A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Humming Activity--Peace and Quiet

I was in two places last weekend, the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra monastery, and the Karme Ling retreat center associated with it. KTD is the public face of Karma Kagudpa Buddhism in America, and Karme Ling is its private face. The retreat center is about an hour and 30 minutes away from the monastery over winding roads in the Catskill Mountains.

At KTD, as I said below, Mingyur Rinpoche was teaching on the profound practice of Mahamudra, which is our tradition’s name for the direct realization of the nature of mind and its unity with phenomena. Rinpoche was also giving the transmission of the practice and the text of one of the important termas of his predecessor Mingyur Dorje.

This practice is the one that is the lifelong practice of Kagyu layfolk such as myself, and it is centered around Karmapa II, known as Karma Pakshi, whose image is above. Karmapa II was the teacher of Mongol emperor Kublai Kahn, and Karma Pakshi’s extraordinary supernormal powers, or siddhi, were witnessed and described by no less a figure than Italian traveler and trader Marco Polo, during his stay at Kublai Kahn’s court, who reports of them in his book, The Travels of Marco Polo.

In addition, one of the resident lamas of KTD, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, was having a booksigning of his latest book, about his illustrious 19th century predecessor.

Finally, the birthday of the 17th, and current, Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, was being celebrated on Sunday the 26th.

So the joint was jumping.

I reported below that I was eager to meet Mingyur Rinpoche, and he did not disappoint. He was as direct, profound, and screamingly funny as reports had made him out to be, deeply wise and greatly experienced in Buddhist meditation, its practice, its goal, and its problems. He is not yet thirty.

If you hang around tulkus or reborn teachers enough, this will not surprise you. They are usually, and quite self-evidently, extraordinary and precocious individuals, and this is visible in them whether you believe in rebirth or not. In fact, their consistent precosity is one of the major pieces of objective evidence for rebirth.

Mingyur Rinpoche is exceptionally so. To train as a Kagyu lama, you must complete a group retreat, completely isolated from contact with the outside world, lasting 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days (it is on a lunar time cycle). During this time you sleep no more than four to five hours a night (the best retreatants eventually do not sleep at all, but remain in meditation for that time) and learn and practice Buddhist rituals continuously during your waking hours, both as a group and individually.

Mingyur Rinpoche’s first such retreat was undertaken at age 13, and was so incredibly successful that he was immediately put in charge of a second retreat, as the spiritual master, at the age of 17! If you know anything about these matters you will know that Rinpoche cleared a very high bar indeed to have this happen, even for a tulku.

KTD is in upstate New York, in the cute-as-a-button little artist and artisan town of Woodstock. The folks from down the mountain and anywhere within 2 hours driving distance pile in to the Monastery when good teachings, or a party like Karmapa's, are in order, and last weekend was no exception.

I was in a dorm room in the old, rambling summer hotel in which I have stayed, off and on, for twenty years. The hot water is still inconsistent in the showers and the kitchen still has the same commercial stove I used to clean twenty years ago. I cleaned it again this time as a part of my guest work assignment.

I must say that I experienced a little bit of culture shock. I have not been much on the road from Ohio for more than a decade now, and the sense of how many real, though subtle, cultural differences exist in America has rather faded from me. I was a little taken aback by the huggy, kissy, touchy, feely, social liberalism you find among the people of Woodstock, even though it has not really changed in twenty years.

They probably were as bemused by me as I was by them. What with the summer heat and all, a rotund man like me is the most comfortable in a colored cotton t-shirt with wide tradesman clip suspenders holding up his pants. This is particularly the case when they have to be long pants rather than shorts, in the name of Dharma etiquette at an institution where there are Buddhist monastics. I certainly got some odd looks from the Woodstock crowd that I never would have gotten in Ohio, so I suppose my Buddhist persona would have to be something like Farmer Dharma, just as my blogging persona is Joe Claus.

I often marvel at how much my friend The Anchoress and I not only politically disagree, but also actually live in different worlds. The public swimming pool of giddy and feckless Blue-state social liberalism, which had gone off my radar screen until last weekend, is a factor that I consistently underestimate in her opinions. And the goofy, drifty, and ill-informed Fourth of July parade of dour and inhibited Midwestern conservatism is equally a closed book, I think, to The Anchoress.

Be that as it may, the teachings were fine, though the temperature was in the 90's even up on top of the mountain. The main shrine hall was an oven. I sweated through four days worth of clothes in two (I deliberately overpack by two days on any trip, in case of emergency) and I drank gallons of water, which kept me from the heat stroke that was always no more than 3 feet away. As I remarked to my hostess (who kindly paid for my trip and is one of my favorite Dharma sisters), "Since you can practice mindfulness anywhere, I think I'll go practice it in the shade, where there's a breeze!"

Those of us who are already allowed to do the Karma Pakshi practice, including my hostess, decided to squeeze one in during the afternoon downtime immediately before the teaching. Rinpoche was in the main shrine hall, in deep meditation, preparing for the transmission ceremony that night. We were gathering in one of the subsidiary meditation rooms for our practice, when all of a sudden a whole busload of Chinese pilgrims piled into the gompa, or main Monastery building.

After doing the guided tour of the main shrine hall, with Rinpoche sitting on his teaching throne, completely undisturbed by the passing crowd, they filed into our little side shrine room where we were about to start our chanting. My hostess, the chopon or shrinekeeper, was preparing the insence sticks, the designated lopon, or gathering master, was taking out the double hand drum and bell that he plays during the group ritual, and the umdze or chant leader, was settling in next to the large hanging drum with which he keeps time.

We waited politely while the tour proceeded. The pilgrims were far more deferential to us, as regular practicioners, than we probably deserved, and they were clearly happy with the richness, beauty, and Dharmic atmosphere of our stately gompa and its occupants. They filed out and we got started, closing the doors so we wouldn't disturb the folks in the waiting area next to our small shrine room. By stepping up the pace a little, we managed to still finish the practice in time to settle in for the next teaching, without having to walk in late.

The next day was the birthday celebration, with a special long-life practice, dedicated to His Holiness Karmapa, where Tibetan tea, taken with salt and butter, was served with saffron rice and raisins. The last teaching followed. My group decided to leave before lunch, because we knew that the birthday party itself, under a huge open canopy, would be incredibly crowded, with even more tour busses expected, or already parked and unloaded.

And we wanted to stop off at Karme Ling for some peace and quiet.

It is important to understand that one half of my joke about meditating in the shade was serious: mindfulness, the basis of Buddhist meditation, can be practiced anywhere and under any circumstances. So, despite the elements of situation comedy that almost always occur in a visit to KTD, much of the real work of meditation and retreat goes on there, if you let it, not in spite of the stimulation, but because of it.

There are reasons, however, to also practice in solitude and quiet. The 3 year retreat is a time of intensity because of the depth of learning and experience necessary to become a lama. For some, this single experience is sufficient to prepare one for a life benefiting sentient beings by not being permanently in retreat, as my own center's resident Lama Kathy Wesley has done. For others, longer time spent in group retreat, or individual solitary retreat, prepares them best to fulfill their Bodhisattva Vow in one of the many possible ways.

Karme Ling has four buildings: one for male lay retreatants, one for female lay retreatants, one which eventually will house either monks or nuns, and a guest house for the Retreat Master, Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, and other high lamas. Khenpo Rinpoche is also the abbot of KTD, but, at 83, he stays much more often at Karme Ling, not only to fulfil his duties as Retreat Master, but also for needed quiet and rest.

This guest house, which is what we toured, is pristine, beautiful, and spotless. It is surrounded by mini gardens each centered around a particular Buddhist outdoor statue and separated by flagstone paths. In it, and in the monastic house, there are rooms for individual short-term retreatants, as well as quarters for the lamas. My hostess has done several short retreats there.

The Western nun, Ani Samten, is the chief housekeeper for the guest house as well as the outside contact for the female retreatants. She brings in groceries, finds doctors to come see a sick retreatant, and so forth. Ani-la, whom I met for the first time, is just radiant with laughter and happiness, kind and gentle and warm. This is characteristic of being a Buddhist generally--whatever the situation or problems, Buddhists are largely happy people, and the deeper you go into the private and more solitary side of Buddhism, generally the happier you become.

Ani-la also has her tough side, usually displayed to the bone headed and stubborn drivers for UPS who absolutely insist on personally delivering packages to closed in religious retreatants! It is not only by the ten foot fence around the building that the retreat houses are guarded.

We toured the beautiful lama rooms, had tea made by Ani-la, and sat, under a picture of His Holiness Karmapa, while talking to her a little about life in Karme Ling and serving Khenpo Rinpoche. She shared with us her horror and mortification about killing a deer with her car when she couldn't stop in time. Just to think of it brought her near to tears. Then, after about an hour, with handshakes and hugs, we went on our way to return to Ohio.

And sometimes, in the dance of things, a practicioner may best benefit beings by staying in solitary retreat for the rest of their life. This time around at KTD I met Mary, who used to work the reception office desk, for the first time in 20 years. She had a hard life, both in and out of KTD, and always struck me as someone who had both great potential as a meditator as well as great karmic obstacles to overcome. She always had a wild and zany edge to her, and she was by far my best friend up there in my youth when I could stay at the monastery for one or two months at a time.

She had been in solitary retreat for many years before this weekend, and was trying to accumulate enough patron support, with the help of the Kagyu high lamas, to go into solitary retreat permanently in Colorado. I hope she makes it. Retreat has done her a world of good and, undoubtedly, the dedication of the immense amount of merit she accumulated in the process of clearing away those nearly insurmountable obstacles has been of great benefit far beyond her retreat cabin.

I asked her to pray for me. For I must carry the practice of Karma Pakshi through an uncertain world, where every facet of the soap opera, the tragic drama, and the situation comedy must become fodder for what mindfulness I can manage to achieve this time round. I am no longer young and must seek all the help I can get.

Sarvam Mangalam.

Karma Zopa Kunkhyab

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More Fun Than A Barrel Of Monkeys

A couple of days ago, I did my bit for one of my local progressive organizations, Wake Up Ohio. A few weeks back they put out a copywriting and casting call for a radio ad about the new power of the military to acquire names, addresses, and phone numbers directly from the schools for high school students covered by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Wake Up Ohio plans to air the ad in all the major radio markets in my state. It should be quite topical. Recently, the story broke that the Pentagon is gearing up to actually use this power to compel schools to provide student data:

Washington Post
June 23, 2005

The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment in some branches. The program is provoking a furor among privacy advocates.

The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying. The data will be managed by BeNow Inc. of Wakefield, Mass., one of many marketing firms that use computers to analyze large amounts of data to target potential customers based on their personal profiles and habits.

Of course Joe Claus couldn't resist the opportunity. I sent the copy below in to Wake Up Ohio, and tried out for the talent. They liked the copy and were kind enough to select me for the primary male voice role.

We cut it in Columbus, at station WTVN, 610 on the AM dial, part of Clear Channel Communications, of course, and the home of sociopathic right-wing radio such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. The debut of the ad will be in the time slot that covers both of their programs on WTVN, which pleased me no end.

So I huddled in the soundproof booth with Mrs. Claus, my fellow talent, and our engineer. When my turn came, I put on my best Ohio blue-collar dialect and imagined a Saturday afternoon in front of the tube with one of my buds, a cold can of Old Milwalkee in one hand, the remote in the other hand, with a huge bowl of Snyder pretzels on the coffee table in front of the couch. Then I let 'er rip!

Here's the result:

Baseball announcer:

Count of three and two on Daborski, last out of the inning...Here comes the pitch... (bat/ball crack, cheer from the crowd, sound fades down)

Male Voice:

Dave, Daborski’s still in that slump. Bet he’s as ticked off as I was on Friday. A military recruiter called MY Unlisted Phone Number, and wanted to talk with my 16 and 17 year old kids, Jake and Kelly. Said he got my number from the High School. So I called up the Principal and I chewed him out good. I said there oughta be a law!

He said there WAS a law, The No Child Left Behind Act, and it made him give out every kid's name, address, and phone number to the military. "Didn't you know about it?" he said. "We mailed you a notice that you could write a letter to prevent it."

So I asked, "What do they want all those names for? It isn't like there's a draft or anything." Know what he had the gall to say? "Maybe there will be....”

Contralto female voice-over:

The No Child Left Behind Act lets the military violate your family's privacy. Find out more by asking at your child's High School, or log onto Wake-Up Ohio.com. Paid for by Wake Up Ohio, Madeline Breslin Treasurer.

How could you not love it? Doing good and actually doing it in the Belly of the Beast!

And then George W. Bush goes on TV the same day and has this to say:

Some Americans ask me, "If completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops?"

If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job.

Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight...

As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters: the sober judgment of our military leaders....

And the best way to honor the lives that have been given in this struggle is to complete the mission.

I thank those of you who've re-enlisted in an hour when your country needs you.

And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces.

We live in freedom because every generation has produced patriots willing to serve a cause greater than themselves...

Now Joe Claus is a fat and cynical old man--and a scapegrace baby-boomer in the bargain--so you can discount anything he says about causes greater than himself.

But when a shining idealist such as the President speaks about patriots willing to serve a greater cause than themselves, in a theater of war where we actually need no more soldiers, and where we are experiencing such stunning success, you should listen to what he has to say very carefully.

When you do, you can obviously see why the Pentagon has to hire a public relations firm to keep track of everything they can about every military age American. And also why they have to compel schools to give them that data with the force of law.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

"I want to kill any Republican I know." --Mrs. Claus

She is quite serious and means it literally. I live with her and I know when she is serious and when she isn't. I had hoped to take a break from writing until Wednesday. By then I had hoped to put up a post about my trip to my Buddhist monastery and the teachings that I heard there. I doubt I will have the heart to do that now:

WASHINGTON (AP) - When the federal government's new prescription drug benefit kicks in next year, it will not cover a category of drugs commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia and seizures.

That means those disabled and elderly people on Medicare who take Xanax, Valium, Ativan and other types of the drug benzodiazepine will have to look elsewhere for coverage or switch to a different, less addictive medication.

Finding other alternatives may not be easy for the 1.7 million low-income, elderly people who take the drug and will be automatically enrolled in the new prescription drug plan. They will depend on the states to continue paying for their benzodiazepines - "benzos" for short - on Jan. 1, but with no guarantee....

If states agree, they will continue to get federal matching funds when they pay for benzos.

But concerns remain among medical professionals and advocates for the elderly about what would happen if some states opt to save money by excluding benzos from their Medicaid program for the poor.

"Stopping the therapy abruptly can lead to seizures and dangerous, life-threatening problems," said Thomas Clark, policy director for the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists...

Basically, Congress excluded from the new benefit all drugs that states were entitled to omit from their Medicaid program. All states provide some level of coverage for benzos, even though they don't have to. Last year, they spent $57 million on that category of drugs for the dual-eligible population...

Over the past few years, my state, which has virtually a Republican one-party government, has systematically done everything it can to eliminate Medicaid coverage for the poor on any excuse whatsoever.

It is still doing this. And I have little doubt that it will follow the Federal Government's lead in this matter, and slowly but surely eliminate the disability drug coverage on as many as possible of the 20 prescription medications Mrs. Claus currently uses to keep the chronic pain of her incurable illnesses at bay and to sustain at least 2-4 hours a day of a normal life.

Mrs. Claus believes that the Republican war against the poor will systematically deprive her of every chance she has for a life where her intolerable pain and is at least mitigated, if not eliminated.

I can make no rational argument to the contrary that I, myself, would believe for a moment. Can you?

It's a shame. Mrs. Claus' mother has voted Republican for many years. Despite this, Mrs. Claus still meant what she said. And because of this the two of them may well be estranged to the grave and beyond.

I regard no one as my sworn enemy.

But despite my feelings about having no enemies, I have one simple question for any Republican who happens to read this post:

Can you see any reason why Mrs. Claus shouldn't regard you as her sworn enemy?

And for any of my readers I would have a further question:

If you were cut off, by the politics of our time, from every possibility of medicating a pain so constant and intolerable that it will deprive you of any desire to continue to live, what would you do when you got down to the last prescriptions you will ever have?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Mountain Will Not Come To Joe Claus...

...so Joe Claus will have to go to the mountain.

I will be out of the blogosphere until Wednesday next. It is time for my four day trek to the Buddhist Monastery with which I am associated. I will meet and taking teachings for the first time from a lama who is very important to me personally. He is a tulku, or rebirth of a great former teacher by the name of Mingyur Dorje. [This is pronounced MIN-jur DOR-jay] Mingyur Dorje was what is known as a terton, or discoverer of hidden teachings and the particular practices he developed are called terma. Terma in general are said to be particularly helpful to maintain the Dharma during the present day, because they are adapted to the problems of present day individuals who are ever more distant from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, himself.

Mingyur Dorje lived in the latter half of the 17th century and His Emminence Mingyur Rinpoche is his seventh rebirth. The Kagyu Lamas here in North America have relied strongly on the practices revealed by the first Mingyur Dorje as apt vehicles of practice for Western students. The more open of them have appeared on the Net, such as his Amitabha Buddha Sadhana. And they are, I can attest, very powerful tools for cleaing away confusion about the Buddhist point of view, which was certainly what we Western students suffered from when we first started practicing Buddhism in the late 1970's.

From the very first time I was taught to use one of these tools left to us by Mingyur Dorje I had a sense of my solid connection to it, and its aptness for me as a personal practice. There are varying degrees of this. We have other practices at my Dharma Center from other sources, and, fine as they are, they do not have this sense of personal aptness for me. Every one of Mingyur Dorje's terma practices that I have learned since have had this same confortable and familiar feel as the first one.

So I am looking forward to meeting his 20th Century manifestation. For, being a Buddhist, I know that I may not only be meeting him, I may also be re-meeting him, though I cannot say that my personal memories stretch as far back as to when that might have been.

If you want to understand what a trip up the mountain is generally like, you can look at one of my prior posts here. And, if you would like to do yourself some good through one of Mingyur Dorje's other termas, check out the link here [you'll have to scroll down to it]. The symbols of this terma are in a language said to be from beyond our human realm, they appeared to Mingyur Dorje in one of his meditative visions, and they help anyone who sees them to achieve a better rebirth in their next life.

I strongly encourage you to follow the link. After all, what have you got to lose?

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

When You Look Into The Abyss, The Abyss Also Looks Into You

It is no longer much use to spend time trying to foster dialog. The time for dialog has passed. I just woke up and found myself in the middle of an essay about the possibility of domestic political violence in this country. It is an essay I do not want to write, I will not write it, and I have stopped writing it. But I will set down the following piece of it:

Part of that evidence is the real meaning of the “I love Gitmo” t-shirt, that I talked about below. To understand the evidence, all you have to do is articulate a direct question to the people who boost, will buy, and will wear that t-shirt. If you love Gitmo so much, would you like some more of them? In your city? In your state? In your country?

I don’t think I would get a real and direct answer to these questions. When you pose questions to them about the serious issues of Gitmo, all you get is a torrent of abuse—abuse about how you are anti-patriotic and treasonous, abuse about how chaining people up in the fetal position and letting them sit in their own shit is not really “torture”, abuse about how the Pentagon’s admission of the death by violence of a mere 108 men who were beaten up in captivity is no big deal. After all, other countries have killed millions.

Presumably, killing millions leaves the victims much more dead.

But, I am perfectly convinced that the real, if unacknowledged, answer to my questions is, “Yes, I would like to have more Gitmos to love.” It would be so convenient. It would be an end to the “culture wars”, with one side cowed from political participation and driven to keep silent, since it is not practical to drive them from the country completely. Though it would be nice.

Do I really believe this about at least one-third to two-fifths of the people in my country are like this. After serious thinking I have to admit to myself and to you that I do. And I believe it about some people who are otherwise very nice people. That is the tragedy of it, that is what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil. It is not necessary for those who commit unspeakable evil to be monsters or devils. They can be your own perfectly ordinary neighbors. All it takes is sufficent self-deception about their true motives and their true involvement.

I have also written the following, twice now, in the articles below:

You wouldn't have had to do this. You could have insisted that the "tax relief" that the President distributed with such grand largesse, was a bad idea in a time of serious war. After all, after 9/11 "everything changed", right? Just like after Pearl Harbor everything changed, right? Well, surprise. As far as your civilian sacrifice, my civilian sacrifice, and everybody else's civilian sacrifice, nothing changed in the least. Did you object to this?

Did any of the War Cheerleaders, on blogs, on Fox News, on the Clear Channel Network, in the National Review, in the Weekly Standard, in the New York Post, in the Washington Times, or on Town Hall object to it? Not that I have heard. I invite you to correct me, if you have heard differently.

The War Cheerleaders, to the last pom-pom, are still telling us the nobility of our cause will win us through to the end, we should only pay attention to the news that says we are doing well in our noble cause, and that what happened before now still doesn't matter. So we should let the evidence of the lies just fade away.

What they are saying, whether they will admit it or not, is that, from Sea to Shining Sea, we have a noble war, with positive consequences, which will change the world--as long as somebody else fights it and somebody else pays for it.

Do I really believe that one-third to two-fifths of the people in my country are such canting hypocrites? Upon mature and careful reflection, I must say that I do. And I believe it about people who are otherwise very nice people. But that's the point of cant and hypocracy, isn't it?

These righteous and tormented American Martyrs regularly and inevitably return to a good healthy dinner in a nice private home where no one fears a knock on the door in the night, an apprehension by armed men, and a bloody, tormented death, testing faith to the uttermost extremity.

So what would relieve them of their persecution and martyrdom, allowing them to re-emerge into the light of day from the metaphorical Christian catacombs to which they have been driven, communing with their dead and carving rough fishes into the limestone walls?

The American Martyrs must not only be free to worship, they must be given perpetual rule and domination over all the rest of us. That is what the matter is about. It is not about any particular issue, not about abortion, not about gay marriage, not about "intelligent design", not about judges, not about boulders in the courthouse, and most emphaticly not about religious freedom. If it were about any of these, liberty, compromise, truth, and limited and balanced government, with true separation of powers, would be sufficient to adjudicate them.

Do I really believe that one-third to two-fifths of the people in my country, who are otherwise very nice people, are such plain and paranoid fools to think that they are somehow being persecuted by people who merely disagree with them? After extended examination of the evidence, I must admit reluctantly that I do.

What dialog is there to sustain with people who are insensible to evil if it is wrapped in an American flag, who mouth the cant of "democracy" without being willing to truly sacrifice anything for it themselves, and who are so plainly in the grip of paranoid vapors perpetuated by groupthink in the name of religion?


There is a fork in the road in our future and there are pioneers who have already gone down that fork in the road to darkness and destruction: Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, the Beltway snipers John Muhammad and Lee Malvo, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers of Columbine High School, the nameless and faceless mailer of anthrax in 2001, whom we have yet to apprehend or even identify, and, most vividly of all, Eric Rudolph, the bomber of abortion clinics and gay bars. I have written about him before:

Eric Rudolph sees himself, perhaps, as being as significant a figure in American history as abolitionist John Brown. I hope, if he does, he isn't right. For he is definitely quite intelligent and he might well be right. As Cohen points out, the government's plea bargain which spared his life is, abstractly, quite puzzling. It is particularly so since our current President has probably allowed more people to go to the death chamber than any American alive and has openly defended his support of the death penalty as a response to "evil".

If there ever are any more Gitmos to love in this country, there will be “good reasons” for them. There always are “good reasons” for them. They will be established and run as a response to "evil". We are currently manufacturing the “good reasons” for them in the domestic headlines every day. And maybe, too, we are manufacturing the people to be put in them from our very own citizenry.

We are on a political collision course in a country with more guns than sense. Our institutions, and the shock absorbing built into them may endure it. They have endured before. But from this point forward, I think, they will have to endure without genuine political compromise or dialog.

It scares me. It scares me a lot. But dialog is dead and cannot be revived. We no longer have anything to compromise over or dialog about. If you doubt me, try to think of something yourself.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Karma, Merit, Buddhist Vows, and the Spiritual Friend

A week ago one of our high Lamas came to town to teach. When this happens, the questions always permute beyond what the Lama and the translator have time to address.

As a long-time member of my Dharma Center, many people get referred to me for such amplification. This is not due to any great insight on my part. Twenty years ago when none of us were very familiar with the concepts the Lamas were trying to teach us, most of the obvious questions got asked repeatedly until we finally hashed out them out fully. If you went through that process, as I did, you accumulated a lot of sheer information about the Buddhist point of view. This has little to do with your own actual insight, but it can be helpful to those who have the obvious questions.

So I spent the better part of an afternoon on the couches in the basement of my center, below the shrine hall, chatting with a couple of gentlemen about my age, one of whom was an ex-professor, like myself, and was full of professor questions, just like I was 20 years ago. The other fellow was more typical and ordinary, coming to Buddhism from the mildly skeptical, but not very systematically thought out, secularism of our own time.

We touched on karma and the general fact that much of what happens to us in our present lives does not immediately appear to have any relation to our present moral qualities and our actions in this life.

Generally speaking, according to the Lamas, what happens now to an ordinary fellow like myself is the product of my actions perhaps 3-4 lifetimes ago, and, in some cases, even longer. The reason for this is that we normally create karmic accumulation faster than we can process the results. This is particularly true if our immediate past lives have been human ones. Human beings generally have the greatest freedom of action of any of the other possibilities out there. The more you can do, the greater the bill you run up.

This is the Buddhist answer to the “when bad things happen to good people” problem. You might be a good person now, but you really don’t know what you might have been or done in a past life.

If a karmic accumulation is about to ripen into a result in your life, there may be relatively little you can do to forestall it. However, there are many things you can do as a Buddhist to make good use of your suffering. Trouble, pain, and sickness are teachers, if you let them be. Reflecting on them as they occur and understanding abstractly that they result from your prior actions, can motivate you to do more to seek enlightenment and eliminate all your suffering permanently.

Further, if you are capable of this, reflecting that everybody, sooner or later, will be blindsided by suffering equivalent to your own, can lead you to aspire to relieve their sufferings as well. There are specific and formal practices where you visualize yourself doing exactly this—removing the suffering of others and giving them happiness. These are particularly useful when you yourself are suffering or ill.

The point of such practices is not to fool yourself that you can wave a magic wand and make everything all better. What you are doing when you use them is planting the desire to help and foster others deeper into your mindstream by using the great power of the immediacy and definiteness of your own suffering.

From another perspective, the fact that this delay of several lives exists in the ripening of karma is a great opportunity. As I have written before, my teachers have practices for the purification of unripened karma, some of which are stronger than others, depending upon the student’s readiness to practice them, and more karma can be purified faster by the stronger practices. These remedies are very powerful antidotes to future obstacles that may arise from your past actions.

This is of particularly vital importance for any unripened karmic problem from the very remote past. The Lamas say that karma works rather like compound interest, and even the smallest bad action can have truly horrible results when it finally ripens, the longer it takes to do so. Hence, karmic purifications of many kinds are normally present in most of our practices, and we make intense efforts to apply them.

Besides clearing away obstacles, a Buddhist tries to “accumulate merit”. This translation causes some confusion, but there is no better equivalent in English. The basic sense here is that one is using the same karmic process that creates suffering and obstacles to create opportunities for religious growth.

As I told the two gentlemen who were quizzing me—merit makes the mare go. Without the force of karmic accumulation behind it, nothing of significance can be accomplished or will occur, whether it fulfills worldly goals or spiritual ones. Simply to achieve a human birth, and contact with the Dharma as well, requires an immense amount of meritorious karmic accumulation. It does not happen by chance.

Both to make spiritual progress in this life, and to assure continuous contact with the Dharma in future lives, you have to deliberately create the conditions that will lead to this. One of the most powerful means available for this is known as the Seven Branch Prayer. This is a coordinated series of wishes and aspirations with profound future effects on one’s karma and mindstream.

The seven branches are: paying homage to all the buddhas of the past, present, and future; making mental offerings to them; confessing all harmful actions and resolving not to repeat them; rejoicing in the meritorious accumulation of all beings without exception; urging all Buddhas everywhere to teach the Dharma; asking that they not pass into Nirvana but continue to benefit beings; and, finally, dedicating every drop of merit you have ever accumulated to the enlightenment of all beings without exception.

These seven branches have a specific order. Each subsequent branch is stronger in effect and gathers more meritorious accumulation than the preceding one.

Two of the things my teachers also tell us to do is to aspire to help others with the merit generated by our practice, and to always end practices by expressly dedicate any merit accumulated to the enlightenment, not only of yourself, but of everybody. Meritorious accumulation can be destroyed by conflicting emotions such as anger, and, as everybody is prone to these, work at accumulating merit can be deeply undercut by this fact. But, if you share your accumulation with others by proper aspiration and dedication, you then make the effects in your mindstream and your future permanent and lasting.

It is said that the proximate cause for a future human birth is doing at least one of the following four things in your current life: not killing, not stealing, not lying, not committing sexual misconduct. Thus, if we can keep them, the Lamas encourage us to take at least one formal vow in this lifetime not to do one of these things. Serious and committed lay practicioners—upasakas, if male, or upasikas, if female, in Sanskrit or genyen in Tibetan—take all four of these vows plus a fifth vow not to take intoxicants in order to protect the other four vows.

The vows help you to avoid misconduct by implanting a “vow form” in your mind so that thinking of misconduct causes what we would call, I think, cognitive dissonance. However, it is very important to take only the vows you can keep, for once broken they cannot be retaken in this life.

For example, my teachers would discourage a police officer who became a Buddhist from taking the vow not to kill, since the job itself may force killing on that officer. Breaking the vow would then create a further karmic problem beyond that of taking a life in the line of duty.

Similarly, they would not encourage someone who is young, and not married or in a committed, long-term, relationship, to take the vow to avoid sexual misconduct.

They are quite realistic about these things, and point out that it is of much greater final benefit to your future to practice the type and amount of Dharma that your circumstances and situation permit, rather than trying to take on tasks of moral conduct which you are not yet ready for.

There is a difference between actions that merely stain or sully the vows and actions that truly break them. If killing an ant infestation is unavoidable, then you have sullied the vow not to kill, but have not broken it. You can then apply remedies to purify your action and renew your vow.

My own experience, however, is that even things like insects in the house can often be managed without killing, using things like a peanut butter jar and some cardboard. Taking the vow not to kill makes it far easier to take the time to do this, to reach for the jar rather than the fly swatter, and, in the end, it probably takes as much time and trouble to swat a fly as it does to jar one.

The Buddha himself made the Indian rainy season a time of special meditative retreat for monks and nuns because stepping on bugs is well-nigh unavoidable during rainy season, if you are out of doors.

The two gentlemen I was talking to also wanted some clarification about the concept of relating to a lama as a “spiritual friend”. I pointed out that this was the difference between merely listening to teachings from a lama, and developing a relationship where the lama actually guides your Dharma practice itself.

Everybody does not do the same practices all at once, particularly in the Tibetan traditions where there are so many practice options. There is a general sequence of practices that most of us follow, and there are common practices and rituals that we all do as a group, but the Lamas vary this considerably to meet individual needs.

So the relationship of “spiritual friendship” demands a great deal of intimacy, and a great deal of trust. Though some of what is involved is more or less equivalent to Christian “pastoral counseling”, it extends far beyond this, because Buddhism regards your life as an ongoing construction project which you have to make deliberate and focused efforts to complete. The lama is there not only to teach you about Buddhism, he or she is also there to teach you how to do Buddhism.

Yes, there are women lamas, both living today, such as the resident lama at my Dharma Center, as well as famous ones from the past: Gelongma Palmo, Yoginis Niguma and Sukkhasiddi, Yeshe Tsogyal, Machig Labdronma, and others.

This spiritual friendship develops over time, and as the months pass into years and your practice matures, so does your relationship with the lama. The degree to which this occurs depends not only upon time, but also upon karma. Some people can, through the force of past lives, relate to one lama deeply and immediately. This was so in my case. One interview was enough to cement my confidence and trust in our spiritual friendship.

Others must search more widely among the teachers of the various traditions to find someone with whom they truly connect. Often the karmic link will be stronger with the specific teaching tradition or lineage at first. It then matures later into a specific spiritual friendship with a given lama.

I know that my own relationship with the Karma Kagyu lineage is very strong. Among my spiritual friends, past and present, are Tilopa the yogi, with his charnel ground bone ornaments and his vividly direct instructions; Naropa the scholar and unvanquished debater of the great Buddhist university of Nalanda, who gave up fame and renown to follow his guru, and was a worthy vessel who did everything his guru asked, even at risk of his life; Marpa the Translator, gruff and straightforward, a Tibetan layman who gathered his entire inheritance to climb over the Himalayas to India to seek the pure dharma; Milarepa, the cotton-clad yogi, whose iron determination in the face of all obstacles brought him complete Buddhahood in one lifetime; Gampopa the great medical doctor and monk, skilled in teaching and impeccable in practice; and, finally, His Holiness Karmapa, the first serially reborn Tibetan lama, or tulku, whose 17 manifestations have adorned the world since the 12th Century.

The life stories of these men are as vivid to me as the memory of my own father. There are many great teachers of the other Buddhist traditions, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but none are more vivid to me as these. May all beings benefit from merely reading or hearing their names.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

And To The Republic For Which It Stands

My favorite conservative blogger, The Anchoress, has sprung to the defense, as have most conservative bloggers, of the Guantanamo Prison Camp. They seem to think that torture is somehow not torture if it is wrapped in the American Flag. I personally think that to wrap torture in it sullies that flag.

As a country, we are foresworn. We have signed an agreement to abandon torture, the International Convention On Torture, and we have broken it.

Too bad.

Whether we lead the world by our force of arms or not, we can no longer claim to lead it morally. That claim is dead.

Too bad.

I don't have much more to say about this issue than I have already said. And reading the causuitry for torture disgusts me.

So I have been remiss and not looked anywhere among the apologists for Gitmo to see if there is one word about American Lynching, which was also in the news this week. I know that I would probably find nothing about it, or next to nothing, but a man such a myself, committed to starting arguments from the facts, should at least look. But I really no longer care.

I no longer have the heart for it. The update on the Anchoress' site showing the I love Gitmo t-shirt cut it right out of me. After something like that, what's the point?

I'll leave the issue here with one final remark. Every thought is a seed planted in your future. I have no hesitation that what I have said and thought about torture in this blog, or on the comment pages of other blogs, are good seeds that will benefit my future.

I have done my best to encourage others to plant good seeds as well.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

An Answer To Mr. Anonymous

In the two posts immediately below this, I have had a lively discussion with very persistant gentleman who signs himself only as Anonymous. His final volley is so meaty that it really deserves another full post to address it. Here is what he has to say:

“…. but who, under the current circumstances can seriously call this war a just cause being effectively pursued?"

I will. I will call this war a just cause. I served some years in the U.S military yet not recently. I recall my first assignment. I had some fear about its locale and I asked a young USAF NCO, a career man, what he thought about remote assignments. His answer was: “Sir, wherever they plant the flag, I will serve.”

And, I dare suggest that:

Mr. Lincoln would answer these questions thusly: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

[I have shortened the Gettysburg Address here. I know it well. Mr. Anonymous knows it well. And we can presume that you know it well, too. --ed.]

...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Of course those words do not apply to today’s applications but nonetheless, the cause is the same: Liberty Liberty Liberty

So I would suggest that if you seek to know for whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for Liberty----not Saddam.

Liberty is not going to happen by accident via permission slips to the likes of Saddam, or Assad, or Kim Jong Il.

The point is not whether you disagree with GWB.

The question is how committed are you to Liberty?

John Kerry was never the answer because he could not answer the questions Liberty asks.

All he had was his medals which he threw away before he didn't throw them away.

Since 9-11 our choices are few. One of which is Liberty.

I know which side I am on. I suspect your position isn't the same side. That's how I see it.

So, what can I say to Mr. Anonymous? How committed am I to liberty? Quite committed, thank you. I am also committed to a few other things: clear thinking, basic honesty & moral conduct, good sense, and realism about results. So let's take them in order.

Clear Thinking:

Liberty is more than a mere word to wave around like a flag. It is a condition that exists only when the people who are "liberated" demand it for themselves. We are lucky here in that we do demand it and, generally speaking, have demanded it for some time now. But it cannot be given to anyone on a platter and by military force. The people whom you liberate must believe in it and take it for themselves. You can topple a tyrant, but you can't make people free.

Consider the following: Saddam Hussein came to power in an election.

Consider this also: the Iranian fundamentalist revolution against the Shah of Iran was a popular revolt.

Until the Iraqis step up and take it for themselves, no one will give them "Liberty". All anyone can give them is a chance to step forward. Have we given them that chance? Certainly. But the Liberty they get from it is solely up to them, not us.

Basic Honesty & Moral Conduct:

Liberty is mere licence without this. Government is mere arbitrary and capricious rule without this. Freedom is mere anarchy without this. I stand for Liberty, but not for licence. I stand for Government, but not for rule. I stand for Freedom, but not for anarchy.

You presume to quote Abraham Lincoln. Nothing I know from history suggests that Lincoln lied in any way to pursue the objective of preserving the Union through war.

George W. Bush lied to invade Iraq. He lied repeatedly. He lied flagrantly. He lied unashamedly. And he did so for six solid months. Since May 1, 2005 the evidence of this has been inescapable and unequivocal. I haven't seen anywhere in your comments where you have the face to deny this or dispute it.

I don't merely "disagree" with George W. Bush, I brand him as morally corrupt. By lying to make war, he has turned Liberty into licence. By lying to make war, he has turned Government into rule. By lying to make war, he has turned Freedom into anarchy. And this would be the case no matter how many tyrants he toppled.

But the fundamental dishonesty is not confined to the President alone. You make the point that a soldier's duty is to willingly serve and you make it with a fine rhetorical flourish: “Sir, wherever they plant the flag, I will serve.”

Well, wherever they plant the flag, will you insist on paying for it?

Or will you merely be content to let the government put it on the Visa Card no matter how much more the ultimate cost will be to your country and your children.

You wouldn't have had to do this. You could have insisted that the "tax relief" that the President distributed with such grand largesse, was a bad idea in a time of serious war. After all, after 9/11 "everything changed", right? Just like after Pearl Harbor everything changed, right? Well, surprise. As far as your civilian sacrifice, my civilian sacrifice, and everybody else's civilian sacrifice, nothing changed in the least. Did you object to this?

Did any of the War Cheerleaders, on blogs, on Fox News, on the Clear Channel Network, in the National Review, in the Weekly Standard, in the New York Post, in the Washington Times, or on Town Hall object to it? Not that I have heard. I invite you to correct me, if you have heard differently.

You have the nerve above to insinuate that I have no love for Liberty or my country. You had the nerve previously to insinuate, twice, in the face of my direct written statement to the contrary, that I did not support the investigation and arrest of terrorists. Finally, you had the nerve to ask me if I would have served in the military when I was young and, presumably, why I didn't. I answered you. I haven't yet heard you evaluate my reply.

You further have the nerve to denigrate the service of a fellow officer who took men into armed combat and got them back alive. Would your NCO have asked any more of you in the same situation? Whatever his other faults as a human being, John Kerry did that. The men whom he brought back alive attest to it. What he did was no more than other officers did, but he did do it.

I don't know whether you had the opportunity to do this or not. Maybe you did. If you did you would be worthy of any man's respect for doing so, and certainly worthy of any fellow officer's respect for doing so. And this would be the case whatever other reasons they might have for disliking you.

Now I am used to insinuations about my lack of love for Liberty and my country, and I don't take it personally. But nothing speaks louder of your fundamental self-deception and lapse from basic honesty than the fact that you have done this.

I repeat what I said in the post below:

Not one of our team of War Cheerleaders in this country--whether on a blog, in a pulpit, on an editorial page, or on a cable news program--has had the gall to tell those young men and women in Atlanta that they should sign up, that they have no reason in the world to doubt the President. Sergeant Davis can't tell them that, either.

We all know why. You know why. I know why. Sergeant Davis knows why. The War Cheerleaders know why, too, though they cannot face it. What they are saying, whether they will admit it or not, is that, from Sea to Shining Sea, we have a noble war, with positive consequences, which will change the world--as long as somebody else fights it and somebody else pays for it.

I see no reason to alter that statement or exclude you from it. Can you give me one?

Good Sense:

The worst thing that lying to yourself and to others does is that it rots your brain. In my reply to your question about my military service I said the following:

Who wants to join an army where nobody in charge has enough sense to locate and lock up all the loose firearms, ammunition, and explosives before insurgents could steal them? And this even when they had six clear months to do so.

Why did America do this in Iraq? The evidence about the matter is now unequivocal. Nobody upon nobody took the trouble to plan or prepare for the aftermath of war. Why? Because it would have inconveniently pointed out how much of a problem invading Iraq was going to be to a President who had already determined to do so come hell or high water.

When you make war on this basis you do it badly. Period. We did it badly. Period. I have yet to hear you assert that we have done it or are doing it well.

Let me amplify this a little bit. Over one year before hostilities, on February 13, 2002, in an anonymous "deep background" briefing, it was stated that the President intended to invade Iraq. There was 10 clear months between April 2002, the time Tony Blair and George W. Bush first discussed "regime change" in Iraq face to face, and when we finally went to war. Four months later in July 2002, when Tony Blair and his advisers met, the U. S. Military was already making preliminary attacks to tempt Saddam to retaliate, but still no planning was being done.

When we invaded in March 2003, there is a maddening story about an Army lieutenant colonel doing a Powerpoint slide briefing days before the invasion where the last slide, about the post-war plans read, To Be Provided.

From the time the Mission was declared Accomplished by George W. Bush on May 1, 2003 there was six months to November 2003 when armed resistance to the American presence in Iraq reached the critical mass of a full blown insurgency. Eighteen months were available to make a coordinated plan to forstall that insurgency, and absolutely nothing was done about it.

And the consequences? We virtually solicited disgruntled Iraqis to form an insurgency and we also made sure that it was one of the best armed insurgencies in history. Can you bring to bear any facts which contradict this statement?

In my youth I watched on the news the constant fatuous attempts of U. S. Military spokesmen to deny we were losing the Vietnam war, when the facts being reported from the field contradicted these reports at every turn.

In my youth I read the comment from one of those spokesmen about the village that was "destroyed in order to save it."

Vice President Cheney said the following as late as this Memorial Day:

I think we may well have some kind of presence there over a period of time. But I think the level of activity that we see today, from a military standpoint, I think will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.

Realism About Results:

In Vietnam the most inane self-deception about the truth in the field was practiced by the commander of our forces, General William Westmoreland. Luckily, this is not the case today, whatever foolish pap the Vice President spouts on television.

The people who are in charge of the military in Iraq, such as Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the chief U.S. military spokesman, and Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander have this to say about the current situation:

"I think the more accurate way to approach this right now is to concede that ... this insurgency is not going to be settled, the terrorists and the terrorism in Iraq is not going to be settled, through military options or military operations," Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said last week, in a comment that echoes what other senior officers say. "It's going to be settled in the political process."

Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, expressed similar sentiments, calling the military's efforts "the Pillsbury Doughboy idea" - pressing the insurgency in one area only causes it to rise elsewhere.

I repeat, until the Iraqis step up and take it for themselves, no one will give them Liberty. All anyone can give them is a chance to step forward.

So far, the majority of Iraqis who have stepped forward to take anything, have stepped forward to resist our presence there with armed force. It needent have been this way, we could have prevented it, we didn't prevent it, and no ranting about spreading democracy or advancing liberty will paper over that fact.

Abraham Lincoln is always fun to quote. When the commander of the Union forces was General Joe Hooker, the President would recieve dispatches from the field puffing up Hooker's activity, dillegence, and effectiveness in pursuing the war. The good general would sign them, "Hooker, Headquarters in the Saddle." After reading one of them, the President remarked to Secretary of War Stimson, "The only problem with Hooker is that his headquarters are where his hindquarters ought to be."

These days, this problem, at least, seems to be more prevalent in Washington than in Bagdhad.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

"A lot of people just don't really support who we have as a president, and they say that they're not signing up..."

This was an unusually candid remark from Army Recruiting Sergeant Gregory Davis, who recruits in suburban Atlanta. It was made on camera last night on CNN's "News Night With Aaron Brown."

Sergeant Davis is a straight shooter and a class guy. He does not equivocate about the dangers of war. Davis tell recruits directly that the chances of their going into combat are about 50/50.

And its not just the potential recruits who are resistant, it is also their parents:

So I say, well ma'am, your son or daughter can get killed right out there in the streets of Atlanta, and you know, when you compare the numbers of the people that have died as a result of combat, you would think there was more war going on here.

There is more war going on here and Sergeant Davis is the really big loser of it:

A lot of people just don't really support who we have as a president, and they say that they're not signing up...

Not one of our team of War Cheerleaders in this country--whether on a blog, in a pulpit, on an editorial page, or on a cable news program--has had the gall to tell those young men and women in Atlanta that they should sign up, that they have no reason in the world to doubt the President. Sergeant Davis can't tell them that, either.

We all know why. You know why. I know why. Sergeant Davis knows why. The War Cheerleaders know why, too, though they cannot face it. The Press & Media know why, as well. And they know that anyone who attempts to say why will have their guts ripped out by the War Cheerleaders.

A lot of people just don't really support who we have as a president, and they say that they're not signing up...

When I wrote below about the Downing Street memo, I pointed out, first, the systematic deception of Congress by President George W. Bush in order to obtain war powers to invade Iraq:

It appears that even before the war many senior intelligence officials in the government had doubts about the case being trumpeted in public by the president and his senior advisers. Moreover, as war approached, many U.S. intelligence analysts were internally questioning almost every major piece of prewar intelligence about Hussein's alleged weapons programs. All these claims were made by Bush or then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in public addresses even though, the reports made clear, they had yet to be verified by U.S. intelligence agencies.

In an Oct. 7, 2002, speech, Bush mentioned a potential threat to the U.S. mainland being explored by Iraq through unmanned aircraft "that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons." Senior members of Congress were told in September 2002 that this was the "smoking gun" in a special briefing by Vice President Cheney and then-CIA Director George J. Tenet.

I later pointed out how the President repeatedly and systematically lied to the public about his intention to invade Iraq no matter what stood in his way. This was told by the White House to Sir Richard Dearlove--who is "C", the chief of the British Secret Service or MI-6--as he reported to the Prime Minister Tony Blair on July 23, 2002:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

The first of the President's lies was in a speech on October 1, 2002:

Of course, I haven’t made up my mind we’re going to war with Iraq. [10/1/02]

The last of them immediately preceeded the invasion:

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. And it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda. [5/17/03]

I know that the families of our military are praying that all those who serve will return safely and soon. Millions of Americans are praying with you for the safety of your loved ones and for the protection of the innocent. For your sacrifice, you have the gratitude and respect of the American people. And you can know that our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done. Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly -- yet, our purpose is sure. [5/19/03]

Of course, it wasn't supposed to matter. When the evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the links to Al Qaeda, were finally found, the real reluctance, whether in the nation or in the world, would be swept away. After all, George Tenant, the CIA Director himself, had told the President that it was "a slam dunk."

Well, surprise. It wasn't a slam dunk. The deception, and the self-deception, did matter then. It really began to matter when the evidence was never found. And on May 1, 2005, when the Times of London published the absolutely undeniable evidence of the lies, from the highest circles of the British Government, every last hope that history would say that we made a just, honorable, and honest war died completely. We didn't.

It did matter then. It does matter now. Why does it matter now?

A lot of people just don't really support who we have as a president, and they say that they're not signing up...

The War Cheerleaders, to the last pom-pom, are still telling us the nobility of our cause will win us through to the end, we should only pay attention to the news that says we are doing well in our noble cause, and that what happened before now still doesn't matter. So we should let the evidence of the lies just fade away.


A lot of people just don't really support who we have as a president, and they say that they're not signing up...

When an honest War Cheerleader, whose job it is to report on the war from Iraq, comes home, this is now what he has to say:

Two years ago I went to Iraq as an unabashed believer in toppling Saddam Hussein. I knew his regime well from previous visits; WMDs or no, ridding the world of Saddam would surely be for the best, and America's good intentions would carry the day. What went wrong? A lot, but the biggest turning point was the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Since April 2004 the liberation of Iraq has become a desperate exercise in damage control. The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib alienated a broad swath of the Iraqi public. On top of that, it didn't work. There is no evidence that all the mistreatment and humiliation saved a single American life or led to the capture of any major terrorist...

I'm not one of those who think America should pull out immediately. There's no real choice but to stay, probably for many years to come. The question isn't "When will America pull out?"; it's "How bad a mess can we afford to leave behind?" All I can say is this: last one out, please turn on the lights.

So now what does Sergeant Davis say to the young men and women of Atlanta about our war in Iraq? Does he tell them, "For your sacrifice, you have the gratitude and respect of the American people. And you can know that our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done,"?

I wouldn't have the face to say that to them now. Probably you wouldn't have the face to say that to them now. And, if the War Cheerleaders have the face to say it, they certainly don't seem to be saying it.

What they are saying, whether they will admit it or not, is that, from Sea to Shining Sea, we have a noble war, with positive consequences, which will change the world--as long as somebody else fights it and somebody else pays for it.

Just who is that somebody else, I wonder?

A lot of people just don't really support who we have as a president, and they say that they're not signing up...

Why should they support him? Really.

Five years ago I would have said that this country had finally learned something from our disasterous experience in Indochina: to make war successfully you must tell the truth, have clear war aims, have a genuine reason to fight, and not take on more than you can handle. We demonstrated that knowledge the first time we fought Iraq in 1991. In 2002, it looked like we understood this in Afghanistan, as well.

There were 58,226 American casualties in Southeast Asia between January 1962 and March 1973. We made the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, based on a questionable incident of attack upon us. To the very end, our Government never ceased lying to itself, and to us, that everything was under control, that we were making progress, and that the conclusion would eventually be something to be proud of.

Lies really matter, because they are lies. The truth really matters because it's the truth.

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I Wish This Wouldn't Keep Happening. It Gets So Old.

I really think it is a good idea that the FBI investigate terrorist suspects. And when they find them, and probable cause to go get them, I think they should arrest them. I think the suspects should get a fair trial by an impartial jury, and go to prison if they are judged guilty or plead guilty.

But what I don't think is a good idea is the constant political grandstanding that the people who employ the FBI seem to think appropriate to their other agendas:

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Federal Bureau of Invesigation apparently gave the media a different, far more damaging version of an affidavit against a Lodi, California father and son charged with lying to federal officials than the one that was finally given to a court in Sacramento Thursday.

The affidavit filed Thursday did not contain any of the sensation material from earlier in the week which said the son's "potential terrorist targets included hospitals and groceries, and contained names of key individuals and statements about the international origins of 'hundreds' of participants in alleged Al Qaeda terrorist training camps in Pakistan." [emphasis mine--ed.]

Defense attorney Johnny Griffin III, who represents the father, Umer Hayat, accused the government of "releasing information it knew it could not authenticate." The FBI said the different versions were the result of "unfortunate oversight due to miscommunication."

Miscommunication. Right.

We've seen this all before. The last time was the politically motivated Department of Homeland Security terror scare of August 1, 2004, in metro New York City and in Washington, during the middle of the Presidential election campaign.

Our major partner in the particular investigation in question, British Home Secretary David Blunkett, expressed Britain's oblique rebuke of the Bush Administration whose fevered "terror alert" forced the arrests in Britain and Pakistan to be made too soon, before all the useful intelligence had been gathered:

There is also a difference between alerting the public to a specific threat and alarming people unnecessarily by passing on information indiscriminately. I think we have got the balance right. I am being kept fully informed of police operations. As these are ongoing I cannot comment further on them at this stage. What matters is that the relevant authorities are vigorously pursuing their investigations in order to protect the public.

Would that the politicians who currently manage our government thought this was all that mattered when terrorists are arrested.

George W. Bush made a major speech yesterday in my town. It was at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Graduation Ceremony and, as usual, anybody but a previously vetted shill was kept out of the enthusiastic audience.

What was he speaking about? Making the Patriot Act permanent and extending the powers it grants.

Can you guess why any reasonable observer would not buy the FBI's supposed "oversight and misscomunication" as the real explanation of why the scare rhetoric about the Lodi suspects was trumpeted so loudly. Good, I'm glad your head is screwed on straight, too.

Now I disagree with the President. I don't think the Patriot Act should be made permanent and the powers it gives the police should be extended. The reasons I think this are best articulated here.

But I also think that this legislation is important enough both to our safety and our freedom that it should be deliberated carefully, without haste, and without grandstanding scare tactics on the part of its proponents, whether it is passed or not. And I do not see why a reasonable supporter of Patriot Act II would not think this as well.

I am outraged, insofar as outrage is still possible, since it occurs so frequently, at the constant misuse of terrorist investigations, and distortion of the facts concerning them, to stampede this country into particular political decisions.

You should be outraged, too. Even if you support the passage of Patriot Act II.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

So Much More Is The Matter With Ohio Than Even I Thought

Ohio Republican Governor Bob Taft has a nickname among those of us who don't care much for him or his party. We call him Bobblehead Bob.

It is a cruel taunt because it captures the physical stiffness of the man that comes across in pictures and on television; the body of a man whose consciousness is almost solely in head; rigid, numb, and inflexible; with the head moving, speaking, nodding, and responding as if it were merely placed atop the torso and not connected to it.

No politician in my memory had such an endemic somatic stiffness except for Richard Nixon.

You get a sense that Taft's stiffness is not like Nixon's, it is not the rigidity of a thickly stuffed official shirt hiding an angry and vengeful man who would peep from behind a mask of governmental dignity, habitually assumed.

Taft appears to be one of those unfortunates whose real feelings cannot find adequate expression in words or gestures, and have to be guiltily packed away in the body and never acknowledged. Such a man is nearly tongue-tied when confronted with facts that stir the feelings far beyond the capacity of the mind to repress them or the body to hold them.

I can only imagine how much it took for him to verbally express his outrage (I'm sure it was real--from all indications, the genuine corruption was lower down the ladder) at his "good friend" Tom Noe, who cost the state 12 million dollars with bad rare coin investments for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, and is now being investigated for laundering money into the Republican Presidential Campaign, in violation of the campaign finance laws.

And now this. Read 'em and weep Bob:

Workers' Comp Bureau Concealed $215M Loss; Taft, Petro Knew About Fund's Woes Many Months Ago



COLUMBUS — Democrats were screaming “cover-up” yesterday after state officials admitted that a high-risk hedge fund that the embattled Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation had invested in had lost $215 million in just a few months last year.

The bureau acknowledged that the fund, managed by a Pittsburgh-based investment firm, lost the money between February and September, 2004. MDL Capital Management relinquished control of the fund in November.

Although the bureau has known about the losses since September, it wasn’t revealed until yesterday, a day after The Blade began making calls upon learning that state investigators had uncovered huge losses at the bureau.

A spokeman for Gov. Bob Taft said last night that Mr. Taft had been told in September that there was an investment loss at the bureau — a loss of $10 million to $20 million.

Bureau records show that Attorney General Jim Petro’s office also was informed of the investment loss in September. Spokesmen said Mr. Taft and Mr. Petro did not learn the full extent of the loss until yesterday.

The investments with MDL are unrelated to the bureau’s coin funds managed by Mr. Noe, a prominent Toledo-area coin dealer. But the news of the MDL losses were revealed just a day after the Ohio Ethics Commission reported expanding its probe into whether bureau employees complied with state ethics laws. Earlier yesterday, before news of the MDL losses were reported, Inspector General Tom Charles confirmed that his office was investigating other bureau investments.

Tina Kielmeyer, the bureau’s interim administrator, disclosed yesterday that Terry Gasper, the bureau’s former chief financial officer, was forced to resign last year because of the losses. Earlier this year, however, bureau officials told The Blade that Mr. Gasper left for health reasons.
[emphasis mine--ed.]

James Conrad, forced by the unfolding Noe rare-coin scandal to resign as the bureau’s administrator, told Ms. Kielmeyer in his last meeting with her that the investment loss would require her “immediate attention.”

She said she and a management review team appointed by Mr. Taft Friday are looking for other questionable investments.

Ms. Kielmeyer, in a memo to Governor Taft yesterday about the loss, offered a chronology that both answers and raises questions about the deal.

Mr. Conrad wasn’t told about the losses until they had already occurred, although Jim McLean, the bureau’s chief investment officer, was aware of them.

The first inkling of problems surfaced in March, 2004, when the fund lost $7 million. Ms. Kielmeyer, in her memo to Governor Taft, said that Mr. McLean was assured that the managers would change their strategy. However, after recovering a bit in May, 2004, the fund went into free fall.

Ms. Kielmeyer said the bureau believes the fund managers “leveraged the fund beyond contractual risk parameters.” Ms. Kielmeyer also said “it’s questionable” whether the investment fit into the parameters of the bureau’s investment policy.

Mr. McLean was put on paid administrative leave yesterday, pending a management review of the situation.

Bill Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO and a member of the bureau’s Oversight Commission, said he didn’t know about the $215 million investment loss until yesterday.

Robert Cowman, the former chief investment officer of the bureau, said Mr. Gasper was the only other person he talked with regularly about the rare-coin funds that are now the focus of intense scrutiny from state and federal authorities. The bureau and Mr. Noe agreed last month to dissolve the funds.

Mr. Gasper was also investigated by the bureau in February, 1997, after allegations were made that he tried to steer bond work to a Cleveland bank in conjunction with Paul Mifsud. At the time, Mr. Mifsud, who died in May, 2000, was a consultant and a former chief of staff to then-Gov. George Voinovich.

Mr. Mifsud, who served as the governor’s chief of staff from 1991 to 1996, pleaded guilty in 1997 to two misdemeanors: obstructing official business and an ethics violation. He spent six months in a prison work-release program after pleading guilty to accepting a home-improvement project at a cut rate from a contractor who had received millions of dollars in unbid state contracts.

In an earlier story, The Blade reported that Mr. Noe identified Mr. Mifsud, a coin collector himself, as someone who had helped him get coin business.

In mid-April, The Blade reported that Ohio Republicans received more than $455,000 in campaign contributions from employees of the fund managers hired by the bureau for the “emerging managers” program in which Mr. Noe participated.

The big winners included the state Republican Party committees, which received $200,750, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who received $67,130, and Governor Taft, who got $61,875.

As word of the MDL losses filtered throughout Columbus, state officials reacted with caution or in the case of Governor Taft, refused to meet with reporters.

He would not do a telephone interview with The Blade yesterday about the investment loss. An aide said he was too busy working on the state budget.

Mr. Taft refused to comment when approached by a Blade reporter as his driver delivered him to the governor’s mansion in the Columbus suburb of Bexley at about 6:15 p.m. yesterday.“Call the office,’’ Mr. Taft said, referring all questions to spokesman Mark Rickel.

A state trooper then asked the reporter to leave the grounds as Mr. Taft entered the mansion.

Yippie Aye Oh Kyay.

If you know anything about Ohio, you know the long history of it's whited sephulcre of corrupt Republican politics. There was Mark Hanna, the turn of the century Boss of Cincinnati and the Karl Rove of his day. There was Jim Rhodes, the multi-term Ohio Governor, whose favors for incarcerated Cleveland mobster Yonnie Licavoli were splashed all over Life magazine, and who simply never replied to the charges and won several more terms as Governor.

And then there was George Voinovich himself, whom Paul Misfud worked for. Senator George V. is a peculiar case: back in the Clinton years there was some serious talk, early on, about his running for President or Vice President. But it died very, very abruptly.

George was a pragmatic and realistic Governor, and I wonder still if that same pragmatic realism, coupled with honesty to the national Republican Party Powers about his own behind the scenes affairs while Governor, caused his future status as a candidate to wither so suddenly.

But, be that as it may, the stink of corruption is all over the BWC and Governor Taft's staff. I wrote about it in the first of these posts below.

Ohio has been brought to ruin by both national and state Republican misrule. We are now beginning to get a peep at the why of it and the wherefore of it.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Submitted For Your Consideration On The Way To The Twilight Zone

Mrs. Claus is a big fan of Lou Dobbs on CNN. She is constantly trying to get me to watch, but I frankly don't care that much for television. Also the time he is on is prime writing time for me. I do, however, occasionally scan his transcripts, because they are about the only thing on television news that is consistently worthwhile. They discuss fundamental, grassroots issues, instead of Beltway Burps & Farts and Celebrities On Trial, 24/7.

Here is a sample of what I mean, and an object lesson of what we have really lost in this country in the news business. You will find this sort of intelligence, measured consideration, and simple news sense almost nowhere else except at Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau:

DOBBS: My guest tonight, a critically acclaimed journalist, a best-selling author, the lead columnist for "Time" magazine. Joe Klein has written his column in "Time" magazine this week, featured, about the politics of sanity and politics of passion and some confusion that exists between the two.

KLEIN: I think that the really shocking thing that's going on is that the people in Washington are talking about stuff that the American people aren't interested in at all.

DOBBS: Absolutely.

KLEIN: I mean, you know, there's a poll by Diane Feldman, a Democrat, in which 72 percent of voters say that the people in Washington see the world differently than the way I do, or the way they do.

And to me, it's striking that not only is the point of view that you represent, which is the kind of populist point of view, not being discussed in Washington, or on the campaign trail, but also the point of view that a lot of the more responsible corporate leaders, the people who really believe that we should have a universal health care system in this country because the way health care works is disastrous right now, the people who are in favor of fiscal responsibility -- those are the people I call the party of sanity. Their point of view isn't being represented either.

DOBBS: The working man and woman in this country is -- you know, is so poorly represented, it's scary. Our unions now are at a fraction of our total workforce, and under further pressure. It's far easier to get public employees into a union than it is private -- private labor into a union. There's no countervailing influence to the might and the absolutely unadulterated, all but unchallenged might, of U.S. multinationals, corporate America.

Politically, in this country, they've never held such sway, even in the era of the robber barons. When you talk about sanity and passion, it seems to me that anyone with clear eyes will look out and see that if we don't have a countervailing influence -- politically and socially and economically -- to corporate America and to two parties that have basically sold out, have been bought lock, stock and barrel by corporate America, then we're in a lot of trouble.

KLEIN: Well, it's not just corporate America that's bought them out. I think part of the reason that you're seeing the debates, the amount of time spent on Terri Schiavo in Washington, as opposed to illegal immigration, for example, where you and I may not be that far apart -- I think that that's a consequence of other special interests.

The religious extremists have a special interest. On the Democratic side, this big fight over judicial appointees is driven by secular extremists who are furious about the possibility that abortion laws will be changed. Those are important issues, but there are huge issues that are not being focused on in Washington.

DOBBS: You know, we have moved, in just to the past six months, Joe, from a campaign to "reform" -- quote-unquote -- Social Security at an immense cost, and estimated as much as $2 trillion over the course of 10 years. Now it is a crisis that is in quiescence, if you will. And now we're focusing on judicial nominations that have been fought by the Democratic Party on principle that are suddenly now not a matter of principle.

Meanwhile, illegal immigration -- we're exploiting illegal aliens in our labor. We're depressing wages. We're outsourcing jobs. Our public education system is being destroyed, the pride, the foundation of our middle class and everything that is good about this country. And we have -- I will be respectful -- senators and congressman and a president in Washington who are ignoring that. And I think that's -- you're exactly right in making that point.

This is, as I have entitled the post, submitted for your consideration, and in the hope that someday soon we can find our way out of the Twilight Zone that news coverage in this country has been hauling us into ever since the rise of Fox News.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Look It Square In The Face...

And own it:

The four-square-mile Green Zone, the one place in Baghdad where foreigners are reasonably safe, could be a showcase of American values and abilities. Instead the American enclave is a trash-strewn wasteland of Mad Max-style fortifications. The traffic lights don't work because no one has bothered to fix them. The garbage rarely gets collected. Some of the worst ambassadors in U.S. history are the GIs at the Green Zone's checkpoints. They've repeatedly punched Iraqi ministers, accidentally shot at visiting dignitaries and behave (even on good days) with all the courtesy of nightclub bouncers--to Americans and Iraqis alike. Not that U.S. soldiers in Iraq have much to smile about. They're overworked, much ignored on the home front and widely despised in Iraq, with little to look forward to but the distant end of their tours--and in most cases, another tour soon to follow. Many are reservists who, when they get home, often face the wreckage of careers and family.

This is how it is really going in Iraq. This is how it has always been going in Iraq from the first moment our troops crossed the border. This is how it will continue to go in Iraq for the forseeable future, and it is bleeding our volunteer military white.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction, the "shock and awe" bombardment, the Mission Accomplished, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the "planting the seeds of democracy" have all been a masquerade, have all been televised entertainment, have all been cheap thrills for an audience halfway around the world. The above quotation is the reality.

We lost this war the moment we supposedly won it. And we lost it because we weren't ready to win it: we weren't prepared to make Iraq work, and we weren't prepared for the obvious resistance to our rule. All the rest is smoke and mirrors, when it is not outright lies.

We might have lost it in any case. An insurgency was perfectly forseeable, though our idiot leaders didn't forsee it, and an insurgency is a tough nut to crack under any conditions. But our leaders have actually created a model insurgency, the best insurgency there could possibly be--armed beyond their wildest dreams with the Iraqi army ordinance that we didn't secure from theft, and organized by the experienced Iraqi soldiers whom we summarily booted out of job after we "won" our war.

We made this war because the President wanted to, not because we had to. That is why we lost it. He wanted to because Iraq was the cheapest shot the military could take--since his father had already done half the job for him in 1991--and the best and least expensive way to prove to the world that we were serious about destroying "The Axis of Evil". That's all he thought about, and if his advisors thought any more about further consequences, they either were ignored, or, more likely, they prudently kept it to themselves.

It was wrong from the start and it will be wrong to the finish which will be ignominous.

The evidence is plain, and the two people who cooked it up, Tony Blair and George Bush, are so openly implicated that they no longer can deny the record of what occurred. They now haven't even the face to claim that the damming evidence, the Downing Street Memo is false. They can only try to spin it:

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, I can respond to that very easily. No, the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all. And let me remind you that that memorandum was written before we then went to the United Nations.

Yes, Mr. Prime Minister, well before you went to the United Nations. When you read the actual Memo, that is precisely the point:

Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.....The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

That was October 1, 2002. This is very important to remember.--ed.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

Also very important--ed.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action....

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors....If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work....

The political strategy to give the military plan space to work. How could it be more obvious?

Let's see what Prime Minister Blair had to say about it yesterday:

Now, no one knows more intimately the discussions that we were conducting as two countries at the time than me. And the fact is we decided to go to the United Nations and went through that process, which resulted in the November 2002 United Nations resolution, to give a final chance to Saddam Hussein to comply with international law. He didn't do so. And that was the reason why we had to take military action.

Yes, Mr. Prime Minister, you did work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors, just like your memo says. And it did help with the legal justification for the use of force. And that was your political strategy to give your military plan space to work. You cooked it all up beforehand. Period.

You are the acknowledged world master of spin, but this one can't be spun away.

The political strategy to give the military plan space to work....

George W. Bush is a liar. Here are a selection of the lies, starting precisely on the date the Memo indicated, October 1, 2002:

Bush: "Of course, I haven’t made up my mind we’re going to war with Iraq." [10/1/02]

Bush: "You said we’re headed to war in Iraq – I don’t know why you say that. I hope we’re not headed to war in Iraq. I’m the person who gets to decide, not you. I hope this can be done peacefully." [12/31/02]

Bush: "I want to remind you that it’s his choice to make as to whether or not we go to war. It’s Saddam’s choice. He’s the person that can make the choice of war and peace." [3/6/03]

Bush: "Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war, and every measure will be taken to win it." [3/17/03]

No. Every measure was not taken to avoid war. Every measure was implemented to provoke it, with a political strategy to erode any resistance to it.

A political strategy to give the military plan space to work.

If you love this country and what it stands for write, call, or e-mail your representatives in Congress asking them to investigate the Downing Street Memo, and its implications. If you love this country write your local newspaper, or the newspaper you read, or the news magazines that come into your home, and ask why the Downing Street Memo has not been properly covered by them up to now. If you love this country and you blog, blog about it, keep blogging about it, and do not let anyone forget about it.

UPDATE: Here's something else you can do.

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