate the impotence of police brutality, not to provide excuses for its use.

Some would draw dividing lines between “us” and “them,”  between demonstrators and police.  But as we rethink the way society is structured, I think this is something we might redesign.  In some spiritual sense we may “all be one,” but a social utopia that reflects that ideal is a distant dream.  Pragmatically, it’s more useful to redraw those lines of demarcation.  Could we think of “us” as people who eschew violence as a means of political expression and “them” as those who resort to it?  I’m willing to believe there are police who are also part of the 99%, and who resent being used as pawns of the power elite — and that there are demonstrators whose personal rage blinds them to how to they are damaging the prospect of a real revolution.

When I was in Prague for the IMF/WorldBank meeting and protest I finally concluded that if we expected to do anything about changing exploitative economic policies, we would have to first have to deal with the schisms in our own ranks.  The protest itself was moderately disastrous.  Suffice it to say that it’s hard to call people’s attention to the intricacies of economic policy when the newspapers lead with a picture of a cop in flames from a Molotov cocktail.  All the efforts of the event’s organizers and the thousands of other protesters, were vitiated by those who attacked the police.  So I would really not want the same thing to happen with the Occupy movement.

OccupyTogether is our revolution.  May we all be guided by feelings of deep love.


Getting to Know Your Neighbors

No one knows for sure what people do in the voting booth. Our votes are anonymous.  However, donations to candidates and political parties are a matter of public record.  And now you can easily view them, thanks to the Fundrace 2008 mashup put together by the folks at the Huffington Post.

Yep!  You could be living next door to someone who funds a candidate who jokes about bombing Iran — or obliterating it — and not even know it.  We’re talking about the incineration of thousands of innocent men, women and children! Your coworker could be supporting the party that brought us the Iraq war, legalized torture, environmental catastrophes, economic ruin, and so much more.  Until now it was difficult to find out.  But not anymore! 

Now you can easily search by name, by profession, by geographical location, and by employer (including 2004 donations).  These people have literally put themselves on the map!  Their cash donations have enabled the unmitigated disaster the last eight years have been, the corruption, the incompetence, the blind arrogance, the war crimes, the thousands of deaths, the violations of human rights… The least we can do is invite them over for tea and cookies, and some frank discussion of values 😉  I’m not suggesting you employ any “special methods of  questioning.”  But why not take the opportunity to dissuade them from supporting state sponsored murder?

The site is, or just click on the map below:
Fundrace 2008

Want to know if a celebrity is playing both sides of the fence?
Whether that new guy you’re seeing is actually a Republican or just
dresses like one?

FundRace makes it easy to search by name or address to
see which presidential candidates your friends, family, co-workers, and
neighbors are contributing to. Or you can see if your favorite
celebrity is putting money where their mouth is.

FundRace gives you the technology to do what politicians and
journalists have been doing for years: find out where the money’s
coming from, see who it’s going to, and solve the mystery of why that
crazy ex-roommate of yours is now the Ambassador to Turks and Caicos.


If you use the site, or contact your neighbor, coworker or family member because of it. Drop me a line and tell me how it goes!

Reality-based Community Faces the Facts

An October 17,2004 New York Times Magazine article by writer Ron Suskind quoted an unnamed aide to George W. Bush:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

If that stings a bit – good! There’s some truth in it. The left has been largely reactive to Bush initiatives, rather than taking the initiative themselves. The result has been a failure to reverse Bush’s faits accomplis, and inability to prevent him from creating “new realities.” That is not to say that opponents of the administration have been lacking in zeal, nor disparage the good work of good people trying to make a difference. However, too often we seem to be moved to action by our outrage, our reaction to the latest depredation. By then, it’s too late, and we are left to judiciously study the terrible new reality that has been created. Unless we learn to be proactive we will always be one step behind “history’s actors” in the White House.

Nowhere are the potential consequences of inaction more catastrophic than in the planned attack on Iran. Unlike the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which involved the mobilization of large numbers of troops and materiel, the plan for Iran is a three-day blitzkrieg of airstrikes against 2,000 targets. Such an attack does not require the same kind of logistical planning as a ground invasion. It would be executed within hours of Bush giving the order. This time we will not have months to marshal moral indignation, or to mobilize opposition. Waiting to react means failure. If we are to prevent the attack, we must be proactive, not reactive.

It’s easy to call for initiative, but more difficult to propose specific actions. What avenues of political expression are available and effective? Massive street protests seem to have lost their appeal since the start of the Iraq war. Dismissed as a “focus group” by Bush, their ineffectiveness is manifest. Sure, we have the right to petition our government for a redress of grievances, but that’s meaningless when the government feels no obligation to respond to them. If we had mobilized twice the number of demonstrators before the Iraq war, would we have prevented the “shock and awe” that lit up the skies over Baghdad? I don’t think so. There’s nothing wrong with street protest, but it’s a bit naïve to expect such peaceable assemblies to sway the Bush administration from its lethal course.

The vote is another means of popular political expression, but one that has been compromised. There are many factors: doubts about the integrity of the electoral system, the influence of money, gerrymandered districts, media manipulation, voting machine machinations, outright electoral fraud, exclusion of third party candidates, etc. Any intelligent observer can see the game is rigged. Furthermore, even when it works, voting is a long-term strategy. Again, it doesn’t hurt to participate and eke out what gains may be found in the voting booth. But real change – systemic change – via the ballot seems unlikely.

The 2006 midterm election brought an outpouring of anti-war voters, a Democratic landslide and a glimmer of hope. However, the subsequent failure of the Dems to cut off funding for the war underscored the fact that Democrats are not committed to ending the war. A solid majority of Americans wants to end the war, and yet it continues. At this point, it would be hard to say that our government represents its citizens in any meaningful sense.

Meanwhile, we continue to go through the motions. We can write letters to the editor and our congressperson. We can sign online petitions. We can march in demonstrations. We can contribute to an anti-war candidate who will eventually be eliminated by his party – if the media doesn’t do it first. We can stage vigils. We can fulminate against Bush and his cronies. That’s what we’ve been doing and it hasn’t gotten us very far.

I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I do want to cultivate a sense of hopelessness. We have to stop doing what doesn’t work. Hope is like an addiction that keeps us trapped in passivity and ineffectiveness. Paradoxically, embracing hopelessness is the key to moving from reactivity to action Hopelessness is not despair! Embracing hopelessness means stilling the soothing internal voice that tells us everything will be okay, and allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we’re feeling. It means accepting the likelihood that things will not work out okay without our changing who we are and what we do. Giving up the hope that the Democrats will save the day, or that the Bush enterprise will collapse under the staggering weight of its corruption and incompetence, leaves us with the sobering realization that if change is to come we are the ones who must bring it.

Our social context is changing. Today we are connected to more people than ever before in the history of humanity, and there is an immediacy to those connections – they can be accessed instantly and en masse. Today’s metaphor of organization is the network, and it’s revolutionizing how we do business, how we entertain ourselves, how we relate to one another. It has the potential to revolutionize politics, too, but that potential has yet to be realized. What happens when a distributed system like a network collides with a hierarchical control system like the US political system? The history of that encounter has yet to be written. Certainly, we see politicians trying to exploit and co-opt the online world. We also see the network taking on the political status quo, as the chaotic democracy of the blogosphere investigates and exposes corrupt politicians. There is much more to be said about the interaction of these two organizational systems. For now, I want to focus on something called swarm intelligence.

The term swarm intelligence comes from the field of network theory. It’s an attempt to describe the behavior of complex systems of independent agents. Think of a flock of birds, a school of fish, or a swarm of insects. Without a leader the flock finds its way South, the school of fish evades its predators, and insects create large, complex habitats. These are called emergent behaviors: complex patterns arising out of relatively simple interactions. There is a beauty and natural genius to the swarm intelligence of insects and other animals. What makes people different, perhaps, is that we can be aware that we’re part of a swarm. In other words, we can simultaneously appreciate our autonomy and the intelligence we create when we act together. That’s what creates a Brilliant Swarm.

Brilliant Swarm isn’t the answer to the question of what to do about our vexing political impasse. Instead, it poses the question “What are the ‘relatively simple interactions’ we could engage in that would lead to emergent collective behaviors that are politically effective?” A Brilliant Swarm is a laboratory for exploring that question.

With self-organization, the behavior of the group is often unpredictable, emerging from the collective interactions of all of the individuals. The simple rules by which individuals interact can generate complex group behavior. Indeed, the emergence of such collective behavior out of simple rules is one the great lessons of swarm intelligence.
– Eric Bonabeau, PhD.

It’s part of the nature of a Brilliant Swarm to generate unpredictable solutions to political problems – problems like, “How can we stop the US from attacking Iran?” And unpredictable (and therefore unorthodox, creative, novel) solutions are what we need, because what we’ve been doing hasn’t really worked.

Margaret Meade wrote “never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Brilliant Swarm is about creating such a world-changing group – a group where we find allies, ideas, and constructive challenges. It’s about creating a model that other agents of change can adopt and modify. And it’s a vision of many swarms in alignment, acting in harmony.

On a personal level, Brilliant Swarm reflects my desire to surround myself with brilliant, committed, spiritually grounded, politically active and fun people. The fun part is important! By fun I mean laughter, sensuality, play and so on, whatever makes us come alive. If it’s not fun it’s not sustainable, and if it’s not sustainable it won’t be effective. What’s more, if it’s no fun nobody will want to participate. Fun is a political necessity!

More than just fun, imagine how it would feel to stop a war, to reassert democratic authority over a government that’s spinning out of control! Wouldn’t that feel great? It would sure beat feeling angry and powerless!

Words, Words, Words

Dear Friends,

In the end, the Democrats funded the war in Iraq. Without any meaningful limitation. After all the words, words, words, there was the act. We are given the illusion of opposition, and the reality of complicity…and culpability. Which to believe? Dems can claim to have voted against the war in Iraq, while still having funded it. Hmm. Let me think…

I admit, I allowed myself to hope, back in November, 2006. How refreshing to embrace hopelessness once more! But not in despair, no. This hopelessness is the embrace of reality; harsh, yes, and terrifying and brutal. But real, and horribly beautiful. Hope addicts us to passivity, a complacent acceptance of the status quo, and the comforting but erroneous notion that our mere demur absolves us of responsibility. Hopelessness is the antidote to the fantasy that politics will ever change without
our personal involvement.

The Democratic cavalry will not come charging over the hill to rescue us. They are enraptured by dreams of re-election, of power. The DLC will not abandon the hubris of empire. Au contraire!

And after all the words, words, words of criticism and condemnation, the smug Dems believe we will still vote for them, because they have played their cards well, and they are the only game in town. They keep throwing good lives into the devouring maw of violence. How many more?

Here’s more from David Korn:
The Dems’ Self-Defeat on the Iraq War Vote

A majority of Americans are opposed to the war in Iraq. An overwhelming majority of Democrats are opposed to the war in Iraq. And yet, the Democrats vote to fund it. How can they stray so far from their base? How can they defy the manifest wishes of their constituents with such impunity? It’s because they are secure in the belief that voters have nowhere else to turn, that the hegemony of the two-party system remains unassailable. If we want to stop this war, and prevent the next one, it’s
imperative that we challenge that assumption. Yes, that requires courage and audacity! But what have we got to lose? I’m sending Nancy Pelosi this note, and including a copy of my re-registration to drive the point home. Join me!

As always, your comments are welcome.


Hijacking the Political Process — Just for Fun!

Well, the Democrats passed their spending bill which will fund the Iraq war through August, 2008 — although, don’t bet there won’t be requests for more money.  Contemplate that as you wrestle with your Form 1040.  That’s where your money is going.

Also, despite his threats, don’t bet that Bush won’t sign the bill when it eventually arrives on his desk.  He may not like the timetable, but other than that he gets to escalate the war for most of the rest of his term, and there are loopholes which could keep it going indefinitely. For more details, see

But let’s leave discussion of the unconscionable Democratic dereliction for another time. 

Just for fun — and I’m a firm believer in making politics fun — why not create a little political theater of our own?  The Democrats are clearly thinking it’s still business as usual.  How about throwing a wrench in the works?

Suppose we were all to register or re-register with another party, say, the Green Party, a party with an unambiguous anti-Iraq-War platform.  Most states allow you to change your registration.  In California you can change up to 15 days before the election.
Would the Democrats get the message if they suddenly discovered overnight they had lost 10% of their base?  Vanished.  Phffft! I bet we would get some articles of impeachment moving through committee realfast!

Of course, you could still vote for a Democrat later if you thought it was the prudent thing to do.  Or you could just change your registration back to Democrat, or whatever it was.  But imagine shaking things up like that! 

Watch the pollsters spin.  Watch the pundits sputter. Watch the politicians scramble.  It’s like voting in the 2008 election right now!

Right now, Democrats appear to be turning their backs on all the voters who turned out to  stop the war in Iraq.  But this re-registration strategy could spread like wildfire — if you do a little spreading of your own!  Send it to your own email lists.  Write about it on your blog.  Mention it in conversations. It’s a loophole, one of the few remaining avenues of personal political expression not compromised by money.  It’s a small loophole, but if we run enough of our disaffected Democratic friends through it it will definitely have an effect!

Re-registering is free, it only takes about 5 minutes, it’s satisfying, and it could turn out to be highly entertaining. Do it right now, while you’re thinking about it. California voters can go here, to fill out the form online:

For more information about this strategy, check out:

Seriously, we have to let both the Democrats and Republicans know that we have other choices.  (And not-voting is not a choice, since that has no effect on an election’s outcome.)  At some point, Democrats have to learn that they have to do more than just not be Republicans!  This strategy is a painless way to remind them that ultimately they serve at the pleasure of the public.  They seem to have forgotten.


P.S. I’m interested in knowing how many people re-register, so if you do so, please drop me a line.  Thanks.

300 and Others

Another foray into film reviews


Aficionados of impaling, dismemberment and decapitation were regaled recently with the release of "300," a film about the battle of Thermopylae. While there is no dearth of violence in the media these days, this graphic novel adaptation cannot fail to elicit a visceral response in even the most inured moviegoer or newspaper reader. 

You may read more elaborate descriptions elsewhere.  Suffice it to say that 300 gives us the hackneyed "good v. evil" scenario.  The Spartans are handsome, good and honorable and the Persians are evil, ugly and despicable.  Yawn.  It’s the same old, same old. 

Now, I have to admit, I enjoy a good impaling as much as the next guy.  I’m not squeamish.  And there is a certain appeal to the cinematic simplicity of solving complex problems with the expedient of violence, no matter the improbability of that in real life.  But it’s impossible not to take into account the context in which this allegory is taking place, namely the looming confrontation between the US and Iran.

As you are aware, or certainly should be aware, the first step in waging a war of aggression is demonizing the enemy.  Is it just an accident that this film is being released at this particular time?  We can’t answer that, but… it certainly seems suspect.  The Persians are, after all, the ancestors of the Iranians.  And the Spartans are, it is suggested, somehow our own ancestors, at least culturally — although perhaps the Athenians would better claim that title. In any case, the Spartans in the film are plenty American — ripped abdominal muscles, hooha, semper fi caricatures.

Frank Miller, the author of the graphic novel is fairly candid about how he views our current "clash of cultures."

"Our country… is up against an existential foe, yet we behave like a collapsing empire.  Mighty cultures aren’t conquered they crumble from within.  Americans are behaving like spoiled brats."  — Frank Miller

Miller sees the current events in the Middle East as a confrontation between the modern west and a "6th century barbarism."  He asks, "Why are people so self-absorbed?"  If anything, Miller is as bellicose as the Bushies.

At the very least, you have to question the wisdom of releasing such a film at this time.  Throwing gasoline on the fire in the Middle East hardly seems like a wise thing to do — unless what you really seek is to inflame passions, and cultivate a hunger for war.

Of course, one could read the film from another angle.  The story of a hegemonic super-power, intoxicated with illusions of divine right, greedy and corrupt.  Hmmm.  Remind you of anyone?  Meanwhile…

U.S. Opens Naval Exercise in Persian Gulf

But the overall effect of the film, regardless of speculations as to intent, is to advocate war.  Keep an eye out for more propaganda.  Watch the implacable machinery of war produce yet another monster.

The Lives of Others

The other film, and one I enjoyed immensely, was The Lives of Others. It *works* on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin.  Just see it.  One thing to keep in mind is the vastly greater technological resources available to Bush’s American "Stasi."   It’s not just the real-time monitoring capabilities, impressive as they may be.  It’s also the archiving and data mining capabilities.  What you do now may be innocuous.  But if you were to ever join the revolution (nudge, nudge!) and were to come to anyone’s attention, your whole history would be available for instant perusal.  Your credit card purchases.  The web sites you visited, and which pages you viewed.  Groups you belong to.  The people to whom you have sent emails, and received them from.  Those whom you called on the telephone and how long you spoke.  And their friends, too.  The Stasi was able to tyrannize a country with much less.

As always, comments, retorts, rejoinders, and asides are welcome!

Iran: An Invitation

I’ve been thinking a lot about the administration’s plans for Iran.  Am I the only one?
I mentioned it to a number of people over the weekend, and got very disturbing responses.  Some people had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. Some people didn’t understand that the plan being formulated is for a nuclear attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. One man confidently asserted that it’s all just sabre rattling, that the administration wasn’t stupid enough to actually attack.

To me, it seems like the administration is employing the same plan they used for Iraq.  Demonization, assertion of a threat, distorted intelligence, disingenuous gestures at negotiation, threats and provocation, and ultimately a manufactured casus belli.

Of course, it’s not just the administration that’s in favor of nuking Iran.  The top Democratic presidential candidates have all gone out of their way to indicate that "all options are on the table," "all options" being the polite way of saying first-strike nuclear attack in which potentially hundreds of thousands of human beings are incinerated and poisoned.

With the Democrats and Republicans trying to "out-hawk" each other on Iran, there is no countervailing political force. Thus, an attack seems all too likely.  Given their record, I think they *are* stupid enough to attack Iran.

So I find the apathy among my friends and associates regarding Iran *appalling*.  If an attack is to be prevented, who will do it? Not Congress, not the Democrats. They can’t even bring themselves to deal with the actual disaster of Iraq, let alone the potential disaster of Iran. If our feckless legislators can’t stop our reckless executive, who then has the power to prevent this horrifying human tragedy?

At this point, I’m not interested in debating whether maybe nuking Iran might be a good idea.  For me, that debate is dead, it’s offensive, and it’s a waste of time.

What is interesting to me is getting ahead of the whole process, brainstorming with others who would like to actually prevent an attack from happening.  Therefore, I invite any of you who share my concerns, and my determination to be an actor — not a reactor — to contact me.  Since not all of you agree with this endeavor, or perhaps are even interested in it, I will be setting up a dedicated list on my own server.  Not a list for endless discussions, hand wringing, diatribes and complaints; a list with the aim of preventing a war.  All are welcome.

Thanks for listening —

Here are a couple more recent articles on Iran, one from conservative Patrick Buchanan and one from Seymour Hersh.   (The Hersh article also describes how the Bush administration is funneling money to… Sunni extremists in Lebanon allied with Al Qaeda?  Fact is stranger than fiction!)

Patrick Buchanan, 3/3/07:

If Americans sickened by the carnage of Iraq wish to stop an even more disastrous war on Iran, they had best get cracking.

Seymour Hersh, 2/25/07:

… the Pentagon is continuing intensive planning for a possible bombing attack on Iran, a process that began last year, at the direction of the President. In recent months, the former intelligence official told me, a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours.

Heat Ray To Be Used on Legislators

Oh good, here’s a proposal to end the war I can really warm up to!

Left Field Weekly
Heat Ray to be used on Legislators
By Robert Street
February 5, 2007

In a move that threatens to raise the stakes in the debate over the Iraq war, a judicial review panel has approved use of a controversial new “Heat Ray” by non-governmental organizations. The decision, which is being appealed, comes asvoters are becoming increasingly frustrated with what is perceived as Congressional foot dragging in ending the Iraq war. “With the heat ray, for the first time voters will literally be able to hold Congress members’ feet to the fire,” said a lawyer involved in the proceedings. “This is a victory for concerned citizens, and a real advance for democracy.”

The heat ray, which is said to be harmless, uses millimeter-length waves that barely penetrate the skin but cause people to feel as if they are about to catch on fire. According to Justin Norman of Peace First, lead plaintiff in the case, the use of non-lethal “legislation accelerators” is the logical next step in a moribund democratic process. By providing a non-lethal means of focusing legislators’ attention, heat ray advocates hope to provoke immediate Congressional action on the Iraq war, and other issues they deem important.

The proposal to use the heat ray has been steadily gaining traction among activist groups. “We’ve tried letter writing, mass demonstrations, email campaigns, voting,” said Heather Klein, spokesperson for Act Out for a Change, “but nothing seems to get through to them.” Because of its non-lethal nature, the heat ray appeals to pacifists, yet is also acceptable to voters whose first choice is to dunk their representative in a pool of piranhas. It is this broad popular appeal that is making legislators on both sides of the aisle nervous. In a hastily called press conference, Democratic Majority Leader, Rep. StenyHoyer objected to the panel’s decision. “We’re already pleading with President Bush to change course in Iraq. Setting us on fire is not going to make him change his mind any sooner.” Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) said the heat ray wouldnot discriminate between those wanting to “stay the course, and those who want to cut and run,” although he quickly added that he fully supported the public’s right to own heat rays. Both agreed that a heat ray would disrupt the normal business of Congress, and hinder deliberation on symbolic, non-binding resolutions. “If we feel we’re about to burst into flames we simply won’t be able to argue about important stuff like that,” said Cantor.

Peace activists admit they will face difficulties in deploying the heat ray. Raytheon, the company that designed the weapon, is refusing to disclose the price, but it is expected to be in excess of one million dollars. However, a company spokesman acknowledged that any organization with the legal right to acquire a heat ray would be able to. This week’s ruling clears the way for organizations like Peace First to raise funds for their very own heat ray. “We’re accepting donations on the Internet,” said a hopeful Norman, “so it’s really important that this message gets out.”

Proponents of the plan claim the heat ray may ultimately save lives. “Congress has the Constitutional power to stop the war in Iraq, and to prevent an impending attack on Iran. Anything that can be done to persuade them to exercise that power is acceptable,” stated Klein. “It may be a bit uncomfortable for our Representatives, but we have to weigh that against the thousands of people who may die if we don’t act.” Mr. Norman pointed out that the heat ray does not violate the Geneva Conventions regarding treatment of intransigent government officials. “In fact, the [Geneva Conventions] don’t mention heat rays at all,” he said.

Robert Street is freelance journalist and political writer. He can be contacted at rstreet411/AT/gmail/DOT/com.