Don Williams is a widely published, prize-winning columnist, short story writer, blogger for www.knoxvoice.com,and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual
anthology of literary stories, essays and poems.
awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Michigan Journalism Fellowship, a Golden Presscard Award, Tennessee's
Top Associated Press Managing Editors Award - the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize, Six Writer of the Month Awards in the Scripps Howard
Chain, twice Runner-up for Writer of the Year, and others.
is finishing a novel, with the working title, "Oracle of The Orchid Lounge,"
set in his native Tennessee and Iraq. He is also the author of the sold out “Heroes,
Sheroes and Zeroes, the Best Writings About People by Don Williams”
(New Millennium Writings, 2005, due a second printing.) and "100 Columns Strong,
the Best Commentary by Don Williams," due out this fall. He
is a contributing editor to Media With Conscience (www.mwcnews.net) and his commentary frequently leads the page at www.opednews.com
(for Don Williams)
of the Light
is the power of the Light;
is a SOULular one,
of universal Grace,
of singular stars
unite to form
one Heavenly sky -
you shine there
in my mind and heart.
Cheney-Bush still gushing toxic history into our world
In 2003 I wrote, "If George W. Bush had run for president on a platform of making the world uninhabitable for humankind,
he could scarcely have done better at starting us down such a path."
His first nail in the, um, platform was to allow Dick Cheney
to select himself as vice-president. His second was in elevating Cheney to the status of co-president almost immediately.
In his second administration--two wars and a million deaths later--Bush demoted Cheney, but by then it was too late. Cheney
had unleashed forces that will haunt the world for decades if not centuries.
Even now oil gushes from a hole in the bottom of the sea, thanks
to Bush, Cheney, Halliburton and BP.
Don’t get me wrong. Obama is not absolved. He’s
been worse than disappointing in this crisis. It would’ve been heartening to see him direct an armada of ships from
many nations into the Gulf of Mexico to suck up oil and otherwise contain the damage. It would’ve been wonderful to
see him in boots and protective gear leading armies of volunteers and actual soldiers to scoop oil off beaches and clean feathers
of sea-gracing birds. It would’ve been marvelous to’ve beheld a panel of actual scientists telling us what was
really going on and rapidly assessing options proposed by everyone from actor Kevin Costner to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
Still, make no mistake. The Great Gulf Gusher of 2010—like
institutionalized torture, never-ending Middle Eastern war, unprecedented domestic spying, the great economic collapse of
2008, unprecedented media lies and so much else I’ve documented--was a Bush-Cheney production.
After losing the popular vote in 2000, yet winning the White
House by one Republican vote on the Supreme Court, the first order of business for Bush-Cheney was to appoint a special energy
task force to write energy policy for the new administration. As author Rodrigue Tremblay ("The New American Empire") and
many others have documented, Cheney, former CEO of Halliburton, brought in his old cronies from across the corporate energy
spectrum—oil, gas, coal, nuclear, etc., and held meetings—most of them secret--for over 100 days in 2001.
From then on it was "drill baby drill."
In quick succession, Bush-Cheney recommended ways to expedite
all sorts of energy development, named Iraq as a competitor to watch, invaded that country—with Halliburton a major
actor--cut regulations for all sorts of activities, lopped budgets for clean, alternative energy programs, proposed tax cuts
for fossil fuel producers by over $30 billion and proposed opening Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
The Senate rejected this bill, but Bush-Cheney followed up in
2005 by subsidizing the oil companies by some $27 billion.
"Then again, on July 14, 2008, just months before leaving office,
President George W. Bush signed an executive order to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico
and off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts."
More to the point, "the Interior Department's Minerals Management
Service decided on Aug. 30, 2005, that oil companies, rather than the government, were in the best position for determining
their operations’ environmental impacts. In effect, MMS decided on that date to de facto merge its services with those
of the oil companies, even to the point of letting the oil industry fill out MMS's inspection reports," writes Tremblay.
"Oil companies persuaded the Bush-Cheney administration that
expensive security measures were not required, even for drilling in deep oceanic waters. For example, MMS decided not to require
oil companies to install a remote-control oil blowout preventer on their deep-sea oil drilling rigs, i.e. an acoustic blow
off valve that immediately chokes off the flow of oil in an emergency. Even though they are expensive, (they cost $500,000
each), most offshore oil rigs in other countries—in Norway and in Brazil for example, but not in the U.S. or the U.K—
have such a switch installed for cutting off the flow of oil in an emergency by closing a valve located on the ocean floor.
No such emergency switch was available on April 20, 2010, when BP's 18,000-foot-drilling-deep floating oil rig blew up, a
catastrophe that killed eleven workers, injured many others, and which has spewed, so far, as much as 100 million gallons
of oil into the Gulf of Mexico…."
As I say, Obama is not absolved. Just weeks before this well
blew, he proposed opening much more of our off-coastal sea floors to drilling, and he kept far too many Bush-Cheney appointments
in place. But let’s be clear. This is not his gusher.
It’s one more tragic legacy from the most destructive
co-presidency in history--Bush-Cheney. These erstwhile gushers of toxic history wreak havoc with our world still.
Just a word of thanks to those of you who phoned or emailed
or otherwise supported the restoration of a crucial land preservation fund last week. I thought you should know that I turned
on my computer Friday evening to find the following email from my sister, Kathleen Williams-Mooradian, who spear-headed this
effort in Nashville with others in the Forever Green Tennessee movement firstname.lastname@example.org. For the record, nearly no one gave this bill a chance of passing
just six weeks ago! That's why it was all the sweeter, on Friday, June 4, to read...
support, today the Tennessee Senate and House passed a budget with FULL funding for land conservation!
than $16 million restored for:
State Parks Fund: $3.1 million Local Parks Fund: $3.7 million Wetlands
Fund: $6.5 million Agricultural Fund: $3.2 million
Together, thousands of Tennesseans accomplished
this great victory for Tennessee’s environment, against tough odds and a terrible budget year!
Together, we can Forever Green Tennessee!
you all for making this happen. This is your victory. I hope you will take
time to celebrate this good news for our woods, waters, and wildlife and for future generations. Please be sure to thank
your state senator and representatives for supporting Forever Green Tennessee.
* * *
Click here for an example of just one treasure that will be
preserved. The Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation worked tirelessly to save the lands around these beautiful falls from
For the record, it wasn't just Tennesseans who saved the land
fund. As I wrote last week....
"I have no idea how many of you answered my, yes, presumptuous
plea that you phone or email members of the Tennessee Legislature about preserving a fund that has saved vast tracts
of forests, wetlands, farmlands and parks in the heart of our Southern Appalachians. To those of you who did, guess what?
It appears we're winning!
"Not only for Tennessee and tourists who travel here, but
for the many thousands or millions who get drinking water from rivers originating here, and, in fact, for every
person or creature who breathes the air on Planet Earth or hopes for a future not riven by climate change....
"The river-valley system of the Southern Appalachians remains
a gold standard for biodiversity, and Tennessee's smack in the middle of it, so that makes our state's business everyone's
business. Our forests and rivers comprise flourishing habitats and deep carbon wells which benefit the entire world. The State
Parks Land Acquisition Fund--so important in saving Tennessee's great natural treasures--has become an endangered species. Even
as this is written, the fund's fate is being decided in the Tennessee state legislature. Please urge them to restore this
fund to its intended purpose. Our natural world must not be sacrificed on the altar of politics and backroom deals."
"A coalition of conservationists, outdoorsmen, environmentalists,
park employees and visionaries spent weeks lobbying the State Legislature, passing out pamphlets, visiting offices,
emailing legislators, writing arictles and phoning, phoning, phoning!
"I'm proud to say that leading the charge was my sister Kathleen
Williams-Mooradian, director of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, which has worked tirelessly to preserve
hundreds of thousands of acres of woodlands, their attendant streams, mountains, valleys, waterfalls, songbirds and other
natural treasures, many of international significance."
Thanks again, to courageous legislators for preserving this
fund, to all the members and supporters of Forever Green Tennessee, and especially to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation
staff, whom I know to be dedicated, energetic, loyal, and in love with their mother....
Our beautiful Earth.
And thanks to all who took the time to phone, email or offer
an encouraging word in response to my emails... wherever you are.
Sometimes the actual well-meaning among us get to win.
Together, we lit a candle of hope.
Don Williams is
a prize-winning columnist, short story writer and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an
annual anthology of literary stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Michigan
Journalism Fellowship, a Golden Presscard Award and the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize. He is finishing two novels set in his
native Tennessee, Iraq, Paris, the Bahamas and other locations. His book of selected journalism, "Heroes, Sheroes
and Zeroes, the Best Writings About People" by Don Williams, is due a second printing. For more information, email him at
email@example.com. Or visit the NMW website at www.NewMillenniumWritings.com. To support this and other columns by Don with
a donation, click on https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=8466358.
We’ve probed the oceans, sifted soils, scoured jungles
and forests. We've examined moons and planets, and after decades of searching we find that the river-valley system of
the Southern Appalachians on Planet Earth remains a gold standard for biodiversity.
Tennessee's smack in the middle of it, so that makes our business
your business. Our forests and rivers comprise flourishing habitats and deep carbon wells which benefit you. The entire
Sadly Tennessee ranks among the top in destruction of habitat.
That's why folks who take time to preserve this tapestry that gives rise to songbirds, speckled trout and blue-tailed salamanders
are heroes to me.
They need your help, because the State Parks Land Acquisition
Fund--so important in saving Tennessee's great natural treasures--has become an endangered species. Even as this is written,
the fund's fate is being decided in the Tennessee state legislature. (See links below).
Republicans who run the legislature would divert the Real Estate
Transfer Tax (RETT)—a fund dedicated in 1991 to saving wilderness, farmlands and parks--to attack general fund shortfalls.
Please urge them restore this fund to its intended purpose.
Our natural world must not be sacrificed on the altar of politics and backroom deals.
Bear with me if you care about wildlife, clean water, air and
natural beauty. This real estate tax was passed in 1986 for the purpose of preserving wetlands, but thanks to hard work by
Tennessee nature lovers generally, it was expanded in 1991 to become a powerful force in saving wild and scenic lands and
rivers, as well as to build parks across the state. You don't have to go far to feast your eyes, your soul, on what's been
The view from Buzzard's Roost, one of the most photographed
vistas in the southeastern United States was preserved at Fall Creek Falls—among the highest east of the Rockies--in
1992. The crown of Black Mountain, a wonderland of woods, bluffs and scenic vistas was saved with seed money from RETT. Add
the Cumberland Trails State Park, a 220-mile wilderness maze stretching from Virginia to Georgia, and you begin to see the
impact this fund’s had. It’s preserved hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness and farmland from bulldozers
and drills and asphalt.
It's brought millions of dollars to the region in federal and
private matching grants and bolstered our tourism economy, while enhancing property values, recreational opportunities, scenery,
and the quality of air and water over much of the Southeast and beyond. By providing habitat for migrating songbirds, and
a deep carbon well in its forests, its influence is felt across the western hemisphere.
Now comes word the fund will be sacrificed to the state budget.
It took lobbyists, legislators, bureaucrats and ordinary people working together to make it a reality. Once diverted, re-channeling
it will not be easy. If we lose this fund, our mountains, waterfalls, songbirds and other natural wonders could be lost, maybe
for all time. Gov. Phil Bredesen has diverted this fund before, but to his credit he’s included the money in his version
of this year’s budget. Still, Republicans hold a majority. They need reminding that the habitats and carbon sinks of
Tennessee’s rivers, fields and forests are fragile, elegant things, and that all Americans have a stake them. Time is
not on the side of our trees, rivers and our amazing variety of species. They disappear daily, and as the economy grows, they’ll
disappear faster. The time to save them is now, while land prices are low and natural treasures available.
Please take a moment to contact members of the Finance Committee,
the Governor and other legislators, including yours if you live in Tennessee, by clicking on this user-friendly page: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/. Urge them to restore the real estate transfer tax to its
original purpose: saving our lands, rivers, wildlife and parks. Even if you don’t live in Tennessee, you have a stake
in cleaner air and waters for us all, so please help NOW. It's my understanding they'll be making final decisions during the
remainder of this week and early next. PLEASE DON'T DELAY. Let them know we won’t take kindly to sacrificing our air
and water and a future for our children and fellow creatures on this planet.
OR cut to the chase, and start phoning on this list,
especially those marked by an asterisk. ( * ) These guys really, REALLY need to hear from you.)
Lieutenant Governor: *Sen. Ron Ramsey (R, Sullivan Co.) 615-741-4524
Deputy Speaker: Sen. Bill Ketron (R, Rutherford Co.) 615-741-6853
Speaker of the House: Rep. Kent Williams (Carter County Republican)
TENNESSEE SENATORS (FINANCE COMMITTEE)
Chairman: * Randy McNally (R, Anderson Co.) 615-741-6806
Vice-Chair: Douglas Henry (D, Davidson Co.) 615-741-3291
Secretary: Sen. Tim Burchett (R, Knox Co.) 615-741-1766
Diane Black (Rep. Caucus Chair) (R, Sumner Co.) 615-741-1999
Joe Haynes (D, Davidson Co.) 615-741-6679
Roy Herron (Dem. Caucus Chairman, D, Weakley Co.) 615-741-4576
Jim Kyle (Dem. Senate Leader, D, Shelby Co.) 615-741-4167
*Mark Norris (Rep. Party Leader, R, Shelby Co.) 615-741-1967
She prefers to be called Mama, an echo from younger
days with her five children, so that's what I'll call her here, now and again. She once told me after reading a column I'd
written for Mother's Day, that I never have to buy her another gift. I'm tempted to take her up on it. Does that make such
articles as this a conflict of interest? Shhh, don't tell anyone.
Mostly, such columns are about her gifts to me—appreciation
for nature, music, literature, her bubbling awe for all creation--and this one is no exception. So gather round the hearth
while I tell a story—rather, paint a picture--intended to warm the heart.
It was Saturday, Feb. 18, and I was glad to be
driving into Knoxville for a group reading at Carpe Librum bookstore. Often on such outings, I'll swing by Mama's house, about ten
miles away, and take her with me, a chance to catch up and give her a glimpse into different aspects of her middle child's
life. I'd intended to do just that on Feb. 18, but time has a way of contracting in unexpected ways. So, running behind schedule,
I drove in alone that morning.
The ride was snow-spangled and beautiful, and the
reading left me buoyant. Several friends and acquaintances were at the bookstore, and I made the most of my morning. For one
who works out of his home, it felt good to be out. One thing troubled me, though. I hadn't been around to check on my mother
in a while. So, as I started my car in the parking lot of a restaurant where I'd stopped for coffee, I decided to swing by
her place and look in on my way home. By the time I got to her house I was feeling sheepish. I pictured her sitting in a dusky
room, alone and neglected, as I got out of my car and walked to her front door.
The porch leads past her kitchen window and some
flicker of motion from the corner of my eye as I passed made me stop and peer into the familiar room, paneled in cedar.
My worries evaporated along with any stray traces
of guilt, for there, framed in the window like characters come to life in a storybook illustration, Mama turned round and
round with two happy friends. I see them as clearly now as I did three months ago: A little blonde neighbor, maybe six years
old, with smiling elfin face, her slender form draped in a flowing dress. A black curly-haired dog with long bangs and
a snub nose. And my beautiful, white-haired mother dressed in slippers, slacks and shirt. Her face alive, wide eyes and mouth
laughing, feet dancing nimbly, turning her round and round. Her fingers were snapping and snapping to keep that dog, Oreo—fur
and muscle and tongue and skittering feet--jumping and turning mid-air. He barely touched down before leaping vertically,
bosom high to Mama, as he danced in response to snapping fingers of two good friends. Oblivious to the years and other superficial
differences, youthful hearts made these three dance as one in this moment. And in this moment, I was absolved.
I just stood there on the porch and watched. A
Strauss waltz played in the background from a 33 rpm vinyl disk atop a music box disguised as an old-fashioned tabletop radio.
Some combination of my four siblings had bought that for Mama, maybe on her last birthday.
Standing there I basked in the moment, letting
the picture gather and paint itself in my heart and mind. Oh the joy of their dance. Maybe five minutes I watched without
interruption, before going inside where they greeted me with chatter and laughter before resuming a game of Chinese checkers.
Well, the two actual human beings involved did. Then we had lunch from whatever Mama had on hand. It was delicious.
Tim and Amy, I'm happy to report the Shih Tzu you
bought Mama was an inspired choice, despite that funny sounding name. She's dotty for that dog. You should hear her carry
on. Well, I'm sure you often do.
Rebecca, Kathleen, Rodney, the old-timey looking
music box works great.
Lord or Mother Nature, nice job on the joy for
life you planted in Mama's heart.
She's passed along more of it than she even knows.
* A slightly different version
of this column first appeared in the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved 05/12/2006.)
** At 79, Mama still gets around. We took a
mile-long walk along a riverside arboretum, on Friday.
That’s the elephant in the living room I mostly ignored in a podcast
recently (available at http://www.newvoices.info/audio/mm/ed144.wma) regarding President Obama’s speech of April 15, in which he sketched
the future of American space travel. I like Obama, but I don't like this idea.
It would be one thing if Obama were postponing a return to the moon in order
to save money. But that's not his reasoning. He made it a point to inform anxious NASA workers that he plans to increase
NASA spending by $6 billion over the next five years.
It’s astounding that Obama intends to pull the plug so nonchalantly
on President George W. Bush's plans to return us to the moon by about 2020. I'm no Bush fan, far from it, but his
plans for space travel were visionary. They were based on designing a program reminiscent of Apollo, something I'd advocated
in several columns starting a couple of decades ago. After all, Apollo gave us prototypes for damn near all the
tools a spacefaring nation needs to explore the entire solar system. A heavy launch vehicle, a lunar module, lunar car, rocket
stages that were converted into a space station, in the old Skylab program. Such spacecraft could've been used
nearly anywhere in the solar system, given modifications. Instead, we traded all that away some 40 years ago in favor of the
space shuttle, which, let's face it, is a turkey. We spent hundreds of billions the past 40 years, plus more than a dozen
astronauts' lives, and we never got past low earth orbit.
Bush's program would have remedied that, with heavy launch rockets, new moon
ships, and a long range plan to go to Mars and beyond. In scuttling the notion of returning us to the moon, Obama uttered
only 16 words of explanation: "We’ve been there before. Buzz has been there. There’s a lot more of space to explore."
Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong are split on this. Aldrin advocates for Mars, but I'm with Armstrong. We should return
to the moon, and use what we find and learn there to get to Mars.
Obama said he’d launch astronauts to visit asteroids and then set our
sites on Mars, predicting an orbit of the red planet by the mid 2030s. But Obama’s remarks don’t cohere. He owes
us his reasoning. Been there, done that…. just isn’t enough given all the spending Obama's planning,
because there are lots of good reasons intelligent folks have articulated over the years for establishing outposts on the
As I and more imposing minds—Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Carl
Sagan and Stephen Hawking among them--have argued….
First, the moon is a natural space station. True, it’s about 100 times
farther away than space shuttles have flown on their many make-work missions. But, at about 250,000 miles distant, the moon’s
200 times closer to us than Mars, on average, which is some 50 million miles away, depending on the year. It took
Apollo astronauts about three days to reach the moon from Earth orbit. It would take many months for astronauts to reach Mars.
So, getting to the moon is relatively easy. Launching and servicing deep space missions from there would save lofting lots
of materials from Earth’s deep gravity well and through our dense atmosphere.
Second, NASA recently discovered many cubic meters of water in the form of
ice, on the moon, something that should simplify efforts to build a future base or colony there, make rocket fuel and
much else. As for polluting the moon, there's no life there to pollute. No free-flowing water, no air.
Third, the moon is the size of North and South America combined. It contains
many materials that could one day be used to build space vehicles at a savings of trillions. What else it holds
we don’t know.
Fourth, it could help make us energy independent. That’s because the
moon is covered in a substance called Helium 3, which, it turns out, could be a perfect sort of fuel for future fusion reactors—the
only kind of reactors I’d ever support, because they produce no radioactive byproducts to speak of. True, fusion technology
has a long ways to go before it becomes practical, but why put such a natural fuel out of reach?
Fifth, returning us to the moon would render us competitive with China, the
European Union, Japan and others who plan to go there.
Sixth, it’s in keeping with an American tradition to explore the moon.
We planted a flag there more than 40 years ago. It’s become part of our history.
Seventh, going back could energize privately funded efforts to encourage the
human race’s expansion into space. Hawking and many others have noted that remaining on Earth forever is a death sentence
for the human race. Sooner or later a meteor will strike, or nukes will fire off, the sun will evolve, and humanity perish.
At this point, arguments spin toward deep philosophical outposts, and
Obama owes us a mental trip there. Had he based his decision not to return us to Luna on deep philosophical thinking, I’d
have been impressed.
He might’ve made the case that he’s restoring the old June croon
spoon moon to the realm of folklore, magic and literature, and that the human race can’t risk despoiling such a
wondrous thing as the moon, as we’ve despoiled so much of the earth. I might not agree, but it’s an argument I
Or he might’ve suggested technology will leap-frog any benefits a way-station
on the moon might provide. Maybe technology will render a moon base irrelevant. I'm willing to be convinced of this as well.
He could've made the case that we're better off leaving the moon to private
enterprise. Obama did state that "in order to reach the space station, we will work with a growing array of private companies
competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable." If he meant to imply that we’d also rely on private
enterprise to return us to the moon, a quarter-millioin miles more distant than the space station, he should’ve said
so. Demonstrably, the moon's a big subject, and a relatively big piece of the local cosmos. It can't be so easily dismissed
as Obama attempted on April 15. Stay tuned. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
First, I urge you to support healthcare reform by contacting
your U.S. Representative (visit
www.house.gov/.) Send letters, faxes and phone now. Not because the healthcare reform bill is a great
bill, but lest we become....
A Nation of Wolves and Sheep by Don Williams
We are becoming a nation of wolves and sheep. A nation, moreover,
in which the shepherds routinely set the wolves on the sheep. You see it in every walk of life.
Doctors who charge outrageous fees for many procedures patients
don’t even need.
Insurance companies that lavish billions on CEOs and board members
at the expense of the ailing and dying.
Pharmaceutical companies who get sweetheart deals from lawmakers,
so they charge fellow Americans more than, say, Canadians.
But it’s not just in the healthcare industry.
Despite reform banks are allowed to raise rates well into the
30 percent range for credit cards, and trick customers into paying all sorts of outrageous fees.
Coal peddlers are allowed to blow the tops off green mountains
and dump the slag into the nearest stream.
Arms dealers sell Americans on the fatuous idea that a nation
with enough guns to arm every man, woman and child will be made safer by allowing guns into parks and bars. Meanwhile, a river
of guns flow South to Mexico.
Weapons sellers and politicians boost defense spending year
after year (to about $750 billion this year, half the world’s total), ensuring there’ll always be a lobby for
As I say, we are become sheep led bleating from our homes to
grim streets, indignity and, yes, even slaughter.
Might I suggest it’s way time we the sheep grew fangs.
Might I suggest we start by supporting the healthcare reform
Though it seems a modest plan to those who’ve taken the
time to study systems of more progressive nations, don’t kid yourself.
If this bill fails, the Obama presidency is all but lost as
a tool for meaningful change, and Democrats will face a drubbing come November.
On the other hand, this could be the start of something big.
People acquainted with the concept of Tipping Points know that
sometimes just one show of gumption is enough to turn the tide of history.
I wish this healthcare bill were a Cadillac limousine instead
of a used Chevy. It’s not a great bill. It’ll leave the insurance company in charge of healthcare by and large.
Still, my advice to people who support a brighter future for
our country is to support this bill. It places limits on abuse.
And if Democrats find themselves possessed of the gonads to
pass healthcare reform, who knows, they might next find the courage to put an end to outrageous usury. They might find ways
to fund higher education in ways that don’t ruin families. They might find ways of keeping more people in their homes.
Of fighting greenhouse gases. Ending mountaintop removal and building down defense spending.
So much depends on healthcare reform.
Every day momentum grows toward passage. Dennis Kucinich and
others are lining up, and you should too, if you believe in equitable healthcare. Phone, email and fax your representatives,
your senators, your cousin Myrtle and Uncle Darryl who suddenly have ceased to bring up those death panels. Maybe they’ve
come to realize death panels have been convening for decades. They’re composed of insurance executives and actuarial
analysts who routinely drive the last nails into tens of thousands of coffins annually through tactics that should’ve
long since become scandalous.
You know what I mean. By sandbagging just claims, by citing
pre-existing condition, by trapping people into providing false information on deliberately confusing registration forms.
I know people who shy away from going to doctors from fear of getting diagnosed with a condition that will disqualify them
from future coverage.
Somewhere along the lines, the majority of Americans forgot
how to be scandalized.
It’s time we the sheep grew fangs and struck back against
the wolves running our country into the ground.
My Country Within-A-Country by
So, whattaya know, at least one organized entity exists who
thinks I might've had a point with all those ornery columns I wrote the past 10 years on behalf of peace and clean energy.
As you read this, I’m still celebrating an award I received
on Saturday from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. OREPA, as it’s known, is dedicated to the challenge of
stopping nuclear proliferation, preserving the environment and making the world a safer place for us and our descendants.
You don't know what it means to have people I hold in such high esteem acknowledge that my columns might've got a thing or
three right the past decade. This is an award I'll treasure.
I used to win lots of awards, if you'll pardon the immodesty.
That was before I woke up one day and realized I had a decision to make. It was after my wife and I went to a soccer game
and saw a headline in USA Today detailing how this country planned to visit Shock & Awe on Iraq. When I showed the paper
to other soccer moms and dads sitting there, I realized they weren’t much bothered. Later I learned that about 85 percent
of Americans favored the invasion, and so after I took the time to Google Iraq, it took me about 15 minutes to realize what
a lousy idea it was to blow the lid off the place. And so I thought, I am not going to wave the flag for such a bad and inhumane
idea. But what would I do?
I tell people in my writing class when faced with writers block
just write down the truest thing you know. And so what I wrote was that the war in Iraq, like a lot of wars, would be based
on a big lie. I got a few clues that I might be in trouble when the Knoxville News-Sentinel, where my column ran for 22 years,
came out and endorsed the invasion, and later re-endorsed Bush-Cheney for re-selection.
The great historian Howard Zinn, who wrote A People's History
of the United States, and who died Jan. 27, once said that the only reason governments get away with doing such mean and stupid
things is because people are so often so obedient. If reporters stop reprinting government propaganda and good men and women
in Lions' Clubs and Rotary Clubs and high schools stop spouting jingoistic slogans, and stop buying products that pay the
BIG LIARS at Fox News and elsewhere, they can't prevail.
And that's what I tried to do. I reflected on what the great
philosopher Immanual Kant famously advised--that we should live by that rule we’d have to be a universal principle of
conduct. I thought, OK, if every journalist just tells the truth, we'll stop this war. I knew it was a long shot, but I was
determined not to be the weak link.
Eventually I pulled my column from the News-Sentinel rather
than obey editors who repeatedly directed me to stop writing about national issues. And what a hullabaloo was ignited. Letters
and emails and phone calls flowed in every direction.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss being one of
those little gray faces in the newspaper. I grew up reading James Reston and Bert Vincent and Mike Royko and Wilma Dykeman
and Carson Brewer. Being a columnist was a dream come true.
But I don't miss the lies and innuendos about me that regularly
ran on the Sunday morning letters to the editor page, and I don’t miss thinly veiled death threats that ran on the News-Sentinel
website, and I don’t miss the radio campaign an obscure talking head named George Korda mounted against me in a transparent
effort to hijack my fame and infamy to his own advantage.
For a while I felt like an outsider in my own hometown,
my own country. Like a lot of you, there were times when I didn't recognize my country anymore, and more than once when I've
heard somebody say America, love it or leave it, I considered leaving. Especially following the shootings at the Tennessee
Valley Unitarian Church, where I teach my creative writing class and where two people were murdered—and several injured—for the crime of being liberals. I've Googled around, and there are times that Costa Rica or Denmark or Sweden
looked pretty good to me.
But the hullabaloo involved in quitting my News-Sentinel column
taught me one thing I’ve cherished. It taught me just who my country is. I'll never forget coming home the first Friday
my column didn't run to discover my good friend Will Rickenbach sitting on my front steps with a hand extended. He didn’t
have to say a word, we’ve been friends a long time. Or the delegation composed of seven gracious church ladies who came
up to me after a Father Rob sermon and said how much they appreciated me. Or the surprise of discovering every chair filled
for my creative writing class at Tennessee Valley Unitarian a couple weeks later. Or the outpouring of letters and emails
from all over Tennessee, the United States and other countries.
Sometime along in there I realized I do belong. And that's because
I live in a country within a country. It's made up of neighbors on Panther Creek and Indian Gap roads. It's includes good
folks at Tennessee Valley Unitarian and at St. Joseph’s Episcopal, in Sevierville, who've kept a Peace Fellowship going
for over a decade.
And it's Father Rob and Russ and Rick and Carol Brown and my
friends Will and Nancy and Liz and Steve and Jim and Louise and the folks from my writing classes--Lucy and Lansing and MaryAnn
and Donna and Bob and Tommy and Doug and Rebekah and David and Sarah. And its my beautiful sisters, Rebecca and Kathleen,
who were there Saturday, taking a break from slaying dragons in and around Nashville on behalf of healthcare reform and Kathleen's
FOREVER GREEN TENNESSEE campaign, and yes, my thick-headed brothers and other relations. And it includes my sweet mother.
How many times in my life have I heard her call out in unexpected moments, often so full of passion that it was nearly scary.
OH DAH-ny! I'd hear her say. Come see! Just look at this beautiful sunset. Oh come see, come see!
And it includes my dear children, Alexis, and Travis and Justin,
so full of light and wonder and generosity of spirit. Most importantly it includes my wife, Jeanne, whose deeds in defense
of the downtrodden or at-risk or abused children--the time she's stood up in the face of angry cops or street thugs or government
officials to defend those deserving of justice or human compassion--are becoming legend.
More pertinent to Saturday night’s proceedings, my America
is the one that includes all the good folks in OREPA and elsewhere who have the courage to stand up and disobey. To cross
a line, to loft a giant or puppet or unfurl a banner, to post an all-too-true photograph, or simply to say to a friend spouting
some mean-spirited idiocy uttered by Limbaugh, "Honey you be drinkin' the wrong kinda tea…."
We all have corners we can light up, some just happen to be
a little bigger than others. So let me finish by saying, you’ll never know what it means to count you, faithful reader,
as part of my community, my country. And if our beautiful blue-green Earth survives the 21st Century it will be because of
You and You and You and people like you everywhere. There are millions of us in America, and that's MY country.
God bless you, and God bless our Good Green Mother Earth. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Mysterious friend calls Obama out by Don Williams
My flamboyant friend came running fast round the bend in tie-dyed
t-shirt, yellow shorts and red shoes. He jogged up on my front porch and started pacing as he pulled a little plastic bag
from his shorts, drew out a roll-your-own and pack of paper matches, then lit up. If there was a human being more conflicted
than I, here he stood.
So what do you make of it? he gasped amid clouds of smoke.
Year One. Obama's been president a solid year and I'm wondering
what you think?
"I'm of two minds."
Duh. That's why I'm here. To help you sort it out.
"You read my columns. I'm a guarded supporter. Cautiously optimistic."
Kind of like the orchestra on the Titanic? Serenading us all
with that rot about how Obama's doing the best he can. Look at the hand he was dealt. We could all be standing in bread lines
by now. How sending 30,000 troops into Afghanistan is his way of getting out dontcha know? How he'll shut down Guantanimo
eventually and that any healthcare reform's better than no reform. Just be patient, we've a framework in place for halting
global warming one of these days... Yada yada yada.
He emitted smoke rings with his words.
"Are you copping an attitude?"
My, how perceptive we are. Tell me one thing, Oh Scribe. How
much longer will your sort of rot wash? We're in Year Two, and if you ask me, Obama's morphing into a Bush-Cheney third term.
"So what would you suggest he do?"
I'd urge him to fight every battle for righteousness' sake.
Hey, I was raised Southern Baptist, believe it or not. I lay
things out in black and white when I get excited. Obama shoulda been the righteous one and gave 'em hell.
For starters, he should've leveled with the American public
and told us some cold, hard truths.
Number One, that he was turning away from his predecessors in
a very clear way, because they were war criminals and science deniers in the service of Big Oil, the arms merchants and the
military industrial complex. He should've acknowledged that our invasion, occupation and bombing of Iraq was based on a pack
of lies. He should've told the truth about Curveball, Chalabi and al-Libi, just to name three of the criminals our secret
forces either bribed or tortured into telling most of the lies Dick Cheney used to make a phony case for war. You know, all
that crap about how Saddam was giving nukes to terrorists and training them in anthrax and so on that made it into all those
speeches in 2002 and 2003. And he shoulda told us that 9/11 was in part blowback for failed policies in Afghanistan going
back a quarter century. Obama should not have swept that stuff under a rug.
"I'm listening," I said as my friend hot-boxed his smoke so
that glowed fiercely. It was clear he was only warming up.
He should've apologized to the world for America's role in the
deaths of maybe a million Iraqis, the displacement of 5 million others, the emotional and psychic trauma of 14 million more,
and he should've appointed a special prosecutor to hold anyone accountable who knowingly propagated a phony whatsit, you know,
casus belli, for starting the war or engaging in torture, and if it led to George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, so be it. He coulda
started that ball rolling Week One. Don't you hear what I'm sayin'? Obama shoulda been the one who set things right.
"Get real. We would've had rioting in the streets."
Yeah? Instead we had rioting in town halls.
"OK, keep on."
He should've announced we're not bailing out any more banks
or Wall Street firms and car companies, rather that he was earmarking a trillion dollars to subsidize upside-down mortgages
that would keep worthy people in their homes and refinance banks honestly, from the bottom up, then build a green-friendly
energy grid that would employ a million people and break our addiction to oil. He could've announced that Week Two.
"And Week Three?"
Lay out the truth about the great American healthcare rip-off.
Put doctors, pharmaceutical companies and insurance firms on notice that he's appointing a panel of actual scientists and
doctors to thoroughly assess the healthcare systems of the planet's 50 leading democracies and we're going to pick the three
that work best to model ours on, so your Sister Rebecca and my Uncle Frank get the dignified healthcare they deserve.
"Ok, I get your drift."
No, I'm just getting started. I'd have him use his executive
authority or whatever arm-twisting pertained in Congress to halt mountaintop removal, depleted uranium, outrageous usury,
shut down any plans to build new nukes, and aggressively prosecute anyone in violation of the Clean Air Act.
"And if the economy tanked and Obama went down?"
At least we'd know he stood up.
At last, we've entered the New Millennium... sort of
by Don Williams
As the curtain falls on "a low, dishonest decade," in the words of W.H. Auden,
things are looking up.
Just maybe we've entered the spirit of a new millennium so many yearned for
prior to 2001, the year progressives like me wrung our hands as the wheels of civilization began rolling backward into an
era of needless war, greed and environmental decline.
On good days, it seems those days are ending. The train of progress is building
up steam again. There's a hopeful litany to point to.
Start with the cultural. Avatar, the flashiest and most popular new film in
years proffers a message born of a Whole Earth mentality. James Cameron is a product of the first generation to see photographic
images of the Whole Earth while we were still dewy-eyed and impressionable. He's of the generation that venerated multiple
points of view, empathy, raised-consciousness, the global perspective, and it shows in this work.
Cameron's is a green world view, an anti-colonialist vision, a voice for tolerance
and understanding, intelligence and imagination. Such movies as this serve as indicators and teachers of a new generation
who mostly want nothing to do with torture, discrimination, wars for oil, global warming, economic exploitation, mindless
violence and other vestiges of the dysfunctional 20th century.
Then there's the political. At last we have another president of intelligence
and good intentions, bolstered by a majority in Congress. Yes, there's plenty of reasons for disappointment among progressives,
but Obama got much more right in Year One than any president in a long time. Name one president since Roosevelt who's been
dealt a worse hand. Some would argue Obama should've rolled the dice, found a way to throw Bush-Cheney in the brig for war
crimes, brought down Wall Street and the insurance companies, distributed money to the masses and immediately withdrawn from
Iraq and Afghanistan. There's a word for those who advocate such unilateral acts. They're called radicals.
Likely as not, such actions would've ended in a new Great Depression and an
old-fashioned bloodbath a forces from the right and left clashed. You and I might well be standing in bread lines. Thanks
anyway. Radicals rail for revolution.
Progressives embrace progress. It's demonstrable that Obama has made some.
Grant him an empathy implicit in acknowledging that he's navigating perilous waters. One wrong move and catastrophe pertains
on any number of fronts. He's being cautious in the political capital he spends, because there are not shortages of problems
on which he might fritter it away. Yes, he's flawed, but I say give him another year before judging too harshly, bearing in
mind the old notion that The Perfect is often the enemy of The Good. Thirty-five million more Americans might have healthcare
under Obama than under Bush. That's progress, and it's something to build on. There'll be other initiatives to expand and
fine-tune healthcare, to put limits on untenable charges that show up on our hospital bills.
On the environmental front, things appear to move slowly, but really we're
on the front end of a Green Revolution. Again, there's plenty of room for improvement, but progress has been made. It took
Bush years to even acknowledge the human impact on global climate. Over and over he downplayed what scientists from NASA and
many others revealed about our world. Obama has made energy and climate central to his administration. Yes, Cap and Trade
is flawed. Yes, a carbon tax is needed. Yes, we could do more to open and expand the grid to embrace new technologies, the
massive wind resources of the northeast, the amazing solar capacity of the southwest, and advances in bio-fuels technologies
that could render them independent of corn and other food-sources linked to petroleum-based fertilizers.
Still, we should acknowledge that scientists are freer to speak their minds,
action is being taken, energy companies are being forced to install scrubbers, mountaintop removal has been curtailed if not
halted, and other nations are being encouraged to get on board the Green express. Many are actually leading us in green technologies.
This movement will only move forward, a far cry from just one year ago, when Drill Baby Drill was the war cry of the right.
The right notwithstanding, it's a more pluralistic society. Not only do we
have a man of color as president, we have an attorney-general of color, yet another woman at State, a female Hispanic on the
Supreme Court, and progress for gays in states like Iowa. It's a different world from the one in which I grew up hearing racist
Despite such gains, the rosy scenario painted above disguises darker tones.
Come see how we whirled and fussed and loved our way
through time, lost in the largeness and largesse of magic, my brothers and sisters and I. Time was invisible and so slow it
hardly passed at all. It was something you ran round in without fear of disturbing. How could you disturb the invisible, except
And what's not to believe, after all? Mama and Daddy
were there---sipping coffee, opening mail, donning fancy clothes, preening before mirrors filled with dark-haired vanity,
vitality. Comings and goings, laughter and tears, food and chores, music and fun filled our days and evenings in a world solid
and unchanging in the larger scheme.
Christmas was a singularity—a self-contained world of myth and magic that grew as the season advanced toward a rumor only time could confirm. Christmas
Past existed as an ever-receding legend. How could this promised future Christmas live up to such wonder? Scampering out among
the hills and gullies, seeking the perfect tree for Daddy to chop down with his long axe helped hasten that most magical night.
Still, would it never get here? What if we'd been too
bad for Santa Claus to leave presents? But no, there never was a time when one of us had been so bad that Santa didn't come
to our house. My big brother Rodney, who must've been 11, and my older sister, Becky, who was 7, confirmed this for Tim and
me. Kathleen was not yet in the world. This was before so many inconceivable people and things were in the world. But Santa,
yes Santa would surely come, landing atop our peaked roof. We didn't have a chimney then, but he would find his way inside.
But when, Mama, and how? Soon enough, darlings, he's
At times you could enter such magic--moments late at
night when the cedar tree exuded spells and spirits in its twinkling. Other times magic feelings arrived like belly laughs,
in roars of raucous abandon.
I must've been about five the year Daddy brought home
the recording of Gene Autry's Christmas songs. The album cover showed a cowboy with a white hat standing above Santa and a
bag full of presents that filled a sleigh to overflowing. Reindeer flew as if lofted on music between Gene's fancy boots,
where he stood on air, and they flew right toward us, almost out into the room, where we stood holding the album cover, so
that Rudolph was out front, up close.
Maybe you recall that most famous reindeer
of all. Like us, he was small and misunderstood and yet he smiled with pride for a bulbous red nose that could light a path
all the way around the world in one night. Surely Rudolph was the cleverest, the handsomest reindeer, if the truth be known.
Gene Autry—a cowboy we knew well from TV reruns—would croon "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
in a voice too smooth to believe. And yet—at ages seven, five and three, respectively, oh how Becky,
plump and happy, and I, dark and reserved, and Tim, red-haired and feisty, believed.
We would debate the nature of Santa's toy-bag. Was it
like a spring, ever refreshed from inside? What if it fell off that flying sled and landed in our yard? Would thousands of
presents flow from that bag on Christmas morning, covering our yard and house? How did Santa visit so many houses? There must
be hundreds in Tennessee alone? Maybe even more where Daddy worked, in Knoxville. And what about America? Which was bigger,
Knoxville or America or Tennessee? And these were not the only places! There was Africa, where Tarzan lived, and Briceville,
where Grandma and Grandpa lived, and there was Sparta, where Granny lived with Aunts Linda and Lila and Uncle Sonny. And there
was Dodge City and Virginia City and Texas and California, where cowboys rode horses, and there was the moon and Mars, where
The world was much larger then. There was
no end to places Santa must visit, but visit them he would with Rudolph's help and elves. And I remember Mama dressed us up
like elves and Daddy put that record about Rudolph on for us and we ran hand in hand, round the room, counter clockwise across
the floor, up and bouncing across one twin bed, skipping back to the floor, over the other twin bed, back to the floor, falling,
twirling, jumping, dancing round and round until the world spun like that 33 rpm record in the blue Victrola in this eternal
Christmastime universe--twirling in breathless bliss—three siblings hand in hand, going round and
round to revel in true magic—working ourselves up, flushed and sweating, laughing and dreaming out
loud, intoxicated on Christmastime.
Believe me when I tell you that in some
other blink in time's majesty—come see--we're twirling still. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I can’t go along just because it’s
Obama’s war by Don Williams
Neither you nor I nor Barack Obama know enough about the world to
say whether his decision to send 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan at a cost of billions and untold casualties makes
It’s a huge gamble in a series of gambles now defining Obama’s
place in history. I’d suggest he’s thought through this move, but even he can’t know the outcome.
I’d also suggest that if Osama bin Laden’s still alive,
he must be laughing. He’s damn near bankrupted us. We sure could’ve used the trillion dollars spent on unnecessary
armaments, war and nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet, instead of cutting back, Obama’s upping the ante.
Eight years after the U.S. began bombing and occupying
Afghanistan to little good effect, Obama’s plan suggests and demonstrates the folly of ever allowing President Bush
to lead us into two wars in his inimitable style—demonizing opposition at home while bombing, invading,
and occupying abroad… and leaving the mess for someone else to sort out.
That would be Obama, and he’s got a lot of sorting to do. The
mess he’s inherited surely is vindication for those of us who opposed these Bush wars from the beginning.
It’s hard to imagine how things could’ve gone much worse.
In Iraq, we weakened one of the main barriers separating Israel from
its enemy, Iran, by bringing down Iran’s hated Sunni foes in Iraq and putting Iran’s Shiite brethren in charge
there. As Washington Post reporter and author, Thomas Ricks, said recently on C-Span, no country has benefited more from our
invasion and occupation of Iraq, than Iran has.
In Afghanistan, it’s even worse. By bombing and invading we
drove al-Qaeda and much of the Taliban into Pakistan, dramatically destabilizing that nuclear-armed nation.
It’s hard to see how a surge in Afghanistan will repair that.
More likely it’ll inflame anti-American passions throughout the Muslim world, especially among the Sunni majority.
Ricks and others report that fewer than 100 al-Qaeda even exist in
Afghanistan right now. That’s one for every 1,000 American troops under Obama’s plan. Every 2,000 if you count
the paid contractors and other shadowy groups there, such as Blackwater. Add to that the involvement of shadowy Pakistani,
Saudi, Yemeni and other forces, and the only thing clear is that you and I see through a glass darkly when it comes to Obama’s
Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh has reported steadfastly in
the New Yorker that U.S. and Northern Alliance Afghani forces not only drove the scariest al-Qaeda and Taliban elements into
Pakistan years ago, but that secret U.S. and Pakistani elements actually cleared the path and escorted many of them from Tora
Bora into Pakistan, possibly including bin Laden.
Manifestly, there’s much that you and I don’t know about
motives and bedfellows, both here and abroad. Whatever myriad wellsprings have been feeding them, both our wars are proving
to have been catastrophic mistakes. A precise and efficient seek and arrest-or-destroy strategy, paved with U.S. cash and
world sympathy following 9/11 would’ve been far preferable.
I’ll not go into the torture, lies, corruption, broken treaties,
lowered prestige, economic ruin, wasted resources and worse that the previous administration dragged our country through in
its War on Terror. The results are everywhere visible in broken lives and unnecessary violence here and abroad, especially
in Iraq and Afghanistan, where millions of casualties and displaced families haunt the hearts and minds of thinking people,
compassionate people, on this planet.
In fairness to Bush, one could say our first mistake was to embark
on a strategy of "giving Russia its Vietnam" in the words of foreign policy authority, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who used to brag
about his role in "luring Russia into Afghanistan" over 30 years ago under President Carter. I think it proved to be a big
mistake to help arm anti-Soviet forces there under Reagan and Bush the Daddy, and to turn our heads while our so-called ally,
Pakistan, developed nuclear weapons and sold such technology around the globe.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, admitting blowback
from such long ago strategies, has suggested our real failure came later, when we abandoned Afghanistan at the end of the
Cold War—X’d it out of our budget--and allowed the Taliban to rise there.
At this remove, our whole history in Afghanistan seems arrogant, unnecessary
and cruel, serving only to keep the cycle of violence turning, weapons expenditures up, and a variety of business interests
fed. We can’t turn back time, however, and I only mention these things to bring context.
There were NO Afghanis among the hijackers of those 9/11 airplanes.
They were mostly Saudi Arabians. The Taliban no more attacked us on 9/11 by "allowing" al Qaeda elements to set up camp in
Afghanistan than we attacked ourselves by "allowing" hijackers to train in US flight schools.
Here’s still more.
Bin Laden stated he opposed us to begin with because "infidels" trod
holy ground. He long ago boasted his life’s mission was to rid his homeland of Saudi Arabia of American troops. In that,
he succeeded, when we withdrew from there several years ago. There’s little doubt he hoped we’d react to 9/11
in some way that would inflame the Arab world and cost us dearly in money and blood. Given our history of shortsighted over-reactions,
I’d say we’ve hurt ourselves far worse than he ever could.
So, given that the war in Afghanistan has been a dismal failure to
date. Given the near-absence of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the reality of its presence in Pakistan. Given that al-Qaeda’s
grown in dozens of other countries and all over the Internet. Given that our presence in the Muslim world inflames more opposition,
what could Obama be thinking by sending 30,000 more troops and adding an 18-month timeline for even beginning to leave?
I don’t know anyone smart enough to answer that question, including
As one of his most ardent supporters just one year ago, I hate to
admit it, but I think his extension of this war into yet another decade will prove to be a terrible mistake.
Had Bush proposed it, I would’ve opposed it.
I won’t go along because it’s Obama’s plan.
It just feels wrong.
To support continuation of this column with a modest
donation, please visit...
Say No to a New Nuclear Bomb Plant by Don Williams
If you love our world, drop everything for ten minutes and visit
www.Y12SWEIS.com. Leave a comment there telling the US government
to get behind a vision embraced by unlikely bedfellows Barack Obama, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, the late Ronald Reagan, Jimmie
Carter and others who have envisioned a nuclear-weapons-free future. Specifically, ask our politicos and bureaucrats to drop
plans to build a ruinous new weapons complex in Oak Ridge, TN.
Building such a plant could turn out to be the worst decision
our country ever made, unleashing a new upward spiral in the arms race on an already dangerous world.
For readers within driving distance of Oak Ridge, I ask
you to get out to one of two public meetings and, in your own words, tell them we don't want more nuclear bombs—we have thousands already--especially
at a time when we're trying to convince Iran and others not to build them.
In case you missed it—and I’ve seen little about this in the media--the
National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will build a new, $3.5 billion bomb plant in Oak Ridge unless we stop them.
NNSA published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register several years ago to build such a plant, and Congress has budgeted
Although the program is being sold as a way of shrinking
the nuclear footprint in this country—consolidating and streamlining much of the nuclear weapons stockpile--the plant would create scores of new nuclear
weapons per year, ensuring their viability into the 22nd century! by concocting new thermonuclear devices from a variety of
materials. Further, it would have the capacity to create new kinds of nukes in keeping with the pea-brained visions of Cheney/Bush.
In order to move forward, the NNSA is required by law to take
comments from the public as they prepare their final Evironmental Impact Statement. The first hearing is 6:30 to 9 p.m. tonight
(Tuesday, Nov. 17) at the New Hope Center in Oak Ridge, TN, with a repeat performance 10 to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 18.
Other Ways To Comment:
As mentioned above, comments from across the country can also
be submitted on-line at
www.y12sweis.com, by fax to 865-483-2012, or in writing to: Pam Gorman, Y12 SWEIS Document Manager, 800 Oak Ridge Turnpike,
Suite A-500, Oak Ridge, TN, 37830.
To maximize the impact of your comments, send them also to:
President Barack Obama The White House 1600 Pennsylvania
Ave, NW Washington, DC 20500
Also send your comments to your Senators and Representatives,
and send a Letter to the Editor version to
www.knoxnews.comand to your local newspaper. Why? Letters to the editor put an issue "on the map," said Ralph Hutchison,
coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, a highly respected watchdog group. "If you mention your Senators
and Congressperson, their staff will clip it and it will land on their desk."
"The idea that the United States should invest two or
three billion dollars to build more bombs when the President has declared a firm commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons
is as preposterous as it is perilous," said Hutchison. "Who’s making policy in the United States these days? What we
need in Oak Ridge is a realistic plan to maintain our nuclear arsenal in a safe and secure manner while the stockpile is reduced
to zero. Building a new bomb plant now, under the guise of ‘modernization,’ corrupts the President’s vision
and negates all our efforts to constrain nuclear proliferation. It will place the US at the forefront of a new global nuclear
arms resurgence. That’s not modernization, it’s throwback—and it’s clearly the wrong direction for the country."
No doubt any final draft of the EIS will mention the effects
on birds and other animals, on groundwater, air, native plants and the health of nearby residents. But I wonder if it will
contain the phrase, "Could result in the destruction of the planet."
Please, resist this deal to make us all complicit in future
horrors we can't begin to predict. A few corporations will profit, a few politicians will brag about new jobs, but it's a
devil's bargain--jobs now, against the possible death of our world, as a new arms race begins in earnest.
Let's not be gullible. If we build new nukes, countries
around the world will follow our example—or the example of Iran, which has yet to violate the letter of the NPT, but is expanding its options by building a
nuclear infrastructure. Japan, Brazil, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others could follow suit, as owning nukes takes on the
glamour of status symbol and power of military might. What's amazing is the brazenness with which our government is proceeding
to break the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and how the national press yawns as, once again, we begin walking toward the
brink of nuclear annihilation.
The new bomb plant can be stopped by political power—your voice joined with thousands of others. You have a right to a future
free of nuclear weapons, and a world without nuclear weapons is possible—but only if people like you and I act now.
For information about alternatives to a new nuke factory and other background information, visit:
On Obama’s role in New Millennium
Writings by Don Williams
Consider how the striking of clocks at midnight, Dec.
31, 1999, rendered the name New Millennium Writings obsolete.
At least certain critics and even some friends of my
literary journal said so ten years ago. I never saw it that way. For the rest of our lives we’ll live in the new millennium
unless the world’s intelligentsia, aided by endlessly flashing ones and zeroes, comes up with some Forever Formula to
drastically extend our lives, surely a mixed blessing. Either way, this thousand-year cycle we entered a decade ago has barely
True, it hasn’t felt much like a new millennium.
Perhaps childishly, some of us looked to the new era as a time when humans would emerge from our planetary nursery and set
aside childish things such as war, economic hooliganism and environmental abuse. Our species would graduate to embrace the
shining chalice of our Whole Earth and drink deep her royal blue promise.
For us, the Supreme Court majority’s choice for
the new millennium’s first president, in 2000, was a buzz-kill followed by years of nightmare hangover. It was a crushing
turn of calendars, compounded by a new and virulent brand of intolerance for better-world dreamers and other political dissenters.
I paid a price for pointing to chinks in the armor of
our so-called leader and those who surrounded him. In 2007, I ended my popular, 20-year newspaper column at the Knoxville
News-Sentinel rather than see my commentary cut back to every other week, a move designed to dampen my on-going criticism
of Cheney-Bush, whom the paper twice endorsed. Others faced harsher consequences than I.
And so it was with great celebration that many of us
embraced Barack Hussein Obama. If he could begin turning the tide on global warming, usher in sane healthcare reform, build
down nukes, end mountaintop removal, America’s wars, torture and shadowy government entities, he just might deliver
us into a New Millennium worthy of the name.
That’s turning out to be a big if. As this is
written, the jury’s out, Obama’s Peace Prize notwithstanding.
Still, I make no apologies for supporting our nearly-new
president, not only in my commentary but also in the pages of New Millennium Writings. As prize-winning poet Naomi Lowinsky
writes, "There is a place in poetry where the spiritual and the political meet… I feared a slide into fascism."
Most of the writing in our annual anthology is apolitical,
and few pieces of overtly political writing have ever won our awards, except in the case of our once-only Obama Millennial
Awards. Still, some political writing pertains in our next issue, due out later this month, and I’ve been criticized
for mixing the twain. After hearing of our Obama award, which we bestowed on Lowinsky in the spring, writer Peter Lopatin
withdraw a poem we’d accepted for publication until I offered to run a note acknowledging his protest. It appears in
I made the offer for two reasons: First, I know what
it’s like to take a stand, and I can appreciate Lopatin’s grit even while disagreeing. Second, I wanted his fine
work in our anthology. In an email to the poet, I defended our Obama awards so:
"Obama’s a published poet, and quite a worthy
one," I wrote. As evidence, check out Obama’s poem, "Pop," widely available on the Net. And I continued, "Much as I
despised Bush, I wrote a column praising him as a fellow distance-runner and a worthy one, so there is a certain consistency
"I have no pictures of Obama on my walls. Still, I thought
his election was seminal, worth noting in the same way NMW recognized the dawning of a new millennium with a special Y2K Award
in 2000. That’s why we did it. For that I don’t apologize."
If NMW and I are around when humans return to the moon
or when the first woman’s elected president, you can bet we’ll acknowledge such seminal events, politics be damned.
Otherwise, we will have diminished our claim to the name, New Millennium Writings… at least as we see it.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue my advocacy journalism.
Two issues much on my mind these days are
the proposed renewal of nuclear weapons production in this country and the practice of mountaintop removal to get at the coal—two of the worst Bush legacies that Obama needs to stop. Here are links that call for citizen action:
Obama wins Nobel Prize... but can he live up to it?by Don Williams
President Obama’s selection for the Nobel Prize, announced this morning, caught many by surprise, but
can he live up to it?
Think back. Of all the presidential candidates ever to rise on the world stage, few appeared more attuned
to our highest spiritual values than Barack Hussein Obama, at least on the surface.
So many acts his first ten months in office appear to bolster that sensibility. Appointing proven peace envoys
to trouble spots. Ending misguided efforts to place missiles in Central Europe, publicly deploring, if not quite closing Guantanimo,
meeting and amiably greeting potential foes in public forums, renewing dialogues with Iran and North Korea, bolstering the
Freedom of Information Act, allowing healthcare clinics to re-open around the world, declaring that human rights of Palestinians
must be honored, that a nuke-free Korean peninsula is optimum, that findings of science must be respected, that the world
must begin eliminating nukes, acknowledging the reality of global warming and taking sane, if modest, steps to do something
about it. He pushed bills to bail out Main Street and your street.
Still, critics point out, aerial drone attacks continue in Pakistan, and the principle if not the act of sending
terror suspects to black box prisons through the practice of "special renditions" remains in place. Guantanimo isn’t
going to be shut down soon.
So… is this peace prize premature? Perhaps. But in a world whose existence has been put at risk by the
darkness inside our own hearts, Obama had better be prepared to live up to it.
False prophets led us to the abyss we find ourselves trying to crawl out of, mostly by pointing fingers at
alleged shortcomings of others as the source of all our troubles. The result was ill-advised invasions, torture, deregulation,
military budgets that grew insanely, politics of personal destruction, waste, corruption, assaults on personal liberties,
the Constitution, economic disarray, undermined treaties and a net increase in greenhouse gasses.
To acknowledge we’d lost our way under Cheney-Bush, marching off in every direction with drums pounding,
violins skirling and banners flying, is to acknowledge the need we had and still have for salvation. Civilization hangs by
a thread. One false move and we risk unimaginable destruction. Business as usual, politics as usual, will not save us. Pandering,
blaming others, drawing down dwindling resources, building fierce new weapons and marching off against imagined enemies are
luxuries we can no longer afford.
Of all the presidential candidates I'd ever witnessed, candidate Obama’s message was the most hopeful
It was about healing. Reaching out. Uniting tribes.
Accused of hatemongering by association with the Rev. Wright, he elevated the conversation. Accused of radicalism
by association with William Ayers, he turned the other cheek, refusing to make much of McCain's own radical associations.
Such signs long back prompted many, myself included, to gush: "Please, embrace this sane, rational and decent
Looking back across the landscape of his sojourn, Obama's made a history of pouring oil on troubled waters.
As teachers from Jesus to Machiavelli noted, there's wisdom in hugging opponents close by.
A dinner for his biggest opponent, John McCain, on the eve of the inauguration? Unprecdented.
A place in the administration for chief rivals Hillary, Biden and others? Outside the political norm.
Gathering both a fundamentalist minister and a gay bishop into inauguration festivities? Unheard of.
It’s undeniable that Obama’s made progress in his first nine months in office. Unnecessary new
wars, the deliberate cruelty of torture, unbridled greed, destruction of communities, prejudice against gays and immigrants,
the urge so prevalent within the human heart to scapegoat and demonize.
All these have been lessened.
And he's opposed nuclear proliferation and other forces that endanger the whole earth.
I’m aligned with those who hope and believe that because Obama’s of the Whole Earth generation
that he's attuned to this existential moment. Obama grew up with the Earth as ubiquitous icon. He grew up electronically connected
and therefore exposed to the promise of a more inter-connected world. He spent time at elite universities but also on the
streets driving broken down cars. He took a magical mystery tour as he sought to understand his own mythic family, his own
identity. Along the way, he forged a new politics.
His message of peace, hope and community springs from this journey, this seeking, this essence that is Barack
Hussein Obama. At last he can proclaim his full name. It's part of a message that recognizes the dignity of others and a world
community we must work to save, lest it fall into the abyss that yawns inside each human heart.
His challenges are legion, and the jury is out as his first year in office winds down. The Noble committee
just raised the stakes.
Obama as peacemaker? He'd better be. Else we are lost.
To all the late lamented boys and girls of summer,
come back, go away, come back... by
Of all the stories of celebrity deaths blown my way by media
none slammed body and soul like John Lennon’s passing. Not the Kennedys. Not Elvis. Not Ken Kesey, whom I knew, not
Martin Luther King, not Cronkite.
Word of Lennon’s passing struck me dumb Dec.
9, 1980, as I reported for work at Blount County Center for the Handicapped, and my boss, Annie—a 95-pound firecracker
who would be dead from cancer five years later—met me at
the door to ask if I’d heard the news?
I couldn't answer, as John Lennon’s death entered my eyes
and my ears, my heart, my belly. If I’d had a womb, I would’ve felt it there.
Cliché, yes, but a part of me died that day. The gig was up.
All gigs were up, save for the Great Gig in the Sky. The universe morphed into a dark and implacable host. Whatever fibers
remained from the Age of Aquarius twined into just one more colorful and necessary thread in the tapestry of our times. And
though we lit candles and raised them high on the waterfront that night, my youth curled up and fed itself to Grief.
Doubtlessly millions took one or another of the many public
deaths of spring and summer, 2009, in just such personal ways, and summer’s not even over. In any case, the list is
incomplete, status-based, broken on both ends. Still yet, here it is, in part…
Patrick Swayze, Steve McNair, Farah Fawcett, Ed McMahan, Koko
Taylor, David Carradine, Wayne Tisdale, Dom Deluise, Bea Arthur, Jack Kemp, Marilyn Chambers, Natasha Richardson, Michael
Jackson, Robert Novak, Socks the Cat, Eunice Shriver, Don Hewitt, Les Paul, Walter Cronkite, Robert McNamara, John Hughes,
Corazan Aquino, J. G. Ballard, Jim Caroll, Teddy Kennedy, Karl Malden, and now Henry Gibson.
It’s a litany from our flown or fleeting youth.
There’s a sweet and edgy piece of creative nonfiction
in Ken Kesey’s 1986 book, Demon Box, called "The Day After Superman Died." It’s about how Kesey—OK, his fictive persona, Deboree--learns that his old friend Neal Cassidy—OK, his fictive persona, Houlihan, has died. Bear with me, I promise to bring this round again….
Cassidy had long been a cultural touchstone. A dozen writers
based characters on him. Journalist Tom Wolfe spread his fame in that classic of new journalism, The Electric Kool-aid Acid
Test, but Kesey knew Cassidy personally. Had spent time on the road with him in the world’s first magic bus, and at
concerts, be-ins, vision quests and more. They were brothers-in-arms, so to speak. Voyagers who’d braved wine-dark roads.
So when a former flower child gone-to-seed drove up Deboree’s
Oregon driveway to deliver the news that Houlihan had been found dead along the railroad tracks linking Puerto Sancto to Manzanilla,
the news sent Deboree mind-tripping through all the deaths, public and private he’d ever known.
One thing he couldn’t get past was Houlihan’s last
words. They were: "Sixty-four-thousand-nine-hundred-and twenty-eight." Later, as he bathed his sorrow in cheap wine and weed
he’d found on the farm, Deboree learned that Houlihan’s words referred to a crazy bet he’d made. Houlihan
(Cassidy) had bet some unknown soul he could count all the railroad ties between Puerto Sancto and Manzanilla.
Deboree finds a sort of solace in that number. "He was counting
for us." His mind starts bringing back all the late great faces of his times, not so much counting as recognizing the wonder
of their existence, a way of blessing.
"The dark space about him is suddenly filled with faces, winking
off and on… LBJ with your Texas cheeks eroded by compromises come back. Khrushchev, fearless beyond peasant ignorance,
healthy beside Eisenhower, come back both of you. James Dean all picked apart and Tab Hunter all put together. Michael Rennie
in your silver suit the day the earth stood still for peace, come back all of you.
"Now go away and leave me.
"Now come back….
"Come back Vaughn Monroe, Ethel Waters, Krazy Kat, Lou Costello,
Harpo Marx, Adlai Stevenson, Ernest Hemingway, Herbert Hoover…"
Soon Kesey’s litany begins mingling faces of the dead
and yet un-dead….
"Harry Belafonte, Timothy Leary, Ron Boise, Jerry Lee Lewis,
Lee Harvey Oswald… John O’Hara and Liz Taylor, Estes Kefauver… Aldous Huxley, Edith Piaf, Joan Baez, Bob
Kaufmann, Lawrence Ferlinghetti," still alive even yet!
It’s a mournful yet hopeful dirge, this litany, bearing
scant relation to 2009, save for the fact that it’s all passing, and with it… all of us. The faces still wink
on and off….
So come back Patrick Swayze, Steve McNair, Farah Fawcett, Ed
McMahan. Come back feisty Koko Taylor, David Carradine, Wayne Tisdale, Dom Deluise, Bea Arthur, Jack Kemp. Come back Marilyn
Chambers, Natasha Richardson, Michael Jackson, Robert Novak, Socks the Cat, Eunice Shriver, Don Hewitt, Les Paul, Walter Cronkite,
Robert McNamara. Come back John Hughes, Corazan Aquino, J. G. Ballard, Jim Caroll. Come back Teddy Kennedy, Karl Malden, and
now Henry Gibson. Come back, go away, now come back.
Raise candles high. Lift them to the face of time and darkness
and whatever holiness pertains.
In the words of Kesey….
"Young Cassius Clay.
"Young Jack Kerouac…
"Young lovers wherever you are. Come back and remember and go
away and come back…." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kennedys' earthy darkness never quite
eclipsed their lunar glow by Don Williams
To look back through the Greek tragedy known as The Kennedys
is to witness players who attract stones and roses like the moon attracts craters.
Such contrasts were on display over 40 years ago, July 20, 1969,
the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
The Apollo 11 moon landing remains the most dramatic public
monument to Kennedy vision and courage. It was John, after all, who made going there a national quest and who set rockets
in motion to make it happen. All the Kennedys might've basked in the moment.
Fate had rather more artful ideas. Even as Armstrong, Aldrin
and Collins navigated their way toward the moon, a quarter-million miles distant, JFK's younger brother Edward took a short
drive toward a dark drink of water with a young woman not his wife. Mary Jo Kopechne drowned. The event robbed the moon of
Kennedy luster, and Edward of any real chance at the presidency.
Such ironies strike with TNT force, leaving scars and lines
on aging faces.
Take this one. Richard Nixon made that most famous of long-distance
phone calls to the moon, hijacking JFK's glory. It's understandable. Nixon had lost the 1960 presidential election to JFK
by perhaps the narrowest margin in history. In the pithy words of commentator William Safire, "Nixon looked down on the Kennedys
with utmost envy." In 1969, Nixon's revenge was complete, as he basked in the glow of a moon program he was even then strangling.
Lesser ironies strike obliquely.
Here's one: Lyndon Baines Johnson would have made that famous
phone call to the moon had fortune been kinder. It was Johnson, some would claim, who fathered the space program. His enabling
legislation while a senator in the 1950s, made NASA possible. Unfortunately, Johnson's thunder was silenced--his reign curtailed--by
the guns and bombs of Vietnam and a challenge from Robert Kennedy, another name redolent of tragedy. So it was Nixon's call.
Safire, a Nixon speechwriter in 1969, prepared a somber message
for his boss to deliver in case things went tragic for Apollo. This speech would have made special mention of widows of astronauts
who might have died on the moon. Instead, the moon ship JFK famously uttered into existence traveled millions of miles with
scarcely a hitch. Rather, it was Teddy's midnight ramble of a few miles that turned to tragedy--a tragedy etched into lines
of his aging face. Few ironies have been greater than those surrounding the moon landings and Kennedy tragedy, for they magnify
all the others.
Ten years ago, during the thirtieth anniversary of that first
trip to the moon--even as JFK's name was again being hailed for sending us there--another Kennedy landed in a dark drink of
water. John Kennedy, Jr., who saluted his father's casket so memorably--courageously it seemed--and who was heir apparent
to the Kennedy legacy, robbed the world of his own potential by flying a high-performance aircraft into the sea. He was an
heir indeed. To heartbreak and death. After a respectful hiatus, during which the Kennedys tastefully buried their own at
sea--a debate was joined. Was John Jr.'s decision to fly into a cloud-shrouded night an act of Kennedy bravado or was it life-affirming
courage in the face of danger? Either way, it was at least akin to the optimism and bravado that marked the careers of John,
Bobby and Teddy--optimism and bravado that took us to the moon, initiated the Peace Corps, turned back the Russians, helped
roll back segregation, uplifted the poor and downtrodden and so much more. History and Greek tragedy show that vivid virtues,
which shine so bold in certain settings, darken to fatal flaws in others. So it ever was with the Kennedys.
In Teddy, as in John and Bobby, however, the darkness never
quite eclipsed the brilliance.
On 'death panels', 'socialized medicine', and other red herrings
by Don Williams
Ain't it a shame our so-called liberal media is obsessed with "death panels"
of fevered imaginations rather than death panels that exist in the real world, notably in our present health-care system?
Such "death panels" are comprised of CEOs, accountants and actuarial analysts
at those insurance companies that--sight unseen--deny benefits to people most desperate for help. Such panels trot out an
amazing array of phony reasons to deny or sandbag claims, according to patients, insurance executives, physicians and others
who testified before Congress recently. Several outlined how some companies entrap insurance applicants into providing false
information on confusing forms just so they can later deny benefits based on "false information." Others reported how "pre-existing
conditions" and delayed treatments resulted in denial of life-saving treatments by some companies. Not all, but some.
Yet, while real people are suffering and dying, talking heads spend hours
covering antics of those profiting from such misery. As an industry insider emailed, "You and I know the 'liberal media' has
more to gain by showing the hot emotional shouting by ignorant peasants willing, once again, to fight the battles of the rich
and powerful rather than broadcast intelligent discussions."
Here's an intelligent discussion worth having. Why is it the World Health
Organization ranks the U.S. healthcare system 37th in the world, based on several standards and that 42 countries have longer
life-expectancy, according to the Washington Post, most of them with "socialized medicine" or at least a "public option."
And here's one. With all the talk going down about "socialized medicine,"
shouldn't we acknowledge that all insurance programs are based on "socialist" or "collectivist" ideas, with their emphasis
on shared risks and costs? The difference between corporate collectivism and public collectivism is that private insurance
corporations, like all corporations, are in business to provide ever-increasing profits to shareholders, directors and CEOs,
some of whom bring home salaries and bonuses in the hundreds of millions?
This is a built-in motivation to short-change the paying customer, to cheat,
lie and steal from those who need help the most. These are the true death panels that media mostly ignore. Teddy Roosevelt
knew that tyranny and serfdom exist as a result of unbridled power. That's why he sought a balance, by busting monopolies
and setting aside parks (a "public option" for entertainment and preservation you could say). The practice of CEOs stacking
one another's boards to create artificial wealth, fix prices, dampen true competition, vote each other exorbitant salaries
and hire lobbyists to help create oligopolies is a way around trust-busting and private competition, but I digress. To get
back to the subject at hand, just ponder that number... 42nd.
We rank 42nd. No amount of dogma or rhetoric should make that a comfortable
number for a country that prides itself on being #1 in everything from athletics to space travel. Nor should we be comfortable
with spending 15 percent or some such of our gnp on healthcare administration. That's a crime, especially when some 45 million
have no healthcare coverage. You see them lineup, many laughing or crying, when free healthcare clinics come to town and set
up for the weekend.
Yet still you hear, "No socialized medicine," even from Medicare recipients,
as well as from those who embrace public interstates, schools, public energy options, entertainment, military, fire prevention,
cops, media, utilities, social security, the G.I. Bill and much else. Why not a public health option? Viewing the world as
a laboratory, experiments in dozens of nations have shown that a single-payer system is more rational and provides the truest
freedom and equality in a mixed economy. We won't get there soon, but a public option should be part of the mix at least.
Think of the true freedom that could emerge, the human potential unleashed in energy, ambition and talent if we freed people
from enslavement to ill-suited jobs they often hate but don't dare leave--for fear of their lives and lives of loved ones--due
to an irrational and antiquated employer-based system of healthcare.
Too bad we can't have civil discussions-absent guns, yelling and pushing-when
it comes to an increasingly expensive and exploitative system that most of us are going to fall prey to at some point in our
lives. I suspect most of us already have. How often do you find yourself filing claim after claim for, say, dental reimbursements,
and following up with phone calls due to sandbagging on the company's part? How often do premiums rise? You know you're one
of the lucky ones. It's a shame our so-called "liberal media" refuse to take cameras inside emergency rooms to show how the
poor are receiving expensive and belated "healthcare" and just who's paying for it.
Finally, ain't it a shame that we seldom hear on Fox, CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS
about the millions of dollars quietly ponied up in "campaign contributions" from the medical and insurance establishments
to congressmen and lobbyists feverishly drumming up opposition to meaningful reform in order to cover their bought and paid-for
Lamar: Our mountains are not for sale, keep your hands off by
(Note: To support the cause, scroll to the end of this article
and click a link--DW.)
Senator Lamar Alexander walked in on my young wife and me one
night while smooching in the kitchen. It was autumn of 1982 at a place called Blackberry Farm, an upscale lodge nestled yes
in the Smoky Mountains. Jeanne was working as an assistant chef and I was trying to write a book.
Alexander was our youngest governor ever at the time, having
won lots of votes by virtue of walking across Tennessee in hiking boots. A multi-dimensional man, he’s famous for playing
classical piano in the great outdoors.
Our politics have diverged and bent together since that night
in a pattern as whimsical as meandering rivers separated by mountains, yet headed for the same sea. We disagree on many things,
such as nukes (which he supports) and windmills (he opposes). But a shared love for Tennessee’s mountains won’t
let me write him off as I do some politicians. There comes a fork where rivers blend.
I say that to grant Alexander this. He’s got guts and
he’s got convictions. I hope he has clout when it comes to mountaintop removal.
Environmentalist Robert Kennedy, Jr., has called the practice
of blasting tops off whole mountains and dumping the slag in the nearest valley, America’s worst environmental disaster.
Like him, Alexander believes this gross technique must come to an end. The Cumberlands are among the most bio-diverse and
beautiful eco-systems on earth. Lands where mountaintop removal occurs become nearly lifeless in comparison to their pre-blasted
state. Most of the flora and fauna that existed there for thousands or millions of years can no longer survive in the slag-heap
once it’s been "reclaimed" by invasive species. The travesty sullies headwaters of dozens of streams that flow into
the Tennessee, the Cumberland, the Obed and many other rivers.
Alexander and seven other legislators are co-sponsoring a bill
that would ban coal companies from blasting away mountaintops to unearth coal.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. In a move about
as cynical as it gets, a company called Coal-Mac, Inc., in West Virginia, has asked its 300 employees not to vacation in Tennessee’s
Smoky Mountains anymore, and is urging fellow mountain blasters in Virginia and Kentucky to join them. They claim it’s
because Alexander’s bill would eliminate lots of jobs.
The Sierra Club of Kentucky has responded in support of Alexander's
proposal by calling on members nationwide to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other Tennessee tourist sites.
The Sierra Club has about 800,000 members nationwide.
First, we’re not talking about multitudes of downtrodden
miners having bread taken from their mouths. That’s because mountaintop removal is about as job-friendly as robotic
assembly lines. All one needs to set up shop are a few trucks, dozers and lots of dynamite. Only a few thousand miners work
in mountaintop removal mines where many hundreds of thousands once worked in more traditional mines.
Second, coal thus ripped from the earth mostly serves to line
pockets of coal company owners and Chinese manufacturers. Such coal leaves the state bound for Asia, where it sullies the
air and encourages the building of hundreds of new but old-fashioned power plants in China burning dirty coal.
Third, I’d urge senators and representatives to consider
the world they want for our children and theirs. Is it a world in which we’re willing to trade off one of the most bountiful
eco-systems in exchange for temporary prosperity for a few? Or do we want a world in which concepts such as "balance of trade"
and "gross domestic product" take into account the unprecedented drawing-down of resources and the huge cost in damage to
our rivers, lakes, streams, the air we breathe and the very contours of our earth.
As far as boycotters of Tennessee tourism go, to them I can
only say, yes, please stay home, and keep your trucks and dynamite well away from our beloved mountains. They’re not
for sale. Not at that price.
To help end mountaintop removal, by contacting legislators,
click the following link and scroll to the bottom.
As one of the teeming teens who wrote letters to NBC in the
late sixties urging execs to keep Star Trek on the air, I’ve felt vindicated by the success of the franchise. And so
I experienced an odd disquiet after my mother and my wife opted on seeing Star Trek and dinner out to celebrate Mother’s
Day. I’m sure they did it to sweeten the deal for my two grown sons and me, but it was an oddly appropriate choice.
The film opens with a heroic child delivery, along with a nascent notion that something’s not right about this film,
maybe this culture.
By opening his film in a Star Trek universe pre-altered by
a vicious tattooed time traveler, director J.J. Abrams dodges several space mines. First he shields the film from sentimentality.
Because the movie’s pre-history is all wrong, the appearance of so many familiar characters in the bloom of youth serves
for more than misting the eyes of aging Trekkies. It obliterates the original series, in which Captain Kirk’s father
lives on, Spock’s mother lives on, the planet Vulcan is very much with us, Uhuru kisses Kirk, not Spock, and so on.
Altering history through time tra vel has become a hackneyed
plot device, sure, but using it on such a cultural touchstone is a stroke of dark genius.
Newsweek recently featured a cover story suggesting Obama
must be a Vulcan.
Let’s hope not, for this film is a betrayal of Spock,
indeed the Star Trek canon. Not because of the changed prehistory, per se, but for the dark uses Abrams puts it to.
Think about it. If you render the entire ST canon a-historical,
as a history that couldn’t have happened, what does that do to the first interracial kiss on American TV? What happens
to the optimism and celebration of the cosmos that made Star Trek so lovable? What happens to its empathy for aliens, be they
Tribbles, Romulans, robots or clouds of psychedelic consciousness? What do we make of the series’ defunct parables illuminating
issues of war, race, environmental decline, doomsday machines, the abyss between logic and feeling, and even torture? Remember
The Empath, from season three?
Abrams not only bends Star Trek out of shape, he turns it
into one more dark, shoot-em-up thrill ride. Yes, it’s a thought-provoking thrill ride, and Abrams had the good sense
to pepper it with Trekkie trivia and culture. The splayed Vulcan salutation, pointy ears and mind meld are all here. So is
Leonard Nimoy, who surely can’t be THAT old. Mc Coy says "Dammit Jim I’m a doctor…" at least once, and both
Scottie and Chekhov beam the captain and others up just in the nick of time, with the exception of Spock’s mother…
Most such touches are gratifying,=2 0until we come to Sulu’s
in-character-but-unlikely swordfight. It’s about then the Trekker in me began to rebel, for reasons I once turned against
the glamorous violence of Star Wars.
I’m one of those idealistic kids who took refuge in
science fiction, because I saw it as a force for a rational and enlightened humanity. Over the years, however, I wondered
whether the cartoon violence of Star Wars and some latter Trek shows paved the way for renewed American jingoism and celebration
of all things military under Reagan and two Bushes. Our space movies were becoming the equivalent of cowboy and Indian flicks
and World War II movies that served to redeem war in the eyes of a new generation.
To be fair, photon torpedoes and Fasers were always part of
Star Trek’s appeal, but at least the latter could be set to "stun." Mostly such gee-whiz devices as Fasers and Tri-corders
served as window dressing for a sensibility that embraced intelligence, curiosity, wide-eyed wonder and largeness of spirit.
Precious little time’s devoted to such in the new Star
Trek. Zero time’s devoted to exploring what it must’ve done to the villainous Nero—his very name cartoonish--to
watch his Romulan world get sucked down a black hole, though Spock’s anguish at the same thing happening to Planet Vulcan
is nearly relentless.
And there’s only a moment in which our transposed Captain
Kirk and Spock—in yet another weird role reversal—debate whether to rescue the doomed villain and crew. Kirk speaks
up for showing such mercy, but Spock will have none of it. There’s no mistaking the relish on our heroes’ faces
when Nero refuses help and they blast him to smithereens.
Yes, there’s genius at work here, but it’s in
service to a dark pop gestalt.
In the Sixties, kids like me believed the Whole Earth as seen
from space just might be our salvation. Star Trek was not only symbolic but catalytic of such change. Each Friday it offered
new ways of understanding The Other.
Even as Star Trek went off the air, such visions began taking
root in the real world. Important arms treaties, environmental reforms, international treaties, diplomacy, racial and gender
equality became manifest. And yet, it’s as if dark forces draped in cloaking devices shadowed all the angels of our
It was against the backdrop of a hopeful new millennium that
such forces broke out with a vengeance. Blowback terrorism, economic pillage, war and Constitutional subversion became rampant.
The selection of George W. Bush as president and his jingoistic crusades in the wake of 9/11 did irreparable harm to notions
of a better world.
Wish I could say it doesn’t matter, but a pro-war mindset
informs this film, especially the explosive ending: Give ‘em an insincere last-second chance to surrender, then blow
‘em away? That’s precisely the offer Bush made to Iraq, and it betrays us still.
Some say, hey, Abrams is reflecting changing times here, but
that won’t wash. Gene Roddenberry launched Star Trek in the midst of war, jingoism and patriotism run amok, yet he struck
an enlightened chord. Creative and entertaining as the new Star Trek is, it embraces hearts of darkness. Let’s hope
the next installment returns us to the light.
The usual suspects--Dick Cheney, Fox News, even some at Newsweek--are
suggesting that waterboarding and other tough interrogation techniques just might have made us safer during the Bush years.
As if there's still reason to debate the use of torture, kidnapping and black box prisons.
There's one compelling reason we should not embrace this cold,
sly notion. His name is al-Libi (Al-LEE-bee). It means "the Libyan," and there are many people so named in the Arab world.
The fact that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi is not the most famous of them all is an indictment of American media and politics, including
the Democrats, for his lies, o btained under torture, led to the death and displacement of millions. I keep waiting for Obama
to utter al-Libi's name. What's he waiting for? Until he and others do, it's up to us to shout it from the rooftops.
Won't you join me? It's not hard to say. Al-Libi. So shout
it out. In doing so, we just might rescue the soul of the nation. Email me at DonWilliams7@charter.net to find out how making al-Libi famous could end the debate over
Al-Libi is not a nice man. He's a terrorist and a trainer
of terrorists (http://tinyurl.com/c7czzk). Yet even he should never have been tortured, not only because
torture's wrong, which it is, but because the lies al-Libi told to end his CIA-sponsored abuse were used to bomb, invade and
occupy Iraq, a terrible mistake in the opinion of most, and one for which we've paid and continue to pay dearly.
Though never mentioned by name, al-Libi’s false statements
turned up in Dick Cheney’s August 2002 VFW speech in Nashville laying out his bogus case for war against Iraq (http://tinyurl.com/chpqzl) according to the Guardian and many others. And they turned up
in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address. And in Colin Powell’s 2003 speech to the United Nations. Those speeches
laid down the justification for a war that led to millions of wounded, killed and displaced Iraq is, thousands of American
casualties, a doubling of the national debt, loss of prestige by America in the eyes of the world, and much else I can document.
Many believe the war led to our current economic miseries. It's an even bet whether Obama will be able to extricate us from
Why am I virtually alone in telling you about al-Libi? Why
isn't Congress telling you? Why isn't the national media? For that matter, why isn't Obama? If anyone ever needed proof that
torture is not only evil, but a bad idea all around, the case of al-Libi proves it. If you don't believe me, read the July
5, 2004, article, "Iraq and Al Qaeda" in Newsweek by Michael Isikoff. http://www.newsweek.com/id/54310. Or read the well-sourced Wikipedia account (http://tinyurl.com/c7czzk).
Why are opponents of war, torture and kidnapping so slow to
make their case about just how badly torture may backfire? Is it because they were taken in by Bush's false allegations and
would rather gloss over that sad fact than to make al-Libi central to their argument against torture? Is it because they've
so long lived in fear of being called disloyal or soft on terrorism? Is it from a misplaced sense of respect for Bush/Cheney/Rice/Rumsfeld/Powell?
Maybe so. I'll grant them credible intentions.
Whatever fig leaf they've been hiding behind, the record
is clear that al-Libi was under custody of U.S. secret forces in 2001 when CIA agents blindfolded him, duct-taped him, loaded
him onto an airplane, told him as they closed the door on the plane that flew him off to Egypt that they planned to rape his
mother while he was away. Interrogators in a secret hell-hole Egyptian
prison asked al-Libi none too gently, the record shows, to "admit" that Saddam Hussein was teaching al-Qaeda to make chemical
and biological weapons and that Saddam was not above giving them nukes. None of this was true.
According to articles in The New Yorker (http://tinyurl.com/cknu4u), The New York Times (http://tinyurl.com/d387ox), Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/id/141009) and others, Al-Libi gave them what they wanted, however. Later
he recanted, and said he told the lies to end the pain of torture. A Republican dominated Senate Intelligence committee long
ago confirmed that no ties existed between Saddam and al-Qaeda, and further reported that, far from working together to attack
U.S. interests, Saddam and bin Laden regarded each other as enemies.
Just how aware Bush and Cheney were that they wrung lies from
a tortured man to justify the war in Iraq should long ago have been exposed.
Many talking heads parrot unproven claims that we've disrupted
terror plots through use of "aggressive interrogation techniques." Yet research shows that prior to the CIA-sponsored=2 0torture,
al-Libi was providing good, solid information thanks to traditional measures employed by the FBI. He was not alone, as I can
show you. Yet al-Libi's case is the most striking. There's no doubt the Bush Administration tortured a mentally twisted terrorist
into telling us lies the president then used to start a war.
Don't let this central fact of history get lost. Join me in
saying aloud, to friends and relations and stranges all across the net, just one name. Let al-Libi be the last word in the
debate over torture. He's living proof that torture turns us into brutes, endangers our civil liberties, our highest values,
our fighting men and women, the lives of civilians across the globe and rolls yet more brutality down the ages.
'It could've been all different, Jack... You
got to believe that' by Don Williams
By way of explaining a first-person scene he'd written in which
a mother drowns her baby girl in a bathtub, the late great John Updike told me once in an interview, "In a novel of any length
you should be able to enter some other character's mind. The genius of the novel is to demonstrate different points of view."
It's not a notion favored by those who demonize enemies in order
to make short work of them. Anyone who's tried to publicly analyze motives and psychology of terrorists knows how quickly
such missionary work draws down the wrath of inflamed citizens.
That attitude extends not only to those who would understand
terrorists, political foes and culture warriors, but especially those who express any empathy for the crooks, liars and greed
mongers who perpetrated our current economic fiasco.
But those who would try and take the measure of their humanity
as we march our Bernie Madoffs to guillotine or country club prison could do worse than read Inman Majors' novel, The Millionaires
(W. W. Norton, 2009, $24.95.).
It's a book I loved reading two or three weeks ago, and one
that I've thought about almost daily since.
The novel's more than loosely based on what's known as the Butcher
banking empire of East Tennessee. It's a sort of true-life tale of would-be kings who lose their Midas touch or---to mix my
myths a bit---fly too close to the sun, like Icarus. Flying ever higher, they find themselves out of their element, borrowing
outrageously and moving funds around in a desperate, possibly well-intended effort to leave a mark on the landscape.
And leave one they do. Like Jake and C.H. Butcher, who were
seminal in bringing the 1982 World's Fair to Knoxville, as well as a pair of gleaming towers still pointing to the heavens
above that ever-fairer city, Roland and J. T. Cole bring a world-class exhibition to the fictive town of Glennville where
they build their own towers.
If asked to describe the towers in one word, you might be tempted
to say phallic. A truer word might be crystalline, for the real life towers not only mirror the skies and mountains of Tennessee,
they're like crystals in which an astute observer might've caught glimmerings of the future---a future of greed and corruption
we're experiencing still.
A quarter-century after the real life Butcher banking scandals,
their crimes have been rendered almost quaint by a litany of scandal and mismanagement on an international scale, including
the Savings & Loan fiasco, Enron, Madoff, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, AIG, bank after bank, and a fistful
of Bush Administration political scandals.
One could look at the Butchers as canaries in the mines of an
nation that thought it was building towers to the heavens when, in fact, it was digging itself ever deeper into a pit of moral
and financial despair that brought multitudes of investors, pensioners and others down with them.
And yet. Inman Majors has managed to render his similarly bereft
brothers sympathetic, even lovable. He shows us their hard-scrabble past, the banal beginnings of their banking deals, their
brotherly chemistry and competitiveness that got out of hand. Some critics have misunderstood what Majors is up to here, and
write his book off as humor or satire. But what Majors is really up to in this 475 page book---which does contain formidable
humor in the Tom Wolfe tradition---is tragedy.
In that way he resembles the great social realism novelists
of the twentieth century. His protagonist brothers could be seen as hill country versions of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby,
Robert Penn Warren's Willie Stark in All the King's Men or Rabbit Angstrom in Updike's Rabbit is Rich. Yet the Coles are richly
defined by their own quirks, visions, vices and manners, and so rise above stock comparisons. We meet their lovable children,
wives, lovers, advisers, bartenders, friends, foes, employees and townspeople who knew them when.
There's something humbling yet bracing about watching such rich
and powerful men get their comeuppance, because most of us at one time or another have envied such people. I'm reminded of
pithy words from commentator William Safire, who once wrote, "Nixon looked down on the Kennedys with utmost envy."
So true. And yet, J.T. and Roland Cole are rendered more real
than even the Kennedys because they're like us--especially those of us who hail from south of the Mason Dixon line and west
of the Appalachian Trail.
Underneath their wool-blend suits they're scruffy and country,
rooted in a community that's in turn rooted in the earth. They're the pride of an outlying community still based in large
part on cattle and corn and hay and tobacco.
Yet somehow they've managed to fly to the sun, as symbolized
by an architectural bauble that defines Glennville much as the Sunsphere has come to symbolize Knoxville.
There's a scene in The Millionaires that, purposely or not,
invokes Gatsby reaching with arms stretched to embrace the light at the end of Daisy's pier. It comes toward the end of the
book, at night, at a lavish party on a lighted lawn brimming with food, drink, laughter, an orchestra and beautiful people.
Standing on the fringe of the party talking to Mike Teague,
the true protagonist of this book, Roland stretches out his arms as if to embrace the whole estate, the very stars in the
sky and asks, "I mean, am I really standing here? Tell me. Am I?" And you feel the wonder of just how far he's come and just
how bitter his fall will be.
Like the best of books, The Millionaires grants its subjects
their humanity, and leaves you pondering the imponderable, not only about the Coles, but about real life counterparts. What
if they'd been able to stave off inspectors for six more months until some of their investments came to fruition? What if
Roland had won the governorship? What if the fictive counterpart to the real-life President Carter, a close friend of close
friends, had won re-election in 1980? What if they'd gained acceptance from old money in Glennville?
Many novels resonate in mind thanks to a a line or two, like
those quoted above. In All the King's Men, the lines that live on for me are, "It could've been all different, Jack. You got
to believe that."
Like Fitzgerald, Warren, Wolfe and Updike before him, Majors
makes you believe it.
Even when it turns out to be wrong, most of us
love the sound of a voice speaking with inspired conviction.
Which brings me to a bit of bombast one hears over
and over from the usual suspects--Rush Limbaugh, George Will, Charles Krauthammer and others who declare that Franklin Roosevelt's
New Deal didn't end the Great Depression. World War II ended the Great Depression, they cry in harmony, and so we shouldn't
buy into President Obama's stimulus spending plan.
If you set aside the historical truth that unemployment
declined nearly every year of Roosevelt's administration, this argument makes a certain sense to dewy-eyed children growing
up among Republicans, because WWII changed damn near everything. It was a conflagration--outrageous chaos melded to unprecedented
technology—and it swept Hitler off the world stage.
As a by-product, so the theory goes, it birthed
the greatest economic juggernaut the world has ever seen, the U.S. post-war economy. So, the New Deal was beside the point,
the argument runs, and one should resist Obama's massive spending program, which is nothing but warmed over New Deal socialism
they inform us with condescension dripping.
In order to spot the central fallacy of this argument,
however, one need only play throw-and-catch with the following common sense question:
What in heck was WWII if not a massive government
spending and employment program married to unparalleled protectionism?
Yes, yes, it was a war against Nazi-ism and so
on, but when it comes to the key question of its effect on the U.S. and global economy, the U.S. war effort was the last word
in Keynesian economics, government spending and protectionism—socialism if you will—long as we're bandying about
that hot-button word.
Honest, what was World War II if not the ultimate
jobs-programs? Hundreds of thousands of American men were drafted into the military, and Rosie the Riveter's job at the airplane
factory was funded by fat government contracts paid for by tax dollars and federal deficits.
Face it. Nothing is more socialistic than the military
culture, where you have men and women living in government housing, driving government jeeps, tanks, planes and boats, shooting
government guns, eating government food, wearing government clothing and partaking of government healthcare. Everyone's pay
falls within well-defined boundaries, so the staggering inequities in pay—the kind dragged into the light by so many
Wall Street scandals--scarcely exist in the military.
Privates and generals make a guaranteed annual
income and salaries are capped by the government. Everyone who signs up for service is treated to goodies at taxpayer expense
for the rest of their lives. Government counseling, medical care, pensions, disability payments, education and so on are provided
for by a grateful public all too willing to be taxed in order to support the troops.
Moreover WWII provided near-perfect protectionism
for American industry. Not only did the war render about half the industrialized world off-limits as trading partners—thanks
to blockades, attacks on shipping and laws against trading with enemies—but much of our competition was bombed back
to a pre-industrial state by both sides in the conflict, especially in Germany's Ruhr Valley, Northern Italy, and much of
England, France, Russia, Japan, Poland, China and other countries. England was so strapped by the end of the war—in
part because of American demands for compensation for helping that nation—that the British public turned Winston Churchill
out of office in bitter protest of the fiasco that had stricken their empire.
In addition, the Allies surrendered Eastern Europe
to the trusting hands of Stalin's radical post-Marxist empire, which sealed them off as trading partners as well.
You could say America was the last man left standing.
Aside from Pearl Harbor, hardly a glove was laid on America's infrastructure. Every power that might've challenged our selling
of goods and services throughout the world was either off-limits or near-fatally damaged.
It's true that the Marshall Plan mitigated the
damage and brought about a blossoming of European economies. Similarly, Japan was brought back from the ashes.
But what was that if not more Keynesian-style manipulation
of economies here and abroad through massive government spending and management?
I bring this up not to advocate turning America
into a military welfare state, but just for clarity's sake. The chief point is that anyone who says Roosevelt's big-spending
policies didn't end the Great Depression has no leg to stand on, not even one of those expensive titanium legs our government
hires doctors to provide wounded troopers. Roosevelt spent more, not less, after the war started.
So whether it was the New Deal or World War II
that ended the Great Depression, the chief engine of change was a massive infusion of federal dollars into the American and
global economy for more than a decade. It's a transfer on the order of what Obama intends as he retools the grid, healthcare,
education and transportation infrastructure.
At Last Public Debates Turn Toward Sanity by Don Williams
Thanks to those who noticed I haven’t been writing much political commentary
of late. Here’s why:
For over ten years I wondered whether public debate would ever be conducted
on sane ground again, so that the rational among us wouldn’t waste so much time and energy in anxiety, reality checks,
worrying over collective national guilt and desperately shouting truths from rooftops to try and penetrate veils of partisanship
that rained down daily.
Lo and behold that day has come.
Yes, partisan lies still rain down, but they’re in the minority now,
isolated and lacking in conviction. Mostly the debate has returned to sane ground. Not being a policy wonk, I find myself
taking weeks off from sending out overtly political opinion. It was the underlying truths that interested me most.
Yes, times are tough and dramatic, and we still hear from those frenetic twins,
Hype and Spin, especially on Fox News and shows like Rush Limbaugh, but they’re no longer emceeing the debate.
Saner voices—particularly Obama’s—are leading our discussions
back to terra firma.
So that we’re no longer missing the point by discussing, for instance,
whether unused embryos have souls, but rather, how best to save lives with them before they’re flushed down fertility
clinic drains, the fate of most, regardless of stem cell applications.
We’re no longer debating whether to invade another country but rather
just who it is we should be talking with in order to prevent the next war.
Talk’s no longer about whether climate change is real, but whether to
cap & trade, what plants to turn into fuel, how to reconfigure the grid, and which Green initiatives to include in a national
jobs program. These are issues rational people might debate.
Talk’s no long about whether to turn Social Security over to Wall Street,
but whether to throw Wall Street enough lifelines to keep it from pulling us all under.
It’s not about whether financial regulation is good or bad, but how,
where and how quickly to implement sane regulatory measures about sub-prime mortgages and how to deconstruct too-big-to-fail
entities such as AIG which, serving as its own traffic cop, still runs amok.
It’s not about whether keeping so-called terrorists locked up at Guantanamo
is good for America but how quickly we might dismantle the prison.
Not whether water-boarding and other such tortures are necessary, but how
to make sure we don’t use them.
Not whether kidnapping and black box prisons and other violations of habeas
corpus occurred, but whether to prosecute those who dragged our good name through the slime of such practices.
Not whether universal healthcare is "socialized medicine," but rather what
mix of public and private resources can be cobbled together to cover the uninsured.
Not whether coal and oil are clean, but how to smother them in green.
Not whether abortion is right or wrong but which policies are more effective
in curbing the practice and providing pre- and post-natal care to mother and child.
I could go on. Everywhere you turn, the debate has changed, no thanks to the
media by and large.
Looking over the past decade, I must say media made a mess of public debate.
The delay in stem cell research is a perfect example. Even when reporting
Obama’s initiative last week to permit more stem cell research, few in mainstream media took time to point out that
most embryos get flushed in any event. This simple point should’ve been de rigueur when reporting on the issue.
Similarly, one of the truths I used to shout from the rooftop was contained
in the name Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. He was living proof that torture is not only cruel and ineffective, but is toxic to truth
and policy debates. It was largely al-Libi’s lies (later recanted) that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and
others repeated again and again to justify our biggest foreign policy and spending mistake of all time. Al-Libi’s name
should’ve been the end of any debate on torture. Every journalist should’ve felt compelled to report his story
when the subject of torture came up, yet media seldom mentioned him.
Or take global warming. How often were we treated to "fair and balanced" debates
on this subject that obscured the central truth that virtually every objective peer-reviewed study by scientists has concluded
global warming is real and that humans increase it. This should've been addressed in every story.
And wouldn’t it have been worth asking George W. Bush, just once, whether
he was helping to bring on the End Times and other so-called Biblical prophecies? It might’ve cost him a million votes
no matter how he answered, and the question could be crucial.
Think how much better off we’d all be today had journalists asked him
this and other tough questions in 2000 or 2004.
Think how much shouting from rooftops the world would’ve been spared.
The rational and well-meaning no longer have to shout to be heard. Bask in
it while it lasts.
on terror in my home town with 'up so floating many bells down' by
An out-of-work truck driver
smiled as he pleaded guilty Monday to killing two people and wounding six others at a Tennessee church last summer because
he hated its liberal policies, according to the Associated Press.
"Yes, ma'am, I am guilty as charged," Jim D. Adkisson,
58, told the judge, before she sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
Adkisson was scheduled to stand trial
next month. Instead, he cut a plea agreement that means he'll likely spend the rest of his days behind bars for the July 2008
assault at the Tennessee Valley United Unitarian Church in Knoxville. That's where Adkisson carried a shotgun inside a guitar
case and shot eight people during a Sunday morning children's performance of the musical "Annie." None of the children were
shot, but two adults later died.
It's not clear that Adkisson has spent much time in deep thought about his misdeeds
or his victims, Greg McKendry, 60, and Linda Kraeger, 61, both of whom were known for their warmth and generosity of spirit.
It's clear he never spent much time beforehand thinking about such things. And as the poet and author Wendell Berry writes...
we cease from human thought, a low and effective cunning stirs in the most inhuman minds.
There are those--notably
Fox viewers--who claim that President Bush kept Americans safe from terrorist attacks after 9/11, as if this redeems his many
misdeeds and mismanagment.
Don't buy it. Americans have been attacked plenty by terrorists. Not just in Iraq and Afghanistan,
where 5,000 Americans or so have died due to terrorist attacks, broadly defined, and many thousands more physically and emotionally
wounded, Bush's pro-violence swagger--echoed by the likes of Limbaugh, Coulter, O'Reilly and Hannity--has been causative in
gun violence here.
At the time of his arrest, a search of Adkisson's house recovered, among other things a suicide
note that stated he was angered by "his lack of being able to obtain a job," a reduction in his food stamp allotment and "the
liberal movement." It also turned up these books: "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael
Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by talk show host Sean Hannity and "The O'Reilly Factor," by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly.
I wonder, minus such inflammatory influences, would Adkisson have carried a shotgun into church. That's not terror?
Tell that to members of Tennessee Valley Unitarian.
I teach a creative writing class in that building and I know it
well. As I wrote last summer....
It's a space of light, charity and learned discourse, a place where luminaries, scribes
and prophets from many traditions are often invoked. I've loved teaching there. On any given night rooms ring with laughter,
music and learned discourse in this place dedicated to reason and transcendence. It's a church rooted in the principles of
Enlightenment and Jeffersonian liberty. A place where not only Jesus, but Buddha and Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and
others might feel at home.
The church holds treasures. There's an impish and colorful self-portrait painted by the
great poet of whimsical verse, E.E. Cummings, who once wrote these words in celebration of un-sung lives...
lived in a pretty how town (with up so floating many bells down) spring summer autumn winter he sang his didn't he danced
Women and men (both dong and ding) summer autumn winter spring reaped their sowing and went their came sun
moon stars rain.
I never think of Cummings' paintings without his words ringing through my head, so suggestive of
towns I knew growing up in East Tennessee. Knoxville once seemed like "a pretty how town with up so floating many bells down,"
but Cumming's more famous for this little poem, a fixture of anthologies...
Buffalo Bill's defunct who used to ride
a watersmooth-silver stallion and break onetwothreefourfive pigeons justlikethat Jesus he was a handsome man and what I want
to know is how do you like your blue-eyed boy Mister Death.
As Delaney Dean writes at DelaneyDean.com, "I've always
found this poem disturbing. The juxtaposition of beauty with death, even with wanton killing, cuts to the (sometimes very
painful, always paradoxical) heart of the human condition."
Cummings likewise cuts to the heart with "ponder, darling,
these busted statues," a carpe diem poem about the value of catching hold of life and living and loving in defiance of death
and those who deal death. It's the sort of sentiment I often hear at TVUUC, and heard from some last summer.
wake of tragedies like this, scribes and talking heads do their best to make public sense of bloodshed. I don't have such
answers. Yes, I suspect this tragedy has something to do with living in a fear-drenched country, one that glorifies guns and
wars, one founded in part on killing Indians--something Buffalo Bill turned into a lucrative show-biz career. Even now ours
is a country whose economy is driven largely by a military-industrial-media web that disperses resources that could otherwise
do great good in this world.
In that regard, I suppose I'm aligned with Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, and Greg Palast,
whose book, Armed Madhouse, I wish you'd read. In that book, Palast presents the sobering news that every year many more Americans
die to wanton gun violence in America than have died in the whole history of our involvement in Iraq.
Maybe he's right
when he declares we bring much misery on ourselves by protecting gun producers from things such as lawsuits, and that beat
down men like Adkisson have been their own worst enemy by opposing progressives, though I can't prove it. I'm not near smart
enough. If only those who pontificate on the need to broaden the reach of the Second Amendment beyond any reasonable measure,
would own up that they're not that smart either, I'd feel better about my fellow citizens.
I write this not as prescriptive
of anything, however, only as a word of mourning for Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger, for all their friends and relations
and for something more that deserves mourning. That's the lost magic and tranquility that only slowly returns---borne on flowers
and candlelight services and other tokens of love and empathy from a responsive community.
Yet something was lost
last summer for many of us who live in this pretty how town with up so floating many bells down. Something that begs one to
ponder, darling, busted statues and broken lives and to wonder just what Mr. Death thinks of his blue-eyed boy who could break
one two three four five pigeons just like that...
Obama as Savior?
He'd Better Be by Don Williams
So he can't walk on water.
Nor heal the sick with a touch.
His smile won't summon sunrise, nor cause angelic choirs to sing from the
Still. Of all the presidential candidates ever to rise on the world stage,
none have appeared more attuned than Barack Hussein Obama to notions of the common good--notions of inclusion, openness, nurturing,
forgiveness and reconciliation, in keeping with our best spiritual traditions.
It showed in all the beautiful acts of his first 48 hours in office.
Our savior? On some level he'd better be, else we are lost.
Economically, environmentally, diplomatically, judicially, militarily, culturally
and ethically, we have fallen.
Our challenges are existential, not in some mysterious, intellectual way,
but in that our existence has been put at risk. And it's been put at risk mostly by forces that spring from the darkness inside
our own hearts.
False prophets led us to this abyss mostly by pointing fingers at the alleged
shortcomings of others as the source of all our troubles. The result has been ill-advised invasions, torture, deregulation,
military budgets that grow insanely, politics of personal destruction, waste, corruption, assaults on personal liberties,
the Constitution, our very earth.
To acknowledge we've lost our way, marching off in every direction with drums
pounding, violins skirling and banners flying, is to acknowledge the need for salvation. Our civilizaton hangs by a thread.
One false move and we risk unimaginable chaos and violence. Business as usual, politics as usual, will not save us. Pandering,
blaming others, drawing down dwindling resources, building fierce new weapons and marching off against imagined enemies are
luxuries we can no longer afford.
Has anyone challenged such old ways of doing business as Obama has? Of all
the presidential candidates I've witnessed, his message has been the most hopeful, at least so far.
So far, he's been about healing. So far he's been about reaching out. So far
he's been about uniting tribes.
No, this impulse doesn't show in every appointment, and we must watch such
players with vigilance. Still, as teachers from Jesus to Machiavelli have noted, there's wisdom in hugging your opponents
A dinner for his biggest opponent, John McCain, on the eve of the inauguration?
A place in the new administration for chief rivals Hillary, Biden and others?
Outside the political norm.
Gathering both a fundamentalist minister and a gay bishop into inauguration
festivities? Unheard of.
His campaign should've prepared us for this. Accused of hatemongering by association
with the Rev. Wright, he elevated the conversation in a speech that addressed race honestly and eloquently.
Accused of radicalism by association with William Ayers, he turned the other
cheek, refusing to make much of McCain's own radical associations.
When it comes to Obama's fitness to lead, the signs have mostly been good.
That's why some, myself included, have gushed at times, "Please, embrace this sane, rational and decent man."
Looking back across the landscape of his sojourn, Obama's made a history of
embracing enemies, pouring oil on troubled waters, turning the other cheek. All along, he's inveighed against embracing the
darkness inside our own hearts, and urged us to.
Oppose unnecessary wars.
Oppose the deliberate cruelty of torture.
Oppose unbridled greed.
Oppose destruction of communities.
Oppose prejudice against women, gays and immigrants.
Oppose the urge so prevalent within the human heart to scapegoat and demonize.
Oppose nuclear proliferation and other forces that endanger the whole earth.
Maybe it's because he is of the Whole Earth generation that he's so attuned
to this existential moment. Obama is of a generation that grew up with the Whole Earth as ubiquitous icon. His generation
grew up electronically connected and therefore exposed to the cruelties, pieties and generosities of others. He spent times
not only at elite universities but also on the streets, driving broken down cars. He took a magical mystery tour as he sought
to understand his own mythic family, his own identity. In coming to such understanding, he forged a new politics.
His message of peace, love, hope and community springs from this journey,
this seeking, this essence that is Barack Hussein Obama. At last he can proclaim his full name. It's part of a message that
recognizes the dignity of others, the dignity of blood, sweat and tears and a world community we all must work to save, lest
it fall into the abyss that yawns inside each human heart.
Obama as savior? On some level he'd better be.
Else we are lost.
All that's left for Bush is to spin, spin, in the widening gyre by Don Williams
Surely the last fig leaf has been ripped from The Emperor Who
Had No Clothes.
The ongoing death and destruction in the Gaza Strip exposes
what one hopes is Bush's last great lie--made most recently in December--that great progress had been made toward peace in
the Middle East.
Despite his spinning in public appearances and his farewell
address, George W. Bush stands exposed as the president who wrecked his country, his party, his world and ours. Warfare in
Gaza is the exclamation point on the worst presidency in American history.
It ensures that Bush will be remembered not only for.
* A stolen election or two.
* Failure to protect us on 9/11.
* A war based on lies that resulted in millions of casualties
and displaced persons.
* The dismantling of Iraq, instability in Pakistan, India, Lebanon,
Iran, Turkey, and elsewhere.
* The destruction of a dozen international treaties.
* A renewed arms race.
* Torture, kidnapping, domestic spying.
* Resumption of a cold war with Russia.
* Use of banned weapons, depleted uranium and unmanned aerial
* Violations of the first amendment and other press abuses,
including "free speech zones," moles in the Washington Press Corps, intimidation of media here and in Iraq, planting lies
in the New York Times, exposing Valerie Plame.
* The drowning of New Orleans while Bush went on vacation.
* Collapse of the global economy, the nationalization of ours.
* Censoring of scientists who told the truth about global warming.
* Secret energy deals.
* Tax breaks for the wealthy.
* Weakening the wall between church and state.
* Corruption on nearly every front---Jack Abramoff, Wall Street
firms, billions not accounted for in Iraq.
* Political subversion of the Justice Department.
* Failure to capture Osama bin Laden.
* Failure to pacify Afghanistan.
* Rollback of environmental protections, resulting in mountaintop
removal, dirtier air and water, plus mining in formerly protected areas.
* Politics of division and demonization.
And now the dismantling of Bush's so-called Middle East peace
Mainstream Media shields the public from the full catastrophe
of the Bush presidency by blaming victims of the assault on Gaza for their own deaths.
Which came first? Rocket attacks from Gaza or Israeli assaults
in Gaza? That's a dog chasing its tail. Most American media present the destruction in a light most favorable to Israel--and
by implication Bush, Cheney and Rice, who have done little to intervene, despite the massive toll of civilian deaths. International
journalists provide a more balanced picture. For instance Sara Roy recently documented in the London Review of Books how Israel's
siege of Gaza began on Nov. 5, the day after an Israeli attack inside the strip undermined the truce between Israel and Hamas
established last June.
Many have documented how Israel sealed off Gaza from sources
of food, medicine, fuel, parts for water, sanitation systems, fertilizer, and more, prior to the recent rocket strikes from
Gaza. Not to belabor the point, I'll end there. Yet even if you embrace a strictly pro-Israeli perspective, Bush's Middle
East peace initiative manifestly is another instance of morbid deceit, an artifact of a personality that has embraced violence
and cruelty for much of his life. As a child he blew up frogs with firecrackers. As governor he set a record for executions.
For some--notably Fox viewers--Bush even yet has one fig leaf
left, and that's the claim that he kept Americans safe from terrorist attacks after 9/11.
Don't buy it. Americans have been placed in harm's way. If defense
of the homeland involves occupying other countries, then you must include casualties Over There. In that case, we've suffered
about 5,000 deaths and tens of thousands maimed, emotionally mangled and otherwise abused Americans due to terrorist attacks,
broadly defined. Those don't count? Tell that to graveside grievers.
Second, Bush's pro-violence swagger--echoed by the likes of
Limbaugh, Coulter and Hannity--might've been causative in gun violence here, including several slaughters. That's not terror?
Tell that to members of Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, where people were killed and maimed for
the crime of being "liberals."
Third, there's little evidence that terrorists in Afghanistan
planned additional attacks against America after 9/11. Bin Laden's stated reason for attacking the West was to drive infidels
out of Saudi Arabia. His jihad succeeded, from his perspective, when we removed troops from that country and found ourselves
bogged down in unending wars elsewhere.
Fourth, the cost of such "safety" has been far too high. The
price tag includes economic collapse, natural catastrophes, a tattered Constitution, environmental decline, a breakdown of
the International Order and more. Who can doubt Bush made all of them worse with his so-called War on Terror?
Some of us knew as early as 2001 that Bush was a disaster for
our communities, our republic and our world. That's why we did all we reasonably could to prevent his many crimes. History
Bush and all who supported him stand exposed for their complicity.
Despite bias and blind spots in media coverage, the stench of
death from the Bush Administration pervades the news.
All that's left for Bush--to alter a phrase from Yeats--is to
spin, spin, spin in the widening gyre as his blood-dimmed tide continues to be loosed upon Gaza, the Middle East, the world...
The Sunday following Thanksgiving 2005 I gave a talk "On Moonwalkers
and Tree Huggers" at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, a talk I wrapped up with the following advice.
And love wastefully..
More than anything else I credit such notions for whatever genuine
satisfaction I've experienced most of my adult life. It sometimes surprises detractors to discover that, in spite of harping
on problems facing this sad and jubilant world, I'm a pretty happy fellow most of the time.
I'm sort of like the aging company man in Jerry Maguire, the
man in the grainy black and white film clip Tom Cruise watches teary-eyed in that movie, the one who says, "I love my wife.
I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success."
It's a kind of success that requires an attitude of gratitude.
As Garrison Keillor once said on "A Prairie Home Companion," giving thanks is the key to happiness.
Can you say, Amen, Brother? It may be impossible to say anything
truer than that about happiness, so let's say it again.
Giving thanks is the key to happiness.
It's a way of affirming life, of choosing hope over despair,
faith over cynicism.
Abe Lincoln, a man who suffered what we'd call clinical depression--a
man who suffered cataclysms and personal tragedies and incredible stress and carried the burden of national calamity, once
said, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."
That's not to dismiss the sufferings of friends and relations
who just can't find a way to be happy. I know when I'm sick, I'm a crank. And I know the first great principle of Buddhism
is that All Suffer.
Still, Buddha prescribed transcending the suffering to achieve
contentment, which is akin, at least, to Lincoln's prescription to make up your mind to be happy.
For me, that's almost synonymous with counting blessings.
Listen up. I'm not saying take stock of good luck. I'm saying
the trite and true, count your blessings. Luck always runs out. Blessings never do. They're found in the smallest of gestures,
sensations, scenes and subjects, and often at your lowest ebb.
To assess life by starting with misfortunes is a sucker's game.
There's no end to the misery you can catalogue. Personally, I've been blessed in so many ways it would be chintzy and dishonest
to pretend otherwise. For the privilege of being alive, I try to start each day with an attitude of gratitude while I salute
the sun. How lucky am I?
I would say, let me count the ways, but, as I told my Unitarian
friends, it would be impossible. Life is such a crapshoot, it's like winning 50 million lotteries in a row to have existence
at all. That's how much blessed luck is required. It took all the crazy detours of history to bring my parents together. If
a million different ancestors over thousands or millions of years hadn't done exactly as they did most every day of their
lives-and partook of the blessings and curses of life in just the right order, down to feeling romantic or lusty in the right
moments, I wouldn't be here now. If a billion bits of space debris hadn't interacted in just the right ways to send a giant
meteor crashing into the earth about 65 million years ago, eradicating the dinosaurs-making way for mammals--none of us would
be here. If the Big Bang ("Let there be light?") had occurred with just a fraction of one percent more velocity, the planets
and stars could not have formed. A fraction of a percent less velocity, and the whole universe would have collapsed back on
itself. If seawater were 2 percent saltier, if the earth were tilted on its axis 3 degrees more, if the sun were a few miles
farther off or closer in, if gravity were a few degrees stronger, we wouldn't exist.
All of these so-called coincidences don't scratch the surface
of things that had to go just right to make our lives possible. We are incredibly blessed to be alive and riding this silken
beast called breathing--inhale, exhale--from the moment of birth until the instant of death in an emergent universe.
Philosophers such as Thomas Berry and Joseph Campbell and Pierre
Teilhard tell us we should couch our belief systems--including Christianity--in the context of this vibrant new way of looking
at the universe. For me, that means the teachings of Christ, Buddha and other prophets and seekers--about peace, love, tolerance,
charity and healing--should be shared inside the framework of an ongoing awe at the variety of the world as revealed by modern
That fantastic web of life, matter, energy and consciousness
is a feature of this universe we must love and adore if we're to experience happiness. And it is reason enough to express
gratefulness to God or cosmos in this season of thanksgiving.
A Word About Easter Island And Other Calamitous Feedback Loops by Don Williams
Stone faces of Easter Island gaze on as anthropologists, mythologists
and space cadets endlessly debate their meaning. Measuring up to 28 feet high and more than 80 tons in some cases, the stones
have elevated a ruined island paradise to the status of icon in the realm of cautionary tales.
Either Easter Island’s decline was brought on by smallpox
and slave trade courtesy of Europeans who arrived there in the 1700s or else, shortly after sinking roots around 1200 CE,
the islanders began destroying their own world by killing their verdant forests in a vain effort to avert disaster.
It’s an article of faith among tree-huggers–including
me until I read up–that Easter Island fell prey to a cult or three. For centuries, the natives built enigmatic stone
heads in tribute to dead chiefs. Such ancestor worship helped ward off trouble, they believed, and grew their clans’
prestige, but transporting the stones and erecting them used up lots of logs, adding to the decline of forests. This caused
a shortage of wood for building boats and a shortage of trees for birds to nest in, and so the seafood and fowl that provided
sustenance began disappearing from their diets. Soon this once proud and accomplished civilization turned to eating rats,
even to cannibalism, the record shows.
One theory goes that, as the decline began, leaders commanded
their subjects to accelerate the building of statues. More than 1,000 have been counted, many left abandoned in quarries or
by the roadside. The idol boom was a vain attempt to call down the favor of Gods. In short, by the middle of the last millennium,
they’d mostly destroyed their own environment by creating a feedback loop that spiraled out of control. More cutting,
less food, more cutting, even less food. Or so the story goes.
If true, we’re wise to embrace this cautionary tale, for
our leaders ask us repeatedly to feed our sustenance to idols they erect.
Idols to commerce, high finance, fossil fuel, the military-industrial-media
complex. All bask in dogmas bordering on religion.
Behold Wall Street, where numbers rise like stone edifices.
Today we’ve passed 9,000. Can 10,000 be far away? Is 12,000 once again within our grasp? Now watch as towering numbers
"More capital!" implore keepers of the Dow. $700 billion should
do. No, toss in 150 more to prop up that idol, 200 for the one down on Main Street.
Be not deceived. We’ve rendered such sacrifice before.
In the 1980s, the savings and loan industry failed, and we the people poured our sustenance into it. Behold! Wall Street recovered,
then faltered. For a time leaders suggested feeding Social Security and perhaps, one day, all such safety-nets to Wall Street.
Yes, feed the mighty Dow your pensions.
Yes, feed it Medicaid.
Yes, let’s have another war–there’s a trillion
we can feed Westinghouse and Boeing and General Electric and other makers of armaments. There’s how we’ll restore
Halliburton and the Carlyle Group and other entities in which Bushes, Bakers, bin Ladens and others lay money on the bet that
wars they insist we fund continue to pay dividends.
And so it goes.
Hear the people chant, "Drill here! Drill now!" Drill anywhere
Yet deep ecologists tell us the wealth of nations is founded
on the shaky ground of drawing down deposits of natural energy placed in this earth by the sun over billions of years. In
this, "the last syllable of recorded time," to quote Shakespeare, we’re drawing those deposits down ever more rapidly,
turning them into money and ruinous greenhouse gases.
England stripped her landscape of most primordial forests in
a couple of centuries and then turned to coal, mostly in the 19th century. Then, along with America, Germany and many other
countries, she discovered the power of oil, bestowing prosperity on millions, yet contributing to wars around the world. It’s
been little noted that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in part because of our oil embargo against that country.
Beginning some thirty years ago, Carl Sagan, J. E. Lovelock
and other scientists began warning that burning fossil fuels would result in a greenhouse effect. Yet the same faith-based
"conservatives" who ignored the need to conserve, applauded as Ronald Reagan stripped solar panels from the White House and
clean energy incentives from the national budget. Now hear the pathetic chants from their benighted tribe:
"Drill here! Drill now!"
And so such chants resound. Death to terrorists. Build more
bombs. More ships. More planes. Support the Troops! They’ll keep us safe.
In the next fiscal year we’ll throw nearly a trillion
dollars at the military, counting supplemental funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s more than the rest of the world
combined will spend on all things military. Some among those nations have signaled they’ll raise their defense spending
in response, prompting a cry for still more from us. And so the military feedback loop spirals onward, mesmerizing the faithful.
Few pause amid the clamor to consider truths that might set
Here’s one: For the cost of one cruise missile or one
aerial drone, we could build 80 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, whence terror springs. Yet we feed the god of cruise
missiles while starving the benign spirit of education.
Here’s another: Osama bin Laden told the world why he
launched a jihad that most people agree included the terror of 9/11. It was because the feet of infidels trod sacred ground.
Osama mostly won. We withdrew from Saudi Arabia as he and the house of Saud demanded. We linger in Iraq, oblivious that our
presence recruits more terrorists for the likes of bin Laden.
Here’s one more: Clean energy cannot compete against Big
Oil and Big Coal unless nurtured, yet the President and Congress spent the last eight years giving tax breaks to gas companies,
while mostly ignoring wind, solar, geothermal and other sources.
On Easter Island, the stones stand looking, silent as voices
of the faithful who built them so many years ago.
FOR MORE PROVOCATIVE COMMENTARY BY DON WILLIAMS, CLICK IMAGE: