Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Mentally Ill Murderer is the U.S. Empire Nation

Every time a mass murder occurs in the U.S. we hear the shooter was “mentally ill.” Any one who would do something so crazy, we are told, is by definition mentally ill.  Because no one can explain why a human being would shoot up a group of kids and adults in a school, temple, or movie theater, we settle for the lazy conclusion—“He must be mentally ill.”

The instinctive reaction to any suffering or death is to ask “Why?”  We think that an answer will help relieve our pain, but it never does.  Here, though, the answer “He was mentally ill” is not seriously trying to relieve the pain of victims’ families or of the nation.  It’s actually a device to keep the nation from looking for the real cause of gun violence.

So, let me reframe the “mentally ill” answer.  Instead of laying that label at the feet of the killers (many of whom have some mental illness), we need to apply the term to our gun-saturated, Second-Amendment obsessed culture. 

Our culture is at least sociopathic when it comes to conflict, guns, the gun industry, the military-industrial complex, the NRA, the build-up and distribution of weapons of mass destruction to all parts of the world.  We glorify violence through our TV programs, movies, and novels.  It has become entertainment.  Our national pastime, football, now lists all the injuries to players each week in the papers.  And we cheer when our guy hurts their guy.

Our presidential campaigns are filled with personal attacks, violence against truth, and dominating competition—gladiators playing to the death. 

Throughout history, nation states possessing killing weapons and armies, along with their allies—religions and corporate wealth and power—have plagued the earth community by colonizing countries and building empire societies.  The United States is an empire society, a dominating culture ruled by corporate people of wealth. It is not, nor has ever been, a democracy where all people are equal and actually have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

The United States is a bully state.  We live in a climate of conflict and violence, of guns and “my individual rights” at the expense of others’ rights to life and happiness. Guns facilitate bullying in any relationship—whether by a hunter toward a deer, an angry husband toward his wife, a frustrated Adam Lanza toward 600 tiny children.

What should be done?  Prayers and condolences are not sufficient.  While they comfort the victims and us, they don’t change anything in the culture. 

First, we should repeal the Second Amendment. There certainly isn’t anything sacred about an amendment for the right to bear arms when, back then, citizens had single-shot weapons and no active military. 

Second, the federal government cannot allow the gun industry and all the private military contractors to keep dictating national and foreign policy on the making, selling, and use of guns.  The United States cannot continue to act as the primary promoter of guns and murderous weapons around the world.

Third (and the hardest of all).  We, the people, must transform the United States from being an Empire Nation into an Earth Community.  We need to create a nation where all people are equal and respected, where the good of the community comes before our individual rights, where our natural resources are protected and used reasonably for the good of all people, all species of animal and plant, and for the good of Earth itself.   This kind of Earth Community needs to become real in our homes and our neighborhoods.  Then it can grow in our cities, states, and eventually, our nation.  When the United States becomes an Earth Community, then the world will lay down its guns.

Dale Olen  

Friday, August 3, 2012

Global Warming. What, me worry? Yes!

I'm worried about global warming.  This summer hasn't helped my anxiety.  June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. May gave us the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average.

Then last week, Bill McKibbon, one of the leading advocates fighting global warming admitted near defeat on slowing the rate of planetary temperature increase.  In a recent article in Rolling Stone Magazine ("Global Warming's Terrifying New Math"), McKibbon acknowledges that since 1989 he has been "working ineffectively to slow that warming," and he "can say with some confidence that we're losing the fight, badly and quickly--losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in."

He gives some numbers to show just how bad the situation is. Almost all the nations of the world agreed at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009 that we cannot raise the world temperature more than two degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) without catastrophic effects on all living species.  Then McKibbon soberly tells us we already "raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius."  So, we only have 1.2 degrees Celsius to go.

The next number McKibbon gives us is 565 gigatons. "Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees."  But the bad news is that CO2 emissions increased 3.2 percent from last year and will continue to rise about 3 percent a year into the future.  At that rate, "we'll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years, around the time today's preschoolers will be graduating from high school."

The third number is 2,795 gigatons--"the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries that act like fossil-fuel companies.  In short, it's the fossil fuel we're currently planning to burn."  That number, 2,795 gigatons is already five time higher than the 565 gigatons that would push the world over the two degrees Celsius rise before all hell breaks loose.  Fossil-fuel companies are already making money on that yet-to-be extracted energy, and they have no intention of leaving it in the ground no matter how hot Earth is getting.  And government is holding energy's hand as the two of them lead us all into a future that may not be able to sustain much life.

But my worry grew more intense when I just learned that we oil addicts are not only putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but we are actually taking something out of the atmosphere, something critical to on-going life on the planet.  That's oxygen.  According to Dr. Ervin Laszlo, president of the Club of Budapest, an international think tank, "We are changing the composition of the planet's reducing its oxygen content and increasing its carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas content." 

He reports that "evidence from prehistoric times indicates an oxygen content of the atmosphere well above today's 21 percent of total volume.  Oxygen in the air has decreased in recent times mainly due to the burning of coal, which began in the middle of the nineteenth century.  The oxygen content of the atmosphere now dips to 19 percent over impacted areas and is down to 12 to 17 percent over major cities.  This level is insufficient to keep body cells, organs, and the immune system functioning at full efficiency; cancers and other degenerative diseases are likely to develop.  At oxygen levels of six or seven percent of the volume of air, life can no longer be sustained."

Just writing this makes me gasp for breath.  It recalls the image of the aerial ocean, that layer of atmosphere that blankets the earth to about 20 kilometers.  If we were pulled out of the atmospheric sea, we would die from lack of oxygen, just like fish die when they are reeled out of water.  Only here, we aren't being pulled out of the oxygen-filled atmosphere; rather the oxygen is being sucked out of our fragile biosphere.

This summer, due to the warm water of our rivers, the dissolved oxygen levels have dropped precipitously.   Without oxygen, fish are dying, becoming ill and deformed, and fleeing as best they can to deeper and cooler waters.  Well, the same thing is beginning to happen to us.  We are losing our oxygen supply as we use fossil fuels, cut and burn our forests and lands that produce oxygen through photosynthesis, and turn once verdant and nutrient-laden farm land into desert. 

I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of this earth/species crisis.  If I were a depressive sort, I'd probably give up now, sit in a dark room, and rock back and forth.  But I tend toward anxiety, and so feel the urgency to do something to stop this madness.  Like what?

First, I'm taking a deep conscious breath and appreciating it.  I'm not sure what I'm all inhaling, but I am grateful that oxygen is still filling my lungs.  I plan to keep practicing gratitude for oxygen.

Second, I'm not driving my car today, and I'm going to use hand clippers to trim a hedge rather than my electric trimmer.  Each day I'm going to look for a way to use less energy from fossil-fuel.

Third, I'm going to tell someone once a week about global warming and the urgency for all of us in government, industry, and in our homes to face this issue head on, quit burning fossil fuels, and work to quickly build a world that honors the sun and the wind.  I've told you today.  Next week I write a letter to my senator and representative.

Fourthly, I'm going to strengthen my belief that my small actions to reduce global temperatures make a difference.  Systems theorists claim that major crises cause chaos in systems.  During this chaotic period of global warming, the system becomes very sensitive to any fluctuations that might tip it in a particular direction.  In social systems, small acts by individuals can have a significant effect on the whole.  Presently we are in a boatload of crises and chaos, and, I believe, the Earth system is highly sensitive to the small thoughts, decisions, and actions we take in living with less fossil-fuel energy and more mind and heart energy.    

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Balance Between the Market and the Commons

For the past month, I have been discussing in this blog the impact of Citizens United on American politics.  The voice of big money now shouting over the whisper of the people has decidedly tipped the balance of power almost entirely toward business and away from the people.  Underlying the struggle of “government by and for the corporation” versus “government by and for the people” boils the intense battle between the market and the commons.

The economy as a whole is divided between these two forces—market and commons.  The great commons, of course, is the planet.  Within that great commons live thousands of smaller commons like air, water, forests, food plants, roads and parks, ideas and language.  The commons is made up of all the stuff no one owns privately, but we all share together.  Peter Barnes, an entrepreneur and environmentalist, defined the commons “as the sum of all we inherit together and must pass on, undiminished and more or less equally, to our heirs, …includ[ing] non-human as well as human heirs.”

The commons is like a great lake, and in this lake swim the corporations and the markets.  Like fish, producers take resources from the lake, digest them into products, sell them off to consumers, and excrete their waste back into the lake or the commons.  “With one hand the market takes good stuff from the commons; with the other hand it dumps bad stuff into the commons,” says Barnes.

In this process, going on now for 300 years, the market has gotten all the benefit from the treasury of planet earth, and then used her as its waste sink, while selling off its products to profit investors and owners.  The commons, on the other hand, has been robbed of its wealth and become overloaded with industrial pollution, plastic, tires, and land fills.

With Citizens United, corporations are now officially “persons” with the rights and freedoms of human citizens.  But doesn’t it make sense that if corporations have the rights of personhood, then so should the commons?  The watershed should have rights.  The atmosphere should.  The sun and energy should.  Ecosystems too.  While it’s not likely the supreme court will grant such rights to all our commons, there are ways individuals and groups are trying to protect the commons from the extractive market and regain some semblance of balance between these two critical players in our economic and social lives.

For the past fifty years, a commons movement has been growing in the States.  People are talking about and figuring out ways to manage the commons through developing Trusts.  Public Trust Doctrine already exists in some states, including Wisconsin. It holds “that natural resources belong to the people rather than the state, and that the state’s job is to act as trustee of these resources for the people and future generations.”  A trust takes a manager or trustee to steward the inheritance for the good of the beneficiaries.  The manager of the trust tries not to reduce the principal, but yet pay out dividends to the beneficiaries on a regular basis. 

Commons Trusts are already in play in such places as Oregon, where the Oregon Water Trust acquires previously allocated water rights and uses them to augment flows of rivers and streams.  I’ll give you more examples in future blogs of how the commons is standing up to the market and trying to restore balance between the two.

In the meantime, you might be interested in reading the entire Peter Barnes paper, “Capitalism, The Commons and Divine Right,” at

Also, explore the excellent website On The Commons

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Democracy or Oligarchy in Wisconsin

“This is what democracy looks like,” a man down the street shouted at me as I walked my two golden retrievers past the six Walker signs in his yard the morning after the election. I wanted to shout back “No, this is what oligarchy looks like.”

Certainly, we are now a Republican State.  Fifty-three to forty-six percent is a clear victory.  But another number tells a more important story: $30.5 million to Walker vs. $3.9 million to Barrett.  2/3rds of Walker’s money came from out of state corporate providers, while 26 percent of Barrett’s money came from outside.  So, who won the election?  The corporate elite.

What we witnessed in Wisconsin these past few months was politics of the spectacle, an ugly dog-fight for the entertainment of the media and the commoners.  Behind the scene, however, the politics of organization ground on, big money shaping corporate-friendly policy and law, reducing regulations, and granting tax breaks to corporations.

If we were true Wisconsin patriots, republicans and democrats would now join hands and work to eliminate corporate money from campaigns.  Breaking Wisconsin’s oligarchy might give us a chance for real democracy. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Elect Barrett and then work on reversing Citizens United

The second best part of exploring Costa Rica last week was the silence of political ads that have been pounding non-stop against my brain. The best part of Costa Rica was enjoying an enlightened country that traded its military for education and today has a 97% literacy rate along with natural beauty that doesn’t quit. But that's another story. 

When I returned from Costa Rica and turned on the TV, I saw again the impact of Citizens United v. FEC. The Citizens United decision completes a near 40-year march started by Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell declaring corporations are persons with constitutional rights, including free speech with spending money as a form of free speech.

All that super pac money pouring into the Wisconsin Governor's race and the presidential campaign points out dramatically what the two parties stand for.

Republicans - Walker, Romney - represent governance for corporate America and in support of growing wealth for the already wealthy.  They serve at the feet of the oligarchs.  They believe government is another business working to increase the wealth of the Fortune 500.  That’s their constituency.  Congress, in a way, becomes a subsidiary to giant, parent corporations.  

Democrats - Barrett, Obama - represent governance for the people and in support of the rights, livelihood, and well being of American citizens.  While still beholden in many ways to corporate money, they retain some dignity and righteousness by identifying with the poor and working classes, and striving to improve their lots in life.

Democrats also pay attention to our Earth-home and recognize the need for us to take care of it for our children's sake and survival.  Republicans see the environment as the enemy of the wealth-builders.  They think environmental regulations cost too much for corporations and believe the American people should pick up the tab for their pollution and waste, as well as pay the bills for the illnesses and diseases they inflict on the human community.

While we in Wisconsin are very focused now on the governor’s election, we might want to keep our eye peeled on the rising movement across the country and across partisan boundaries that are working to reverse the Citizens United ruling.  Organizations like Move to Amend, Free Speech for People, Public Citizen, People for the American Way, and Common Cause are the engines driving the reversal effort.  (See their websites for information and inspiration.)

The legislatures of Hawaii, New Mexico, and Vermont have already passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United.  City councils around the country, including New York and Los Angeles, have called for the same.  Eleven states attorney generals pressed for a new amendment overturning Citizens United.  And 13 U.S. congress members have introduced amendments dealing with Citizens United.

Businesses, as well, have jumped on this bandwagon.  The American Sustainable Business Council, representing over 100,000 businesses, endorses a constitutional amendment. (Fran Korten, Yes Magazine, Summer, 2012). 

In Wisconsin, the city of West Allis recently voted overwhelmingly to reject the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling (April, 2012).  “Republican Party primary voters approved a resolution calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to establish that corporations are not people and money is not speech by 70%.” (From the website of Move to Amend)

To get involved in this important political and environmental issue of our time, go to Move to Amend’s website and explore from there.  It will distract you from those annoying ads.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wisconsin stands for clean water, not with polluting businesses

Gov. Scott Walker’s DNR has shown its colors in its treatment of Herr Environmental, Inc. of Oconomowoc, a waste hauler, who dumped excessive amounts of human waste from septic tanks into fields, potentially poisoning 40 water wells nearby.

By the political appointments of Secretary Cathy Stepp and deputy secretary Matt Moroney, Scott Walker has transformed the DNR from protector of Wisconsin’s water, land, and air into partner with polluting businesses. 

The DNR, however, doesn’t want to punish Herr Environmental too harshly for its repeated irresponsible violations.  The company contributes regularly to Republican causes.  A light tap on the wrist should be sufficient—a fine around $4,000 compared to a DOJ fine of $20,000 to $40,000.  According to Stepp, DNR’s wimpy response to serious environmental violations should be more than enough to encourage Herr to stop its childish behavior and “self-regulate” in the future.  Yeah, right.

This bizarre approach reminds me of new parents who think they can quiet their three-year old’s temper tantrum by reasoning with him and happily assuming the child “got it” and will never have another tantrum.

I need a yard sign that says, “Wisconsin should stand for clean water, not with polluting businesses.”

See this excellent blog from my neighbor, Paul Adair, that was published in MJS’ Germantown NOW a couple days ago --

Friday, May 4, 2012

Tell Scott Walker Wisconsin is Water, Not a Corporation

Is government in Wisconsin “by and for the people” or is it “by and for corporations”?  You only need look at Wisconsin’s vital resource, water, to find the answer.  Governor Scott Walker has flipped the job of State governance from serving the people and protecting our land and water to bowing before the gods of corporate power.

Contrary to popular thought about beer and dairy being Wisconsin’s claim to fame, water gives Wisconsin its real identity.  Our inland lakes cover about one million acres of the state’s 35 million acres.  The parts of Lakes Michigan and Superior within Wisconsin’s boundaries add nearly 6.5 million acres of water to Wisconsin.  Over 12,600 rivers and streams make their way through 44,000 miles of Wisconsin terrain. 2,700 trout streams keep anglers happy.  Wetlands cover much of the state and are generally privately owned.  And underground, Wisconsin holds 1.2 quadrillion gallons of water.  That’s enough groundwater to cover the state to a depth of 95 feet.*

Wisconsin is Water.  It’s our identity, our way of life, and our State’s treasure.  Now, Scott Walker and his pro-corporate DNR Secretary, Cathy Stepp, are weakening the State’s duty to protect, regulate, and enforce standards of high quality water in Wisconsin.  Their approach caters instead to letting businesses get water permits with ease and not be held responsible for what they do with the water or what they dump into the water. 

Instead of following the standards of the Clean Water Act by toughening and enforcing
water permits for coal, mining, and manufacturing companies, the DNR is fighting to keep Wisconsin citizens from bringing enforcement actions against water permit offenders.  Working as the handmaiden to corporations rather than protecting our water for the common good, the DNR and Scott Walker have declared their allegiance.  They work for the corporate state, not for the people, the land, and the water of Badgerland.

Let’s vote Walker out of the Governor’s office in June and make Wisconsin again, a state governed by and for the people, the land, and the water.

            Walker = Government by and for corporations
            Barrett or Falk = Government by and for the people

*(Source: for facts on Wisconsin waters. Department of Natural Resources official website,