Friday, November 26, 2010

Fighting Fear From Front Row Seats

August, 2010

We live in fearful times.

Parker Palmer, a Quaker educator says, “Fear is the air we breathe. We subscribe to religions that exploit our dread of death. We do business in an economy of fear driven by consumer worries about keeping up with the neighbors. And we practice a politics of fear in which candidates are elected by playing on voter’s anxieties about race and class. And we continue to ‘collaborate with these structures because they promise to protect us against one of the deepest fears at the heart of being human – the fear of ….a win-lose conflict in which we could lose something of ourselves.”

We fear loss.

Basically, we want things to stay the same – or at least how things used to be. Many of us still cling to images of the ‘American Dream’ which appear almost as ghostlike scenes from the 50’s or even 70’s... Things were simpler then. People could count on finding a job and buying a house. Most felt that their kids would have a better life than they had. Now we are not so sure. In America everything has changed and there is widespread fear of more changes coming - at least for all except the top 10%.

Fear producing words seep into our daily lives. Many of us begin each day by listening to the news on radio or watching a TV morning program. Some still get their news from a newspaper over coffee. Internet users now find news headlines popping up as they log into Google or AOL. We hear frightening news in our cars and from friends and neighbors. Fear is also burned into our memories. Most of us remember exactly what we were doing and where we were when we heard the news of Kennedy’s assassination and the 9/11 catastrophes.

Perhaps the most insidious form of fear is that advanced purposefully for political gain. Fear mongering is a political tactic used to frighten citizens and influence their opinions. We in the United States first experienced it with McCarthyism and then with the drumbeat to war after 9/11. The oft-repeated phrases, ‘War on Terror’ and ‘weapons of mass destruction’ worked to create fear and coalesce a predetermined mindset favoring war. And now even our respected news sources are becoming more politicized. The fires of anger and hatred are being fanned by fear mongering talk show hosts who focus blame and shame on the disenfranchised – poor, immigrants, homosexuals, Muslims, ‘others’.

Our disenfranchised numbers are growing exponentially. Middle class American workers teeter on the brink of solvency. In America today, the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks! And for the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth than all individual Americans put together. And now more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps! And this number is projected to jump to 43 million by 2011! Does anyone even know about the back door cuts to disabled living allowances that now threaten those least able to recover? Like my son. Those of us who are struggling to keep going after losing our homes or jobs or health are left incredulous as we hear shouts to continue tax cuts for the wealthy in the same breath with efforts to cut remaining social safety nets. Sure, we might get some relief with healthcare when the bill goes into effect in 2014 – if we can hang on ‘til then. Single, older women like me are especially vulnerable. Among women over the age of 65, 11.9 percent are currently below the poverty line. Without social security benefits that percentage will rise to nearly 50%! 1 How can any rational, feeling person not see all of this as absolute insanity?! Maybe they think it can’t happen to them. There is, after all still a pervasive cultural myth in the US known as ‘The American Success Syndrome’ that suggests if you don’t have lots of money, connections, social power and success in business or the professional world, you just aren’t working hard enough. Please get real.

A personal story of getting real

I am one of the lucky ones. Fear and loss and realness came upon me early and forced me to start thinking about some new approaches. I was single and 54 year old.

I woke up in May, 1996 in pain. My skin even hurt! I got up and showered but knew that something was fearfully wrong. Living alone in my beloved Ranchito San Pedro I called a friend to take me to the local clinic. Unable to afford health insurance then I depended upon a local sliding scale clinic for my medical needs. By the end of the day I had been sent on to the local hospital emergency room and then rushed to a Santa Fe hospital where I underwent emergency surgery to try to identify the cause of an overwhelming bacterial infection centered in my spine and threatening my life. An antibiotic resistant strain of Staph! (I had unknowingly contracted this staph infection during a previous back surgery 18 years before and my body had kept it isolated.) 6 1/2 weeks and 3 surgeries later I emerged with a tortoise shell brace, a walker and a quarter of a million dollar medical debt. Having no health insurance or follow up care I depended on friends and the generosity of other artists who helped raise some money to cover my rent and living expenses while I healed. Paying off my medical debt was out of the question and I was forced into bankruptcy. (A study reported in the American Journal of Medicine found that illness and medical bills contribute to a large and increasing share of US bankruptcies 2 ) A big wake up call of change and fear for a basically optimistic person who had always enjoyed good health and worked hard for a fairly stable lifestyle! I began to fear the future....

First I had to get past denial. If I don’t listen to the news or talk to others I can believe that everything is just fine! This was one of the coping mechanisms taught to me by my mother. In their later years my parents nearly wore out their video copies of ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Sound of Music’ so that they could stay happy!. Personally, I think that Denial and its next door neighbor, Distraction are perfectly fine short term strategies. But in the long run they don’t help you move forward. Eventually the rational mind will try to find appropriate actions to take. I once bought the book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway just to have it in my bookshelf. I never read it. I pretty much knew what it said inside and I just appreciated the reminder!

The next 12 years brought more changes as I struggled to fight my way back to success and the Middle Class. I taught watercolor, hosted workshops, got a loan to buy my New Mexico home and published a book. But my pre-existing condition made me unable to qualify for health insurance. When additional surgeries were needed I again fell into medical debt. I refinanced my mortgage to pay. The last refinancing was in response to one of the almost daily unrequested phone calls that I received from mortgage lenders just 2 months after my last surgery. Later I found out they were called ‘Predatory lenders’ and that they obviously had access to my private financial information. Suddenly I was living in a financial ‘house of cards’. At the base of the balancing act was a mortgage swollen by medical debt - a shaky foundation. The entire structure was contingent upon continued good health, optimum rentals for the casitas and plenty of students for workshops and classes. At 65 I had a small social security income but the $670/month would be impossible to live on. I had Medicare – but my last surgery for degenerative disk diseases still left me $3000 in debt. My savings were minimal – just for emergencies. So, in the pre dawn moments of early 2008, as my sleepy mind sifted through my ‘what if’ list, I felt an initial jolt of warning – like the first tremor of an earthquake. All it would take is one slip on the ice covered porch outside my front door for the entire, magical house of cards to come tumbling down.

While watching television a few nights later I saw the too familiar economic line graph showing a rise followed by the precipitous downward turn and it occurred to me that I could superimpose that graph over my accumulated ‘wealth’ of things! Instead of ‘supersizing’ my life, I would ‘downsize it’! I would make the pre-emptive strike for a manageable life before I was forced to live in the rubble! I found online and signed up for a tour, Live in Costa Rica on Your Social Security and a few months later walked into the little Tico house in southern Costa Rica, with the only horizontal surface other than the floor being the toilet seat – and I knew it was perfect. Here was my blank canvas for the creation of a new downsized lifestyle. Here I might be able to live just on social security. As soon as I embraced the idea it became kind of fun. Like – how could I make enough money to move myself, two dogs and four parrots to Costa Rica? 5 huge garage sales showed me how to let go of stuff I thought I’d never part with. When my sons decided they didn’t want the old, unsorted photographs – they got thrown out. I gave away paintings and clothes and furniture I couldn’t sell. Each time I would feel a twinge as I let go and then turned my attention to the next thing. I decided to walk away from my house that wouldn’t sell. My goal was to get enough money to take as little as possible to Costa Rica and start over - simply. At the same time my house moved into foreclosure I took my first solo steps into my new life in a new country. It was Christmas Eve, 2008 and I had just turned 66.

In 2010 I feel safer and more secure - but not yet fearless.

I still have some personal and universal fears. My significant hearing loss and nerve damaged legs contribute to a feeling of isolation. Often I cannot understand foreign accents or conversation in a crowded group. Sometimes torrential rains smother me in auditory isolation under the metal roof and I feel very alone, very afraid. And I don’t like the dependence I have upon my car for mobility off my hillside home. Age-related and medical realities are part of my life. I am dealing with it by having close by my animals, internet, car and telephone.

But the greatest fears I have are world fears I feel powerless to affect. I remain connected to the US – the home of my children, friends, family, past. I am afraid for my country. Some suggest just not listening to or watching news. Ignore it! But my curious mind won’t allow denial. I enjoy expanding my view of the US in the world context through the eyes of Ex-Pats from all over the world. I’m even interested in conspiracy theories because so many of the old ones have ultimately been proven true – like the Iran-Contra Affair and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident to name a couple3 .

The fear that worries me most comes out of the mouths of ordinary Americans. I hear the fear mongering rhetoric from Fox News or radio talk show hosts repeated as truth. Lying phrases like ‘Obama is Muslim’ and ‘elderly face death panels to decide who is worthy of care...’ and ‘Islam is taking over the world’ are accepted as truth into the consciousness of ordinary citizens. Why is news distorted and fabricated? Political gain. And it works. It feeds fears that make a terrified populace accept actions like huge banker bail outs, accelerated war and erosion of civil rights. If people are too frightened or tired or depressed to look for the truth, they take in the lies. And the drum roll continues.

To keep from being overwhelmed with universal fear I developed some personal strategies.

· I surround myself with positive people who avoid using fear mongering generalizations like ‘Everyone gets robbed ….’ or ‘It is all the fault of…’

· I’m careful about what media news I let in. In the United States 90% of the mass media (TV, movies, books, newspapers, radio, videos, records, wire services), is owned by consolidated media corporations. In 1983 there were 50 corporations that controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S. Now there are 5.4 In the US right now we are an extremely divided people. While I believe it is important to look at both sides of any issue, I don’t believe that Fox News is ‘fair and balanced’ just because they say so.5 I look for truth outside of American mass media. Occasionally I watch BBC news but I depend mostly upon the Real News Network on the internet where I can read the top stories from around the world and focus on issues that especially interest me like Latin American News, US Politics, Economy. The Real News is a member-supported news network ‘focused on providing independent and uncompromising journalism’, on critical issues accepting no funding from advertising, government or corporations. Their motto: The Future Depends On Knowing. What a concept.

Meanwhile, a downsized (sustainable) lifestyle being modeled for me by my Tico neighbors. By using their ways instead of importing American habits, I can keep my expenses very low – like the Ticos. I have learned how to accept low water pressure, cold water detergent, hot water demand shower heads, simple unprocessed foods, year around fresh gardening, minimal appliances. (I have no hot water heater, dishwasher or clothes dryer). I don’t need heating or air conditioning and a simple ceiling fan helps move the air when it gets a bit too warm and also helps keep the flying bugs at bay) I admit that I kind of backed into this sustainable lifestyle, but it’s a perfect fit. And I’ve discovered that my sustainable life is also downsizing my fear.

o Fear of losing money. You can’t lose what you don’t have.

o Fear of stock market losses. Ditto.

o Fear of identity theft and losing money in bank accounts. Ditto.

o Fear of falling and being wiped out financially due to lack of health care? As soon as I have my residency I will be covered by Costa Rican national health care plan with no exception for pre-existing conditions. Meanwhile – medical/dental care is about 1/4 of the cost in the states.

o Fear of having enough money to pay for pharmaceuticals. I stopped taking all prescription medications when I moved here.

o Fear of illness. With all the fresh vegetables, fruit and fish here I have not been ill since I arrived. Plus, my good diet has resulted in about a 30 lb. weight loss.

o Fear of lack of food and water. My garden is now producing organic vegetables and fresh fruits are very inexpensive. Local fish, eggs, poultry and pork are inexpensive and very good. My water comes from a spring right above me and costs about $3/month.

o Fear for personal safety. Gun ownership here is rare and I feel very safe in my Tico house in my Tico neighborhood. If you don’t look like you have anything to steal you aren’t as likely to be robbed.

o My fear of isolation is helped when I know I can meet friends in more intimate settings so that I can hear better. My little dog, Seurat can alert me to any strange sound in the night and I can always drive down the hill to Billy’s or Anita’s if I need to be with neighbors. Frank and I talk twice a day by phone if we don’t see each other. My internet is pretty reliable and Skyping is great! And - the pounding rain or encasing clouds that make me feel so alone always end.

So now I find myself in a tranquil, sustainable life juxtaposed against a very insane world. Is it possible to embrace both the beauty and the apparent madness? Yes – if I feel like I can somehow help and also know how to find peace. Within.

I can help by offering a place for people to come to experience this Tico way of life that can inspire new visions, ideas and hope. I offer a timeshare opportunity on my website as well as watercolor workshops. Having people come is a win-win for me. Besides the money generated that has enabled me to build the cabinas and studio, I have benefited from getting to know some great people and being able to see this place anew through their eyes. And they tell me they have had their eyes opened to new possibilities for living! Win win!

Embracing the madness is more of a stretch! But I have a way. Nature. I can walk out my front door to talk with my parrots, tend to vegetables or sit on my deck to look out over the hills. At Frank’s organic farm I can walk with him to see the new plantings, pick some biriba or appreciate a speckled tanager on the bird feeder. And peace sweeps over me. I understand that I truly am powerless to change much of what is steamrolling ahead toward the precipice. But if I am, as I believe, a part of this interconnected web of life, my quiet and peaceful heart is helpful to the whole. And that gives me hope.

Frank has a phrase he likes to repeat after hearing about another instance of world insanity. “Front Row Seats!” Here in this beautiful place we have front row seats from which to watch - in peace and without fear.

‘To live now as human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

Howard Zinn. (1922-2010)

1. Report from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

2. National Study of Medical Bankruptcy in the United States, 2007. Article reproduced by the American Journal of Medicine. As recently as 1981, only 8% of families filing for bankruptcy did so in the aftermath of a serious medical problem. By contrast, our 2001 study in 5 states found that illness or medical bills contributed to about half of bankruptcies. Since then, the number of un- and underinsured Americans has grown, health costs have increased; and Congress tightened the bankruptcy laws.

3. From
Conspiracy theory
is a term that originally was a neutral descriptor for any claim of civil, criminal or political conspiracy. However, it has come almost exclusively to refer to any fringe theory which explains a historical or current event as the result of a secret plot by conspirators of almost superhuman power and cunning. To conspire means "to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end. "The term "conspiracy theory" is frequently used by scholars and in popular culture to identify secret military, banking, or political actions aimed at stealing power, money, or freedom, from "the people".

To many, conspiracy theories are just human nature. Not all people in this world are honest, hard working and forthcoming about their intentions.Certainly we can all agree on this.So how did the term “conspiracy theory” get grouped in with fiction, fantasy and folklore? Maybe that’s a conspiracy, just kidding. Or am I?

Skeptics are important in achieving an objective view of reality, however, skeptism is not the same as reinforcing the official storyline. In fact, a conspiracy theory can be argued as an alternative to the official or “mainstream” story of events. Therefore, when skeptics attempt to ridicule a conspiracy theory by using the official story as a means of proving the conspiracy wrong, in effect, they are just reinforcing the original “mainstream” view of history, and actually not being skeptical. This is not skeptism, it is just a convenient way for the establishment view of things to be seen as the correct version, all the time, every time. In fact, it is common for "hit pieces" or "debunking articles" to pick extremely fringe and not very populated conspiracy theories. This in turn makes all conspiracies on a subject matter look crazy. Skeptics magazine and Popular Mechanics, among many others, did this with 9/11. They referred to less than 10% of the many different conspiracy theories about 9/11 and picked the less popular ones, in fact, they picked the fringe, highly improbable points that only a few people make. This was used as the "final investigation" for looking into the conspiracy theories. Convenient, huh?

The Iran-Contra Affair. A conspiracy theory proved right and largely still unknown by the American public.
25 Years Ago: US Sells Missiles to Iran to Fund Nicaragua Contras

The Reagan administration began this week in 1985 a secret and illegal operation to sell missiles to Iran in order to fund the Contra war against the nationalist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

On August 8 the National Security Planning Group met and determined to sell 100 TOW missiles to Iran via Israel, and on August 15 aid to the Contras resumed in open defiance of the Boland Amendment that barred US funding for the Contras. It is likely, but not proven, that the decision was approved by President Ronald Reagan.

Israel, ostensibly a bitter enemy of Iran, would supply the Islamic Republic with the missiles.

Iran, then in the midst of a bloody war with Iraq under the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, would launder money back through Israel to a secret organization headed by Marine lieutenant colonel Oliver North.

This money would be used to fund the Contra dirty war in Central America.

The Iran-Contra affair was a milepost in the turn by the US ruling class toward criminal methods. Just over a decade after Watergate, another US presidency was organizing a conspiracy against democracy from within the White House, this time to fund counter-revolutionary death squads in Central America. In 1985 and '86, the White House authorized government officials to secretly trade weapons with the Israeli government that were then secretly traded with Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages held in Iran. The funds from the trades were then used to help finance the illegal war in Nicaragua. The plot was uncovered by Congress in 1987. The documentary series, Core of Corruption, will be exploring details on the Iran Contra conspiracy in greater detail. The series if 5 seperate films written and directed by Jonathan Elinoff, investigative journalist and reporter for the New World Order Report. During Iran Contra, drug smuggling by the CIA was uncovered and to this day the United States population is largely unaware of the findings of this information. Both posts on CIA drug running in this article of 33 conspiracies that turned out to be true are about this very topic of drug running during Iran Contra.

Gulf of Tonkin

Gulf of Tonkin never happened. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident is the name given to two separate incidents involving the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. On August 2, 1964 two American destroyers engaged three North Vietnamese torpedo boats, resulting in the sinking of one of the torpedo boats.This was also the single most important reason for the escalation of the Vietnam War.After Kennedy was assassinated, the Gulf of Tonkin gave the country the sweeping support for aggressive military action against the North Vietnamese.

The outcome of the incident was the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by "communist aggression".In 2005, an internal National Security Agency historical study was declassified; it concluded that USS Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese on August 2, but that there may not have been any North Vietnamese vessels present during the engagement of August 4. The report stated “It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that no attack happened that night…”In truth, Hanoi's navy was engaged in nothing that night but the salvage of two of the boats damaged on August 2.In 1965, President Johnson commented privately: "For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there."

In 1981, Captain Herrick and journalist Robert Scheer re-examined Herrick's ship's log and determined that the first torpedo report from August 4, which Herrick had maintained had occurred—the "apparent ambush"—was in fact unfounded.In 1995, retired Vietnamese Defense Minister Vo Nguyen Giap, meeting with former Secretary of Defense McNamara, categorically denied that Vietnamese gunboats had attacked American destroyers on August 4, while admitting to the attack on August 2.In the Fall of 1999, retired senior CIA engineering executive S. Eugene Poteat wrote that he was asked in early August 1964 to determine if the radar operator's report showed a real torpedo boat attack or an imagined one.In October, 2005 the New York Times reported that Robert J. Hanyok, a historian for the U.S. National Security Agency, had concluded that the NSA deliberately distorted the intelligence reports that it had passed on to policy-makers regarding the August 4, 1964 incident. He concluded that the motive was not political but was probably to cover up honest intelligence errors.

4. In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S. At the time, Ben Bagdikian was called "alarmist" for pointing this out in his book, The Media Monopoly. In his 4th edition, published in 1992, he wrote "in the U.S., fewer than two dozen of these extraordinary creatures own and operate 90% of the mass media" -- controlling almost all of America's newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, books, records, movies, videos, wire services and photo agencies. He predicted then that eventually this number would fall to about half a dozen companies. This was greeted with skepticism at the time. When the 6th edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 2000, the number had fallen to six.

o Walt Disney Corporation 36.1 billion – owns ABC, ESPN, Lifetime

o News Corporation 30.4 billion Rupert Murdoch, CEO - owns 20th Century Fox, Fox Broadcasting (A verifyable conservative bias with inflammatory commentators), FX and National Georgraphic; New York Post and Wall Street Journal as well as HarperCollins Publishers.

o Time Warner - 28.8 billion. Home Box Office, Turner Broadcasting, Time Inc. and Warner Bros.

o Viacom 13.6 Billion MTV Networks, BET Networks, Paramount Pictures

o CBS Corporation 13 Billion. CBS, CW Television with Time Warner.

Since then, there have been more mergers and the scope has expanded to include new media like the Internet market. More than 1 in 4 Internet users in the U.S. now log in with AOL Time-Warner, the world's largest media corporation.*1 A survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press showed "a striking rise in the politicization of cable TV news audiences . . . This pattern is most apparent with the fast-growing Fox News Channel."[34]

5. A survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press showed "a striking rise in the politicization of cable TV news audiences . . . This pattern is most apparent with the fast-growing Fox News Channel."[34]

Another Pew survey of news consumption found that Fox News has not suffered a decline in credibility with its audience, with one in four (25%) saying they believe all or most of what they see on Fox News Channel, virtually unchanged since Fox was first tested in 2000.[35]

According to the results of a 2006 study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism a survey of 547 journalists, found that Fox was most frequently cited by surveyed journalists as an outlet taking an ideological stance in its coverage, and most identified as advocating conservative political positions,[36] with 56% of national journalists citing Fox News as being especially conservative in its coverage of news. Additionally Fox was viewed as having the highest profile as a conservative news organization; it was cited unprompted by 69% of national journalists.[37]