Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How the Left Can Become a True Political Force to Be Reckoned With

By Bill Fletcher & Carl Davidson
Progressive America Rising via

Nov 13, 2012 - The 2012 elections may prove to have been a watershed in several different respects.  Despite the efforts by the political Right to suppress the Democratic electorate, something very strange happened: voters, angered by the attacks on their rights, turned out in even greater force in favor of Democratic candidates. The deeper phenomenon is that the changing demographics of the USA also became more evident—45% of Obama voters were people of color, and young voters turned out in large numbers in key counties.

Unfortunately for the political Left, these events unfolded with the Left having limited visibility and a limited impact—except indirectly through certain mass organizations—on the outcome.

The setting

On one level it is easy to understand why many Republicans found it difficult to believe that Mitt Romney did not win the election.  First, the US remains in the grip of an economic crisis with an official unemployment rate of 7.9%.  In some communities, the unemployment is closer to 20%.  While the Obama administration had taken certain steps to address the economic crisis, the steps have been insufficient in light of the global nature of the crisis.  The steps were also limited by the political orientation of the Obama administration, i.e., corporate liberal, and the general support by many in the administration for neo-liberal economics.

The second factor that made the election a ‘nail biter’ was the amount of money poured into this contest.  Approximately $6 billion was spent in the entire election.  In the Presidential race it was more than $2 billion raised and spent, but this does not include independent expenditures.  In either case, this was the first post-Citizen United Presidential campaign, meaning that money was flowing into this election like a flood after a dam bursts.  Republican so-called Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs) went all out to defeat President Obama.

Third, the Republicans engaged in a process of what came to be known as “voter suppression” activity.  Particularly in the aftermath of the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans created a false crisis of alleged voter fraud as a justification for various draconian steps aimed at allegedly cleansing the election process of illegitimate voters.  Despite the fact that the Republicans could not substantiate their claims that voter fraud was a problem on any scale, let alone a significant problem, they were able to build up a clamor for restrictive changes in the process, thereby permitting the introduction of various laws to make it more difficult for voters to cast their ballots.  This included photographic voter identification, more difficult processes for voter registration, and the shortening of early voting.  Though many of these steps were overturned through the intervention of courts, they were aimed at causing a chilling impact on the voters, specifically, the Democratic electorate.[1]

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lessons for 21st Century Socialism from Buddhism

Buddhism and ecology both refuse to separate the human and natural worlds – and demand that we act accordingly

Vultures at a Tibetan sky burial ritual in Dari county in northwest China's Qinghai province 27 November 2009. Photo by Alex Lee/epa/Corbis

By David P Barash
Aeon Magazine

Nov 5, 2012 - Once, while waiting for a wilderness permit at a ranger station in North Cascades National Park, Washington state, I overheard the following message, radioed into headquarters by a backcountry ranger: ‘Dead elk in upper Agnes Creek decomposing nicely. Over.’ This ranger was not only a practical and profound ecologist, she also possessed the wisdom of a Buddhist master. The ‘over’ in her communication seemed especially apt. For Buddhists, as for ecologists, all individual lives are eventually ‘over’, but their constituent parts continue ‘living’ pretty much for ever, in a kind of ongoing process of bio-geo-chemical reincarnation.

People who follow ecological thinking (including some of our hardest-headed scientists) might not realise that they are also embracing an ancient spiritual tradition. Many who espouse Buddhism — succumbing, perhaps, to its chic, Hollywood appeal — might not realise that they are also endorsing a world view with political implications that go beyond bumper stickers demanding a free Tibet.

Plenty of us recognise that Buddhist writings and teachings — especially in their Zen manifestation — celebrate the beauty and wisdom in the natural world. A monk asks a master: ‘How may I enter in the Way?’ The master points to a stream and responds: ‘Do you hear that torrent? There you may enter.’ Walking in the mountains, the master asks: ‘Do you smell the flowering laurel?’ The monk says he does. ‘Then,’ declares the master, ‘I have hidden nothing from you.’

Part of this sensitivity to nature is a Buddhist grasp of suffering, whose existence constitutes the first of Buddhism's Four Noble Truths. It is no coincidence that Henry David Thoreau, America's first great environmentalist, was also a student of Indian religion and the first translator of the ‘Lotus Sutra’ into English. In this classic teaching, Shakyamuni Buddha compares the ‘Dharma’ — the true nature of reality — to a soothing rain that nourishes all beings.

The pioneering ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote that to have an ecological conscience is to ‘live alone in a world of wounds’. The Buddha urged his followers to be sensitive to the suffering of all sentient beings. His First Precept is to commit oneself to ahimsa, or nonharming. The Mahayana Buddhist ideal is to go further, and to become a bodhisattva, an enlightened individual who vows to relieve the suffering of all beings. In the ‘Metta Sutta’, Theravada monks and lay adherents vow to practise loving kindness: ‘Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.’ And here is the first verse of ‘The Bodhisattva Path’, by Shantideva, a revered eighth-century poet: ‘May I be the doctor and the medicine/And may I be the nurse/For all sick beings in the world/Until everyone is healed.’

For Buddhists and ecologists alike, we are all created from spare parts scavenged from the same cosmic junk-heap

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