The House Democrats’ “Rebuke” of Rep. Ilhan Omar is a Fraud For Many Reasons

It is, for instance, beyond dispute that what Omar is saying is true given that the very first bill passed by the U.S. Senate this year was one that allowed punishment for American citizens who boycott Israel, while U.S. citizens in 26 states are formally punished for boycotting this foreign nation, as we reported last month in the case of a Texas elementary speech pathologist who lost her job for refusing to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel (to keep her job with Texas, she’s allowed to boycott any other nation or even an American state: just not this one favored foreign nation).

Thus far, the two federal courts to rule on such laws have struck them down as unconstitutional violations of the free speech rights of American citizens on behalf of Israel.

How can anyone possibly pretend that it’s invalid or offensive to observe, as Congresswoman Omar did, that some in America demand allegiance to a foreign nation when American citizens are allowed to boycott American states but are punished for boycotting this one specific foreign nation?

—Glenn Greenwald, “The House Democrats’ ‘Rebuke’ of Rep. Ilhan Omar is a Fraud For Many Reasons, Including its Wild Distortion of Her Comments.” The Intercept. March 5, 2019.

And while there is a lot of speculation that President Trump might by compromised and be an agent of Russia, let’s not overlook the fact that there is a large contingent of the U.S. Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, that appear to be agents of Israel.

It’s a lie to equate criticism of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism. Government cannot be religious, only people can. Further, there is a lot of behaviors to criticize in respect to Israel, from their unwillingness to acknowledge their possession of nuclear weapons and sign on to the nonproliferation treaty, the committing of war crimes on a captive civilian population, the West Bank barrier, Arabs as second-class Israeli citizens, etc. But, here’s the one I’d like to talk about:

“To date, the United States has provided Israel $134.7 billion (current, or noninflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding.

—Jeremy M. Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel.Congressional Research Service. April 10, 2018.

How is this accomplished? Campaign contributions to members of Congress.

AIPAC is a significant player in terms of lobbying, accounting for the vast majority of lobbying spending by pro-Israel groups, spending more than $3.5 million in 2018. The organization was staunchly opposed to the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2015, lobbied extensively against it and supported the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement.

Other pro-Israel groups are also prominent and active political spending forces each cycle. The 2018 midterms saw groups in the movement contribute more than $14.8 million, the highest total for them in a midterm since 1990. Contributions went predominantly towards Democrats who received 63 percent. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) received by far the most money from pro-Israel groups in 2018 with $546,507. In comparison, McCarthy received just $33,200 from pro-Israel groups in the midterms.

In all, 269 members of the House and 57 members of the Senate received some monetary contributions from pro-Israel interests in 2018.”

—Raymond Arke, “AIPAC doesn’t contribute directly to candidates. Which pro-Israel groups do?OpenSecrets.org. February 11, 2019

So, over half of Congress is in the pocket of pro-Israel groups for millions during the election cycle, which in turn, ensures that Israel continues to get billions of “foreign aid” from the United States every year. And to point out this fact is “anti-semitic”? It takes the freshman, first Muslim woman to Congress to get up the gumption to point to this outrageous fact, and she’s the one getting “rebuked”?

Can we get a little daylight between the United States and Israel? Our interests are not the same. I, and many other Americans, certainly don’t want billions to be sent to Israel, Saudi Arabia and others to fund military actions like the Gaza War, the current catastrophe in Yemen and so forth. It’s a travesty, and no one is going to say anything about it, Democrat or Republican, because so many members are bought and paid for by a powerful lobby. The fact that this lobby is primarily Jewish is besides the point.

To paraphrase Upton Sinclair a bit, “it is difficult to get a [Congressperson] to understand something, when [their campaign contributions] depends on [their] not understanding it.” So long as the difference in election outcomes is determined by these contributions, there will never be serious discussion and debate about U.S. foreign policy and Israel, which is part of the point of this “rebuke,” to make sure anyone thinking of bringing up will think it is more trouble than it is worth.

The 5:1 Relationship Ratio

The post today on The Attachment Theory of Relationships reminded me of a good piece of advice I’d read in John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, described in short in this article on The Gottman Institute website:

“The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. There is a very specific ratio that makes love last.

That “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.”

Kyle Benson, “The Magic Relationship Ratio, According to Science.” The Gottman Institute. October 4, 2017.

Intuitively, this seems like it probably applies to every relationship we have. If you are not getting five times more positivity than negativity from someone in your life, maybe it’s time to reconsider the relationship?

The Dream Within The Dream

“This is the idea that we are slaves to Empire, and the world is a prison from which we need to free ourselves, what the gnostics called ‘the puny cell of the creator God.’ It is what Dick calls the BIP, the Black Iron Prison, which is opposed to the spiritual redemption of the PTG, the Palm Tree Garden.

Note the emphasis on secrecy. The first secret is that the world is governed by malevolent imperial or governmental elites that form together a kind of a covert coven. The world itself is a college of corporations linked together by money and serving only the interests of their business leaders and shareholders. The second secret — ‘a secret within a secret’ — belongs to those few who have swallowed the red pill, torn through the veil of Maya.”

Simon Critchley, “Philip K. Dick, Sci-Fi Philosopher, Part 2.” The New York Times, May 21, 2012.

I’ve been re-reading Chagdud Tulku’s book, Gates of Buddhist Practice after watching the A Deeper Dive interviews with Bill and Susan Morgan. There are interesting connections between the two.

Bill and Susan talk about how modern life creates a tension, a bombardment of sensory stimulus that can take a long time for us to get free of its influence. Our environment encourages us to cultivate an analytical understanding of our world, to optimize our behaviors to “get things done”. Even when we are engaged in an activity like meditation, it is difficult to focus our attention and our being because our standard is one of doing and thinking.

This ties into another idea I’ve been seeing recently, of the dichotomy between like-minded and like-hearted. The Morgans talk about the importance of integrating body, heart and mind in their practice, and it reminded me of an article that talked about how the Dalai Lama chooses his physician. The first criteria, above medical knowledge and capability, is whether the doctor had a good heart.

This matches with recent research describing the two criteria that people look for when judging others: warmth (heart) and competence (mind). When we focus on the heart, our attention is directed inward, where the world is the stage in which our Being expresses itself.

One metaphor Chugdud uses is windows and mirrors. A worldly person’s experience of the world is like looking through a window. They have sense experience and they judge it in accordance to whether they like it or not. A spiritual person, on the other hand, uses sense experience as a mirror. The world is a reflection of our own minds, and if we look closely, we will discover that there is nothing there that we have not created. Human beings are story tellers, and the stories we tell create both the world and the person experiencing the world.

Chugdud writes:

“In actuality, all experience-whether the suffering of samsara or the bliss of nirvana-is as insubstantial as our dreams. All of it is unreal, untrue. It is an unceasing, luminous, magnificent, and illusionary display.

Our life from birth to death resembles one long dream, and each dream we have at night is the dream within a dream.”

Chagdud Tulku, Gates of Buddhist Practice. Junction City, Calif.: Padma Publishing, 2001.

The dream within a dream comment reminded me of Phillip K. Dick’s (PKD) ideas around The Black Iron Prison, The Palm Tree Garden, ‘a secret within a secret’, and so forth. Consider this talk, Radio Free Valis: Tuning In To the Involution with Philip K. Dick:

“So, in a way what Dick does with his books, from my point of view anyway, is [he] turns the telescope around, out from looking out at external reality and the astronomical magnitudes without, which are no doubt beautiful and amazing, and to be explored, but turns it around, so that we can, along with him, explore the astronomical and galactic magnitudes of our within.”

Instead of a mirror, he is using the metaphor of a telescope. A telescope rather than a microscope because it emphasizes the fact that if we leave behind the constraints of sense experience and open ourselves up to the landscape of imagination that our consciousness can transcend even the limits of our universe, as ideas such as the multiverse and infinite worlds illustrate.

If we spend some time imagining our infinite selves across infinite universes, what then are we to make of our consciousness in this universe? With such an encompassing view, does this me matter beyond the fact of existing and trying to grasp the enormity of all that there is and to be grateful for the opportunity to experience it?

Am not I, too, a fiction, a sliver of a sliver, that has no more relationship to the Truth than fairy tales or Tolkien’s Middle Earth? Unmoored in this fashion, what then are we to do with our lives?

Buddhism suggests that the only worthy use of our lives is using this moment to transcend ourselves, our illusions, and our stories. They are the Black Iron Prison that keep us chained to lesser versions of ourselves.

Mind Your Mind: Dissecting Astroturf

Above is an interesting piece of astroturf a friend of mine received a few days ago via WhatsApp. There are a couple of things about this that immediately make me question whether this is “fake news.”

The first question I always ask when I see something like this is: “Who does this message benefit?” There is no positive message in the piece. It’s a hit piece on Tulsi Gabbard. It’s the kind of thing a Republican might dream up to damage her politically.

It’s also not wrong. The Intercept had a piece around the same time this video was published on YouTube. However, there is a crucial difference in the discussion.

In the video above, they make emotional appeals and try to argue that she is supporting the Indian Nazis. But, they are doing the rhetorical equivalent of saying the Republican party is the party of white supremacist neo-nazis. White supremacist neo-nazis might support the Republican party, but it doesn’t mean it’s a characteristic of a majority party. Same goes for the major political parties of India.

The Intercept article, by way of contrast, frames it more as a question of having a problematic base of support, much as Donald Trump’s support by the “alt-right” was questioned in 2016 and after. It also questions her support of dictators, such as Assad in Syria or Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt. The only real problem in supporting dictators is that these are not the dictators the United States usually supports. But, there’s nothing unusual about U.S. support of dictators, just as there’s nothing unusual about U.S. politicians taking campaign money from any source willing to give it to them.

The other strange aspect of the video above is that the person speaking on behalf of the Organization for Minorities of India is pronouncing the names of the Indian states in a way that makes it clear he isn’t from India. Do they not have actual minorities of India available to make this video?

I became curious. So, I used the WHOIS lookup on ICANN’s website. Entering in minoritiesofindia.org and hitting LOOKUP, the following is returned:

“Registrant Contact
Name:
Organization: Geneva Liberty Group
Mailing Address: , California US”

This is a lucky break. WHOIS used to be a reliable method to identify who was behind a website. Often, this is no longer the case. For example, if you do a search for cafebedouin.org in the ICANN WHOIS lookup, you’ll see the following:

“Registrant Contact
Name:
Organization: Knock Knock WHOIS Not There, LLC
Mailing Address: , OR US”

Professional astroturf groups will hide their WHOIS registration behind another entity, just as I have done.

Now, we come to the next question, why is a public advocacy group like we would presume the Organization for Minorities of India have a website registered by an organization called Geneva Liberty Group? Normally, non-profits, if they are real, incorporate so they can accept tax-deductible donations. The Organization for Minorities of India does not appear to be a non-profit organization and doesn’t show up in Guidestar.

Let’s do a web search on what we know: “Geneva Liberty Group” and California. Top result is Cherish California’s Children. Scanning down the page, we see the following:

stevemacias

If we go to Cherish California’s Children leadership page, we can see the handy bio that Steve Macias provides:

“Steve Macias is the Executive Director of Cherish California’s Children and founder of the St. Anselm Leadership Institute. He is a delegate to the California Republican Party State Central Committee and Vice President of the California Republican Assembly. Steve and his Wife, Sarah, live in California’s gold country and are members of Church of the King Sacramento.”

This information is out-of-date, but it provides some useful insight as to what might be motivating Steve Macias. For more detailed information, we might also look at his website: stevemacias.com.

My name is Fr. Steve Macias and I am an Anglican Rite Catholic Priest.

I serve as the priest-in-charge at St. Paul’s Anglican Church and Headmaster of Canterbury Christian School in Los Altos, California.

I deliver sermons, teach Bible studies, administer a school, pastor students, organize conferences, write articles, record podcasts, and pray the daily office.

My wife Sarah and I have five children…

It’s one thing if Fr. Steve Macias wants to share his views as Fr. Steve Macias. It’s very different if he is hiding who is behind organizations with names like Geneva Liberty Group, who in turn are hiding behind the Organization for the Minorities of India. Getting people of color to promote messages that further the interests of the Republican Party and exaggerate the problems of Democratic candidates is classic astroturf.

I didn’t contact Fr. Steve Macias for comment one way or another. For my purposes, it is besides the point. The video above has one narrative. I’m presenting another. There are shades of truth to each. The best scenario, for the makers of astrohurf, is when their propaganda is thought to be legitimate, but it can be useful to get people questioning or responding to outrageous claims to prevent them from staying on their own message.

Raise shields!

The point of this exercise is that you should start with a healthy scepticism of what you read and watch on the Internet. The vast majority of what is online is falsehoods, half-truths and misrepresentations. Be careful of what you let into your minds or pass along to infect the minds of others.

Quaker Christ

I started reading a number of books on Quakerism years ago. It started with a book on simplicity, which approached the topic from a Quaker perspective. Eventually, I started attending an unprogrammed Quaker Meeting. An unprogrammed Quaker meeting is a religious service where everyone sits quietly, typically in a circle, and waits. You are open to your thoughts, and you try to see if any of them are God speaking through you. If so, then you simply stand up and say what you feel moved to share.

It’s a strange experience. It requires group trust that people will not hijack the meeting for their own purposes, which happens. But, when it does, it is often looked as a way to build our tolerance and learning to share space with others. Resolving these kinds of difficulties are central to the meeting experience. It is like the story of potatoes in a barrel, it is by rubbing against one another than we all become clean.

The key ideas of Quakerism are what I think of as PIES: Peace, Integrity, Equality and Simplicity. They are all inter-related. Fundamentally, we all have “The Light Within,” a connection with God, however you conceive of God. If everyone has this connection, then we have to seek peaceful relations because in a way, conflict with others is a kind of conflict with God.

But, we all are equal, and we have to speak our Truth. It is in this dynamic of a meeting, where equals listen to one another while staying true to themselves that a community can enter in a dialogue with God. In scripture, it is put this way:

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Matthew 18:20, King James Version

Simplicity is the final piece, and I think of it as making room for others. The less resources we use, the more there is available for everyone else. The more room there is for others, the more room we have to interact with others as equals. It is when we try to differentiate ourselves by our possessions that we cut off our internal connection to God. It changes our willingness to look at others as equals. It inflates our ego and turns us to aggression.

Quaker Christianity, particularly unprogrammed styles, is very different from mainline Christianity. There is little dogma beyond the above. For me it reframes the discussion away from Christ as redeemer, which I find problematic on a number of levels and moves it back to Christ as Son of Man, a person that is exemplifying the kinds of life we all should live. Christ is showing us how to live our own lives rather than a God saving the world that can live up to a standard that no mortal can because of the stain of original sin.

Note: It should be noted that not all Quakers believe as I do. Since it is a religion of the conscious that askews dogma, there can be a lot of variability in beliefs. I have met people that identify as atheists, universalists, Buddhists, and evangelical Christians, who have all also identified as Quaker. Unlike in other traditions, this variability is viewed as a strength.

Biohacking Bullshit

I’m seeing more articles about “biohacking” by rich dudes. One subset seems to be looking for immortality, or at the very least to extend their lives or mitigate the effects of ageing.

It strikes me as the archetypical problem of a beautiful woman trying to keep their looks as they get older. All of us go through it, this diminishment. I suppose it’s even harder when you were exceptionally beautiful, athletic, perhaps even smart, and you start to lose it, or even have to acknowledge that you could lose it, as part of the ageing process.

Something about this makes me sad, that pretending life or a particular attribute doesn’t end in some ways robs us of the perspective of transience, a perspective that endows every life with value because it is of a time and unique.

There’s another subset that in looking to optimize their lives. Tools for Titans by Timothy Ferriss is an excellent example of this tendency. It reminds me of a Donald Knuth quote:

“[P]remature optimization is the root of all evil.”

We don’t know enough to optimize human life. We can get some broad strokes, such as it is a good idea to exercise and eat a lot of vegetables. But, getting down deeper? How many minutes of exercise or cups of broccoli? We simply don’t know enough.

No matter the motivation, experiments like taking hundreds of supplements, injecting stem cells into joints, anti-ageing blood transfusions, etc., strikes me as an excellent way to have bad unintended consequences that shorten lives rather than lengthen them.

Sea Change, Rich & Strange

“Nothing of him that doth fade / but doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange.”

—Percy Shelley, The Tempest

Sea change, rich and strange. Swim in strange waters. Armed with beauty and circus, wage war on the monotony of life.

Designate time for what matters, and be a connoisseur of the free use of time. Live without dead time and without hindrance. Delight in life; give pleasure.

Choose again; begin again. Move and the way will open. Find your own happiness and paths to adventure. Follow the accident; fear the set plan.

Decide your own life. Don’t let another person run or rule you. Don’t run or rule others. Don’t go through life wanting to be liked.

How alive are you willing to be? What is the price of life? You must make your own determination and enforce it.

Hard times and oppression develop psychic muscles. Safety leads to stagnation.

Enlightenment consists in correctly grasping our essential needs. Wisdom values puzzles over facts. Avoid learning too many lessons. Pick up the battle and make it a better world, just where you are.