Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Miasma of the True Believers

Lately we’ve been hearing from conservatives who are disaffected with the Bush Administration. The general complaint is that the Republican Party, along with the conservative movement, has lost its way, and that Bush represents a betrayal of true conservative ideals.

Bill Moyers had a couple of them on his show a few weeks ago (here is the transcript): Mickey Edwards, one of the old-guard Goldwater conservatives who has written a book called Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost, and How It Can Find Its Way Again; and Ross Douthat, whose recent tome is titled Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (all political books seem to use similar strategies in their titles these days). Since this was Moyers, the conversation was stimulating, and I ended up watching the whole thing. I can’t deny that there are pleasing aspects of hearing conservatives decry Bush’s notions of untrammeled executive power, and these two were more intelligent than most conservative intellectuals. And god knows one needs to be welcoming to whatever allies one can find in what is essentially a fight to the death for our liberty. Nevertheless, the assumptions of these conservatives are wrong, and almost touchingly naïve.

One of these assumptions is that conservatives have traditionally believed in “limited government.” Reagan came to power saying that government was the problem, and this was essentially the conservative mantra. So thinkers like Edwards and Douthat look at what’s happened under Bush and think it’s an anomaly, a case of a movement going astray. They are in the pathetic position of true believers who take the rhetoric at face value without recognizing the social and economic powers behind it.

“Limited government” in practice, rather than in the vague nobility of conservative rhetoric, means essentially that the government’s function is to stand guard while business makes money. The one idea, if you can call it that, of the Republican Party has been to make sure nobody interferes with profits. Deregulation and so-called “privatization” were the projects begun under Reagan and continued without pause ever since.

Greasing the wheels for the corporations necessarily involves corporations greasing the wheels of government. To think that it doesn’t is simply naïve. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours—that was the inevitable result of the “limited government” philosophy. And it should be to no one’s surprise that the desire for ever-greater profits will always cancel out any and all concerns for the public good. Therefore, environmental regulations were eroded and ignored, with dire consequences for public health. Therefore, health care became less and less responsive to public needs and increasingly dependent on the profit margins of insurance companies. Therefore, the banking industry was deregulated, regardless of possible consequences for the average person. Therefore, the corporations and the rich were relieved of their responsibility to pay taxes and the burden was shifted to middle-class citizens. The list could go on endlessly.

The point is that conservatives refused to guard against a basic human tendency, or even acknowledge it—I’m talking about greed. With untrammeled greed in control of the government, the power and scope of the state will only be limited in terms of how it can help ordinary people—but its literal power and scope, physically measurable in terms of its ability to control our lives and inflict damage on other countries, that power and scope will inevitably expand. Conservative intellectuals, installed in their think-tanks in order to provide rhetorical support for the movement, are unable to perceive the simplest facts of human nature, facts which have been acknowledged even by the traditional religions and philosophies of the West. Greed was traditionally considered a vice. Not for the American conservatives, though.

Furthermore, there has been no application of these notions of limited government to foreign policy or military expenditure. On the contrary, the Republicans have always clamored to increase defense spending. While Reagan slashed as many social programs as he could, swelling the ranks of the underclass and the homeless and forcing millions of people to take multiple jobs just to survive, he vastly increased the Pentagon budget. And it’s been increasing ever since. Now, what kind of a fool would expect a blank-check policy to the military to result in “limited government”? With the imperial project and the increasing militarization of America comes greater executive power. Yet these conservative purists act surprised that Bush/Cheney would take this path.

Of the two guests on Moyer’s show, I found Douthat the most unintentionally amusing. Fussily clarifying and equivocating while he strained to make conservatism look intellectually respectable, he distanced himself from Tom DeLay and Rush Limbaugh while claiming that Republican economic policies have helped workers by lowering prices. He really believes what he’s saying, which tempts one to lend him the sympathy traditionally accorded to the self-deluded. While so-called “free market” policies have outsourced the American worker to irrelevance, Douthat sees sunshine and lollipops. Indeed, if corporate interests are identified with conservative values, how could he see it any other way?

Over and over, not just on this Moyers show but in general, we hear these conservatives talking about how wonderful Reagan was, and then saying that Bush represents some kind of betrayal of the Reagan legacy. Really? I’m old enough to remember that Reagan appointed as Secretary of the Interior a man who believed that it was unnecessary to protect the environment because Jesus would soon be bringing the end of the world anyway. And he stood behind this man (his name was James Watt) in the face of all criticism, and it was only some stupid incident involving Watt putting down The Beach Boys (of all things) that ended his tenure. Now what does this remind you of? It is redolent of the very wingnuttery we have experienced time and again under Bush.

Reagan’s HUD secretary ended up looting what he was supposed to protect. The collapse of the safety & loans happened because of “Reaganomics,” and it resulted in thousands of average people getting screwed. Prior to the current occupant, it was Reagan’s regime that held the record for indictments among its employees: political cronies who served corporate interests and opposed accountability.

Douthat framed his social conservative brand as “a defense of the particular habits and mores of American life.” And this is consistent with the perennial conservative position of “moral values.” But what does this amount to? Conservatives have never opposed the killings that have advanced American imperial interests. They supported the war in Vietnam. They supported terrorist tactics against Nicaragua. They supported terror regimes across the globe, from Indonesia to Argentina. If a regime was socialist or communist, they got all moralistic. But if it was a right-wing dictatorship, they made excuses, even if the right-wing government was guilty of the same crimes as the socialist one. They made excuses when Reagan subverted the law in order to trade arms with Iran.

Conservatives have used race-baiting as a political tool since the early twentieth century. And from Nixon’s “southern strategy” to Reagan’s welfare queens, to Lee Atwater doing the Willie Horton ad for Papa Bush, Republicans have been whispering in code to racist voters for decades. Did conservative intellectuals protest? For that matter, did any of them speak out for civil rights? They did not. They were silent at best, and at worst they colluded in attempts to suppress civil rights.

The moral values of conservatism are pure emptiness. Conservatives are amoral because their values are merely reactions. The “habits and mores of American life” are defined in reactionary terms, as against progressive ideas—therefore against women’s rights, against abortion rights, against civil rights, against the peace movement, against any ideas of corporate accountability or responsibility. The sham of conservative values naturally resulted in the travesty that is George W. Bush. He is not an anomaly—far from it. George W. Bush is the natural and predictable result of the conservative movement. He is the legitimate heir to Reagan, not a mistake or a bastard child. One could even say that George W. Bush is an almost perfect example of the way conservative ideology eventually merges into pure selfishness and stupidity. In his simplistic way, he tears the fig leaf off of right-wing ideology: “limited government” is revealed as “I just want mine” and “Who cares what you think?”

The conservatives who now claim that Bush doesn’t speak for them, who are trying to tell us that “true” conservatism is something different from what we’re seeing now, are like Dr. Frankenstein claiming that he didn’t mean to create a monster. The conservative project has resulted in such disaster for America, has become such an ugly, repellent, oppressive cluster-fuck of insanity, that the conservative intellectual, clinging to his delusional ideas, recoils from the image in the mirror and tries to explain that the reflection is not really him, it’s something else, something different than what we’ve been seeing for the past thirty years and more. I almost feel sorry for them. But I am not fooled.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Change We Need (Part Two)

For the United States to make the transition from a war society to a peace society, many old ways of thinking will need to be abandoned, ways that have determined public policy for a long time. It may seem as if completely new ways of thinking will have to replace them, but in fact the change we need would in many ways constitute a return to humanist values that have been part of our heritage as a republic, but ignored and shoved aside in favor of empire.

In politics there are assumptions that tend to lead to certain kinds of policies. Assumptions reflect interests. The powerful interests in our society have of course been those of big business, and it is usually assumed that it is in the self-interests of big business to take the directions it has taken, towards greater expansion worldwide, greater hegemony for corporations, and ever-greater profits for the same. But what kind of self-interest is this, really? When a system only considers short-term advantages, and those only within the narrow scope of personal profit, imperial policies seem to make sense. But if we look realistically at the long term, given a finite planet, what advantage is there in wasting and polluting our natural resources to the point where the future of the human race is in peril? In the long view, does the hoarding of wealth by a small minority, with the gradual increasing impoverishment of the majority world-wide, lead to a stable situation or to a dangerous one, even for the wealthy? The same considerations are valid regarding the escalation of weapons production, especially of nuclear weapons. How long can we expect human imperfection to get away with this kind of behavior without eventually producing disastrous consequences? And at the risk of sounding facetious, wouldn’t a wise businessperson seek to preserve future real estate, future business, the economic inheritance of the next generations, against its destruction, either from environmental or nuclear destruction?

Those who persist in thinking short-term about such matters can only resort, in the end, to denial. Thus we witness, for instance, the absurd spectacle of so-called conservatives saying that global warming is a plot by liberals to undermine the economy. We would hope that saner heads prevail, but it’s unsure how many saner heads there actually are.

So the first change in thinking is this: The good of society must be recognized as legitimate self-interest. Most CEOs will be the first to admit that financial profit is the overriding purpose of business. So it won’t do to turn around and say we need to privatize hospitals, schools, or other social services because it’s more efficient. It won’t be, because there are other important values besides profit. These values have to have a place in public policy, with no apologies. And that includes rigorous regulation of business practices that affect the public good.

The next change in thinking is an important corollary to this: War is not good for society. Or in the short form coined by General Sherman, “War is hell.” Now this may seem obvious to many readers. But this simple fact is covered with a shroud of denial, both in the corridors of power and in the culture. Stating the seemingly obvious, over and over, is necessary in order to break through the denial.

War kills, wounds, and maims human beings. It also damages minds and spirits, families and homes. Anyone who has been in combat or has witnessed the effects of war will tell you that it is a ghastly, horrifying experience. Do you think it was fun being at Anzio? Or Okinawa? Or Khe Sahn? Do you think seeing somebody’s guts fall out of his body, or his head blown off, is a fulfilling experience?

Yes, this all seems obvious, but we are inundated with the myth of glory. Politicians get all idealistic when they talk about war—it’s always about honor and freedom and bravery. They mention sacrifice too, but in that moist reverential way that people who don’t know about sacrifice talk about. In movies and TV, war is often made to look exciting. We have ads for the Marine Corps that show Arthurian knights fighting nobly in some phony Dungeons n’ Dragons conflict, morphing finally into that proud figure, the Marine. On Memorial Day we supposedly honor and mourn the dead, but there’s an air of celebration about it all as well.

It’s a lie. We must refute the glory myth. And no, this doesn’t mean pacifism. War may be necessary if the country is truly in peril, under attack by enemies, which means that we fight in self-defense. But this necessity isn’t glorious or fun or even right. If it’s necessary in certain cases, it’s still a rotten dirty business that should be gotten through as soon as possible so that we can enjoy peace again. Peace is the value that society aims for, not war. Warmongers, most of whom never fight themselves but pay or force others to fight, have turned this upside down and made war into a value, which it is not. Conversely, they have denigrated peace and ridiculed those who work for it as if they were somehow weak or bad citizens. But in the end, would anyone except the most rabid ideologue refuse to value peace, or to teach their kids the value of peace? Our most natural impulses have been undermined by a false upholding of war as a positive value. Peace must be reinstated as a primary goal and value of society.

To make the transition to a peace society, we must ultimately change basic assumptions about who we are as a nation. For a long time, and especially for the last sixty years, we’ve been poisoned by the notion of being the most powerful nation on earth, an empire responsible for the maintenance of world stability. America has assumed the right to determine what leaders other nations should elect, what policies they should have, and what their economies should look like. It has assumed the right to force its political will on the world, overtly and covertly. We have a world-wide military presence. In short-term thinking, this benefits the corporations, who thereby gain control of markets and resources. The official line is that it also provides us with security, but this has proven to be false, time and again. A lot of mental contortions are necessary in order for it to seem as if the Israeli-Arab conflict makes us safer, or escalating missile systems in Europe. The diversion of our resources, human and material, into foreign adventures leaves our own country, our own children and schools and neighborhoods, neglected.

In cultural terms, this translates into idiotic chants of “We’re number one!” and other kinds of jingoism. It translates into a mind-set that reacts to any criticism of U.S. policy as attacks on the prestige of the country. Empire as an idea is inherently autocratic; it encourages the most anti-democratic elements, submission to authority rather than freedom of ideas.

Part and parcel of this is the elevation of the military to a place beyond criticism. Every military dictatorship does this, but it’s relatively new on the American landscape. There is no democracy in the military—it’s a hierarchical organization based on obedience, which is fine in its place, but dangerous if taken as a principle of civil society. The military should always be a servant of the people, supervised by a civilian authority. When it becomes a power unto itself, with its own political motives, it erodes basic values.

The change of thinking here will perhaps be the most difficult of all, yet the most necessary: Abandon the false dream of empire, and return to the ideals of a free republic. The founders of this country did not envision us becoming just another big shot imperial power entangled in games of world domination. Quite the opposite—they wanted the U.S. to avoid that fate, and they were quite explicit about it. To enjoy the liberty of a free people, sustaining institutions that promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—that was the American vision, not being the most powerful nation on earth, which is an essentially corrupt idea no different from the delusions of ancient Rome or the decrepit traditions of European powers from which the founders deliberately broke.

In practical terms, this means gradually reducing the American global military presence. It means respecting the sovereignty of other countries, even if we don’t agree with their policies. It means rejecting the idea of policing the world, and turning instead to our own country, focusing on what we can do to improve conditions here.

Inevitably someone will call this isolationist. But we don’t need to be isolated. We can still be engaged in world affairs, in the business of addressing common needs and discussing solutions to common problems. But narrow self-interest can no longer determine our foreign relations. Once again, I believe that true self-interest, one that recognizes the good of society and not just profit, coincides with doing the right thing in the world, even with altruism as part of foreign policy. We need to take responsibility for doing good. With all our talk about how great we are, for instance, we contribute a much smaller percentage of our GNP to disaster relief than Sweden. We blithely accept the degradation of the Third World as if it didn't concern us . Such ignorance cannot last long without bad consequences.

Influence is a much more subtle affair than the militarists imagine. The attempt to bend the world to our will through force has actually weakened American influence. Imagine the immense influence that this country would wield internationally if it led the way in promoting economic equality, human rights, environmentalism, peace, and justice. For people who can only think of themselves and their personal profit, such ideas seem like nonsense. But the time is coming when we will have to see that empire is not only bad for society, but bad for business as well.

By the same token, we must recognize that equality is more beneficial than disparity. If wealth and services are distributed more evenly, prosperity actually increases. Poverty, on the other hand, promotes instability and crime. This applies in foreign affairs as well. To complain about illegal immigration when at the same time we’re sucking the wealth out of the Third World is nothing but mendacity. Self-determination and self-sufficiency in foreign countries improves overall trade. The only thing that suffers is greed. Greed needs to be reimagined as an antisocial and anti-spiritual force.

Promoting peace will also mean affirming human rights. The U.S. has heretofore backed the most repressive regimes in the belief that this kind of authority benefits U.S. businesses. Such strategies have proven ephemeral. When subject peoples finally throw off their yoke, they’re less likely to trust in good American intentions. This process started long before Bush; it’s only been accelerating faster. Now we’re seeing a drastic erosion of respect for human rights at home as well as abroad. As long as we take that stance, war will be in our future. Not only do we need to validate human rights as an American ideal, we also need to stop encouraging violators in other countries. We need to realize that it’s against our interests to do business with countries that employ slavery and torture, because it damages our own credibility.

We need to take the lead in disarmament. The official position at this point is that other countries shouldn’t have nukes, but we should. This is obvious hypocrisy that convinces no one. If the U.S. gradually reduces its nuclear forces, and its top-heavy military might in general, that gives us more authority to work towards the same goals world-wide. There’s no magic solution to this; progress will be incremental, but what’s the alternative? Being endlessly poised on the brink of annihilation is to surrender to a kind of global mental illness. We are the only country so far to use nukes. It makes sense that we would be the country leading the way towards their abolition.

This may all seem overwhelming. But it’s not as if we have much of a choice. We either take charge of events, with peace as the primary idea and goal, or events will surely take charge of us. The first step is changing our own minds. The war society is not just “out there.” We’ve internalized it in our own assumptions about what is valuable, and what is possible. The greatest obstacle is fear. Make no mistake, those who push for a peace society will continue to be demonized and attacked. But our persistence and resolve will improve if we have a clear vision of where we need to go. Saying “no” to war and injustice will continue to be important. But if we’re just an “antiwar movement,” then the movement will fade whenever a particular war ends. We need to be truly a peace movement. Peace is the necessary precondition for all the other changes we need in order to survive as a species, and (as Faulkner said) to prevail. There is no passing event, conflict, or petty political difference that can outweigh that.

We tend to underestimate the power of ideas. To reorient a society towards peace is largely a matter of ideas. Speaking out in whatever way we can, through whatever communication or political action, inside or outside the system, liberates others who want to speak out as well. We can create the change we need by proclaiming peace with energy and tenacity, again and again—and what has always been a human value will be acknowledged openly and gain a decisive power of its own.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Change We Need (Part One)

There’s nothing like a crisis to get people moving towards change. The crisis commonly known as “Bush-Cheney” naturally tends to focus our energies on the immediate goal of breaking the far right’s grip on power. But this is also a time to evaluate the changes we need to make in the long term. For this particular crisis did not emerge from a vacuum, or erupt like a fever from an otherwise healthy body politic. One might more accurately characterize Bush-Cheney, to extend the disease metaphor, as a catastrophic, life-threatening symptom of a sickness that has long threatened the well-being of the country and the world. For the greatest challenge we face, I believe, is the challenge of peace. This applies to all the countries and peoples of the world, but I here apply it especially to the United States, by far the world’s leader in military spending. It is absolutely necessary that the U.S. change from a war society to a peace society.

I don’t just say “a war economy,” because the pervasive influence of war and militarism on our country goes beyond economic affairs—it permeates our political, social, and cultural fabric as well. However, the economic reality is of great enough importance to examine first. Realistically speaking, about 54% of the budget consists of military or military-related spending (the government tries to make this percentage seem smaller by including trust funds, not paid for by the income tax, in its budget). All the smoke and mirrors make it hard to find reliable numbers, but most objective analyses range between one to one-and-a-half trillion dollars a year on “defense.”

Now, there’s a lot of Pentagon money not being reported. There’s a so-called “black budget” for classified programs, and there is virtually no oversight of this money because, of course, it’s classified and the military can’t trust our elected representatives to peek at it. Not so coincidentally, this “black budget” has been subject to mismanagement, influence-peddling, and outright theft of hundreds of billions of dollars.

If there were a real housecleaning, the recovery of misused funds alone could pay for a huge number of infrastructure improvements, schools, hospitals, programs, and other benefits for ordinary citizens. Furthermore, if the defense budget were cut by only a third, the budget deficit would be easily eliminated. In addition, the national debt could be paid off within our lifetime.

Politicians never propose cutting the defense budget, at least none of them who seek real power and influence in Washington. If anyone proposes such a thing, he or she is denounced as weak on defense, putting our nation at risk, anti-military and so forth. The entire Pentagon budget, regardless of the merits of any of its various elements, has become a sacred cow. The Congress writes a blank check for the military, or else risks the wrath of the war party, which is composed (may I remind you) of both Republicans and Democrats.

The war party makes it seem as if attacking the sacred cow is attacking the troops. But in fact, only about a fourth of the defense budget (I’m being conservative here; the percentage is probably smaller) goes to pay, feed, and house the troops, as well as provide benefits for veterans. Everything else goes for ships, planes, weapons, spying, R&D, etc. And every Congressional inquiry of the last thirty years has shown that these areas are monumentally wasteful and driven by profit and self-interest rather than by need. The defense industries—corporations such as Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, etc.—need to keep cranking the stuff out in order to make their huge profits, and the more weapons they crank out, the more profit. They have an economic interest in war. The Pentagon shares this interest. It is inherent in the Pentagon’s self-interest that there should always be great threats to national security, which require more money to ward off. Defense analysts over-estimated the Soviet Union’s military capacity for years, which justified huge outlays of funds. Now the threat of terrorism is being grossly overrated for the same reason.

The truth is that the defense budget could be cut significantly, and all the fraud and waste cleaned up, while increasing the wages and benefits for the troops. The military structure treats the troops like garbage now—they’re way down on the list of priorities. The war party cares about the dollars flowing in from defense industry contributors, not the poor grunts out there doing the work. We could actually have superior armed forces with more people willing to serve and better morale, at half the total cost.

We always hear the lie that war is good for the economy. World War II was a fluke because it mobilized a citizenry that had suffered during the Great Depression. It organized resources, under a real foreign threat, that we didn’t know we had. None of the imperial wars have helped the economy since then. Vietnam ruined the promise of LBJ’s “Great Society.” Iraq is an unprecedented economic disaster. The recession that we’re seeing the beginning of now is in large part a consequence of the outlandish waste of our money on the so-called “war on terror” and the looting of the treasury by Bush-friendly corporations and contractors.

The U.S. is of course the largest exporter of weapons and military technology in the world. But the military industry doesn’t add real value to an economic and social structure, the way industries based upon human needs (such as agriculture, housing, or health) adds value. Countries in which a greater percentage of spending is for such human needs, with an accompanying modest percentage of spending on national defense, have a better distribution of wealth and a more prosperous economic life for the average citizen. The rise of the defense industry in the U.S., powered by its own self-serving political interest, has contributed to a top-heavy economy with a few very rich individuals benefiting from war profits, while the standard of living for the vast majority gradually declines.

I’ve taken the time to outline these monetary aspects of the war society so as to clarify how economically disadvantageous it is for the country to be dominated by the Pentagon and the defense industry. Economics is often the first argument one hears against cutting defense—old myths die hard, and many people still assume that war products are vital to the economy. Sooner or later, this issue will need to be addressed. We need to challenge the war budget in public, over and over, and the public officials we seek to elect and influence will have to take a risk and speak out against this waste of our resources. Events are already overtaking us. The consequences of our neglect of vital infrastructure are becoming more evident—the failure of the New Orleans levees and the collapse of the Minneapolis bridge are portents of what is to come if we continue to squander our wealth on the bloated American military. Some leader, or leaders, is going to have say “enough,” and that won’t happen unless we make them say it.

But the economic argument, as important as it is, leads to the recognition of a larger political reality. The war party is driven by a world view, a set of beliefs about America that have turned us into a war-based society. These beliefs can be boiled down to one central idea: the necessity for American preeminence on the world stage, or to put it bluntly—empire. This set of beliefs has virtually owned the field in Washington for the last sixty-three years. And for all that time it has filtered down into public discourse through indoctrination of one sort or another. Therefore, in order to make the difficult transition from a war society to a peace society, it will not be enough for us to merely urge a new economic direction. An entire way of thinking about ourselves will need to be challenged, and a new vision, with peace at its center, will need to be offered in its place.

(This is the first part of a two-part article.)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Thoughts on the death of a friend

“I scarcely know where to begin, but love is always a safe place.” Dickinson—that poet the world still considers a bit crazy—said that. Her thought was never careless. Truth was hard won for her, as anything worthwhile is on this earth. So I say, with her, that love is the one safe place.

With love I place kindness, mercy, gentleness, and everything tender in human life. And when in this moment we face death, for of course it will be this moment when it comes, nothing else will matter. That is the truth, simple yet difficult of attainment, that must burn like a coal within. Not the pretty little slogans aiming to inspire us, either—but a real possession in the face of all that may threaten, even that which may call us to give everything. Genuine courage springs only from love, I tell you.

And if you have a religion, or a god, or a teacher, or a belief system, or an ideology, or a creed, that requires you to be unloving and unkind, or justifies cruelty and harm, then know that your religion or teacher or creed is absolutely false. So much is certain.

And if your love consists of a fellow-feeling for people like you, the ones who look like you, live near you, and agree with you, but your heart is closed to the stranger on the other side of the world, then it is nothing but tribal custom, even if you dignify it with the name of religion. Every tribe believes that it is the greatest tribe on earth, and all the other tribes are enemies and inferior—so what? There’s nothing virtuous or intelligent in that.

The angry god of power, the volcano god, is a lie. And everyone secretly knows this. The public voice of the accusing moral god is the voice of fear and limitation, a pathetic human voice. His real names are Power and Money. When in this moment we face death, there will be no Power or Money.

Blake saw it. The angels have switched sides, and their platform now calls for war and executions. A rich man asked Jesus what else he could do and was told to sell what he had and give to the poor. And the man “went away sorrowful.” Yeah, I’ll bet he did.

Okay, Mr. Jesus. That’s enough. Go back up on Jehovah’s throne. Here’s a nice crown for you, and a scepter. That’s good. Now stay there, and we’ll get back to business.

And love means saying No, too. Joel Osteen can grin the whole day through and talk about love, but I’d like to know what he thinks of the war. And torture. And racism. And if he won’t say, then his grin is emptier than the Cheshire cat’s.

No amount of money, or power, or oil, or political advantage, or anything else I hear from the media megaphone, is worth one single life, one innocent life, one Iraqi child, one homeless person who can’t afford food or a doctor, one inmate in a prison—or for that matter, one stray cat. Not all the flags and the uniforms and the guns, all the military and their endless salutes, all the big phrases like freedom and honor and glory, are worth a single life. I know that now, and I am not afraid.

When we die, what will we leave behind? Everything. Regret will bring nothing back. The one thing needed: wake up now and begin. Start from the safe place that crazy poet talked about, and fear will leave you.

All this I learned from you, my dear friend. One simple look taught me everything I needed to know. Shantih.