Bruce Guernsey: “For My Wife Cutting My Hair”

American Life in Poetry: Column 303
There’s something wonderfully sweet about a wife cutting a husband’s hair, and Bruce Guernsey, who lives in Illinois and Maine, captures it beautifully in this poem.
For My Wife Cutting My Hair
You move around me expertly like the good, round
Italian barber I went to in Florence,
years before we met, his scissors
a razor he sharpened on a belt.
But at first when you were learning, I feared
for my neck, saw my ears like sliced fruit
on the newspapered floor. Taking us back in time,
you cleverly clipped my head in a flat-top.
The years in between were styles no one had ever seen,
or should see again: when the wind rose
half my hair floated off in feathers,
the other half bristling, brief as a brush.
In the chair, almost asleep, I hear the bright
scissors dancing. Hear you hum, full-breasted as Aida,
carefully trimming the white from my temples,
so no one, not even I, will know.

The Conservative Constitution of the United States

Here are a few highlights from David Cole’s Conservative Constitution of the United States (from the Washington Post, January 7, 2011):

We, the Real Americans, in order to form a more God-Fearing Union, establish Justice as we see it, Defeat Health-Care Reform, and Preserve and Protect our Property, our Guns and our Right Not to Pay Taxes, do ordain and establish this Conservative Constitution for the United States of Real America.

Article I. Congress shall have only the powers literally, specifically and expressly granted herein, and no others. That means definitely, without question, absolutely, no regulation of the Health Insurance or Financial Services industries.


Article II. No person except a natural-born Citizen who can produce video, photographic or eyewitness evidence of birth in a non-island American State shall be eligible to the Office of President.

The President shall faithfully execute the laws, except when, as Commander in Chief, he decides he’d really rather not.



1. Congress shall make no law abridging the Freedom of Speech, except where citizens desecrate the Flag of the United States; respecting an establishment of Religion, except to support Christian schools, religious apparitions in food products and the display of crosses and creches in public places; or abridging the free exercise of Religion, except to block the construction of mosques in sensitive areas as determined by Florida Pastors or the Fox News Channel.

Read full article here.

How Does this Recession Compare to Other Post-WWII Recessions?

Much worse. Deeper, more prolonged losses. Recovery uncertain at this time.

A picture is worth a thousand tragic words:


David Lawlor: “Poisoned by the Midas Touch”

Published in 04 January 2011. Reprinted with permission.

by David Lawlor

Gold mining and its toxic byproducts proliferate in the Americas.

Silver was the precious metal at the foundation of the Roman Empire’s economy and since silver is often embedded in lead ore, lead was an abundant byproduct available throughout the empire. As such, Romans used lead in everything from plumbing pipes to wine to women’s makeup. In a sense, it was the high fructose corn syrup of its day: it was found in a plethora of common items and caused negative health effects. Lead poisoning is well documented in the Roman era and forever linked with that society’s fascination with silver. Surely, centuries later, humanity has learned its lesson.

But, of course, humanity has not learned its lesson and, as an interesting article in the Yale Environment 360 blog illustrates, society’s poor are bearing the brunt of our collective folly.

The article highlights the human health and environmental impacts of gold mining in Colombia and other Latin American countries. With currency markets weakening, precious metal prices have skyrocketed over the past two years as investors leery of buying U.S. dollars have instead thrown fistfuls of money at the gold market. As of today, gold is hovering around $1,400 per ounce; in June 1999 an ounce went for a paltry $250.

As a result of the profit potential, small-time mining operations have sprung up across such Latin American countries as Colombia. While lead is associated with silver extraction, mercury contamination (along with other toxins like cyanide and arsenic) goes hand-in-hand with mining and processing gold. The air in some Colombian mining regions contains mercury at levels 1,000 times above the threshold set by the World Health Organization. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include neuropathic disorders, hypertension, and, in acute cases, death.

Earthjustice’s partner organization in international law, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), has been working to limit mercury contamination from gold-mining operations in Latin America and is seeking to safeguard the health of communities at risk for exposure. Most recently, AIDA successfully persuaded the Mexican government to deny a permit for the Paredones Amarillos gold mine, which would have polluted a mountainous region in southern Baja California.

And in the U.S., recent Earthjustice litigation impelled EPA to issue tougher standards limiting mercury pollution from gold-mining companies with ore-processing facilities.

Maybe the real question here is why gold at all? Throughout human history, various items ranging from tally sticks to seashells to fiat currencies have served as money. So, why should a metal with limited practical application (you can’t knit a sweater or build your house with it) and negative human and environmental impacts be so valued by society? That’s not an easy question to answer, but, sadly, when all is said and done, gold may well go down as the most blatant example of commodity fetishism the world has ever known.

Robert Parry: “The Coming War over the Constitution”

First published in Reprinted with permission of the author.

by Robert Parry

Despite a few victories in the lame-duck session of Congress, Democrats and progressives should be under no illusion about the new flood of know-nothingism that is about to inundate the United States in the guise of a return to “first principles” and a deep respect for the U.S. Constitution.

The same right-wingers who happily accepted George W. Bush’s shift toward a police state – his claims of limitless executive power, warrantless wiretaps, repudiation of habeas corpus, redefining cruel and unusual punishment, suppression of dissent, creation of massive databases on citizens, arbitrary no-fly lists, and endless overseas wars – have now reinvented themselves as brave protectors of American liberty.

Indeed, the Tea Party crowd so loves the Constitution that the new Republican House majority will take the apparently unprecedented step of reading the document aloud at the start of the new congressional session, presumably including the part about enslaved African-Americans being counted as three-fifths of a white person for purposes of congressional representation.

One also has to wonder if these “constitutionalists” will mumble over the preamble’s assertion that a key purpose of the Constitution is to “promote the general Welfare.” And what to do with Section Eight of Article One, which gives Congress the power to levy taxes, borrow money, regulate commerce among the states, and “establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization”?

If one were to buy into the Tea Party’s interpretation of the founding document, you’d have to denounce such concepts as “socialism” and/or “intrusions” on states’ rights.

Part of the Tea Party’s mythology is that federal taxes are an unconstitutional imposition invented by modern-day “lib-rhuls,” that the national debt is another new thing, and that regulation of commerce is outside federal authority.

Surely, there can be honest debates about what’s the best way to “promote the general Welfare,” or the wisest balance between taxation and debt, or the proper role of states in enforcing laws when there is a federal interest (as with Arizona’s anti-immigrant “present your papers” law).

But the pretense of the Tea Party is that the U.S. Constitution is definitive on these points and that the Founders favored today’s right-wing interpretation of the federal government’s powers, i.e. that taxes, debt and regulation of commerce are somehow unconstitutional.

Another curious “reform” from the new Republican House majority will be a requirement to specify what constitutional authority underpins every piece of legislation, a rather silly idea since every bill can make some claim to constitutionality even if the federal courts might eventually disagree.

But the larger truth that the Tea Partiers don’t want to acknowledge is that the Constitution represented a major power grab by the federal government, when compared to the loosely drawn Articles of Confederation, which lacked federal taxing authority and other national powers.

The Founders also recognized that changing circumstances would require modification of the Constitution which is why they provided for amendments. Indeed, the primary limitations on federal authority were included in the first ten amendments, called the Bill of Rights. Subsequent amendments included the eradication of slavery and extending the vote to blacks, and later to women.

Civil Liberties?

Yet, while the Tea Partiers and the Right have embraced a mythical view of the Constitution as some ideal document that opposes federal power to tax, borrow and pass laws that improve “the general Welfare,” they have been less interested in the document’s protection of civil liberties, especially when the targets of abuse are Muslims, Hispanics, blacks and anti-war dissenters.

Many on the Right have found plenty of justifications to trample on the rights of these minorities, even when the actions violate clear-cut mandates in the Constitution, such as the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of “probable cause” before the government can engage in search and seizure and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on inflicting “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Especially when the Right’s hero George W. Bush was violating those rights last decade, there were word games to explain the unexplainable.

For instance, in 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales argued that “there is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution.” But that was a point of sophistry since the Founders took habeas corpus rights for granted under English law and thus limited the reference in the Constitution to the extreme circumstances required before the government could suspend its need to justify a person’s incarceration before a judge.

Gonzales’s game-playing was similar to the argument made by Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell during a Delaware Senate debate – that the Constitution doesn’t call for the “separation of church and state,” because those specific words aren’t used.

The First Amendment does say that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” which Thomas Jefferson paraphrased as the “separation of church and state.” But it has become an article of faith among many on the Right that “separation of church and state” is a myth. O’Donnell later described herself as high-fiving her aides, thinking she had won the debating point.

Many on the American Right also insist that the Founders created a “Christian nation,” even though the word “Christian” is nowhere to be found in the Constitution and the Founders pointedly set no religious exclusions for those serving in the U.S. government.

One has to wonder, too, how the Republicans on opening day will read the Constitution’s prescribed oath for the president’s swearing in, which ends with a promise to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of United States,” without the add-on “so help me God,” which was freelanced by George Washington but is not what the drafters of the Constitution wrote.

Leaving out “so help me God” might be deemed part of the war on Christmas.

Radical Revision

Curiously, too, while supposedly revering the Constitution and its original intent, the Tea Partiers and their Republican allies simultaneously are proposing a radical revision of the founding document, an amendment that would allow a super-majority of states to overturn laws passed by Congress and signed into law by the president.

This neo-nullificationism smacks of South Carolina’s resistance to President Andrew Jackson’s federalism in the 1830s, a clash that set the stage for the Confederacy’s secession and the Civil War in the 1860s. The proposed Tea Party amendment, which is supported by many Southern officials including incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, could again wreak havoc on the nation.

A New York Times editorial noted that because the proposed amendment “focuses on giving states power to veto (e.g., taxes) without their shouldering responsibility for asserting it (trimming appropriations because of lost tax revenue), the unintended consequences would likely be at least as important as the intended.”

In other words, the Tea Party and the Republicans are positioning themselves as both fundamentalists embracing the Constitution’s “original intent” and radicals determined to rip it up. Still, they are not likely to pay any price for their reckless ideas or their blatant hypocrisy.

If we’ve learned anything over the past several decades, it is that reason and consistency have little place in the U.S. political/media system. What counts is the size of the megaphone – and the American Right has built a truly impressive one, while the Left has largely downplayed the need for making an alternate case to the public.

As the Times noted, the Tea Party’s proposed 28th Amendment “helps explain further the anger-fueled, myth-based politics of the populist new right. It also highlights the absence of a strong counterforce in American politics. …

“The error that matters most here is about the Constitution’s history. America’s fundamental law holds competing elements, some constraining the national government, others energizing it.

“But the government the Constitution shaped was founded to create a sum greater than the parts, to promote economic development that would lift the fortunes of the American people.”

The Times also noted the inability of the American Left to make a case for more government intervention to address the nation’s deepening problems, such as high unemployment and severe income disparity. The Times wrote:

“In past economic crises, populist fervor has been for expanding the power of the national government to address America’s pressing needs. Pleas for making good the nation’s commitment to equality and welfare have been as loud as those for liberty.

“Now the many who are struggling have no progressive champion. The left have ceded the field to the Tea Party and, in doing so, allowed it to make history. It is building political power by selling the promise of a return to a mythic past.”

This means that we can expect the Tea Party’s myth-based assertions about the Founders’ intent to continue, along with the Right’s selective concern about the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.

When those rights are extended to non-white minorities, it’s “lib-rhul” activism. If the rights go to multinational corporations or white folks with guns, then that’s the way it was meant to be.

Though the Tea Partiers insist that race is not a factor in their current fury against government power, they don’t explain their relative silence when Republican George W. Bush, a white man, was asserting unlimited executive power. But Barack Obama, a black man, can’t even get away with welcoming students back for the school year without howls about Orwellian totalitarianism.

Even Michelle Obama’s well-intentioned campaign for healthful eating has become a target of anger from the likes of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the Right’s powerful media machine.

So, it seems the country is in for a new round of crazy while the voices for sanity stay largely mute.


[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History andSecrecy & Privilege, which are now available with Neck Deep, in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

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The Cowardly Liberals

Chris Hedges, like many on the left, is becoming angrier and angrier. Author most recently of Death of the Liberal Class, he writes today in Truthdig.Com:

There is no major difference between a McCain administration, a Bush and an Obama administration. Obama, in fact, is in many ways worse. McCain, like Bush, exposes the naked face of corporate power. Obama, who professes to support core liberal values while carrying out policies that mock these values, mutes and disempowers liberals, progressives and leftists. Environmental and anti-war groups, who plead with Obama to address their issues, are little more than ineffectual supplicants.

Obama, like Bush and McCain, funds and backs our unending and unwinnable wars. He does nothing to halt the accumulation of the largest deficits in human history. The drones murder thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as they did under Bush and would have done under McCain. The private military contractors, along with the predatory banks and investment houses, suck trillions out of the U.S. Treasury as efficiently under Obama. Civil liberties, including habeas corpus, have not been restored. The public option is dead. The continuation of the Bush tax cuts, adding some $900 billion to the deficit, along with the reduction of individual contributions to Social Security, furthers a debt peonage that will be the excuse to privatize Social Security, slash social services and break the back of public service unions. Obama does not intercede as tens of millions of impoverished Americans face foreclosures and bankruptcies. The Democrats provide better cover. But the corporate assault is the same.

[ … ]

“The more outrageous the Republicans become, the weaker the left becomes,” Nader said when I reached him at his home in Connecticut on Sunday. “The more outrageous they become, the more the left has to accept the slightly less outrageous corporate Democrats.”

Hedges, who was arrested along with Daniel Ellsberg and more than 130 other anti-war demonstrators outside the White House earlier this month, says that “either we begin to practice a fierce moral autonomy and rise up in multiple acts of physical defiance that have no discernable short-term benefit, or we accept the inevitability of corporate slavery.”

The left, he says, must stop merely making noises, only to cave in the end.

Again quoting Nader:

“The best example is Richard Trumka and the AFL-CIO. Obama has given them nothing. Therefore, they are demanding nothing. They huff and puff. They make tough speeches. But Trumka hasn’t even made Obama’s campaign pledge of a $9.50 minimum wage by this year an issue. If you want to increase consumer demand, what better way to do it than to unleash $300 billion in wages? The card check for unionization, which Obama pledged as his No. 1 sop to the labor unions, is dead. The unions do not even demand a hearing. And now wait till you see what they will do to the public employee unions. Part of it is their own fault. They are going to be crushed. Everybody is ganging up on them. You have new class warfare. It is non-unionized lower income and middle class taking it out on the unionized middle-income public employees. It is a classic example of oligarchic manipulation.”

Read full article here: The Left Has Nowhere to Go

800,000-Year History of Atmospheric CO2

Comment from YouTube viewer:

Deniers that human activity is causing climate change are like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It makes no difference how much evidence is presented they will still deny the reality of the situation.

King Arthur: “Look, you stupid Bastard. You’ve got no arms left.”

Black Knight: “Yes I have.”

King Arthur: “Look!”

Black Knight: “It’s just a flesh wound.”

Have You Done the ‘Great Thing’ You Dreamed of Doing With Your Life?

5:30 AM, the first day of the new year, still dark out.

I peer out the bedroom window and see a small circle of new snow glistening in the light from the motion-detector on the well house, probably set off a minute ago by a passing deer or raccoon.

I’ve waked for the last of several times in the night, a feature of aging that will probably be with me now until the end.

Nothing is pure, even the hope we feel at the beginning of a new year. There’s always a mixture of regret.

I feel that mixture of hope and regret more keenly this year because yesterday, on the eve of the new year, one of our dear friends and neighbors, someone we’ve come to love as family, suddenly died.

We grieve alone, helpless, outside the circle of her immediate family.

We know they’re strong. We know they’ll be OK.

The good we do in life, and the good we do that lives on after we’re gone is both palpable and mysterious, greater in some ways than we can imagine.

I think this morning about the Aging Conference I created and hosted on The WELL back in the late eighties, when I was in my mid forties. Feeling the first stirrings of middle age, I gave it the title, “Have You Done the ‘Great Thing’ You Dreamed of Doing With Your Life?’

I soon learned from that discussion that not everyone is burdened by an unfulfilled dream. Many fortunate people are born with the enviable ability to live their lives from day-to-day, seizing the opportunity for happiness whenever and wherever it appears.

Others have dreams of “greatness.”

I’ve forgotten much of that discussion now, but it seemed to me as though, in our culture at that time, the dream of greatness was more a male thing.

Times have changed.

If it’s true that in dreams begin responsibilities, then some of us may never have waked from the dream, but rather slept through our failure to realize it.

For ten of my preteen and teen years I studied the violin, taking lessons from a fiery Polish music teacher named (don’t try to pronounce it) Bronislaw Stempczynski. I studied hard at first only in order to avoid his wrath. But in time I came to love the instrument, playing solos in recitals each year at San Francisco State College. I also eventually learned that Mr. Stempczynski — “Barney,” as those of us in orchestra affectionately called him — loved music and loved us too, in his own way.

By the time I started college at Berkeley at age seventeen, I was determined to make a life of music. I was particularly interested in musicology, the scholarly study of music. Such ambition!

Then, in my second year at Berkeley, a small thing happened that set my life on a different course. I was sitting in a cafe on Telegraph Avenue, having lunch, when another young man from the music department sat down with me. During the conversation he told me that I had “nice hands.”

Alarms went off. Homosexual! Danger, danger!

We finished the conversation amicably, but I wanted to run away. His flirting approach to me was profoundly unsettling, and after that I began to lose interest in the music department.

There were probably many good reasons to lose my musical ambitions, but that one — if that’s what it was — was pathetic and sad.

I sleepwalked through most of that time in my young life.

Dreams aside, my life has been good and blessed. Forty-five years of marriage. Three beautiful children. Decent and satisfying work.

If there’s a key to this mystery, it’s probably hidden in plain sight, in a statement a friend made to us many years ago. We were talking to him about unfulfilled plans and dreams. He recalled that he always wanted to go to Europe.

Then he said, matter of factly, “I must have wanted to be married more, because that’s what I did.”

I was stunned by that statement, by the enormous freedom in it.

It didn’t matter what he chose. He might as well have said, “I must have wanted to go to Europe more, because that’s what I did.”

It doesn’t even matter that there’s no conflict between being married and going to Europe. Some people could have done both. He saw it as a choice, and he chose what he chose.

The point — the deep point — is that he completely affirmed all his life choices after the fact as being expressions of his deepest desires and dreams.

This life, this good life, must have been my true dream.

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