Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bill Moyers: What it’s like to go to war (video) and an alternative from Thich Nhat Hanh

Karl Marlantes, courtesy of

Watching the video of Bill Moyers’ interview with Karl Marlantes, titled What it’s like to go to war, was not a pleasant interlude this Saturday afternoon.  But since he and other young men and women are sent into combat in my name, I felt obligated to tune in.

Marlantes' description of his experiences in a kill or be killed environment reminded me of an incident at my apartment building a few years ago. Walking across the parking lot one afternoon, I stopped to chat with a young man wearing an Army camouflage uniform. He was sent home from Iraq to recuperate from an illness and, he expected to be deployed again soon. When I asked him about his combat experiences, he turned pale, and the expression in his eyes was one of pure terror.

The incident confirmed my long ago conclusion that war is insane, and the expectation that you could send young men and women into combat and expect them to return home mentally and emotionally unscarred is part of the overall insanity. All the more reason, we should be required to watch the video posted below or read the full transcript. It’s the least we can do to honor the youth we send to war.

Coincidentally, I’m re-reading along with my meditation group, Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Calming the Fearful Mind: a Zen approach to terrorism, which should be required reading for all Americans as well.

Here’s the video: What It’s Like to Go to War

Monday, July 23, 2012

Gun Talk in the aftermath of the Colorado massacre

Alleged killer James Holmes.

My first thought when the news broke about the massacre in Aurora, Colorado was what did you expect? The language of killing is now commonplace in our culture here in the US of A.  And it comes from the top down. President Obama carries on the tradition of kill, not capture, initiated by his predecessor George W. Bush following 9/11. We recently learned that Obama sits calmly at his desk in the Oval Office approving a targeted kill list for unmanned Predator Drone attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Our children unquestioningly accept casual killing in playing video games that are won by instantly wiping out as many people-like figures as possible. If young soldiers manage to reach the age of 18 with even a trace of squeamishness about killing the “enemy,” military training with advanced versions of childhood video games will soon cure them.

In the aftermath of the Arizona shooting in which Rep. Gabrielle Gibbons was seriously injured, I posted a blog noting the availability of Glock handguns online. A couple of days before the recent incident in Aurora, Colorado, I noticed that post suddenly appeared in my website’s top 10, and it has remained there ever since the shooting. Yesterday we learned that the suspect,  James Holmes, built his arsenal without background checks from online sources. Incidentally, his arsenal included two Glock handguns.

 Zealous supporters of the right to bear whatever style of arms they choose – including handguns and other weaponry not designed for hunting animals -  are of course rising to the defense of the gun industry. I spoke to one such supporter the other day. She mentioned that a relative died in a motorcycle accident and asked if I thought we should ban motorcycles.

Um, motorcycles are designed for transportation, not as weapons.

In the meantime, Richard Kaufman has a thoughtful post up at the Christian Century in which he attempts to initiate a rational conversation on the topic of guns:

When I turned 12, my parents bought me a gun so that I could go pheasant hunting with my dad. It was a simple 20-gauge shotgun. The first time I shot it, I thought it was going to blow off my shoulder. I wasn’t that great of a marksman. The only time I killed a pheasant was when I was in my 20s
The gun went with me on several moves. But when my children were at the age when I thought they might be curious about guns, I sold it at a garage sale. I didn’t want something tragic to happen to them or anyone else. I’ve never owned a gun since.

I believed then what I believe now: unless you’re in law enforcement or are a hunter, you don’t need a gun. And if you own guns, the guns and ammunition should be locked up and secure so they can’t fall into the wrong hands.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Barney Frank: “Thank you, Elizabeth Warren”

I am pleased to post this letter I received from Barney Frank this morning:

Dear Virginia,

When it became my responsibility as Chairman of the Financial Services Committee in 2009 to begin work on a financial reform bill, Elizabeth Warren was one of the first people I made sure to consult.

Elizabeth was focused to a very great extent on her concept of an independent agency to protect consumers from being abused or taken advantage of in their financial dealings. She and I began working together to get the necessary Congressional support to make this part of the law.

I knew before I met Elizabeth that she was the intellectual leader in this field. What I learned to my benefit was that she was -- and is -- a natural legislator and leader.

On the first anniversary of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that she did so much to create, I've signed a card thanking Elizabeth for her hard work and determination to make it possible and I ask that you sign the card with me.

While Elizabeth was not then a Member of Congress -- a condition I hope that will soon be changed -- she had a great understanding of the way in which our process worked, from both the procedural and political standpoint.

She was also a rare example of someone who was extremely talented at both the inside and outside parts of the work.

That is, she was a perfect ally in my dealings with other Members of Congress, and a great asset in her ability to communicate with the broader public and to mobilize the support that was needed to overcome the entrenched opposition of virtually every financial institution.

I am proud, as I said, of the work I was able to do as Chairman to create the Independent Consumer Bureau. We are fortunate that we had a President who was committed to doing everything he could to help this get adopted.

And we were particularly lucky to have, as the spearhead for this particular effort, an advocate who combines a zeal for the substance with a pragmatic understanding of how to achieve it.

I'm very pleased to ask you to join me in thanking Elizabeth for this great effort, and letting her know of your appreciation.

There is one last thing I want to say. We now face a situation where there is a serious effort to undermine financial reform and weaken the new consumer agency.

Mitt Romney has even called for full-on repeal. And in Congress, Republicans have been using a variety of tactics to chip at it in ways that are more obscure and complicated but still devastating.

We need to elect Elizabeth Warren and to protect the Democratic majority in the Senate in order to protect American consumers. It's critical for the future of our economy and our country.

Barney Frank

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hillary Clinton’s stature continues to rise

Secretary Clinton meets with Crown Prince of Bahrain Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, at the Department of State. State Department photo by Michael Gross
It’s still out there in the blogosphere: diehard Hillary haters regurgitating the Obama campaign’s stale  attacks on her character in ’08 after Axelrod, et al realized their candidate couldn’t defeat her in legitimate policy debates. Much to the dismay of her detractors, however, Hillary's stature continues to rise.

As secretary of state,  Hillary's brilliance in foreign policy matters is evidenced in her article on smart power published yesterday, July 18, 2012, in the New Statesman:

As the balance of world power shifts, the US is developing a novel range of diplomatic, social, economic, political and security tools to fix the world’s complex new geopolitical problems.

I touched down in Beijing in May for the fourth round of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue with a jam-packed agenda, but the world’s attention was focused instead on the fate of a blind human rights dissident who had sought refuge in the American embassy. Suddenly, an already delicate trip had become an outsized test of the US-China relationship.

Throughout history, the rise of new powers usually has played out in zero-sum terms. So it is not surprising that the emergence of countries such as China, India and Brazil has raised questions about the future of the global order that the United States, the United Kingdom and our allies have helped build and defend. Against this backdrop, those few days in May took on even greater significance: could the US and China write a new answer to the old question of what happens when an established power and rising power meet?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hillary’s record-breaking tenure as secretary of state

SOS Clinton meets with  Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on July 16, 2012. State Dept Image.

Hillary Clinton speaks in measured tones, never seems to be out of breath or in a hurry, and yet continues to break records in miles traveled and countries visited as secretary of state. It has to be her to do lists; I envision her on her plane at nightfall, crossing off the items she’s completed that day. (That’s after she catches up with her texting.)

The AP reports:

WASHINGTON (AP) — If diplomatic achievements were measured by the number of countries visited, Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the most accomplished secretary of state in history.

While historians will debate and eventually rate her tenure as America's top diplomat, Clinton is already assured of a place in the State Department record book.

Read more:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Electronic cigarettes: an inexpensive, healthier alternative for smokers

I quit smoking several years ago with the assistance of the Clean Break program. At the time, I was unaware that the harm from smoking comes primarily from the tobacco delivery system – nicotine, itself, is relatively harmless. I was also unaware back then of the availability of electronic cigarettes, an inexpensive, healthier alternative for smokers. This morning I came across this article at ConsumerWeeklyTips that offers good news to tobacco users:

If you haven't already heard, Electronic cigarettes have grabbed the attention of countless tobacco users worldwide. Everyone from movie stars to your neighbors are using them. But are they really a healthier and cheaper alternative to traditional cigarettes? Can they really help you quit smoking? Creators and product users now say you can enjoy a cheaper, healthier cigarette without the bad smells, second-hand smoke, or cancer causing chemicals. With these huge claims, we decided to uncover the electronic cigarette for our readers.

A few of the benefits claimed from using the electronic cigarette:
  • No tar, tobacco, carbon monoxide, or ash.
  • Get the same amount of nicotine as a regular cigarette.
  • Each cartridge costs less than $2 and is equivalent to an entire pack of cigarettes.
  • You can save over $1,000 each year.
  • You won't "smell" like a smoker any longer.
  • Different flavors are available.
  • No more second-hand smoke.
We decided to see what expert medical doctors and product users had to say about electronic cigarettes, and the results were surprising. In fact, Joel Niztkin, Chair of the Tobacco Control Task Force for the American Association of Public Health Physicians concluded that "...if we get all tobacco smokers to switch from regular cigarettes to electronic cigarettes, we would eventually reduce the US death toll from more than 400,000 a year to less than 4,000, maybe as low as 400." (1)

Read more:

Friday, July 13, 2012

News flash: Humankind’s role in the ecological network of relationships

Here’s a little news flash for all those who continue to delude themselves into believing that humankind has absolute dominion over the planet: We do not possess the right to thoughtlessly exploit the Earth’s natural resources, nor are we entitled to destroy any of our fellow inhabitants.

That’s right. We are as embedded in the ecological network of relationships and as reliant on its support as any other species. That would include the wolves struggling to survive in Montana. Just this morning, I received this alert from Jamie Rappaport Clark of Defenders of Wildlife:

Virginia -- Just wanted to make sure you got my message about our new wolf ad.

As we prepare to go live in Times Square, the War on Wolves rages on. Yesterday, officials in Montana approved a plan to allow widespread wolf trapping, triple the number of wolves an individual can kill in a single season, and eliminate hunt quotas across nearly the entire state.

Please donate now to help run our wolf ad, fight to ensure a lasting future for wolves and protect the wildlife and wild places you cherish.


Defenders of Wildlife: Wildlife Alert

Help reach millions
for wolves

Help run our ad in Times Square (artist's composite)
We need to raise $65,000 by July 20th to get this ad in Times Square.

Help Us Reach Millions for Wolves Donate Now

Please donate today to get the word out about the West’s War on Wolves during the busy tourist season New York City.

Dear Virginia,

Imagine seeing wolves in Times Square. You can make it a reality.

Donate today to help run our new wolf ad in Times Square -- and put the War on Wolves front-and-center before the eyes of America.

Most Americans don't know what's going on in the West. Extreme anti-wolf policies have led to a War on Wolves in the Northern Rockies.

In just over one year, nearly half of Idaho's wolves have been eliminated. And with year-round hunting and other extreme wolf-killing policies, officials are aiming to reduce Idaho's wolf population down to minimum numbers.

In Montana, anti-wolf extremists are turning up the heat on state officials, urging them to follow in Idaho's wolf-killing footsteps.

And at any moment, federal officials could turn the fate of Wyoming's wolves over to a state plan that allows wolves to be killed on sight by virtually any means across the majority of the state.

Now we have the chance to expose millions to the War on Wolves -- and rally their support with our latest ad.

Will you help us raise $65,000 by July 20th to run our wolf ad in Times Square and protect the wildlife and wild places you care about?

Wolf recovery is one of the most important conservation success stories in this country -- and we can't let the War on Wolves turn back the clock.

That's why we're doing something big -- Times Square big -- to expose anti-wolf extremism to an entirely new audience and send federal officials a message they can't ignore.

Donate today and help put wolves in Times Square.
Jamie Rappaport Clark  


Jamie Rappaport Clark
Defenders of Wildlife

P.S. Please donate now through our secure website to help us place our ad in Times Square. Or call 1-800-385-9712 to donate by phone.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Dalai Lama's simple religion

The Dalai Lama refers to his simple religion; I would call it pure religion. And in principle it was taught by Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, and other great spiritual leaders in their time. Thanks to Meditation Techniques for making this image available on Facebook.

The orchid plant thrives!

Okay. So I'm lacking in botanical skills. Never have had much success in keeping house plants alive. When a friend sent me an orchid plant last February, a kindly neighbor came to my rescue and coached me on its care. Thanks to my neighbor's detailed instructions, the plant is now thriving and as you can see in the photos (views from opposite sides), new life is popping out in every direction.

 And I'm beaming with pride!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Is there a distinction between America’s targeted killing of individuals and acts of murder?

Public domain.

Writing for Esquire, author Tom Junod raises some difficult questions in his article titled, The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama. Junod’s words are especially troubling as my mindfulness meditation group is currently reading and discussing Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Calming the Fearful Mind: a Zen response to terrorism, which I recommend to all people who are sincerely interested in peacemaking.” Nhat Hanh warns:

The military doesn’t know where terrorism is. They cannot locate terrorism-it is in the heart. The more military force you use, the more terrorists you create, in your own country and in other countries as well.

But back to The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama:

Sure, we as a nation have always killed people. A lot of people. But no president has ever waged war by killing enemies one by one, targeting them individually for execution, wherever they are. The Obama administration has taken pains to tell us, over and over again, that they are careful, scrupulous of our laws, and determined to avoid the loss of collateral, innocent lives. They're careful because when it comes to waging war on individuals, the distinction between war and murder becomes a fine one. Especially when, on occasion, the individuals we target are Americans and when, in one instance, the collateral damage was an American boy.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Too busy for friendship?

Friendship.  Photo credit: Virginia Bergman.

Saturday morning at Cups ‘N’ Scoops, a local coffee shop, I enjoyed spending an hour or two visiting with friends Julie and Dee with whom I feel connected at a deeply spiritual level. Our get together was a powerful reminder that friendship is not just an option in how we choose to spend our time; it’s essential to our health and well being - regardless of our circumstances.

Currently focused on revising a book-length manuscript, I value my hours of solitude, but like writer Tim Kreider, the author of an astute contribution to the NY Times series on anxiety, I intentionally plan my daily schedule to avoid “The Busy Trap.” As a result, I seldom need to rush in order to include time for exercise, reading, meditation, writing, and staying in touch with family and friends.

The 1950s theory of Type A and Type B personalities has since been discredited; however,  attributes customarily assigned to Type A, especially the chronic busyness, might well describe the dominant trend in our present day culture depicted by Kreider:

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How about a holiday celebrating our kinship with nature and membership in the global community?

Today we Americans commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which declared our independence from Great Britain, and and it is good that we do so. However, I would suggest that to balance things, we declare a holiday celebrating human kind's interdependence within the ecological web of relationships as well as our membership in community at home and around the world.

Can you imagine a day of fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, political speeches, etc. celebrating our kinship with nature and our love and respect for all who inhabit our global neighborhood?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Justice Ginsburg's response to Roberts' ruling on the Affordable Care Act

Ginsburg's official portrait.
Thanks to Taylor Marsh for calling our attention to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's opinion in response to Chief Justice John Roberts' recent ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Marsh pays tribute to Justice Ginsburg prior to posting the text of her incisive opinion:

THE GREATEST FEMALE Justice of the Supreme Court in U.S. history, likely for all time, not only reveals her mental might, but forever puts to rest why Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will be forever disgraced for her part in Bush v. Gore.

As someone who found the mandate smacking up against my libertarian streak, the great Ginsburg schools me on Libertarianism’s stinginess, while reminding me why I’ve never been a libertarian.  That where all are impacted, we all must participate.  Lacking eloquence, that’s the nucleus of it for me and also why I was once a hyper-partisan Democrat, long before neoliberals and Blue Dogs ruled Democratic policy prescriptions and politics.

The politics of Chief Justice Roberts is woven throughout his majority opinion, as I’ve already written, though it doesn’t make it any less brilliant a move.  Roberts toyed with Pres. Obama like a rat does cheese before devouring, the lip-smacking finish to be seen in years and decades to come. Because in handing Obama what cable yakkers are calling a “win,” Roberts dislodged and elevated his own reputation from and above that of the disgraced Chief Justice Rehnquist and his Court, simultaneously succeeding in preserving options of action through conservatism that will inevitably harm the American majority.

Chief Justice Roberts also kept the elite private insurance industry and Big Pharma in charge, aiding Pres. Obama’s goal and that of Democrats, neither of whom had the tenacity to do what’s required so that health care wouldn’t become a political football, with taxes the tool that both sides today utilize to make villains out of leaders.

The liberal giant Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion renders Chief Justice Roberts to the political player he is, through the machinations of her great thinking mind. 


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Where's that vision thing in the 2012 campaign?

As the 4th of July approaches during the lackluster 2012 campaign, Drew Western at the LA Times points out that neither Obama nor Romney offers an inspiring vision to disheartened Americans:

Americans today aren't interested in slogans and sound bites. They want the candidates to offer them a vision, but so far neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama has done so.

Read the entire column here.