Re #BlackLivesMatter — Aretha Was Right — It’s All About R-E-S-P-E-C-T

“If we face the music and dance together we can turn the funk into function and leave the junk at the junction.”   — Swami Beyondananda

One of the “great” things about polarized, identity politics is that each side excels in bringing out the shadow side of the other. And … at the same time refuses to face its own shadow because that would be giving ammunition to the enemy.

Welcome to race politics in America. Heck, welcome to ALL politics in America.

The growing awareness of police violence and profiling African Americans has created the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This has led to a bipartisan call for reform of prison and sentencing laws, the firing of police chiefs, the indictment of cops. The confederate flag has become a target, and understandably so. How many Jews would enjoy seeing a flag with a swastika flying over THEIR state capital?

And yes, it is a parallel “shituation”. To black Americans (and most whites who don’t have to defend slavery in looking up their family tree) the Civil War represents, among all the other complex reasons it was fought, the end of slavery in America. One might ask, had the Confederacy been allowed to exist as a sovereign state, how long would have slavery continued? Probably as long as it would have been financially viable. (To get a sense of what those who do fly Confederate flags have to say, please check out this video made by my cousin Neil Bhaerman –

As a Libra and Enneagram 9 — and someone who grew up as a minority white kid in a housing project in Bedford-Stuyvesant — I can see the issue from many different sides. And after all the posturing and positioning, the rhetoric and accusations, to me it comes down to one thing — respect. Respect for self, respect for others, respect for life, and respect for the virtues and values that transcend political viewpoint, class and race. In Africa, this respect is called ubuntu; “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri a year ago and the events that followed was about disrespect piled upon disrespect. The way Michael Brown’s body was allowed to lie on the street — disrespect. The riots and looting that followed — disrespect. And that’s just the beginning. The shouting, the distorted testimony, the way each side sought to discredit the other, disrespect. Disrespect for the truth, disrespect for justice, disrespect for self and community.

Given the decades of mutual disrespect, it’s understandable why many police in the inner city see themselves as being in enemy territory, and how young black males see themselves as enemy targets. Both sides are right.

As a youngster in the projects during 1950s and 1960s, I was privy to seeing all sides. On one hand, I was picked on and singled out for being white. On the other hand, when I was in high school, kids I hardly knew would make it a point to shout out, “Hey, Steve” to let their friends know I lived there and was “okay” instead of “ofay”. One of the saddest things was to see my two best friends from elementary school, two brothers a year apart in age, happy, intelligent kids, become gang members in junior high school. By the time they reached high school age, they were already in the detention system and I lost track of them after that. Being white, I was under no social pressure to join a gang, although I did intentionally misspell an easy word to insure I would NOT win the fifth grade spelling bee. Winning that contest would have downgraded my status.

Another poignant memory was Mr. Lee, the superintendent at 205 Albany Avenue, the building where I lived. He was a kind, dignified black man whose job it was to mop up the urine in the elevators every morning before people like my dad left for work. Every morning. The drunks would come home when the bars closed and couldn’t hold it in for the time it took for the elevator to take them to the 14th floor. (Note: Our building had no 13th floor, because that would have been “bad luck”. As a 12-year-old, I recognized that simply living in the building was bad luck.) The disrespect for the social nicety of not pissing in the elevator deeply hurt Mr. Lee, especially because it largely involved his “people”.

Fast forward ten years or so, and I found myself teaching in inner city Washington, D.C. the spring that Martin Luther King was killed. After the riots, when the schools re-opened, my students very generously offered me TV sets they had looted. I remember asking them about a particular business that had been looted over on Mount Pleasant Street, a clothing store called Mister Man. “Why did people loot a black-owned business?” I asked my kids.

“Oh, because they have the best clothes!” was the enthusiastic — and altogether guileless — answer.

And now, 47 years later … and two generations of inner city kids down the toilet — not that much has changed in that regard.

Lest we get too one-sided about the race shadow in this country, ever since LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 (and remarked to Bill Moyers, “I just gave the South to the Republicans for the next 50 years”) the Republicans have employed what is euphemistically called the “Southern Strategy” to take advantage of racial prejudice. It helped elect Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes.

Of course, the Democrats have done the same only different in cultivating black voters. No wonder Swami calls our current polarized system “pander-monium”.

Neither side has actually respected themselves or the other by standing for the truth. Every time a black individual speaks out on black-against-black violence, he or she is attacked as a traitor — just as Jews who criticize Israeli policies are demonized as “self-hating Jews”.

And — as you will see if you view my cousin Neil’s video — defenders of the Confederate flag use laughable disinformation and misinformation to justify their stand.

So … what can self-loving, self-respecting individuals do to cultivate sanity?

A recent blog post by my colleague Tom Atlee (author of the Tao of Democracy) suggests the “systemically transformative” process of Truth and Reconciliation, the restorative justice system that allowed South Africa to heal and emerge from apartheid two decades ago. Unlike Germany, which was forced by the Nuremberg trials and world opinion to come to grips with the Holocaust, the United States has never fully healed slavery, and its aftermath. Consequently, racism has become a political issue where scoring points overrides truth — and respect.

Some would say that Barack Obama has had the perfect bully pulpit to preside over healing race relations in America. Maybe he still can do it in the remaining 18 months of his presidency. If not, it must come from the awakening awareness of we the people. It’s time to hold multi-racial conversations in every locality in the United States that cultivate mutual listening, understanding and respect. I have found Jim Rough’s “dynamic facilitation” and Wisdom Council model to be a leader in this regard, and I’m sure other ways are emerging as well.

As with all aspects of our dysfunctional political and economic system, it will take an awakening of a critical mass of the heretofore-uncritical masses to restore (or perhaps install for the first time) the wise rule of we the people. If you consider this “utopian”, consider the alternative. You don’t have to go far to find it. It’s in the news every day. Through awareness, respect, and the newly-emerging tools to engage and cultivate wisdom, perhaps we can make some new news.

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Wiki Politiki – A New Playing Field for Political Climate Change

How we the people can get off the lose-lose field of reaction, and get on the win-win field of creation.

All those satisfied with governance in America today, raise your hands.

What, no hands?government-money3

Oh … wait a minute. I see some lobbyists from over on K Street with their hands up. And there’s Congressman What’s-His-Name, the one who’s been indicted for fraud and still is expected to win re-election. Another hand — isn’t that the CEO of Monsanto? No, wait. It’s one of those two Koch Brothers, I forget which.

But wow. As far as I can see, through the vast audience throughout America, no hands are up.

What happened?

How did the richest, most resourceful, most innovative country in the world lose its middle class?

How did the land of the free come to have the largest percentage of citizens behind bars of any country in the civilized world?

Why does no one trust our national government?

Why does the media have more influence than ever before, and less credibility? Who knows what to believe anymore?

How has it happened that just a few Congressional races are in contest — and yet billions are spent on campaigns?

Why has corruption become “just the way things are” as influence is bought and sold with impunity?

Whatever happened to government of, by and for the people?

And … what can we the people do to restore ethical and trustworthy governance?

For more than 50 years I have held a keen interest in politics, and have pondered the question, how do we create and sustain a healthy, wealthy commonwealth?

My major was political science, and though I never advanced far enough to actually dissect a politician in poly science lab, I did learn one powerful principle, courtesy of Lord Acton: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

That’s why I have been an admirer of our American system of balance of powers, except that all three branches of government now seem to have been captured by the unchecked, unbalanced and unmitigated power of money. A recent article declared that our system of government has devolved into an oligarchy … or maybe a more accurate term is “oiligarchy”.

A New “Independents” Movement is Emerging

As more Americans awaken to the political dysfunction we are facing, and recognize that the missing ingredient in government by the people is … the people … programs and organizations are emerging with exciting new ideas for how to “turn the funk into function” and create transparent and wise governance.

I call this transpartisan movement to overcome the partisan trance an “independents” movement, because a growing number of citizens recognize that their interests — and the interests of the greater commonwealth — are independent of both political parties. A Gallup poll this past spring indicated that some 42% of American voters consider themselves “independents”, with 31% identifying as Democrats, and just 25% as Republicans. When we realize that voter turnout in 2014 was just 36.4% — lowest since World War II — we can truly say that the overwhelming “winner” in 2014 was “None of the Above”.

Of course, when voters stay home because of disgust, disheartenment, cynicism and apathy the de facto winner is the corrupt system.

So what can be done? How can the energy of frustration and anger be used constructively to transform the system? How do we empower a wise and functional transpartisan independents movement to do an “intervention” on a system too sick to fix itself?

How can we get off the lose-lose field of reaction, and get on the win-win field of creation? How do we unite transpartisans and independents in a strategy that will “overgrow” the current system?

An important first step is the Wiki Politiki project designed to bring together and curate the most promising ideas, and at the same time build an “Independents” community, narrative and movement. In partnership with the Virtual Country Foundation, whose mission is to “give direct voice to the wishes and priorities of the people unfettered by the influences of unregulated corporate and other special interests”, Wiki Politiki will:

Select and interview key “solutionaries” whose work offers promise to the independents movement, record and transcribe these interviews and make them available for free to the general public.

Develop a Wiki Politiki podcast to broadcast these interviews, and other conversations that build the independents movement and develop ideas into strategies.

Produce a book, Healing the Body Politic, that aggregates and contextualizes the best ideas and projects, to be published early in 2016.

As a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, the Virtual Country Foundation is positioned to accept tax-deductible contributions that will fund this project. If you’re tired of your political contributions going to reinforce an unworkable political system, here is an opportunity to make a “non-political” contribution to help cultivate and curate the wiser voice of we the people.

To launch, we are looking for 50 individuals (or groups of individuals) willing to contribute $100 (more is OK too) before the end of the year. When we reach this threshold amount in pledges, we will call for the actual contribution. That way, you only contribute knowing the full amount is in place to accomplish the initial interviews. If you are interested in supporting this venture now, please let me know as soon as possible, and include the amount pledged.

— Steve Bhaerman

To find out more about how you can help fund this endeavor, please contact Steve Bhaerman


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The Audacity of Hopelessness – Only We the People Can End “Futilism”

“Just because the Republicans are Snidely Whiplash doesn’t make the Democrats Dudley Do-Right.”

— Swami Beyondananda


Illustration by Brian Narelle


Six years ago, I visited Washington, D.C. the week after Barack Obama was elected President. The mood was joyful and ebullient, like the fall of the Berlin Wall, like Jesus just landed in a spaceship. It was morning in America … really.

I knew conservatives who voted for Obama because they saw him as a stand for functional governance, imagining he could clean up Dodge. But a lad, and a lack. Obama and the rest of the corporate Democrat establishment dodged the clean up. First came the bank bailouts, and then in his eagerness to govern from the center, Obama immediately began compromising with Republicans who had vowed to take no prisoners.

By the time the 2010 mid-term elections rolled around, Obama was playing defense, and a poor defense at that. Instead of scrapping underneath the basket, he was hoping to score three-pointers from the sidelines. And just like that, a mandate devolved into a man who couldn’t get a date.

Then three summers ago I met Bill Ayers – the infamous SDS radical whom Obama purportedly consorted with in Chicago. So I asked him for his take on Obama. He replied that Obama is a conventional Chicago politician, and that both frightened conservatives and hopeful progressives projected their worst fears / greatest hopes on this blank projection screen.

To progressives, Obama was a slightly darker white knight here to save us on a dark night. Meanwhile, conservatives screamed, “Obama is a socialist!” (Of course as Swami pointed out if Obama were REALLY a socialist, he’d have a 70% approval rating.)

On the eve of the 2012 election, I wrote a piece for Huffington Post supporting Obama over Romney (and the corporate controllers behind him ready to take control) saying, “I’d rather have positive change in very small increments, than negative change in very large excrements.”

Well, the excrement has now hit the fan, and we have a shituation.

Our republic based on the rule of law and democracy representing the will of the people has devolved into a “new” (and actually very old) system called Futilism.

What is Futilism?

Futilism is collectively spending $4 billion on a mid-term election campaign, and getting the results we have now — a government intentionally paralyzed so that the interests of a very small percentage of the uncommonly wealthy can thwart the will and the wellbeing of the commonwealth. (For a very enlightening view of the endarkened nature of the Koch Brothers’ endeavors, this piece in Rolling Stone says it all and then some.)

In response to the billions in dark money spent by the Koch Brothers and others of their ilk (makes you want to go ilk hunting, eh?), those of us on progressive mailing lists received ceaseless irritating messages from the Democrats saying, “Send us money or else!” In fact a New York Times article just prior to the election indicates the Democrats actually outspent the Republicans in the midterm races!

Not only did the Koch Brothers spend their money, but they spent OURS as well … as millions of sane and reverent (Caroline Casey’s updated term for “environmentally aware”) middle class taxpayers forked over cash to the Democrats to try to stave off this final assault on the rule of law by those seeking to legalize their lawlessness. Talk about Futilism!

I will pull no punches here. The villainy of the Republicans bankrolled by the Koch Brothers and other dark money is undeniable. Blatant lies, voter repression, ruthlessly gerrymandered districts … you can read this piece by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for as much detail as required. Or you can read this piece by Harvey Wasserman on how the coup of the oligarchs is just about complete.

Even the New York Times credits the Republican victory to massive Super Pac funding.

If this were a fictional movie about another country, we would be booing the Koch Brothers and their minions just as surely as we as kids hissed Snidely Whiplash as he tied poor Nell to the railroad tracks.Snidely

But just because the Republicans are Snidely Whiplash doesn’t make the Democrats Dudley Do-Right.

I think they’re more like another cartoon character, Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip who can be counted on to pull the football away every time poor Charlie Brown tries to kick it. “I won’t pull the football away, Charlie Brown,” insists Lucy. And every time, she does and Charlie Brown goes tumbling head over heels.

This was the year the American voters pulled the football out from the Democrats, who took their worst tumble in over 60 years. The Democrats may not survive this one, and in a certain way I hope they don’t — at least not how they have survived since the Reagan years, as the corporate party whose position has been “we’re not as bad as the other guys”.

Why Hopelessness Is Our Only Hope, Or the Truth Shall Upset You Free

Sometimes the bad news is the only good news, and this is one of those times.

This is the perfect time to abandon all hope in the Democratic Party and its entrenched misleadership, and to concede that the oligarchy won the game it so blatantly and brutally fixed. No, the Democrats cannot out-Republican the Republicans, even if they shred their last shred of conscience.

There have been numerous excellent analyses of why the Democrats lost, but none of them go deeply enough into why the party of the New Deal has devolved into the party of the No Deal. The reason why the Democratic Party cannot help us through our current political crisis, has to do with three qualities it has failed to cultivate: vision, leadership and courage.

Let’s begin with vision, which involves both hindsight and foresight — and of course, clarity about both the seen and the unseen. As the Biblical saying goes, “Where there is no vision the people perish.”  In the last chapter of his eye-opening autobiography, The People’s Advocate, Danny Sheehan (the courageous attorney who cut his teeth on the Pentagon Papers and the Karen Silkwood case, and later exposed the Iran Contra scandal) writes, “Twenty-two years after the end of the Cold War, the leadership of the American liberal community has still not deigned to identify … a set of ethical principles.”

He continues, “Until this task has been faced and effectively completed by the leadership of the liberal community in the United States, this community will remain disconnected from the true source of ethical and moral authority.  Consequently, it will not be asked by the American people to govern.”

I would suggest that the reason the Democratic Party has been unable to look forward with clarity is that they have been unwilling to look backward with courage. They have fundamentally failed to see and understand what we the people are really up against, and when push comes to shove who gets to have “last shove”. They remind me of the guy on his hands and knees, obviously looking for something in a parking lot. A passerby wants to help and asks, “Did you lose something?”

“I lost my car keys in the bushes over there,” is the reply.

“Why are you looking in the parking lot, then?” asks the stranger.

“Oh, because there’s more light here.”

The Democrats are deathly afraid of the dark — in this case, the dark perpetrations of those who over the years have sought to overrule the rule of law for their own interests. When Democratic voters wonder why Obama never had that FDR moment where he stood up to the banks, it’s likely they never heard of the Business Plot where a group of industrialists sought to stage a military coup and depose Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal in 1933. ( It’s only because the individual the conspirators planned to install as dictator, Gen. Smedley Butler, was outraged at the idea and blew the whistle on the plot that it’s barely a footnote in history.

Then there is the Kennedy assassination where — if you look right below the surface — the official story doesn’t match the evidence, and you find a multitude of stories where doctors had to recant their original testimony about JFK’s wounds so it matched the official narrative. You can read more about that in my article a year ago on James Douglass’s eye-opening book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters.

I won’t delve into the 911 issue here, except to recommend the latest of many documentaries pointing out the blatant anomalies in the official story, including stories of firefighters who first recognized the signs of planned demolition and were likewise ignored or pressured to change their testimony.

Perhaps the one significant thing both the Kennedy assassination and the official 911 stories have in common is that alternative narratives are considered taboo by the mainstream media. In all the documentaries shown to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination last year, not one of them contradicted the “lone assassin” theory.

So how is this pertinent to the 2014 elections and the Democrats?

As the political party whose role for the last century has been to protect the 99% against the excesses of capitalism, they have danced around the edges rather than confront the Military Industrial Complex — and their cronies in big banking, big oil, big Pharma and big agriculture — on the increasingly predatory nature of their endeavors.

The Democrats have been — and will likely continue to be — incapable of leadership, because leadership at this moment in history requires thinking outside the current political matrix. It requires the vision that unequivocally points us toward a world where “we’re all in this together”, and the courage to confront the unspeakable perpetrations so they can be healed, and we as a country can finally use our human, our spiritual, our creative and our natural resources in concert.

An Independents Movement For 2016

As Danny Sheehan suggests — and Rabbi Michael Lerner echoes in his book The Left Hand of God – the current political “shituation” has less to do with economic issues than spiritual ones. The deep divide between the secular left and the religious right has left a moral vacuum at the heart of our body politic. So it should be no surprise that the unchecked, unbalanced and unmitigated power of money should be our de facto ruler.

The failure of the secular left to confront this fundamental moral and ethical issue, has empowered the paradoxical “selfish-righteousness” that somehow blends fundamentalist Christianity and atheistic Ayn Randism into a belief set that simultaneously promotes creationism and social Darwinism. If that seems outrageously absurd, the liberal left has provided no compelling narrative that speaks to the virtues and values that the 90% of us who are not sociopaths hold dear, values that transcend left and right.

No wonder a poll last spring indicated that those who identify as “independents” now comprise 42% of the electorate, whereas 31% identify as Democrats, and just 25% as Republicans. This represents much more what people DON’T WANT than what they do, since there is not yet a coherent political “independents” movement.

As for how to launch, vitalize and “viralize” such a movement, I don’t have the answer. But as some wise man (or was it wise guy?) once said, if we want better answers, we have to ask better questions. So I end with these Frequently Unasked Questions (FUQ) that might just spark an upwising:

What if there WAS a political independents movement focused neither on left nor right, but on actual rules of fair and transparent governance?

What if there were a “wiki politiki” where individuals and groups from all sides could aggregate the best ideas and approaches to empower a true citizens movement?

What if there were an actual “citizens union” — similar to Consumer Reports — that became a true neutral convener and reliable media source for all sides?

What if conversations were convened nationally and locally, across ideological lines, so that we the people could do an “intervention” on a corrupt system incapable of transforming itself?

What if there was a verifiable site where every citizen could have a voice and a vote — so that the powers in power could see exactly where the vast majority of Americans stand on key issues?

What if our government became a “rubber stamp” for the wisdom of the people, instead of a “robber stamp” for special interests?

Now you might be thinking, “Whoa … you are proposing a sane world. You must be crazy.”

Only if we are crazy enough to imagine something different, will we achieve the sane governance that America’s founders envisioned, and enjoy government of, by and for the people … that does OUR bidding, not the bidding of the highest bidder.

Steve Bhaerman is an author, humorist, political scientist (no, he never did get to actually dissect a politician in poly sci lab) and transpartisan activist. His most recent book is Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There From Here, written with cellular biologist Bruce Lipton. He can be found online at and on Twitter @swamibe.

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