Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Myth of the “Ownership Society”

Spiritual Communism: God Owns Everything - You Own Nothing

“Everything animate and inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept Only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.” - Sri Isopanisad, Mantra 1.

In 2004 before the great recession caused by the housing market crash and Wall Street fraud, George W. Bush coined a new catch phrase, which he used to promote the idea of home ownership.
We're creating... an ownership society in this country, where more Americans than ever will be able to open up their door where they live and say, welcome to my house, welcome to my piece of property. - President George W. Bush, October 2004.

This idea was promoted by the Cato Institute, a libertarian organization founded by the sociopath atheist Ayn Rand.

“Individuals are empowered by freeing them from dependence on government handouts and making them owners instead, in control of their own lives and destinies. In the ownership society, patients control their own health care, parents control their own children's education, and workers control their retirement savings.” - Cato Institute

Ownership and control

As formulated by the Cato Institute. The goals are that
patients have control of [decisions on] their personal health care,
parents control [i.e. have power over] their children's education, and
workers control [i.e. have some responsibility for the investment of, or explicit property rights in] their retirement savings.

Here the comments in brackets are an interpretation or paraphrase, consistent with a generalized idea of ownership. The conceptual link here is by means of the idea that private property, the most familiar and everyday form of ownership, is being extended. Control is closely associated with ownership in that sense.
This Cato Institute formulation is not, however, in terms of positive policies. It is more accurately a definition of ownership by taking the state out of the loop. So, for example, in health care ownership is not being defined just on the basis of informed consent.

There is no real originality, politically speaking, in the connection made between individual ownership of property and political stake-holding. This was an idea discussed in Europe and America in the eighteenth century. (For example that the franchise should only be for property holders.)

The novelty of the Cato Institute formulation would lie in the extrapolation. In the case of savings, for example, the extension would be an assertion of property rights in money held in savings or collected tax revenues.

The first desiderata was part of John McCain's campaign platform as the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. McCain's website says, "John McCain believes [that] the key to health care reform is to restore control to the patients themselves."

Of course, this was just a ruse to destroy all social safety net programs, like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, pension programs, etc., and hand them over to Wall Street. Republicans have wanted to do away with these programs since their inception. George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security, but he failed, because it is extremely popular. But now Republicans are trying again. On the ruse of deficit reduction and economic crisis, they have proposed to privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher program which will enrich the insurance companies and bankrupt older Americans. Under the pressure of these deficit hawks, even the Democrats are proposing cuts to these vital government programs which millions of Americans depend upon.

George Bush called this the ownership society, but what he really meant was 'you're-on-your-own' society. - Barack Obama, 2008

These ideas are supposedly based on “self reliance.” Michelle Bachmann said, “Our nation needs to stop doing for people what they can and should do for themselves,” she said. “Self reliance means, if anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”

Republicans have also cheered executions, someone dying due to lack of health care, waterboarding, blaming unemployment on the unemployed, and have booed an active soldier because he’s gay. They call any kind of government program that helps people “entitlements” and “socialism.”

These days the word socialism has become a very controversial buzzword. Fox “News” and right wing pundits have demonized Barack Obama as a socialist in their propaganda so successfully that 55% of Americans now believe that our president is a socialist.

Obama is far from a socialist. In fact, he is a bit to the right of the Republican president Dwight Eisenhower. That shows how far the Republican party has tilted to the right, if they think Obama is a socialist. Obama has given a huge gift to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies with his health care legislation, propped up the “too big to fail” banks with his weak financial reform, cow-towed to the energy corporations with the weak energy bill now stalled in the senate, and by sending more troops to Afghanistan, he continues to feed the military industrial complex, which is exactly what Eisenhower warned about. This is not socialism. It is crony capitalism that is cheating the poor and the middle class, and is a symptom of a disease that is in it's cancer stage right now in America.

They say “We’re broke. We can’t afford all these entitlement programs.” The fact is, Social Security has a 2.4 trillion dollar surplus, and can pay out 100% of it’s benefits for the next 27 years. But whenever there is a large chunk of cash laying around, Wall Street starts licking it’s chops, hoping to use that as gambling money to cash in by using their extraction schemes. The people have worked their whole lives that money, and the Wall Street vultures want to take it from them through fraudulent market manipulation, just as they did in the housing market.

Now there is a backlash against Wall Street. The 99% are rising up against the 1%, who have cheated them out of the American Dream.

The plutocrats in our government are in bed with the 1%, and both of them are working for their own sense gratification. They are not working for the betterment of society. This naturally causes a popular revolt among the citizens, and the result is that those plutocrats or dictators are removed from power. In ancient times, kings were saintly, and did not hold office in order to maintain their own sense gratification. Here is verse about one such king from the Srimad Bhagavatam, 8th Canto, Chapter 1, Verse 7

Svayambhuva Manu, the husband of Satarupa, was by nature not at all attached to enjoyment of the senses. Thus he gave up his kingdom of sense enjoyment and entered the forest with his wife to practice austerities.

As stated in Bhagavad-gita (4.2), evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh: “The supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way.” All the Manus were perfect kings. They were rajarsis. In other words, although they held posts as kings of the world, they were as good as great saints. Svayambhuva Manu, for example, was the emperor of the world, yet he had no desire for sense gratification. This is the meaning of monarchy. The king of the country or the emperor of the empire must be so trained that by nature he renounces sense gratification. It is not that because one becomes king he should unnecessarily spend money for sense gratification. As soon as kings became degraded, spending money for sense gratification, they were lost. Similarly, at the present moment, monarchy having been lost, the people have created democracy, which is also failing. Now, by the laws of nature, the time is coming when dictatorship will put the citizens into more and more difficulty. If the king or dictator individually, or the members of the government collectively, cannot maintain the state or kingdom according to the rules of Manu-samhita, certainly their government will not endure.

Thomas Merton described the phenomenon of the selfish 1%, and how they try to define themselves as being apart from the 99%

“People who know nothing of God and whose lives are centered on themselves, imagine that they can only find themselves by asserting their own desires and ambitions and appetites in a struggle with the rest of the world. They try to become real by imposing themselves on other people, by appropriating for themselves some share of the limited supply of created goods and thus emphasizing the difference between themselves and the other men who have less than they, or nothing at all.

They can only conceive one way of becoming real: cutting themselves off from other people and building a barrier of contrast and distinction between themselves and other men. They do not know that reality is to be sought not in division but in unity, for we are ‘members one of another.’” - Thomas Merton, from New Seeds of Contemplation

Srila Prabhupada explains this phenomenon in the purport to the verse from the Sri Isopanisad that opens this book. This is a bit dated due to the reference to communism, but it still applies in relation to the quarrel between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

“In modern society there is always a great quarrel between the laborers and the capitalists. This quarrel has taken an international shape, and the world is endangered. Men face one another in enmity and snarl just like cats and dogs. Sri Isopanisad cannot give advice to the cats and dogs, but it can deliver the message of Godhead to man through the bona fide acaryas (holy teachers). The human race should take the Vedic wisdom of Isopanisad and not quarrel over material possessions. One must be satisfied by whatever privileges are given to him by the mercy of the Lord. There can be no peace if the communists or capitalists or any other party claims proprietorship over the resources of nature, which are entirely the property of the Lord. The capitalists cannot curb the communists simply by political maneuvering, nor can the communists defeat the capitalists simply by fighting for stolen bread. If they do not recognize the proprietorship of the Supreme personality of Godhead, all the property which they claim to be their own is stolen. Consequently they will be liable to punishment by the laws of nature. Nuclear bombs are in the hands of both communists and capitalists, and if both do not recognize the proprietorship of the Supreme Lord, it is certain that these bombs will ultimately ruin both parties. Thus in order to save themselves and bring peace to the world, both parties must follow the instructions of Sri Isopanisad.

…One should therefore be intelligent enough to know that but for the Lord no one is a proprietor of anything. One should accept only those things which are set aside by the Lord as his quota. The cow, for instance, gives milk, but she does not drink that milk; she eats grass and grain, and her milk is designated as food for human beings. Such is the arrangement of the Lord, and we should be satisfied with those things which He has kindly set aside for us, and we should always consider to whom those things we possess actually belong.

A house, for instance, is made of earth, wood, stone, iron, cement and so many other material things, and if we think in terms of Sri Isopanisad, we must know that we cannot produce any of these materials ourselves. We can simply bring them together and transform them into different shapes by our labor. A laborer cannot claim to be a proprietor of a thing just because he has worked hard to manufacture it…

…The root of sin is deliberate disobedience to the laws of nature through disregarding the proprietorship of the Lord. Disobedience to the laws of nature or the order of the Lord brings ruin to a human being. If one is sober, knows the laws of nature and is not influenced by unnecessary attachment or aversion, he is sure to be recognized by the Lord, and he is sure to become eligible to go back to Godhead, back to the eternal home.”

It is so easy to forget that we are not the owner of anything - not even our bodies. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, there is the story of Bali Maharaja, who was deprived of all his opulence by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vamanadeva by promising Him three steps of land.
In two steps Vamana covered the entire universe. Where was the other step to be taken? Bali was arrested for not fulfilling his promise, but here was the faulty thinking:

Srimati Vindhyavali (Bali Maharaja’s wife) said: O my Lord, You have created the entire universe for the enjoyment of Your personal pastimes, but foolish, unintelligent men have claimed proprietorship for material enjoyment. Certainly they are shameless agnostics. Falsely claiming proprietorship, they think they can give charity and enjoy. In such a condition, what good can they do for You, who are the independent creator, maintainer and annihilator of this universe?

Bali Maharaja’s wife, who was most intelligent, supported the arrest of her husband and accused him of having no intelligence because he had claimed proprietorship of the property of the Lord. Such a claim is a sign of demoniac life. Although the demigods, who are officials appointed by the Lord for management, are attached to materialistic enjoyment, they never claim to be proprietors of the universe, for they know that the actual proprietor of everything is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is the qualification of the demigods. But the demons, instead of accepting the exclusive proprietorship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, claim the property of the universe for themselves through demarcations of nationalism. “This part is mine, and that part is yours,” they say. “This part I can give in charity, and this part I can keep for my enjoyment.” These are all demoniac conceptions.

This is described in Bhagavad-gita (16.13): idam adya maya labdham imam prapsye manoratham. “Thus far I have acquired so much money and land. Now I have to add more and more. In this way I shall be the greatest proprietor of everything. Who can compete with me?” These are all demoniac conceptions. Bali Maharaja’s wife accused Bali Maharaja by saying that although the Supreme Personality of Godhead had arrested him, showing him extraordinary mercy, and although Bali Maharaja was offering his body to the Supreme Lord for the Lord’s third step, he was still in the darkness of ignorance. Actually the body did not belong to him, but because of his long-standing demoniac mentality he could not understand this. He thought that since he had been defamed for his inability to fulfill his promise of charity, and since the body belonged to him, he would free himself from defamation by offering his body. Actually, however, the body does not belong to anyone but the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by whom the body is given. As stated in Bhagavad-gita (18.61):

isvarah sarva-bhutanam
hrd-dese ‘rjuna tisthati
bhramayan sarva-bhutani
yantrarudhani mayaya

The Lord is situated in the core of everyone’s heart, and, according to the material desires of the living entity, the Lord offers a particular type of machine—the body—through the agency of the material energy. The body actually does not belong to the living entity; it belongs to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Under the circumstances, how could Bali Maharaja claim that the body belonged to him?
Thus Vindhyavali, Bali Maharaja’s intelligent wife, prayed that her husband be released, by the Lord’s causeless mercy. Otherwise, Bali Maharaja was nothing but a shameless demon, specifically described as tyakta-hriyas tvad-avaropita-kartr-vadah, a foolish person claiming proprietorship over the property of the Supreme Person. In the present age, Kali-yuga, the number of such shameless men, who are agnostics disbelieving in the existence of God, has increased. Trying to defy the authority of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, so-called scientists, philosophers and politicians manufacture plans and schemes for the destruction of the world. They cannot do anything good for the world, and unfortunately, because of Kali-yuga, they have plunged the affairs of the world into mismanagement. Thus there is a great need for the Krsna consciousness movement for the benefit of innocent people who are being carried away by propaganda of such demons. If the present status quo is allowed to continue, people will certainly suffer more and more under the leadership of these demoniac agnostics.

Another example of this idea was given in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 10, Chapter 8, verse 42 describing a childhood pastime of Lord Krishna. When he was accused of eating dirt by his playmates, his mother looked within his mouth and she saw the entire universe. This is what she thought.

It is by the influence of the Supreme Lord’s maya that I am wrongly thinking that Nanda Maharaja is my husband, that Krsna is my son, and that because I am the queen of Nanda Maharaja, all the wealth of cows and calves are my possessions and all the cowherd men and their wives are my subjects. Actually, I also am eternally subordinate to the Supreme Lord. He is my ultimate shelter.

Following in the footsteps of mother Yasoda, everyone should follow this mentality of renunciation. Whatever wealth, opulence or whatever else we may possess belongs not to us but to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the ultimate shelter of everyone and the ultimate owner of everything. As stated by the Lord Himself in Bhagavad-gita (5.29):

bhoktaram yajna-tapasam
suhrdam sarva-bhutanam
jnatva mam santim rcchati

“The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries.” We should not be proud of our possessions. As expressed by mother Yasoda herein, “I am not the owner of possessions, the opulent wife of Nanda Maharaja. The estate, the possessions, the cows and calves and the subjects like the gopis and cowherd men are all given to me.” One should give up thinking of “my possessions, my son and my husband” (janasya moho’yam aham mameti). Nothing belongs to anyone but the Supreme Lord. Only because of illusion do we wrongly think, “I am existing” or “Everything belongs to me.” Thus mother Yasoda completely surrendered unto the Supreme Lord. For the moment, she was rather disappointed, thinking, “My endeavors to protect my son by charity and other auspicious activities are useless. The Supreme Lord has given me many things, but unless He takes charge of everything, there is no assurance of protection. I must therefore ultimately seek shelter of the Supreme personality of Godhead.” As stated by Prahlada Maharaja (Bhag. 7.9.19), balasya neha saranam pitarau nrsimha: a father and mother cannot ultimately take care of their children. Ato grha-ksetra-sutapta-vittair janasya moho ‘yam aham mameti (Bhag. 5.5.8). One’s land, home, wealth and all of one’s possessions belong to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, although we wrongly think, “I am this” and “These things are mine.”

The above mentioned verse (Bg. 5.29) has been called “The Peace Formula.” Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, amid the antiwar protests of late 1966, expanded on this idea, and put out a mimeographed leaflet (among the very first of his publications in America) from his small storefront temple on New York’s Second Avenue. His followers and sympathizers handed this leaflet out by the thousands on the streets of New York in front of the United Nations building, and later in San Francisco, Montreal, and other cities. His “Peace Formula” was an entirely new approach to the antiwar question, and for thousands of Americans, it provided the perfect solution.

“The great mistake of modern civilization is to encroach upon other’s property as though it were one’s own and to thereby create an unnecessary disturbance of the laws of nature. These laws are very strong. No living entity can violate them. Only one who is God conscious can easily overcome the stringency of the laws of nature and thus become happy and peaceful in the world. As a state is protected by the department of law and order, so is the state of the Universe, of which this earth is only an insignificant fragment, is protected by the laws of nature. This material nature is one of the different potencies of God, who is the ultimate protector of everything that be. This earth is, therefore, the property of God, but we, the living entities, especially the so-called civilized human beings, are claiming God’s property as our own, under both and individual and collective false conception. If you want peace, you have to remove this false conception from your mind and from the world. This false claim of proprietorship by the human race on earth is partly or wholly the cause of all disturbances of foolish and so-called civilized men who are claiming proprietary rights on the property of God because they have now become godless. You cannot be happy and peaceful in a godless civilization. Although there are many civilizations, there is only one God, although He may be called many names in different countries. In the Bhagavad-gita, the holy book of India, Lord Krishna delineates the peace formula. He says that He is the factual enjoyer of all activities of the living entities, that He is the Supreme Lord of all universes, and that He is the well-wishing friend of all beings. When the people of the world know this as the formula for peace, it is then and there that peace will prevail.”

One of Prabupada’s disciples once asked him, “Should I renounce everything?” Prabhupada laughed and said, “What do YOU have to renounce?”

This principle is not only in Vedic philosophy, but in all religions. Here are some examples from Christianity:

1. God owns all the money. "'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty" (Haggai 2:8).
At the time this verse was written, silver and gold were used as a means of exchange (i.e., like money), so I believe a modern-day interpretation of this verse would be that God owns all the money.

2. God owns all the livestock.
"Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills." (Psalm 50:7-10, emphasis added) At the time this verse was written, many people retained material wealth in their livestock, and this was frequently a measure of one's material resources.

3. God created everything and therefore owns everything:
"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters." (Psalm 24:1, 2)
Everything in the heavens and earth is yours O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as being in control of everything. Riches and honor come from you alone, and you are the Ruler of all mankind; your hand controls power and might, and it is at your discretion that men are made great and given strength. (1 Chronicles 29: 11, 12 tlb)

For Christians, I think the most important thing is to acknowledge, in heart and in mind, that God owns everything.

In order to do this practically, is important to learn and implement God's principles as outlined in his Word and utilize the material resources that God has given us according to God's will and not our own will.

The principle of “spiritual communism” - that nothing belongs to us and that everything belongs to God was expanded on in Srila Prabhupada’s book “Journey of Spiritual Discovery”

“Our God conscious philosophy is also a kind of spiritual communism, because we regard Krsna as the supreme father and all living entities as sons of Krsna. And Krsna says, sarva-loka-mahesvaram: He is the proprietor of all planets. Therefore whatever there is, either in the sky or in the water or on the land, it is all Krsna’s property. And because we are all sons of Krsna, every one of us has the right to use our father’s property. But we should not encroach upon others. This is the formula for peace. Everything belongs to God, and since you are sons of God, you have the right to use your father’s property. But do not take more than you need. This is punishable. If anyone takes more than he needs, then he’s a thief.

When we forget this philosophy—that Krsna is the supreme father, Krsna is the supreme proprietor, Krsna is the supreme enjoyer, and Krsna is the supreme friend of everyone—when we forget this, then we come into this material world and struggle for existence, fight with one another. This is material life.

Nor can we get any relief through our politicians, diplomats, philosophers. They have tried so much, but actually nothing they have tried has become fruitful. Take the United Nations. It was organized after the second great war, and they wanted, “We shall now settle everything peacefully.” But there is no such thing. The fighting is going on, between Pakistan and India or between Vietnam and America or this and that. Mundane politics and diplomacy and philosophy—this is not the process. The process is Krsna consciousness. Everyone has to understand this point, that we are not proprietors. The actual proprietor is Krsna. That’s a fact. Take America, for example. Say two hundred years ago, the European immigrants were not the proprietors. Somebody else was the proprietor, and before that somebody else was the proprietor, or it was vacant land. But the actual proprietor is Krsna. Artificially we are claiming, “It is my property.” This is called maya, illusion.”

Actually, the whole idea of proprietorship was completely foreign to Native Americans, because they knew that mother earth belonged to Wonka Tonka - God.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conflating Religion and Irreligion

“That understanding which considers irreligion to be religion and religion to be irreligion, under the spell of illusion and darkness, and strives always in the wrong direction, O Partha, is in the mode of ignorance.” - Bhagavad-gita 18.32

Westboro Baptist Church is an example of people who hate in the name of God, single out a particular group, and use that hatred to further their own political agenda. In Hitler’s case it was the Jews. In their case of the Westboro Baptist Church it is the gays. The use the most incendiary rhetoric which includes protesting the death of gay soldiers, and politicians or other public figures who have showed tolerance for that group. Their hatred is an end in itself and they justify it by claiming that “God hates fags”. The more the hate, the more Godly they feel. The see homosexuality as wrong, but they would benefit from the passage in the Srimad-Bhagavatam where it is described that the accuser of the wrong doer is as much at fault as the wrongdoer himself. That is a religious principle.

The King said: O you, who are in the form of a bull! You know the truth of religion, and you are speaking according to the principle that the destination intended for the perpetrator of irreligious acts is also intended for one who identifies the perpetrator. You are no other than the personality of religion.

A devotee’s conclusion is that no one is directly responsible for being a benefactor or mischief-monger without the sanction of the Lord; therefore he does not consider anyone to be directly responsible for such action. But in both the cases he takes it for granted that either benefit or loss is God-sent, and thus it is His grace. In case of benefit, no one will deny that it is God-sent, but in case of loss or reverses one becomes doubtful about how the Lord could be so unkind to His devotee as to put him in great difficulty. Jesus Christ was seemingly put into such great difficulty, being crucified by the ignorant, but he was never angry at the mischief-mongers. That is the way of accepting a thing, either favorable or unfavorable. Thus for a devotee the identifier is equally a sinner, like the mischief-monger. By God’s grace, the devotee tolerates all reverses. Maharaja Pariksit observed this, and therefore he could understand that the bull was no other than the personality of religion himself. In other words, a devotee has no suffering at all because so-called suffering is also God’s grace for a devotee who sees God in everything. The cow and bull never placed any complaint before the King for being tortured by the personality of Kali, although everyone lodges such complaints before the state authorities. The extraordinary behavior of the bull made the King conclude that the bull was certainly the personality of religion, for no one else could understand the finer intricacies of the codes of religion.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Gabby Giffords Gives Us Hope for Congress - and Humanity

This made my day yesterday. Last night, during the debt ceiling vote in the house, Gabby Giffords walked in, and she got a standing ovation from everyone. After months of partisan wrangling and holding the American people as well as the full faith and credit of the United States of America hostage, at the last minute, the congress finally got together and voted to raise the debt ceiling. But Gabby walked in moments before passage and registered her vote. Although the rules of the house prohibit applause, everyone ignored the rules. This shows that the congress is human, and still capable of showing respect and empathy. We need more of that in government and in society at large. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to bring it out. Gabby Giffords dedicated her life to public service, and she was acknowledged for that by minority leader Pelosi last night. "Throughout America, there isn't a name that stirs more love, more admiration, more respect, more wishing for our daughters to be like her, than the name Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords," Pelosi said.

Ever since Ronald Reagan said “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I'm from the government and I'm here to help,’” there have been forces that want to tear government down, and kill those who represent it. But the government is us. If we kill the government, we kill ourselves. The government is an collective body, elected by society, that takes care of society at large. We have chosen representatives to take care of the least among us, the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. That’s why we have Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If we break our social contract with those people, and the wealthy use their money to influence politicians to destroy those programs for their own benefit, America will no longer be great. America is only as strong as it’s weakest link. We cannot let the least among us fall through the cracks. That’s what Jesus would do. If Republicans claim to be Christians, they must acknowledge the truth of Christ’s admonition that “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” - Matthew 25:40 Christ gave his life to deliver that message, and his name has been plowed into history forever. Gabby Giffords almost gave her life as well. It’s a shame that it takes such sacrifice for us to wake up from our selfish slumber to love and care for our brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Solution to the UPMC-Highmark Feud

In Wednesday’s piece by Steve Twedt, entitled “State threatens to intervene in UPMC-Highmark feud” state insurance commissioner Michael Consedine characterized some recent statements from the two organizations as "alarming" for consumers, businesses and physicians. "That's not a good thing for the marketplace," he said in a phone interview Tuesday. "We're still in a free market here," They have the ability to make their own business decisions, so we don't have the ability to say, 'You have to do a deal.'"

In actual fact, there is no such thing as a "free market." Markets are the creation of government. Governments provide a stable currency to make markets possible. The rules of the game of business are defined by government. Any sports fan can tell you that football, baseball, or hockey without rules and referees would be a mess. The conservative mantra is "let the market decide." But there is no market independent of government, so what they're really saying is, "Stop corporations from defending workers and building a middle class, and let the corporations decide how much to pay for labor and how to trade." This is, at best, destructive to national and international economies, and, at worst, destructive to democracy itself.

I have an idea of how this is going to turn out. UPMC will win, because it’s the largest monopoly in town, and they will raise their rates, because that’s what corporations are legally mandated to do - make money. It is illegal in every other industrialized country in the world to make profit from providing health care, and that’s why it costs so much here. The two largest buildings in town are UPMC and Highmark. Here’s a solution. Why doesn’t Pennsylvania get rid of them both by doing what Vermont recently did by enacting single payer health care?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Quotes from Ghandi on Cow Protection

The Cow In Hinduism

The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection. Cow protection to me is one of the most wonderful phenomena in human evolution. It takes the human being beyond this species. The cow to me means the entire sub-human world. Man through the cow is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives. Why the cow was selected for apotheosis is obvious to me. The cow was in India the best companion. She was the giver of plenty. Not only did she give milk, but she also made agriculture possible….....

Cow protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world. And Hinduism will live so ling as there are Hindus to protect the cow…… Hindus will be judged not by their TILAKS, not by the correct chanting of MANTRAS, not by their pilgrimages, not by their most punctilious observances of caste rules, but their ability to protect the cow. (YI, 6-10-1921, p. 36)

Place Of The Cow

THE COW is a poem of pity. One reads pity in the gentle animal. She is the mother to millions of Indian mankind. Protection of the cow means protection of the whole dumb creation of God. The ancient seer, whoever he was, began with the cow. The appeal of the lower order of creation is all the more forcible because it is speechless. (YI, 6-10-1921, p. 36)

…The cow is the purest type of sub-human life. She pleads before us on behalf of the whole of the sub-human species for justice to it at the hands of man, the first among all that lives. She seems to speak to us through her eyes: 'you are not appointed over us to kill us and eat our flesh or otherwise ill-treat us, but to be our friend and guardian'. (YI, 26-6-1924, p. 214)

I worship it and I shall defend its worship against the whole world. (YI, 1-1-1925, p. 8) Mother cow is in many ways better than the mother who gave us birth. Our mother gives us milk for a couple of years and then expects us to serve her when we grow up. Mother cow expects from us nothing but grass and grain. Our mother often falls ill and expects service from us. Mother cow rarely falls ill. Here is an unbroken record of service which does not end with her death. Our mother, when she dies, means expenses of burial or cremation. Mother cow is as useful dead as when she is alive. We can make use of every part of her body-her flesh, her bones, her intestines, her horns and her skin. Well, I say this not to disparage the mother who gives us birth, but in order to show you the substantial reasons for my worshipping the cow. (H, 15-9-1940, p. 281)


I would not kill a human being for protection a cow, as I will not kill a cow for saving a human life, be it ever so precious. (YI, 18-5-1921, p. 156)

My religion teaches me that I should by personal conduct instill into the minds of those who might hold different views, the conviction that cow-killing is a sin and that, therefore, it ought to be abandoned. (YI, 29-1-1925, p. 38)

Cow slaughter can never be stopped by law. Knowledge, education, and the spirit of kindliness towards her alone can put and end to it. It will not be possible to save those animals that are a burden on the land or, perhaps, even man if he is a burden. (H, 15-9-1946, p. 310)

My ambition is no less than to see the principle of cow protection established throughout the world. But that requires that I should set my own house thoroughly in order first. (YI, 29-1-1925, p. 38)

Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of that lives and is helpless and weak in the world. (YI, 7-5-1925, p. 160)

But let me reiterate….that legislative prohibition is the smallest part of any programme of cow protection. …People seem to think that, when a law is passed against any evil, it will die without any further effort. There never was a grosser self-deception. Legislation is intended and is effective against an ignorant or a small, evil-minded minority; but no legislation which is opposed by an intelligent and organized public opinion, or under cover of religion by a fanatical minority, can ever succeed. The more I study the question of cow protection, the stronger the conviction grows upon me that protection of the cow and her progeny can be attained only if there is continuous and sustained constructive effort along the lines suggested by me. (YI, 7-7-1927, p. 219)


Preservation of cattle is a vital part of GOSEVA. It is a vital question for India . . . There is urgent need for deep study and the spirit of sacrifice. To amass money and dole out charity does not connote real business capacity. To know how to preserve cattle, to impart this knowledge to the millions, to live up to the ideal oneself, and to spend money on this endeavor is real business. (H, 17-2-1946, p.11)

In so far as the pure economic necessity of cow protection is concerned, it can be easily secured if the question was considered on that ground alone. In that event all the dry cattle, the cows who give less mild than their keep, and the aged and unfit cattle would be slaughtered without a second thought. This soulless economy has no place in India, although the inhabitants of this land of paradoxes may be, indeed are, guilty of many soulless acts.

Positive Measures

Then, how can the cow be save without having to kill her off when she ceases to give the economic quantity of milk or when one becomes otherwise an uneconomic burden? The answer to the question can be summed up as follows: 1. By the Hindus performing their duty towards the cow and her progeny. If they did so, our cattle would be the pride of India and the world. The contrary is the case today. 2. By learning the science of cattle-breeding. Today there is perfect anarchy in this work. 3. By replacing the present cruel method of castration by the humane method practiced in the West. 4. By thorough reform of the pinjrapoles [institutions for aged cows] of India which are today, as a rule, managed ignorantly and without any plan by men who do not know their work. 5. When these primary things are done, it will be found that the Muslims will, of their own accord, recognize the necessity, if only for the sake of their Hindus brethren, of not slaughtering cattle for beef or otherwise. The reader will observe that behind the foregoing requirements lies one thing and that is ahimsa, otherwise known as universal compassion. If that supreme thing is realized, everything else becomes easy. Where there is ahimsa, there is infinite patience, inner calm, discrimination, self-sacrifice and true knowledge. (H, 31-8-1947, p. 300)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Life is a Highway

I’ve been thinking about the concept of the spiritual path. There is only one road. That is surrender to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is only the beginning point in one’s spiritual life, yet it is rarely achieved.

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.”
- Bhagavad-gita, 7.19

In the preface of the Caitanya Caritamrta, Prabhupada describes the surrendered soul, as delineated by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who was Krishna Himself, but who appeared on the earth just to teach us how to surrender. The Lord demands that one surrender unto Him by following six guidelines, one of which is: “A pure devotee is a soul who is forever surrendered to the Lord, just as a child is surrendered to his parents or an animal to its master. In the surrendering process, one should: (5) have no interest separate from the interest of the Lord”

Then there are those who do not take the strait and narrow path of surrender:
“Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons, do not surrender unto Me.”
- Bhagavad-gita 7.15

In the purport to this verse, Prabhupada describes the “mudhas,” or foolish workers, who labor like beasts of burden. “Ignorant of their real master, the foolish workers waste their valuable time serving mammon. Unfortunately, they never surrender to the supreme master of all masters, nor do they take time to hear of Him from the proper sources. The swine who eat the stool do not care to accept sweetmeats made of sugar and ghee. Similarly, the foolish worker will untiringly continue to hear of the sense-enjoyable tidings of the flickering mundane force that moves the material world.”

Those on this path are not rare, and there are infinite paths that people take. The majority of humanity simply works hard for their own sense gratification, not caring about surrender to the real master.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”
- Matthew 7.13

"Broad is the road that leads to death,
And thousands walk together there;
But wisdom shows a narrower path,
With here and there a traveler."
- Isaac Watts

"Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one. O beloved child of the Kurus, the intelligence of those who are irresolute is many-branched."
- Bhagavad-gita 2.41

Those skeptical of this “path” will say it does not exist, or it is imagined, or followed by obeying one’s own mental interpretation of the scripture, or the guru’s instructions. But those who have traveled this path for most of their life will say that it is real, not a mental imagination. It is not a video game or seeing through the haze of one’s mental rose colored glasses. No conditioned soul actually knows what is to be done and what is not to be done, but a person who acts in Krishna consciousness is free to act because everything is prompted by Krishna from within and confirmed by the spiritual master.

This is the only path to freedom, yet it is all inclusive, because God is everything, and is the supremely satisfying state of existence called “samadhi.”

“The stage of perfection is called trance, or samadhi, when one's mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This is characterized by one's ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness and enjoys himself through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.”
- Bhagavad-gita 6.20-23

It is foolish to take any other road - and supremely arrogant to think that one is more intelligent than the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If you do veer off the strait and narrow path, you will undoubtedly inevitably find yourself in the ditch.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

MoveOn and Coalition Building

The following is a letter I sent to the leadership of the MoveOn Council of Greater Pittsburgh

I have had some realizations lately that have led me to change my approach on how I deal within the political arena. This doesn't mean that I'm not going to be involved in MoveOn anymore - I plan on being just as active, if not more so, but I would like to focus in a different way. As you know, I am not a Christian, but having been a celibate "Hare Krishna" monk for 25 years, I have a long and deeply spiritual background, and that has effected they way I look at political issues and drives my activism. Republican party has hijacked the "religious right" in this country, and it is exactly the opposite of what Christ actually taught. At the core, Democrats embody the principle in Matthew 25:40 "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter label the left as "Godless", and "secular progressives", and that is not fair, because there are many others like myself who's moral principles motivate us to change people's consciousness to work towards peace and social justice.

I am even more radical than my hero in the senate, Bernie Sanders, a self professed democratic socialist. I consider myself to be a spiritual communist.

The founder of ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, (that I was initiated into in 1979), A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, wrote about spiritual communism in the first paragraph of the preface to his epic translation of the 12 Canto scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam, "We must know the present need of human society. And what is that need? Human society is no longer bounded by geographical limits to particular countries or communities. Human society is broader than in the Middle Ages, and the world tendency is toward one state or one human society. The ideals of spiritual communism, according to Srimad-Bhagavatam, are based more or less on the oneness of the entire human society, nay, of the entire energy of living beings. The need is felt by great thinkers to make this a successful ideology. Srimad-Bhagavatam will fill this need in human society. It begins, therefore, with the aphorism of Vedanta philosophy janmady asya yatah to establish the ideal of a common cause. Human society, at the present moment, is not in the darkness of oblivion. It has made rapid progress in the field of material comforts, education and economic development throughout the entire world. But there is a pinprick somewhere in the social body at large, and therefore there are large-scale quarrels, even over less important issues. There is need of a clue as to how humanity can become one in peace, friendship and prosperity with a common cause. Srimad-Bhagavatam will fill this need, for it is a cultural presentation for the respiritualization of the entire human society."

Instead of the state owning all the wealth, and distributing it according to need, I know that God owns everything, and we own nothing.

"Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong." - Sri Isopanisad, Verse 1

This is one of the most important concepts in all religions, and I believe it is the only "peace formula". It is based on a principle that is a key point in the Bhagavad-gita, verse 5.29, and Prabhupada wrote a pamphlet based on it and passed it out in front of the UN building in 1965 in the middle of the Vietnam war. I have been thinking about this since the crash, and I am actually writing a book about it called "The Myth of the Ownership Society". Remember when George Bush coined that phrase back in 2004? We're creating... an ownership society in this country, where more Americans than ever will be able to open up their door where they live and say, welcome to my house, welcome to my piece of property. - President George W. Bush, October 2004.

Here's what Naomi Klein, author of "The Shock Doctrine", said about that 4 years later, after the housing market fell off the cliff.

This is not only selfish, from a spiritual viewpoint it is completely bogus. Since everything is God's property, if you claim any ownership beyond your quota, you are actually a thief, and you will be punished by the laws of nature. The "ownership society" idea failed catastrophically, but the meme is still spreading into different areas. Look at the tax issue. You always hear Republicans screaming that they don't want the government taking their money and distributing the parasitic poor. They claim to be Christians, yet there are literally thousands of references to the poor in the Bible. They are actually practicing irreligion. It is said in my scripture, "That understanding which considers irreligion to be religion and religion to be irreligion, under the spell of illusion and darkness, and strives always in the wrong direction, O Partha, is in the mode of ignorance." - Bhagavad-gita 18.32

"Now everything's a little upside down,
as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped,
what's good is bad,
what's bad is good,
you'll find out when you reach the top,
you're on the bottom." - Bob Dylan "Idiot Wind"

That being said, I want to fight to fundamentally correct this mentality, and turn the tables. I feel so strongly about this that I think my role in MoveOn should be different. MoveOn is basically a secular organization, but it does embrace coalitions. Therefore instead of being the council coordinator, I want to coordinate a coalition building team working with other spiritual progressives in the Pittsburgh area. This would not affect or change MoveOn's agenda in any way, rather it would reinforce democratic principles and morals by organizing like minded people. The Republicans and the religious right are in lock step. The left does not have a counter balance, and I'm tired of them calling us secular progressives. I have a blog that I started back in 2004 called The Spiritual Progressive. Pittsburgh has a great history of spiritual progressives, the Thomas Merton Society, whose famous co-founder, Molly Rush, spoke at our huge Defend the Dream rally. Also, PIIN, the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network. There was a number of interfaith leaders in the room when I attended the organizing meeting with the unions before the "We Are One" event. My wife is a member, and I am a "friend" of the Sunnyhill Unitarian Univeralist church. I recently led one of their study groups. All the Unitarian churches in the area are packed with liberals. There are also national organizations such as the NSP the Network of Spiritual Progressives, the Interfaith Alliance, whose president, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy has a weekly radio show called State of Belief that is still on the air that used to broadcast on the nationally syndicated Air America Radio. I am also a big fan of Sojourners, whose president, Jim Wallis, is a spiritual advisor to Barack Obama, and has moderated a presidential debate on CNN. Time magazine named Jim Wallis one of the "50 Faces for America's Future." These groups have worked on peace and social justice issues for decades, and I want to bring them together to work with MoveOn.

I have come to the realization that this is my calling, so that is the role that I would like to play.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tax Day: Make Them Pay!

Check out our Corporate Monster we will use for the Tax Day rally! He will have a cape on that will have the logos of many of the corporate tax dodgers all over it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Historical Hypocricy

Conservatives are so proud of the founding fathers, and our country's history, but they often get it wrong. The tea party was started in revolt against a multinational corporation, the British East India Company. I find it ironic that the modern tea party is funded by the Koch brothers, and snookered into believing the anti-union corporate agenda. Just before the election of 2004, I showed a full page ad decrying the Swift Boat attacks against John Kerry to a woman who was a big Fox News fan. She looked at the bottom of the page and noticed the sponsor, and she said sarcastically, "Of course, it's paid for by a union." I was incredulous, and I thought "What's wrong with unions?" She believed it unions are bad because she listens to Sean Hannity, and that's what he told her, over and over again. They've got it completely backward. Here's a piece of history. Unions built this country, and the middle class. They began in Wisconsin. There are seven towns in Wisconsin named Union. Unions gave us weekends, the 40 hour work week, and unemployment compensation. People fought and died for that which originated in Wisconsin, but they eventually prevailed. Of course the corporations don't like unions and are shitting all over them and the history of Wisconsin. It's an outrage, but we are fighting back. I am going to a 3 hour meeting with unions here in Pittsburgh on Monday, and this is just the beginning. Solidarity! ON WISCONSIN!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The War Against Public Sector Unions

The following was submitted to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

The headline above the picture of the protesters in Wisconsin on the front page "Wisconsin Budget Battle" is misleading. It's about union busting. Scott Walker wants everyone to believe that the state is broke and the only way to fix it is to take it out of the pensions and health care of workers, but that is not the case. Just one state over, in Minnesota, the governor faces a 5.6 million dollar deficit, but is fixing it by doing something that all the other governors are afraid to do, raising taxes on the rich by a mere 3%, instead of doubling the current amount that workers pay in. Karl Rove admitted it on Fox News on Wednesday. If you can bust the unions then their money will dry up for the 2012 presidential elections. Since private unions have gone down since Reagan declared war on them from 35% to 7%, Republicans are focusing on the public unions, the last source of cash for the Democrats to fight against the Citizen's United ruling. This is just the opening salvo. If they succeed in WI, it will spread to all other states, and we will no longer have a democracy. We will have a corporatocracy.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Steelers are Socialists, Pirates are Republicans

During his New Rules segment of his HBO program Real Time, Bill Maher used the Super Bowl to call out right wing hypocrites who hate President Obama for socialism, but love the most socialistic enterprise in America, the National Football League, “So you kind of have to laugh that the same angry white males who hate Obama because he is redistributing wealth, just love football, a sport that succeeds because it does just that. It’s no surprise that some 100 million Americans will watch the Super Bowl next week… 85 million more than watch the last game of the World Series, and in that is an economic lesson for America, because football is built on an economic model of fairness and opportunity, and baseball is built on a model where the rich always win, and the poor usually have no chance.”

Maher continued, “Or to put it another way, football is more like the Democratic philosophy. Democrats don’t want to eliminate capitalism or competition, but they would like it if some kids didn’t have to go to a crummy school in a rotten neighborhood, while others get to go to a great school and their dad gets them into Harvard because when that happens achieving the American Dream becomes. It is easy for some and just a fantasy for others. That’s why the NFL literally shares the wealth. TV is their biggest source of revenue, and they put it all in a big commie pot and split it 32 ways, because they don’t want anyone falling too far behind. That’s why the team that wins the Super Bowl in the next draft picks last, or what the Republicans would call punishing success.”

He then explained why baseball exemplifies the Republican philosophy, “Baseball, baseball on the other hand is exactly like the Republicans, and I don’t just mean it’s incredibly boring. I mean their economic theory is every man for himself. The small market Pittsburgh Steelers go to the Super Bowl more than anybody, but the Pittsburgh Pirates? Levi Johnston has sperm that will not grow up and live long enough to see the Pirates in a World Series. Their payroll is $40 million. The Yankees is $206 million. The Pirates have about as much chance of getting to the playoffs, as a poor black teenager from Newark has of becoming the CEO of Haliburton. That’s why people stop going to Pirate games in May, because if you’re not in the game, you become indifferent to the fate of the game, and maybe even get bitter, that’s what’s happening to the middle class in America.”

As you watch the Super Bowl next Sunday, ask yourself, if the NFL can succeed with a system that creates opportunity for all, why can’t America? After all, isn’t opportunity for all what the American Dream is supposed to be about?