Here are five stories of mine, selected from more than seventy, that have appeared in recent years on the political websites,, and

The Disappearance of a Great Lady (2007)

Now that she’s gone, it’s a battle between the Christian cross and the Nike swoosh to replace her as the national symbol of our beliefs and values. We took her for granted, no doubt, but she was always there, in the palm of our hands, the very image of our unspoken, sometimes even unconscious, communion with the ideals and destiny of America.

Lady Liberty was Miss America, our first beauty queen, the dream girl of our aspirations and the transcendent symbol of our better nature. To our good fortune, her image was stamped on hundreds of millions of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half-dollars, and dollars, as well as on gold coins. Her bust was shipped off countrywide from U.S. Mints in Philadelphia, Denver, Carson City, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Subliminally, we absorbed from her sovereignty the sense of our own.

The authorities stopped minting our Lady of Liberty when the Liberty Walking Half-Dollar ended its 1916 to 1947 run. Some would say that we have since lost our connection to the precious values that shone through to us from her beauty and symbolism.

As we know, symbols are subliminal advertisements for beliefs and values. Mythologist Joseph Campbell observed that every great culture grew out of a mythic base that had expressive rituals and potent symbols. These enabled a society, he said, to affirm life and to ensure that certain values are passed on to future generations. The novelist D.H. Lawrence wrote that the power of the symbol “is to arouse the deep emotional self, and the dynamic self beyond comprehension.”

In the Lady’s absence, both the Christian cross and the Nike swoosh are filling a vacuum in the American psyche. The cross has many emotional connotations, which also vary according to the context in which we see it. Because of the way Christianity is being thrust into public life, many of us are beginning to experience the cross as a symbol of political partisanship and militarism. Meanwhile, the swoosh, worn it seems by half the athletes on TV, seems to be symbolizing the triumph of marketing, commercialism, and globalization over the spirit of the people.

Another icon, the Statue of Liberty, doesn’t daily cross our path, and it, too, has taken on emotional associations, mainly concerning differences on immigration policy and the desirability of an open society. We also have the Stars and Stripes, of course, but its symbolism has been tainted by nationalistic, militant, and right-wing groups who taunt us with it, challenging our patriotism.

Lady Liberty had so many faces on our coins—from the young beauty with flowing tresses in the 1790s to the goddess of power and grace in her 20th Century appearances. She sat, stood, and strode as a paragon of numismatic art, the central icon of the nation. Frequently featured on the reverse of these coins was a graceful, naturalistic eagle, usually perched or flying. (Lady Liberty does adorn recently minted silver and gold bullion coins made by the U.S. Mint, but these are stored by dealers and investors and not circulated. The Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea $1 coins are not circulated widely either, and, in any case, they show images of individuals rather an image of an ideal of freedom that is common to us all.)

The Lady disappeared from the penny in 1909 when Abraham Lincoln made his appearance upon it. In 1932 George Washington replaced her on the quarter. Thomas Jefferson appeared on the nickel in 1938, although the Lady had been removed from that coin in 1913 by the dignified Indian Head with Buffalo reverse. Benjamin Franklin replaced her on the half-dollar in 1948, and he in turn was bumped off that coin by John F. Kennedy in 1964. Dwight Eisenhower had a short run on the silver dollar (1971-1978).

The disappearance of Lady Liberty doesn’t rate a “Cold Case” file at the FBI, nor are there plaques or dedications to her memory in Washington. Politicians don’t seem to be aware that it happened. Some of us, however, have noticed that our liberties have been shaved, scraped, and worn thin since she dropped out of sight.

Our once-proud coinage has been degraded into base-metal tokens with institutional, emblematic, or regional images on the reverses. This coinage is no longer of silver and gold, despite the admonition in the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 10, Clause 1, which says: “No State shall . . . make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts . . .” This constitutional provision was simply ignored in the 20th Century because American capitalism found that gold and silver coinage was impeding its ambitions for global expansion and unparalled wealth. Now, of course, our paper-money substitute is being debased, and represents mostly a debt we’re running up against future generations.

We took Lady Liberty for granted, and she disappeared. We also have taken liberty itself for granted, and it is disappearing. If we close our eyes and visualize Lady Liberty, and feel what it is like to be her, and take into ourselves just one good breath of her essence, we will know where liberty stands on the issues of the day. We will know what we need to do to secure our democracy.

Six Reasons for Global Warming (2006)

All of the reasons for our failure to address global warming are known. But they are not known widely and deeply enough to send us rushing down the street on bicycles or even in four-cylinder cars.

Still, we want something to be done. Are we waiting for Al Gore? Is it possible it all depends on our own little selves?

A very simple axiom is at play: The better we understand our own contribution to the paralysis, the freer we become to act effectively.

Six reasons or conditions that facilitate global warming are presented here, and each is related to the others.

Reason number one is the indifference that so many of us have for our own health. When we don’t care about our health, we won’t care about the health of the planet.

We eat and drink food that has the life manufactured out of it. We become sedentary and avoid exercise. We trash our minds with trivia and commercial rubbish the way we trash the planet with garbage. We don’t know how to protect ourselves from negative influences such as cynicism, dissension, and dogmatic belief systems. If we don’t regulate our appetites, desires, and addictions, the planet’s suffering becomes secondary to our own.

Problem number two is our fear. Irrational fears abound in the psyche and are projected into the world. We have many kinds of fear, including fear of fear itself, along with fear of change, of loss, of helplessness, of abandonment, and of death. Courage is admired because it moves us through our fear.

We need passion and courage to address global warming. To generate this, we often have to move through a fear left over from childhood—the lingering impression that we’re powerless and helpless against the authorities who rule our world. This emotional association also generates a fear that if we go up against them we’re in danger of being rejected, unloved, or even annihilated.

The male values of power and domination constitute problem number three. Supreme gratification and egotistical aggrandizement reward man for his conquest of nature. Globalization is, in part, his quest to extend his “triumph” to all peoples and cultures.

The feminine mystique is a possible antidote. Symbolized by Rachel Carson in her book, Silent Spring, it awakened us in the 1960s to the male-engineered poisoning of the earth through the misuse of chemical pesticides. Women’s sensitivity and their alignment with nurturing gave birth to the environmental movement.

The male propensity for power and domination has moved from the infantile level to the adolescent to the egotistical. It needs to be unstuck once more. We need to understand that the possession of true strength and power depends on our having wisdom and compassion, which come to us through the balance of the feminine and the masculine values.

Reason number four finds us plagued with an overabundance of political leaders who won’t lead. These men and women tend to be followers. They follow the polls that guide their re-election priorities as well as the economic elite’s signals in favor of the status quo.

The skill of many of our politicians is also measured by their ability to circumvent the most vital issues and questions. Their aim is not to represent truth, justice, or constituents—but to perform on the political stage as professional insiders and self-promoters.

Their failure to fulfill their calling, like that of corporate journalists, is related to our passivity. We need to examine the secret invitation we extend, on behalf of our own inner fears, for the solace of mediocrity and the safety of invisibility.

Number five on this list brings us to a serious fault line in our economic system. An underground stress is cracking the bedrock of capitalism. A leakage of fascism at the core of capitalism lies exposed by this failure to take appropriate action against global warming.

Fascism is, in part, an ill-fated approach to national governance whereby all authority capable of stopping destructive corporate or military expansionism has been obliterated. In the United States, a fascist position might soon be formalized when the Supreme Court determines a case involving the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA’s refusal to regulate carbon dioxide emissions is being challenged in the Supreme Court, and at least four conservative justices seem to believe, along with the Bush Administration, that the agency should not be regulating if it cannot show specific damages traceable to controllable emissions from cars and power plants.

If this narrow legal view prevails and the case is lost, one less impartial authority, the EPA, is available to make vital decisions regarding global warming. As a nation, then, we would be in a plight similar to that of a person who, because of a psychopathic or psychotic condition, can’t make decisions between right and wrong.

Reason number six finds us waiting in vain for economics to lead us out of the impasse presented by global warming. Economics has failed dismally to protect us from the excesses of capitalism.

Adam Smith’s old discipline, as now practiced at the highest levels, is no longer an exploratory system concerned with politics, sociology, and psychology. Computer-driven economics and investing have lost (passively forfeited to their financial masters) the authority to speak to larger issues such as global warming and are left only to ponder profitability probabilities.

What now is the prognosis for action on global warming? Stubborn free-market ideologues are allowing conditions to deteriorate. As we bring our predicament into focus, we see an irrational and therefore illegitimate authority—like that of a raging, addictive, or bipolar parent—“taking care of us.”

Are we going to be children? Or will our moral and psychological ascendancy save the world?

Last Al Qaeda Standing (Satire--2007)

Quasim Ayyad decided to die in the morning. He slumped against a pile of blankets and prayer rugs in his cave at Tora Bora, relieved to have the matter settled. The late afternoon wind shifted into the entrance and blew at him with cold concurrence.

Only hours ago in his tortured sleep he had seen Azrael, the angel of death, moving slowly across the valley toward him. Azrael was approaching too slowly and Quasim didn’t want to wait, not with the infection from his wounded thigh burning into his groin as it did.

For comfort he stroked the stock of his AK-47, a good if old-fashioned weapon that had meted out much justice. He peered into his last can of food, Bush’s Beans as chance would have it (taken by the case from a United Nations depot), and swallowed its remains with a plastic spoon.

Yes, he remembered Bush well, the president from years ago when Quasim was a young fighter and the Holy Jihad was raging so well. Now here at this moment in this little cave, the smallest in their Tora Bora network, the great Jihad had come to its end.

What was left? Three brothers-in-arms, buried in shallow graves at the back of the cave. Two broken laptops covered in sand. Scattered empty cans of food and plastic water bottles, a cell phone dead for weeks, a heaped and tangled waste of guns, a book. The cold didn’t void the smell of death rising from his fallen brothers, his grime-camouflaged clothes, and exhausted spirit.

The Americans had started a universal national service for their young, and then revived their Peace Corps, marking the beginning of the end for Al Qaeda. Quasim had seen the world seduced by hoards of young, idealistic, ebullient Americans. They descended on the fold like transcendent Huns or bullshit hippies, badgering people with heretical we-all-are-one brotherhood. Then capitalism became enlightened (as their leaders described that amazing shift), and Jihad was beaten back by hope, spirit, and infernal Western music.

Quasim Ayyad reached for the book beside him and glanced at its worn pages. He would have preferred to read his Koran, but it had been lost in their flight to this cave. He had read many English books as a philosophy student at the University of Cairo, and he had purchased this one long ago when he thought it might reveal hidden American military strategy.

It was titled Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld. How Quasim still possessed this book he couldn’t imagine. But, truth be told, he did begrudgingly admire it. If Osama bin Laden had expressed his thoughts as adeptly as that old Pentagon chieftan, things might have gone differently.

He now read:
It’s amazing.
Once in a while,
I’m standing here, doing
And I think,
“What in the world am I
doing here?”
It’s a big surprise.

Quasim Ayyad, too, was surprised. What was he doing here, dying in a cave at the end of the world, often unable to distinguish dreaming from thinking or praying?

Presently he stirred and rose painfully to his feet. A loud and prolonged eruption of gas underscored his effort. Bush’s Beans! How existential! His heroism had been reduced to melodrama—or worse: irony, farce, absurdity. He stepped slowly to the entrance. His eyes were still surprisingly good, and he saw the plume of dust, probably from a farmer’s truck, shimmer in the setting sun where the road passed by a creek bed a few kilometers away. The sky was infinitely grey-blue. He noticed that the snow line had crept down the mountain, closer to the entrance.

He had one last fight, fending off the cold and pain through the coming night. In the morning he would fall off the precipice close to where he now stood. He considered that final act to be more dignified than shooting himself, though he would probably have to crawl on all fours to get to the chosen ledge.

And yet—why should he even be concerned about his dignity? Dignity was probably overrated. How had Rumsfeld put it in his marvelous book?

How does it end?
It ends.
That’s all.

Well written! Yet he didn’t especially want to be thinking those words when he fell off the mountain side. It would feel as if Rumsfeld had pushed him.

A Window on a Killer’s Mind (2007)

We can and we must understand the mind of Cho Seung-Hui. This is our best protection against further atrocities such as the one Cho committed at Virginia Tech on April 16. Most likely Cho reached his state of derangement through a prolonged mental and emotional deterioration.

Looking deeply into Cho’s psyche may feel gruesome, like staring too long at the horrid images he mailed of himself to NBC News. Cho, who murdered 32 people at his campus and then killed himself, was obviously consumed with extreme hatred. His emotional state comes into better focus when we examine not only his hatred but also his self-hatred.

Some experts are saying that Cho’s mental illness was a medical problem, and he may have been taking anti-depressants. But his emotional state can be understood, at least in part, from the perspective of in-depth psychology. This approach to understanding Cho teaches us something vital about human nature and about how we can reduce human negativity in ourselves and in the world. In these troubled times, we need to expand our discussion of the darkness that we harbor inside us.

All of us have some level of negativity in our psyche concerning our sense of who we are. Fortunately for many of us, the problem does not escalate beyond the manageable pain of our own intermittent self-doubt. A lot of us, however, have a greater problem with inner negativity. We can be emotionally challenged by frequent feelings of self-criticism, self-rejection, self-condemnation, and—most serious and painful of all—self-hatred.

Almost always, a hateful person is plagued by self-hatred. Usually, such a person will convince himself through his psychological defenses (in particular, blame and projection) that the hatred he feels toward others is caused by their behaviors and attitudes. This enables him to feel justified in his hateful feelings.

In refusing to see the hatred in himself, he is convinced that others are the ones who are full of hate. His self-hatred can become somewhat manageable for him, at least temporarily, when he projects it onto others. This is a terrible solution because, as his hatred extends outward, he becomes convinced that others are deserving of the hatred he feels toward them.

We can make the connection between hatred and self-hatred by understanding one of Sigmund Freud’s greatest discoveries. Freud said that inner aggression is a serious problem for the psyche. In early childhood, natural human aggression is turned inward against the self, forming the superego or inner critic, a negative inner drive that can become the hidden master of the personality. This drive, which is a kind of intelligence onto itself, is often irrational, demeaning, cruel, and hateful. Individuals in whom the superego is especially hateful and active can become severely depressed, erratic, unpredictable, violent, and entangled in self-hatred. Self-hatred propels many individuals to suicide or other forms of self-destructive behaviors such as drug addiction or criminal activity.

A self-hating person with the potential for random murder usually has no clear perception or even awareness of his self-hatred, nor does he understand how it blocks him from assimilating respect and love from others. His limited social interactions tend to be closed, uninviting, and hostile, discouraging potential friends. Now, this disturbed individual hates these others even more intensely for their alleged rejection. In a sense, he uses others in order to feel his self-hatred through their apparent or real rejection of him. As well, much of the hatred he feels is simply churned up in his imagination in a way that is construed as reality.

In a negative feedback loop that is ultimately masochistic, he provokes indifferent or hostile reactions from others that then further fuel his feeling of being hated. Over time, he must target others with increasing hatred to keep his hatred from turning back in full force on himself, although unconsciously he is always absorbing the hatred to some degree. At the deepest level, he is completely unaware of his perverse gratification and indulgence in absorbing hatred. From this point on, his intense hatred can push him over the brink into madness. Now the desire to seek physical or emotional revenge on others slips from fantasy to the planning stage to the point of no return.

Our children need to be taught that hatred toward others, as well as bullying, are reflections of one's own unhealthy relationship with oneself. When we hate others, we reveal negativity and conflict in ourselves. If we acknowledge the self-hatred, we can observe it more objectively and begin to counteract its irrationality and cruelty. We understand that the self-hatred doesn’t represent the truth about us. We are simply trapped in a negative matrix from which, with good intentions and knowledge, we can escape.

Once in emotional recovery, we can begin to take responsibility for our hatefulness. We begin to understand the fallacy of blaming others for our unhappiness and failures. Now, we are less likely to act out antagonistically or violently toward others. We can accept that our negativity and hatred belong to us, through no fault of ours or others. Life is about dealing with negative and positive emotions, and life is always presenting us with choices between acting appropriately or suffering miserably.

Confusion over the best educational approaches arises because many mental-health professionals discount the influence of subconscious forces and try to explain violence and hatred as learned behavior or in terms of cultural influences or victimization. A violent society or abusive parents can certainly have a negative influence on young people—but nevertheless the seeds of self-hatred are biologically endowed in the human psyche. This may be a flaw in our biology. Yet the inner effort we each can make to moderate and eliminate our negativity makes us wiser and more evolved.

The Zen of the Long-Distance Activist (2007)

Fretting about my country was taking its toll. Believe-it-or-not revelations of White House imbecility were imploding my brain. My head was spinning from the barrage of lies, worse lies, and perjuries, while the gears of my mind were grinding on bare cartilage. My heart was becoming emotionally constipated on the daily dosage of Iraqi carnage.

Burned out or not, patriots have to go the distance. Still, I needed something more energizing than Red Bull to keep on jabbing my spear against the flank of the rabid right and its moral and intellectual degeneracy. I certainly didn't want to dip into their energy source—known as fanaticism. I needed some R&R, not the usual rest and relaxation variety but the more potent category known as rejuvenation and restoration.

On a cool California afternoon in Pasadena, I said goodbye to my girlfriend and headed out the door on a spiritual quest. Soon I reached Colorado - Colorado Boulevard that is - riding my rusty Trek bicycle on an easy six-block excursion to the Pasadena Public Library. Speaking there in the auditorium was the Zen master, Ven Jian Liao, abbot of Chung Tai Zen Center of Houston.

Jian Liao said not a word about Washington politics, nor did he even mention the word politics during his talk at the library or during his retreat the following afternoon at the Rosemead Buddhist Monastery. As my political mind interpreted it, though, he did speak of a form of governance, namely the method or the means of establishing peace, harmony, and good order from within.

To live in a state of well-being, Jian Liao said we must establish our own inner rule over mental and emotional intruders known as "wandering thoughts." These uninvited musings, reflections, and speculations are often subconscious and negative, the abbot noted, and the best way to track and neutralize them is through meditation. Wandering thoughts invade our mind like whispers in the dark and take possession of our sense of self. Even supposedly good thoughts are intruders if we don't consciously invite them in. As we recognize them as contaminants of the pure mind, the power and the benefits of the pure mind, including fearlessness, are experienced by us.

I began to meditate in the days following the workshop with Jian Liao. Over the years, I've meditated a lot. I stop when laziness kicks in, and when I start up again, I feel an immediate benefit.

Wandering or not, thoughts continue to arise in my mind about the parallels between Zen and politics. Could it be, I mused, that wandering thoughts have their macrocosmic equivalent in the wayward politicians of the body politic? These would be men and women whose self-serving agendas or erroneous belief systems cause them to wander away from truth and service.

Wayward politicians emerge out of ignorance and chaos to positions of power. They degrade our democracy because their minds are contaminated with flawed perceptions and egotistic fixations. We can oppose them and try to keep them from getting elected, but we'll also help the cause by taking care of our own wandering thoughts and becoming impeccable in ourselves. Cultivation of mind, the abbot said in so many words, is democracy's horticulture.

It seems to me this quality of mind is synonymous with the awareness of our inner sovereignty. We become masters of self-regulation when we achieve a higher form of inner governance. In this peacefulness and power, we realize our intrinsic value and goodness. Tyranny cannot be imposed upon us under these conditions.

My meditation is working. I can go the stretch for America's ideals. I feel so good that I've dashed off a Zen koan: One day a wayward politician approached a political activist who was eating a sandwich on a bench in the park. The politician challenged him: "If you're so smart, how come you have no power?"

The activist replied, "Yours is the power to self-destruct."

"What nonsense! I have the power to save the country!"

The activist tore a crumb from his sandwich and threw it at the feet of the politician. "Eat it and you can save yourself."