The Gifted Writings of Don Williams

Home | My Ministry | Gifts From a Holy Land | A Gift of Haqq | A Gift of Courage | A Gift of Justice | The Gifted Writings of Don Williams | A Regal Gift | My Poetry | The Royal Court | The Gift of Delbert Tibbs | The Gift of Norman Jordan | A SOULular Gift | A Gift of Adoration | A Presidential Gift | A Poetical Gift | A Cosmic Gift | A Gift of Gratitude | A Gift of Love | A Gift of BEcoming | A Gift of Admiration | An Awesome Gift | A Simple Gift | A Gift of Transcendence | A Gift of The Buddha | SIAM's Friends | SIAM's Favorite Places | A Linked Gift | Bio

Don Williams is a widely published, prize-winning columnist, short story writer, blogger for, 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, 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.

He 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 ( and his commentary frequently leads the page at

A Poem
(for Don Williams)

the humility
of the Light
is the power of the Light;
the connection
is a SOULular one,
a benediction
of universal Grace,
a brotherhood
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
by Don Williams
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. 


A candle in the darkness for our Mother Earth
by Don Williams
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 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...

With bi-partisan support, today the Tennessee Senate and House passed a budget with FULL funding for land conservation!

More 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!
Thank 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 commercial development...

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 Or visit the NMW website at To support this and other columns by Don with a donation, click on


You can make a difference if you ACT NOW 
by Don Williams

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 world really.

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 preserved.

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: 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) 615-741-7450


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

Doug Overbey (R, Blount Co.) 615-741-0981

Bo Watson (R, Hamilton Co.) 615-741-3227

Jamie Woodson (R, Knox Co.) 615-741-1648


Chairman: Craig Fitzhugh (D, Lauderdale Co.) 615-741-2134

Vice-Chair: Charles Sargent (R, Williamson Co.) 615-741-6808

Secretary: Johnny Shaw (D, Hardeman Co.) 615-741-4538

Joe E. Armstrong (D, Knox Co.) 615-741-0768

Stratton Bone (D, Wilson Co.) 615-741-7086

Harry Brooks (R, Knox Co.) 615-741-6879

Kevin Brooks (Asst. Caucus Chair, R, Hamilton Co.) 615-741-1350

Tommie Brown (D, Hamilton Co.) 615-741-4374

*Glen Casada (R, Williamson Co.) 615-741-4389

Kent Coleman (D, Rutherford Co.) 615-741-6829

Lois DeBerry (Speaker Pro Temp., D, Shelby Co.) 615-741-3830

Bill Dunn (R, Knox Co.) 615-741-1721

Jimmy Eldridge (R, Madison Co.) 615-741-7475

Michael Harrison (R, Hawkins Co.) 615-741-7480

Curtis Johnson (R, Montgomery Co.) 615-741-4341

Mark Maddox (D, Weakley Co.) 615-741-7847

Debra Young Maggart (R, Sumner Co.) 615-741-3893

Steve McDaniel (R, Henderson Co.) 615-741-0750

Steve McManus (R, Shelby Co.) 615-741-1920

Larry J. Miller (D, Shelby Co.) 615-741-4453

Richard Montgomery (R, Sevier Co.) 615-741-5981

*Jason Mumpower (R, Sullivan Co.) 615-741-2050

Jimmy Naifeh (D, Tipton Co.) 615-741-3774

Gary Odom (Dem. Leader, Davidson Co.) 615-741-3774

Dennis E. Roach (R, Grainger Co.) 615-741-2534

Donna Rowland (R, Rutherford Co.) 615-741-2804

Janis Sontany (D, Davidson Co.) 615-741-6861

Harry Tindell (D, Knox Co.) 615-741-2031

Mike Turner (Dem. Caucus Chair., Wilson Co.) 615-741-3229

Les Winningham (D, Scott Co.) 615-741-6852


from the archives*
A Storybook Picture On Mother's Day
by Don Williams

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.


Obama and that old June, croon, spoon moon
by Don Williams

We’re giving up the moon.

That’s the elephant in the living room I mostly ignored in a podcast recently (available at 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 moon.

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 could respect.

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 .) 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 war.

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 bill.

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.


Celebrating My Country Within-A-Country
by Don Williams

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.

"Say what?"

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.

"Such as?"

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 jokes.

Despite such gains, the rosy scenario painted above disguises darker tones.


Twirling into Christmas magic
by Don Williams

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 through disbelief?

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 magic.

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 monsters lived.

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 any sense.

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 war policies.

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 WarX’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.

Here’s more:

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 Obama.

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.

Damn it.

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 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 bombswe have thousands already--especially at a time when we're trying to convince Iran and others not to build them.

In case you missed itand 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 startup funds.

Although the program is being sold as a way of shrinking the nuclear footprint in this countryconsolidating 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 , 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

or on-line at

or call the contact line at 202-456-1111

Also send your comments to your Senators and Representatives, and send a Letter to the Editor version to and 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 throwbackand 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 exampleor 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:

Please do what you can.


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 begun.

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 the book.

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 here.

"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:

To oppose the building of new nukes, go here: <>

To oppose mountaintop removal, go here: <>

I urge you to take action or at least track down related links and become conversant in these crucial issues.

I hope to return to both as we all strive to build a New Millennium worthy of the name.

To support continuation of this column with a modest donation, visit:



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 so far.

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 man."

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 Don Williams

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 Mailer.

"Young Miller.

"Young Jack Kerouac…

"Young Dylan.

"Young Lennon.

"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 backsides?


Lamar: Our mountains are not for sale, keep your hands off
by Don Williams

(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.

Three points:

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.

or visit


Obama as Spock? Not in this Trekker’s cosmos
by Don Williams
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… oops!
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 better natures.
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.
You say torture works? Prove it
by Don Williams

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 to find out how making al-Libi famous could end the debate over torture.
Al-Libi is not a nice man. He's a terrorist and a trainer of terrorists ( 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 ( 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 these disasters.
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. Or read the well-sourced Wikipedia account (
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 (, The New York Times (, Newsweek ( 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.
Shout it from the rooftops.

'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.



So the New Deal didn't work? Prove it
by Don Williams

You love certainty.

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.

To those who say it can't work, I have two words.

Prove it.



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.


Thoughts on terror in my home town with 'up so floating many bells down'   by Don Williams

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...

When 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...

anyone lived in a pretty how town (with up so floating many bells down) spring summer autumn winter he sang his didn't he danced his did.

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, "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.

In the 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 skies.

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 close by.

A dinner for his biggest opponent, John McCain, on the eve of the inauguration? Unprecdented.

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 drones.

* 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 initiative.

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 vindicates us.

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...


Happy Thanksgiving--In an Emergent Cosmos Way

Just how blessed am I anyhow? by Don Williams

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.

Interact compassionately.

Think rationally.

Meditate mystically.

Reflect gratefully.

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 cosmology.

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 tumble.

"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 at all!

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 us free.

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.