A Portrait

thoughts never spoken lie
between the made sheets
pressed, folded and carried
out the door into Autumn's
pointed leaves that float down
silent in unassuming reds
landing in wet stacks that slip
sometimes under shoe soles
with a start, caught balance
    no one there to see
but the sidewalk, counted
with each known crack.

In Autumn's air the sidewalk
path crackles with each step
as the wild path of a singular
lingering bee sluggishly flies
    in Winter air abuzz
around the bend with promises
of ice lake vistas just up ahead
sleek, flat and slick reflections
hearing the sharp, deep split
clear down to the liquid

the moment's buzz clearing the kid
with mittens claps while snow flies
chill to the face and a laugh or start
shocked with cold all bundled up

ii.

fire, held in a ring of stones, smoke
and stars through burnt seen in air
sound, natural in the evergreen wood
a wandering that might be placed

iii.

teas, me's, my little crumpet how deliciously
vexed in sanguine armaments you left such
good notes behind in Easter baskets strewn
in corners of walls like land mines never
meaning what folly happened to spring in

oh, the hints of puzzles and board games
moving speech squashed flat on floors
tingled at the entrance of an exit flourished
with all the gifts sliced from wins

iv.

Excavations needing
    to be filled
with no artifacts
    found on blocks
sun-baked lake beds
    cracked hard clay
a symbol of the Moon
    wedged on a monolith
black as day
    that fell

v.

sing ye yor supper blue coat
the bandage on the noggin
and bayonets the beauty as
the whittlin' round the songs

dustin' off the britches lad
you'll ramble back those trenches
on the mornin' come for better on's
an' whack against the day.

vi.

Skeleton stilts tip-toeing clickety
in the meat rumbled on along
down the street and bludgeoned
cuts of beef tender, thick full juice
rumbled on along the street

vii.

stumbled in the thicket fresh with bells
that held the skull fast as lines move in
and back out to each pine needle zinging
in the ring of tatters with fresh green
bursting in currents of scent lit bright
ice lakes and sands blessed to the feet
where no thing moves yet dreamed

a private wheel that turned within
while wanders on the land, showing
fields with feet and grunting meat
and lines within the skulls and lines
within the ribs unfurled that blew along
the tides where fishes wept the seas
on high that broke against the eyes

that broke against the bows astern
to splash upon the bridge and pulled
the feet back toward the deep where
few but fishes live. In air, salt spray
face and skin remembers all the songs
in waves beneath the sparkled light
that catches through the breeze

great waves beneath the light
that catches on the breeze

viii.

sandwich, knife clinks in jar
chew in the stare of kitchens

Senator Patty Murray Rallies at Last — For Boeing

Our Congresspeople have come across many issues over the past few years that have riled them. Of course, some issues rile them more than others. American’s rights, liberties and privacy have been consistently and unrelentingly assaulted over the last several years. We have discovered our leaders have fabricated and manipulated intelligence to justify conquering other nations of the world, torturing people, and handing vast quantities of our money, often illegally or covertly, over to their corporate benefactors.

Some few congresspeople have taken up torches, trying mobilizing people to fight these affronts to our nation, sometimes at great cost to their own political capital. I have seen no such extraordinary action from any Washington State Congressperson. Until now.

Senator Patty Murray is upset and outraged, going to great personal effort at last, mobilizing the people against injustice with her rallying cry, and creating a petition to get… umm… money for a company in her district.

Uhh… good job Patty. Thanks.

Honestly, I don’t like seeing our our money go to overseas companies, either. This decision by the Air Force will hurt the economy here, and I don’t want it to. But this is what it takes to move you into activism — a lost money contract? Of all the enormously important issues — issues that effect the fundamental definitions of what it is to be an American — that have come before you over the years, the loss of a money contract is what at last causes this uncharacteristic effort on your part?

I suppose this at least serves to offer another evidentiary tidbit to what I spoke about in A Backdrop for American Hope and Change. It’s more than a little sad, though.

And you know, I would be very excited and eager to help you with your effort, if you might have at least been rallied with comparable zeal in the past, over issues that effect the very hearts, minds and even lives of our people, and other people of the world. But I can’t remember you getting this active over anything before. Money for Boeing. Yes, it’s an outrage they’re not getting it.

I’ll sign your damnable self-interested petition. But you better get your ass in gear for the rest of us. Fight for us, dammit! Burn with a like zeal for our American lives and souls!

A Backdrop for American Hope and Change

Those of us who remain a little skeptical during the rhetorical onslaught about “change” may have a reason to start listening. And I don’t mean buying into the Presidential candidates’ marketing shine. I mean listening where it really counts: among the people, who are, at last, standing up and making their voices heard, fed up with politics, excuses, maneuvering and all the other business as usual.

The awareness of the American people is growing despite the best efforts of big business and media to homogenize and occlude the real issues. Perhaps this is because, for whatever reason, they are feeling something hitting at home. Many issues relegated to the fringes by our collective trust in the abstract “American Dream” are finding a new footing in the American dialog. Ideas and insights once dismissed as radical thinking or even pure lunacy are being given new credence as the realities of our situation settle in and we begin to imagine how, exactly, any meaningful and lasting change might actually look.

For some time now, Mike has been exploring and questioning prevalent economic personalities, theories and policies, including, even, economic thought in general. One of his conclusions seems to be that economic thinking can be a fine thing, but people matter too, and people do not always fit so easily into economic equations, despite what economists might say. Even Peter, who could be described as a die-hard individualist, has thrown his hat into the ring of the great public discourse in a call for awareness and action. That alone is enough to tell me that great changes are afoot, and not just via our marketed figureheads.

We all know the power in a message repeated time and again, coming at us from every angle. We saw it working on our march to war, we see it in justifications for our loss of liberties, and it’s been working on us for quite some time in traditional business marketing. Americans, as a whole, are now aware of this tactic and as a result, we are inherently skeptical of any message lacking something tangible to back it up. Many of the messages we receive contain facts that do not line up. And often, rather than questioning those messages, we instead become confused, and question our own capacity to understand, or attribute any lack of sensibility in those messages to our lack of information. But as information slowly comes to light, it’s become apparent that the American people have been duped. Fed full of well-crafted messages, Americans have bought the course we’re on, hook, line and sinker. Only now, we begin to see that train is crashing through our homes.

It’s not a good feeling, discovering you’ve been duped, particularly when our own complacency and willingness to serve our own best interests are what made it possible. We can be mad as hell at the people who sold us down this road, but at the same time we kick ourselves for being so gullible. That’s alright, though. It’s even good. We can look at ourselves now, and those people, processes and ideologies that sold us out, with a clarity that will tremble the very foundations that made it possible. From there, we can change. And change for the better.

Back in August I wrote a semi-rant which touched upon some of the forces at work during the previous turn of the century. The government was practically hands-off toward business, with virtually no regulation. Like now, the nation’s wealth clustered heavily in the top 1% of the richest Americans, while business taxes were low and personal taxes for the wealthy were similarly low. Many believe that having all the nation’s money clustered at the top is what caused huge numbers of Americans to have no money to spend, except by going into debt, which the unregulated banking industry was pleased to offer. But not indefinitely. Eventually there was no money to pay loans, let alone housing payments.

Some people also claim the Fed should have printed more money. Others claim it was foreign money interests buying up our assets. Still others say the government should have started regulating sooner. We learned many lessons during this period. Unfortunately, lessons learned in the past are nearly useless to a people uninterested in history, or who recklessly claim that history is not relevant to our present. It was a breath of fresh air hearing historian Nell Irwin Painter speaking on the Bill Moyer’s Journal a few days ago. One of her many interesting nuggets of information revealed that many people during that period spoke of the “end times” and Armageddon, much as we hear people talking today, giving themselves the ultimate excuse for opting out, washing their hands of any blame, and doing nothing.

During this period of prolonged and wide-spread wars, financial calamity (from the upper-middle to lower-class citizenry), and business run amok, a new form of thinking began to coalesce around the welfare of the people, the role of government, and the accountability of business and financial institutions who took so much. As Nell pointed out, a shift in public thinking happened where Americans began to think of themselves as citizens, rather than consumers – and America as a democratic state rather than an empire.

This shift in our understanding of who we were, and what our country represented, brought about many changes, some of which we take for granted today. The first, and perhaps the most radical, considering our modern sentiments toward government, was the empowerment of government itself. We created laws that defined boundaries within our financial institutions designed to both limit their penchant for corruption and instill regulatory safeguards against future collapses. We began breaking apart gigantic stashes of money and power by breaking apart monopolies in industry. We helped liberate workers from the exploitation of big business by instituting a radically kinder eight-hour workday and two-day weekend. We created mechanisms to feed our citizenry who were without food. And we created large-scale, national projects, both to improve the nation’s infrastructure and put people to work.

This was a far more effective plan than handing out a few dollars for each citizen to spend. If our government had instead distributed a small handful of money to each American, Americans would have used the money to pay off landlords or debt, rather than spending it in the economy. Exactly as we will do with the coming windfall we have been given. In other words, our windfall will mostly go straight back up into that wealthiest 1% — amounting, in the end, to that 1% taking even more. Another of the many interesting changes during this period was altering our government so that the citizenry directly elected Senators to our lawmaking Congress, rather than having our state representatives do it for us.

It is not easy for us to imagine what life was like as an American during this period where none of our country’s wealth was available to its citizenry. We can see much of what day-to-day life was like by looking at what we call impoverished third-world countries today, where all the wealth and power are held by a small few, who live quite well, while their countrymen starve and die. This is also the course of capitalism when regulation is removed. And this is where we are beginning to find ourselves today, after the continuous removal of regulations that began in the late 70’s.

Big money, clustered in the hands of the few, with business left solely to its own regulation, is not in our best interest. Capitalism naturally produces entities that claw their way up to dominate the top of the “food chain”. It is an incomplete model for a society. It lacks a higher human component, that could benefit us all from the strength of the Capitalistic model. Capitalism as it now exists must go, or we will be forced to go. In its current form, Capitalism is a dangerous and destructive force. Money is not more sacred than human life, nor the life of our planet. Capitalism must be altered to accommodate the greater good of humanity, and not just by some promise of a cosmic trickle-down effect that will magically happen if we release all controls over corporations and the people who run them.

Government has made for itself a bad name, over the last few decades. And it continues to. We must remember that the government is ours, and it is not something that we, as citizens, should be subject to. Our government is meant to unite us for our common good, to provide for the defense of each of us, and to promote the blessings of liberty, for all of us. As long as Capitalism’s spirit shares so much in common with a carnivorous alpha male, and the rest of the pack be damned, our government must also protect us from its nastier characteristics. But instead, our government has succumbed to the trappings of Capitalism, which readily exploits our individual greed. Our political leaders have become simple commodities.

First, does an American actually have any hope of being elected to a high political office? Though the well of potential candidates might be large, the number of slots available are very small. We do not, in the end, have much blood to choose from. Who we choose from is determined by how much money the candidate can raise, and how well they are able to court the media outlets to gain any exposure. This alone creates an impossibly uneven playing field where only those candidates who “play by the rules”, and thereby homogenize the issues, have any hope of becoming serious candidates.

Secondly, once we have the homogenized candidates, any issues put forth for discussion in debates or national public forums is often controlled, either by the candidate’s staff or the hosting forum. This further homogenizes the issues and the candidates, sanding them down to a few rough and undefined edges that allows the marketing shine to stick all the better. They are products; packaged, wrapped up and sold to the American people.

We see the fingers of big business working through our government leaders, pulling out as much money as they can in corporate subsidies and contracts, while paying as little back to us as possible through tax breaks for both corporations and the wealthy. We have also seen a growing trend of multinational corporations siphoning out American dollars to their bank accounts overseas, while their lackies in Congress and the White House cry foul when any of our money might find it’s way back to We the People instead.

An excellent example of this practice in common use is Congressional earmarking, where billions in public funds are channeled to any destination the Congressperson chooses, while remaining virtually hidden from public scrutiny. Another example is the continued use of White House “emergency funding” measures for our ongoing wars, which bypasses Congressional oversight and has already resulted in billions of dollars just “vanishing” to unknown and even sometimes bogus companies.

Big business is quick to love and exploit government for the flow of public money, while at the same time decrying the evils of government for its taxation, which fills the very funds from which they suckle. And this process of taking all they can from our government, while giving nothing back is leaving us bankrupt. Big business puts our leaders in the government, and those leaders are bankrupting our government. To my mind, this appears to be an all-out assault upon the American government and the wallets of its citizenry. And now, even the inalienable rights of its citizenry.

Some time ago corporations were granted the legal status of entities which share many of the rights we have as people, plus even some more. For example, it is far easier holding a citizen accountable for something bad they’ve done that it is to hold a corporation accountable. Today, Corporations even have privately-owned armies under their control, working both within the United States and abroad, who seem to operate under neither domestic nor military law. Our government continues to fund and build these private armies, controlled by corporations, and these corporate forces are usually better equipped than our own military.

All this is happening, while every 1 in 100 United States citizen is imprisoned, and is likely working as part of a prison labor force. 1 in 15 black men are in this situation. It is slave labor. And only the tiniest fraction of these people are imprisoned for a violent crime. Now our lawmakers are passing legislation which will monitor us and notice any trends in our behavior or ideas that might warrant “intervention”. I am hearing more and more crimes on the nightly news being labeled as some form of “domestic terrorism”, that before would have been a simple crime, with a simple prosecutorial process. Now, with the new word “terrorism” added, more crimes come with an expedited legal process resulting in faster and longer incarceration times, and could just as easily bypass any legal process whatsoever since it was labeled a “terrorist” act, even when the crime is committed by our own citizenry. The exploitation of prison labor is a multi-billion dollar industry benefiting corporations. Not surprisingly, I can’t find any exact figures. But from what I have found, multi-billion is no exaggeration.

Corporations do not have our human welfare at heart. They have profit at heart. For example, we have sent many billions to our corporations operating in Iraq to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure and create jobs for the Iraqi people. However, instead of employing Iraqis, helping them to rebuild their lives that we shattered, these corporations often import cheaper labor from places like the Philippines, which means more profit for the companies, and no employment for Iraqis. I have no idea how many lives might have been saved, or how much better the situation in Iraq might be if these corporations would instead have helped put the Iraqi people back on course to self-sufficiency, rather than lining their own pockets just because they could.

When corporations run our government, the profit margins of the corporations benefit, our government suffers, and consequently, we, as people, inevitably suffer. Government in and of itself is not a bad thing. It can be a monumental force for our betterment. It all depends upon who is running the government. And right now, that is big business.

Our eyes and ears see what big business chooses to show us. Big business is trying to take control of the internet space as well, through its assault on Net Neutrality. We only have candidates that are vetted through the processes outlined and controlled by big business. War itself is big business. And preemptive war is illegal. But who can hold anyone accountable for anything when big business is calling the shots at every level, and in nearly every position?

It is very encouraging that Americans finally seem to be waking up and seeing past the marketing glitz. Unfortunately, our candidates still have to play the marketing game. I am not certain what it will take to move Americans beyond simple wakefulness, into action. Action that might save ourselves before we land, once again, in the wasteland of a Great Depression, sucked dry. We have to look at the harder truths, and give up, perhaps, some of the dreams we hold dear. In the interest of our common good. In the interest of each other. In the interest of our government, that great experiment in freedom and liberty, that might shine once again, only this time, perhaps more realistically and humanely.

Invisible, Dead or Alive

Today I saw things, I didn’t want to see. I was told things, that I did not want to hear. And as a result, I thought things, I did not want to think. That is not like me. But I will not resist, or bury them. I will not be angered because realities do not match my imaginings, or ignorance. I will be angered because of these realities.

A few posts ago I mentioned two young men who were going to be executed because they were in love. I included a picture of two different young men being led to the gallows for the same capitol “crime”. This image shocked a person, who told me they did not want to see such things, and that I am doing harm by perpetuating a climate of fear in showing that image. But the image does not create nor perpetuate fear. The fact that such things happen does. Knowledge does not perpetuate fear. Knowledge enables us deal with fear, and its cause. Awareness brings light, to darkness.

Today I saw things, I did not want to see. The images are purposefully hidden from us. They are images of what we are doing to other people in the world, and images of what those people are doing to our own people. We are not allowed to see the true images, in all their terrifying and tragic reality. The White House, the Pentagon and our own media companies believe that we should be protected from seeing even the images of the coffins of our dead soldiers, returning home for burial. These men and women were not invisible as they went into battle for their country. But when they are killed, they become invisible.

militarydead.jpg

Perhaps they are shocking, having died. But we have allowed this war. We initiated this war. And as such, it is our obligation to look upon the face of each of the dead. It is our responsibility to become acutely aware of the sacrifices we require, and to weigh that sacrifice against our goal. Perhaps I am thick, but what exactly was that goal? What exactly is our goal? Why are these people dying? What are they dying for? Can anyone tell me? Hasn’t that oil agreement been signed yet?

The things I saw today, that I did not want to see, were not the faces of our own dead. It was not even the thousands more of our men and women who are injured, mutilated, and similarly invisible. It was images of families, and every day people. We have no conception of our impact upon the lives of people just like us, in Iraq. I won’t mention the hundreds of thousands of the dead, nor the millions injured. Nor the ethnically cleansed and cleared neighborhoods that can bring the “peace” numbers up to show that a troop surge worked. I won’t mention the carpet bombed neighborhoods, where their little houses are now dust and rubble. That’s all just collateral damage, and is to be expected in war.

I saw people’s faces, and learned their names. I met their families. I saw the father making breakfast of eggs boiled in tomatoes, in the little cupboard they had found to live. I saw their grandfathers, sitting motionless and staring.

I saw in each face a form of enlightenment: complete and helpless acceptance, devoid of joy, and sorrow so vast that it stretched into the cool numbness of nothingness. I saw images of people who were alive, yet utterly destroyed.

I will not mention children smiling, with large parts of their bodies missing. Nor will I speak of mothers trying to comb their daughter’s hair with grotesquely mutilated arms. I will ignore the old men sitting outside with parts of their faces missing, and the young men so handsome before, but now melted.

I have seen images of the dead, of people turned into opened and bloody carcasses. I have looked upon faces that will never again see or move. But the dead do not care if a dictator rules their country, or a “liberating” force. The dead are not concerned about food or water for their children. The dead do not remember what life was, nor worry what tomorrow might bring.

Today I saw things, I did not want to see. It was the face of the living. It was the face of the defeated, who will accept any fate we enact upon them. It was the face of the truly invisible: myself, revealed in a monstrous light, unaware.

We, as a people, have committed unforgivable atrocities upon others. Our excuses, both collectively and individually, be damned. We cannot account for this – we cannot reconcile it. But we must stop. We have to stop. There is nothing under the stars, or even the darkest night, to justify ourselves. Our soul as a nation, and individually, is in peril, if not already lost. If you doubt me, hold your tongue until you look upon the faces of those still living.