The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rove Investigator Used Geeks on Call to Delete Computer Files

Rove Investigator Used Geeks on Call to Delete Computer Files

Wed Nov 28, 2007 at 09:03:12 AM PST

Scott Bloch, the head of the US Office of Special Counsel agency that was in charge of investigating violations of the Hatch Act is now being investigated for deleting files off his office computer. And he used Geeks on Call to do it.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Recently, investigators learned that Mr. Bloch erased all the files on his office personal computer late last year. They are now trying to determine whether the deletions were improper or part of a cover-up, lawyers close to the case said.

Bypassing his agency's computer technicians, Mr. Bloch phoned 1-800-905-GEEKS for Geeks on Call, the mobile PC-help service. It dispatched a technician in one of its signature PT Cruiser wagons. In an interview, the 49-year-old former labor-law litigator from Lawrence, Kan., confirmed that he contacted Geeks on Call but said he was trying to eradicate a virus that had seized control of his computer.

Let me stop here for a sec. This is wrong on soooo many levels. There's the obvious irony that investigator is now being investigated himself for using the same tactics that he is supposed to be investigating Rove for: Missing emails. But there's another level to this as well. Where was the security clearance?

Mr. Bloch had his computer's hard disk completely cleansed using a "seven-level" wipe: a thorough scrubbing that conforms to Defense Department data-security standards. The process makes it nearly impossible for forensics experts to restore the data later. He also directed Geeks on Call to erase laptop computers that had been used by his two top political deputies, who had recently left the agency.

Geeks on Call visited Mr. Bloch's government office in a nondescript office building on M Street in Washington twice, on Dec. 18 and Dec. 21, 2006, according to a receipt reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The total charge was $1,149, paid with an agency credit card, the receipt shows. The receipt says a seven-level wipe was performed but doesn't mention any computer virus.

WTF??? An agency that deals with investigations of Senior White House Officials is allowed to call the equivalent of the "Nerd Herd" to delete their hard drives? Were these people given Security Clearance in advance of this? I would think this would be considered a security breach. Unbelievable. And what does Mr. Bloch have to say about all this?

Mr. Bloch believes the White House may have a conflict of interest in pressing the inquiry into his conduct while his office investigates the White House political operation. Concerned about possible damage to his reputation, he cites a Washington saying, "You're innocent until investigated."

Does that sound vaguely threatening? Talk about eating your own. And lest we forget, he is already under investigation for previous complaints. In the long list of scandals this Administration has been involved in, I have to say this one's a classic.

Journalism 101

Journalism 101
by Jon Swift

Glenn Greenwald and other liberals in the blogosphere have been criticizing respected Time reporter Joe Klein for writing a piece about attempts to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that had a few minor factual errors and accused the Democrats of giving "terrorists the same legal protections as Americans." Time's Managing Editor Rick Stengel eventually responded to the criticism by appending a "correction" to the piece that said, "In the original version of this story, Joe Klein wrote that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a court review of individual foreign surveillance targets. Republicans believe the bill can be interpreted that way, but Democrats don't." That should have ended the controversy right there, but Greenwald persisted, writing, "All Time can say about this matter is that Republicans say one thing and Democrats claim another. Who is right? Is one side lying? What does the bill actually say, in reality? That's not for Time to say. After all, they're journalists, not partisans." Now, like Joe Klein, I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right, but I do know a little something about journalism since I once saw All the President's Men and I worked on my high school newspaper, so I think it would be helpful if bloggers knew the 20 basic "Rules of Journalism" so that they won't pester Joe Klein and other professional journalists too much about journalistic ethics in the future. If any real journalists think I've written something that is inaccurate, let me know and I'll just append a correction way down at the end of the post or delete the inaccuracy altogether and hopefully no one will notice.

The Rules of Journalism

1. Journalists must be completely objective. This is the most important rule of journalism. Objectivity means not having any opinion or feelings whatsoever no matter what the circumstances. This rule was best expressed in a line I recently quoted from Washington Post columnist David Broder, the dean of American journalism, about his response President Kennedy's assassination: "As an ordinary man, I wanted leave the scene, hide somewhere, and weep," Broder said. "But I managed to calm myself and to report the event in the most objective way." As I explained in my earlier piece, "Broder refused to take sides after the President was killed. Was he for the assassination or against it? It was impossible to tell from his reporting. No matter what his personal feelings might have been, as a reporter he had to be objective when it came to whether killing Kennedy was a good thing or a bad thing."

2. There are two sides to every story and a journalist must give both sides equal weight even if he or she knows one side is completely false. Weighing one side against the other violates a journalist's objectivity. (See Rule No. 1.)

3. The only exception to Rules 1 and 2 is that during wartime journalists must be patriotic and not write anything that might undermine the government or the war effort or lower morale. Wearing a flag pin on one's lapel is a good way to demonstrate you are adhering to this rule. Reporters should always remember that they are Americans first, journalists second and human beings third.

4. Because most journalists are liberals, they have to bend over backwards to consider the conservative viewpoint in their articles so that it all evens out in the end. (See Rule No. 1.)

5. If you criticize a Republican you must also criticize a Democrat. If you criticize President Bush, you must also criticize President Clinton.

6. If both liberals and conservatives criticize you, that must mean you are doing something right. If moderates criticize you, too, it probably means that they are leaning one way or the other and aren't really moderate at all. The more people who say you are wrong, the more objective, and hence right, you are. (See Rule No. 1.)

7. Journalists should avoid using anonymous sources unless those sources have a reasonable fear of retribution or have political agendas that would be compromised if their identities were revealed or if refusing to grant them anonymity would limit the journalist's access and give his or her competitors an unfair advantage, which could damage the journalist's career.

8. Journalists must always protect their anonymous sources no matter what those sources' agendas might be and even if those sources misled them or were using them to get back at a political opponent. As Richard Cohen has pointed out, using journalists to publish leaks to assassinate the character of an anonymous source's political opponents is a time-honored tradition and the life-blood of Washington journalism. A journalist's job is to facilitate what Cohen calls "the dark art of Washington politics" not pass judgment on it, which would compromise his or her objectivity. (See Rule No. 1.)

9. Rule No. 8 is so important that journalists should be willing to go to jail to protect anonymous sources, unless someone pressures those sources to sign a waiver or the reporter thinks going to jail would just be too much of a hardship to endure. Besides, you can't do any reporting when you are in jail.

10. Journalists should be as accurate as possible, but sometimes there is not enough time to dot every i and cross every t. Getting the story first is more important than getting it completely right because mistakes can always be fixed with "Corrections" in very small print in another edition, in online "updates" or buried in the "Letters to the Editor" section, which no one ever reads.

11. Journalists should not give money to any political campaigns, participate in any political activities or even vote. Former ABC political director Mark Halperin and Washington Post editor Len Downie don't vote, which is why they are so trustworthy and so respected by other journalists. Just as Catholic priests give up sex, journalists should give up their right to participate in the political process so that they will not have to think too much about whether one side or another is correct. Thinking too hard threatens their objectivity. (See Rule No. 1.)

12. Journalists should not censor a story unless the government or a big advertiser asks them to.

13. Because space in newspapers and magazines is limited there is no room for ideas that are too far out of the mainstream or that challenge the conventional wisdom unless the ensuing controversy would sell more papers or magazines.

14. Plagiarism is strongly discouraged and anyone caught plagiarizing should be fired immediately and never be allowed to work as a journalist again, unless they are prominent or distinguished or a close personal friend of the editor and have a really good explanation, in which case they should be given a second chance or even a third.

15. What someone says is not so important as how they said it, what they were wearing when they said it, or their body language. As long as the details are accurate, it makes no difference how trivial those details are. Journalists should just report the facts, especially facts that give their story "color," and not worry about how important those facts are. (See Rule No. 1.)

16. Reporting on people's personal lives should be avoided unless the Drudge Report or the National Enquirer has already written about it, in which case you can report that they reported on it, which is not the same as reporting on it yourself.

17. Every prominent person should be assumed to be not gay unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary or they are dead, and usually not even then.

18. Victims of sexual crimes should never be named, but those accused of sexual crimes should be named even if their reputations are ruined because they probably wouldn't have been arrested if they weren't guilty of something. Shaming people accused of sexual crimes on television is a good way to discourage other people from committing such crimes, even if it leads to unfortunate consequences.

19. Ruining people's lives is generally frowned upon and should be avoided if at all possible unless the public has a right to know. A journalist must be completely dispassionate and not worry too much about the impact of the story they are writing on the people they are writing about or on the world in general as that would compromise their objectivity. (See Rule No. 1.)

20. If someone criticizes a journalist's reporting, especially if it is a blogger, the best response is to dig in one's heels and deny there is a problem, attack the critic as biased, concede a minor point or claim the criticism itself is trivial. A journalist must defend his or her credibility at all costs because without credibility, a journalist is no journalist at all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Everything that is rancid and corrupt with modern journalism: The Nutshell

Everything that is rancid and corrupt with modern journalism: The Nutshell

Glenn Greenwald

Time Magazine has done a superb service for the country by illustrating everything that is rancid and corrupt with our political media. After I emailed Editor Josh Tyrangiel asking why the online version of Joe Klein's column remains online uncorrected given that -- as Managing Editor Rick Stengel now says -- the article contains a "reporting error," this is the "correction" Time has now posted to the article. Seriously -- this is really it, in its entirety:

In the original version of this story, Joe Klein wrote that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a court review of individual foreign surveillance targets. Republicans believe the bill can be interpreted that way, but Democrats don't.
Leave aside the false description of what Klein wrote. He didn't say "that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a court review of individual foreign surveillance targets." He said that their bill "would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court" and "would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans." But the Editor's false characterization of Klein's original lie about the House FISA bill is the least of the issues here.

All Time can say about this matter is that Republicans say one thing and Democrats claim another. Who is right? Is one side lying? What does the bill actually say, in reality?

That's not for Time to say. After all, they're journalists, not partisans. So they just write down what each side says. It's not for them to say what is true, even if one side is lying.

In this twisted view, that is called "balance" -- writing down what each side says. As in: "Hey - Bush officials say that there is WMD in Iraq and things are going great with the war (and a few people say otherwise). It's not for us to decide. It's not our fault if what we wrote down is a lie. We just wrote down exactly what they said." At best, they write down what each side says and then go home. That's what they're for.

That our typical establishment "journalist" conceives of this petty clerical task as their only role is not news. But it is striking to see the nation's "leading news magazine" so starkly describe how they perceive their role.

In reality, they don't even usually fulfill this clerical role fairly or well. After all, Klein's entire column presented only the lies from the Republicans about this bill as fact, and didn't even mention that there was another side (just as Time, in a lengthy article by the now-promoted Tyrangiel, presented only the Bush view to its readers about Saddam's scary stockpiles of WMD and didn't bother to mention that there was another side).

Here, there are not two sides; the bill could not be clearer. What Klein's GOP source (and Time) said about the bill is indisputably false. But that isn't for Time to say.

So to Time, Klein's so-called "reporting error" wasn't that he falsely described the bill. No; describing the bill accurately isn't the role of a journalist. Klein's only "reporting error" was that he only wrote down what one side said (the Republicans). He "forgot" to write down what the Democrats said. Now that the Editors noted in passing that the Democrats disagree, everything is fixed. Their job is done. That's what they just said about explicitly as it can be said. And they don't even realize that saying this is a profound indictment on what they do. They think that's what they're supposed to do.

I can't recall a recent incident that has shone as much bright light on the ugly, vapid, propagandistic practices of our national media. The more they speak, the more they reveal what they are.

UPDATE: Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents' Dinner:

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!
So few of them thought that was funny because they thought he was describing what they really are supposed to do -- what they do actually do -- and what is funny about that? Just compare Colbert's satirical description of the press to Time's claimed understanding of its function here.

UPDATE II: The recap of Klein's behavior, along with the reasons why there is no conceivable basis whatsoever for the fear-mongering claims that Klein and Time made about the crystal clear House Democratic FISA bill, is here (and here).

-- Glenn Greenwald

Monday, November 26, 2007

Natural disasters have quadrupled in two decades: study

Natural disasters have quadrupled in two decades: study

Sun Nov 25, 9:33 AM ET

More than four times the number of natural disasters are occurring now than did two decades ago, British charity Oxfam said in a study Sunday that largely blamed global warming.

"Oxfam... says that rising green house gas emissions are the major cause of weather-related disasters and must be tackled," the organisation said, adding that the world's poorest people were being hit the hardest.

The world suffered about 120 natural disasters per year in the early 1980s, which compared with the current figure of about 500 per year, according to the report.

"This year we have seen floods in South Asia, across the breadth of Africa and Mexico that have affected more than 250 million people," noted Oxfam director Barbara Stocking.

"This is no freak year. It follows a pattern of more frequent, more erratic, more unpredictable and more extreme weather events that are affecting more people."

She added: "Action is needed now to prepare for more disasters otherwise humanitarian assistance will be overwhelmed and recent advances in human development will go into reverse."

The number of people affected by extreme natural disasters, meanwhile, has surged by almost 70 percent, from 174 million a year between 1985 to 1994, to 254 million people a year between 1995 to 2004, Oxfam said.

Floods and wind-storms have increased from 60 events in 1980 to 240 last year, with flooding itself up six-fold.

But the number of geothermal events, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, has barely changed.

Oxfam urged Western governments to push hard for a deal on climate change at a key international meeting that runs December 3-14 on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Rich Western nations and the United Nations must act to "make humanitarian aid faster, fairer and more flexible and to improve ways to prepare for and reduce the risk of disasters," it said.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Bali aims to see countries agree to launch a roadmap for negotiating cuts in climate-changing carbon emissions from 2012.

The Oxfam study was compiled using data from the Red Cross, the United Nations and specialist researchers at Louvain University in Belgium.;_ylt=Avfsi6xfvwMkB7rVNoCj7BbQOrgF

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Time Magazine's FISA Fiasco shows how Beltway reporters mislead the country

Time Magazine's FISA Fiasco shows how Beltway reporters mislead the country

Glenn Greenwald

On Wednesday, I documented that Joe Klein's column in this week's Time Magazine contained multiple false statements about the new FISA bill -- The RESTORE Act -- passed by House Democrats last week. The most obvious and harmful inaccuracy was his claim that that bill "would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court" and that it therefore "would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans." Based on those outright falsehoods, Klein called the House Democrats' bill "well beyond stupid."

That day, Klein responded on his blog to what I wrote without acknowledging that he was doing so and without even telling his readers what the criticisms were. He insisted that everything he wrote was accurate ("as I reported, [the bill] obliquely gives foreign terrorists the same procedures as American citizens, if not the same rights"). He also said that the RESTORE Act was just "a partisan waste of time, fodder for lawyers and civil liberties extremists."

Yesterday -- Saturday night on Thanksgiving weekend -- Klein returned to the Time blog to write an extremely conditional, weaselly, self-justifying and partial "correction" to what he wrote in the print magazine. There's no indication whether any correction will appear in the print magazine, but the online version of Klein's article contains no such correction and still contains all of his grave misstatements.

I don't want the focus here to be on Klein himself. It's beyond well-established what he is and what a slothful, easily manipulated and dishonest "reporter" he is. As deceitful as the correction itself is (for the reasons set forth below), at least he returned to the issue and finally admitted wrongdoing (Klein: "Clearly, I didn't do sufficient vetting of the facts"), which is more than most of this type of pundit typically does.

* * * * *

What I want to do is examine Klein's conduct here to illustrate how so many Beltway reporters (though not all) function. This is not a matter of some obscure error involving details. Because of what Klein did, Time Magazine told its 4 million readers that the bill passed by the House Democrats "would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans" and thus shows how Democrats still can't be trusted on national security. The whole column was built on complete, transparent falsehoods about the key provisions of that bill.

Yet look at Klein's first statement in his "correction":

I may have made a mistake in my column this week about the FISA legislation passed by the House, although it's difficult to tell for sure given the technical nature of the bill's language and fierce disagreements between even moderate Republicans and Democrats on the Committee about what the bill actually does contain.

One can debate whether Klein's original, inaccurate claims about the House FISA bill in his Time article can fairly be called "lies" (as opposed to inexcusably reckless inaccuracies). But this statement by Klein in his "correction" unquestionably is a lie.

There is no confusion possible about whether the House bill -- as Klein originally wrote -- "would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court." Anyone who told that to Klein was lying. All you have to do is read the House bill in order to know that. Here is Section 2 of the RESTORE Act -- the very first section after the "Definitions" section:


Sec. 105A. (a) Foreign to Foreign Communications-

(1) IN GENERAL - Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, a court order is not required for electronic surveillance directed at the acquisition of the contents of any communication between persons that are not known to be United States persons and are reasonably believed to be located outside the United States for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence information, without respect to whether the communication passes through the United States or the surveillance device is located within the United States.

Nobody who can read basic English can fail to understand what this says. As clearly as it can, the bill says that no warrant is required for communications involving non-U.S. persons outside of the U.S. In fact, individual warrants are not even required when a foreign target communicates with someone inside the U.S.; only general approval by the FISA court of the procedures used to eavesdrop is required (see Sec. 105). Thus, Klein's statements about the bill were indisputably, unquestionably false, and all one had to do is read the painfully clear language of the bill to know that.

But Klein, of course, never bothered to read the bill and still hasn't (even though he is published by Time to "report on" and opine about this bill). Instead, even now, he says that he has spoken with both Republicans and Democrats, and while Democrats insist that what he wrote was false, "the Republican Committee staff disagrees and says [his] reporting is correct."

In other words, Klein's GOP source(s) blatantly lied to him about what the bill does and doesn't do in order to manipulate him into uncritically feeding Time's readers the Rush Limbaugh Line -- namely, that Democrats are giving equal rights to Terrorists and preventing the Leader from eavesdropping on foreign Terrorists. And Klein dutifully wrote down what he was told in Time without bothering to find out if it was true and without ever bothering to talk to any of the bill's Democratic proponents. And no Time Editor knew enough or cared enough to bother correcting any of it. And thus, the unfortunate 4 million Americans who read and trust Time now think that the Democrats' FISA bill does the exact opposite of what it actually does.

That is the real story here. That's how our political system works. Scheming GOP operatives feed whispered lies to their favorite, most gullible, most slothful and/or dishonest Beltway journalists. Gleeful and grateful that they have been chosen for this dirty task, these journalists then scamper and write down what they were told and think that, by doing so, they are engaged in what they call "original reporting" -- which means uncritically passing on what they're told by government sources. As a result, they continue to obfuscate every key political issue and mislead Americans by doing the opposite of what journalists are supposed to do.

Even now that Klein knows that he was lied to by his GOP source(s), he still won't say that. Indeed, he does the opposite. He claims that there's some super-complex, clouded ambiguity here that people of good faith (such as his lying GOP operative-source) can see differently (Klein: "I reported as fact a provision of the bill that seems to be disputable, to say the least" and "I was clearly wrong to state as fact something that might not actually be in the bill"). Again and again, Klein defends his lying GOP source by pretending that there is some genuine grounds for disagreement here among good faith ladies and gentlemen that accounts for what he was told.

Worse, Klein now says that none of this really matters anyway, because "we are talking about relatively obscure and unimportant technical details" and his "larger point" about Democrats' excess partisanship is "still true." So Klein's column smeared House Democrats as wanting to protect Terrorists, based on a lie fed to him by GOP sources, and now that it's exposed for what it is, he says that none of that really matters anyway. What matters is that Democrats are still being foolish by not agreeing to the demands of the House Republicans and giving amnesty to telecoms and passing a bill that Republicans like, too.

* * * * *

What a repugnant though vivid microcosm this is for how so many of our Beltway journalists function. They think that their only job is to write down faithfully what they are told by both sides (if we're lucky) and call it a day. If one side is blatantly lying and the other side is telling the truth, that isn't for them to say.

Exactly like a stenographer in a court proceeding, their only job is to record the words that they hear accurately, not to identify what actually is true. And here is Klein admitting -- finally -- that this is exactly what he did (although in this case, he wasn't even a good stenographer since he only wrote down what one side said, not both).

The very idea of a reporter and a major news magazine publishing a piece about a crucial bill that neither the reporter nor any editor has ever even bothered to read is amazing. No blogger that I read regularly would ever think about doing that. But that's how the Bush administration has been able to depict all of its false statements about Iraq, and its illegal spying on Americans, as some sort of complex, impossible-to-resolve "controversy." GOP operatives say "X" and reporters write it down, and it would be terribly "partisan" for them to point out that "X" is actually an outright lie.

Had Klein even bothered to read the Democrats' bill before calling it "well beyond stupid" and passing on lies about it, he would have had a real story. This:

Last week, House Democrats passed a bill that allows the government to eavesdrop on foreigners outside of the U.S., but requires court approval to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens inside the U.S. But GOP operatives/politicians have spent the week telling reporters that the bill does the opposite, falsely claiming that it gives the same rights to Terrorists that it gives to U.S. citizens.

Those are the objective facts. That is actually what happened. Yet Klein's function -- like those of most of his colleagues -- isn't to report what actually happened, so he'll never say that. And thus, Time has yet again completely misled its readers on a critical political issue by passing on GOP falsehoods as fact, and they are highly unlikely to do anything in the way of alerting their readers to what they did, let alone reporting the real story here: how and why that happened.

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Economic and planetary collapse: Is it a therapeutic issue?

Economic and planetary collapse: Is it a therapeutic issue?

By Kathy McMahon, Psy.D.

Panglossian Disorders and Their Subtypes

Panglossian Disorder: “The neurotic tendency toward extreme optimism in the face of likely cultural and planetary collapse.”

Temporal Subtypes:
Scarlet O’Hara-ism- “I’ll just have to think about that tomorrow.” A strategy of denial that allows the person to temporally compartmentalize the feared event(s).
Futurism: “Sure, that will happen, but it will occur after all of us are long dead.” A belief that something that might happen in the distant future is no concern in the present.
Y2K features : “They said everything would collapse with 2000, and it didn’t.” A belief that any prior concern about societal problems that didn’t occur demonstrates the impossibility of any others happening in the future.

Angry Subtypes:
Rhett-Butlerist Features - “Peak Oil? Planetary Collapse? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Aggressive denial of information not in keeping with one’s world view.
Kill the Messenger Redirection : “Why are you telling me this? What kind of sicko focuses on these kinds of facts? You need help!” The belief that those who bring bad news are doing it for malevolent reasons.

Narcissistic Subtypes:
Rigid Cheney-ism: “The American Way of Life is non-negotiable.” The belief that any undesirable change can be avoided by a sheer act of will.
Survivalistic features : “Hey, if the rest of the world is doomed, I don’t worry about it, because I’ve got mine.” A belief that personal preparation is adequate.

Religious Subtypes:
Religiousity : “God/The Planet/Mother Nature loves humans. He/She/It would never permit massive die-off.” Or “If that happens, I just put my faith in my Savior.”
Neoliberal Econo-manic Tendencies : “The market will sort it out.” A belief that market forces control all--- including geological realities.
Nascarian Features : “People love their automobiles. A solution will have to be found to keep us driving.”

Subtypes with Denial or Minimization as the Central Feature:
Pure Denial: “That can’t be right. It’s just impossible.”
Minimalization as a primary defense : “There may be some shortages, but I doubt it will be as bad as you say.”

Subtypes with Histrionic, Helplessness, Acquiescence or Submissive Features:
Submissive Features : You're probably right. [Shrug]" Too hard/scary to think about... A response that acknowledges the reality of the threat, but is emotionally frozen or unwilling to devote emotional time and energy to the matter.
Histrionic Features : “I just don’t know anything about that. Oh, Golly, I hope you’re wrong. That’s all I can say. Oh Golly, I just can’t think about it.”

Subtypes with Delusional or Magical Thinking:
Meglomatic Features :“This simply won’t happen to me.” A belief in one’s specialness, which will save them from the consequences affecting those around them.
Paternalistic Features : "The government/corporations will sort it out." A belief in the infallibility of organizational structures to resolve problems they aren’t willing to even acknowledge.
Doubting Thomas Features : “Peak Oil is a scam by the Oil Companies to raise prices!” Minimizing the possibility of the crisis by the belief that some one or some group has ultimate control over its happening.
Pure Cornucopian Features : “The more we need, the more they’ll be.” A belief that continued progress and provision of material items for mankind can be met by advances in technology.
The Flinestonian : “The stone-age didn’t end because they ran out of stones.” A belief that modern innovation is eternal.
Frank Zappa-ism : “As soon as things get really bad, they’ll come up with something.” A belief that necessity is the mother of invention.
Magical Thinking : “Don’t worry, we can build a car that can run on air!” Proposes solutions that are clearly outside the realm of physics.
McGiveristic Features - A belief that massive planetary problems can be solved with ordinary/common items found readily at hand. Eg.: “Pig dung will be the next fossil fuel.” Or “Coke Cans can be turned into solar panels.”

I have spoken elsewhere about the label “Doomer,” and I’ve come to believe that this frame is outdated. Instead, I would like to suggest that we must stop asking ourselves, given the lateness of the hour, why there are those pessimistic about the future, and begin asking, instead, why there are those still blindly and enthusiastically optimistic about it. We can easily see why those who might be gloomy about the future could feel hopeless and take the path of inactivity. On the other hand, this same fear of disaster can motivate constructive action in an attempt to mitigate the effects. Not so, however, for those who see no NEED to take action, because they live in the best of all possible worlds. Indeed, I might argue that it is the very blind hopefulness and inaction of the masses that leads many of my readers to assume a more hopeless posture toward world events.

Panglossian Disorder

Borrowing Voltaire’s character Pangloss in his novel Candide, we might speak of a Panglossian Disorder as the belief that “all is well and everything in the world is for the best.” In adopting a Panglossian philosophy, Candide accepts situations and tries not to change or overcome obstacles. Instead, he passively accepts whatever fate has in store, and shrugs off his personal responsibilities. The name Pangloss is actually a pun: pan = Greek for 'all', relating to the whole universe
(English); and 'gloss' (English) = both an explanation and an interpretation, which is deceptive in its external appearance. There is also a medical definition: Panglossia: abnormal or pathologic garrulousness, usually of a trivial nature.

While I was initially rather ‘tongue in cheek’ in proposing a new diagnostic category called “Panglossian Disorder” which I defined as “the neurotic tendency toward extreme optimism in the face of likely cultural and planetary collapse,” the more I thought about it, the more sober I became. A Panglossian perspective denies the need for constructive action, and leads to complacency and a worsening of our world’s woes. I’ve come to think about the Panglossian perspective as not optimism itself, but as a defense against pessimism. This defense takes many forms, which I’ll describe later, but first, I’d like to describe why so many of us NEED a defense against pessimism, and how, unfortunately, my profession of psychology has been so instrumental in fueling that defense.

Depression as Epidemic

Depression in the US has reached epidemic proportions. In contrast to a half-century ago, when it began well into adulthood, we now see depression in our children and adolescents. We can speak of clinical elements such as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Basically, depression is a disorder in which a person feels thwarted or is thwarted in pursuing her or his most important life goals. Unlike simple unhappiness, depression can be thought of as a sort of ‘burst balloon’, in which inflated desires are deflated fully and completely.

There are those who argue that this condition is caused by a radical imbalance between the “I” and “We” of our culture. As we’ve shifted away from a connection to our communities, our natural environment, and the responsibilities these entail, and focused increasingly on consumeristic and narcissistic pre-occupations, we’ve become cut off from a sense of meaning and richness. Paradoxically, we’ve also become more cut off from self-directed community aspirations that build virtues not found in modern psychological language---features such as “character” and “soul.”


Education, according to Herbert Spencer, “has for its object the formation of character” and yet today, our focus is not on building the character of our nation’s children, but settling instead for promoting their “self-esteem.” Whereas character is a complex of attributes that determines a persons moral and ethical actions and reactions, self-esteem is a feeling of pride in yourself and your inherent personal worth. While character is an active process of development, self-esteem is a passive satisfaction with what one has already achieved. Character is interactive with the world, while self-esteem is internal satisfaction with oneself.

The problem with this frame in our self-congratulatory back-slapping, is that while it promotes an “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” attitude,” it overlooks the question of whether collectively, WE’RE Okay, and if we aren’t, what is our social responsibility to change it.

In other words, the message “feel good about yourself” appears to be removed from why someone SHOULD feel good about themselves and the cultural imperative to do something to feel good ABOUT. This is a perversion from what true self-esteem is: a positive feeling in RESPONSE to effective action. What is being promoted is what Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D. calls “unwarranted self-esteem:…feeling good as opposed to doing well in the world.”

In the US, self-esteem is the primary outcomes assessed in youth development intervention evaluations today, and questions about self-esteem are the only positive (versus problematic) measures of mental health currently included in national surveys, according to Dr. Seligman. We want to know, essentially, “How do you feel about yourself?” rather than asking “How do you engage with the world around you?” We’ve come to believe that children who feel good about themselves will come to care about the people and planet around them. This has proven to be a faulty, incomplete analysis, but one that works well if our goal is to encourage consumers to buy products that make them feel better about themselves. Our schools tell our children how important it is that they feel good about themselves, and the television commercials they watch tell what to buy that will make them feel better and even more 'special.'

The Exalted “I” and the Problematic “We”

The imbalance between the “I” and the “We” has shifted so dramatically, in fact, that we blame our families and our developmental milieu for thwarting our “potential.” Pop psychology is filled with popular bestsellers that have told us for twenty years how to get the love we want, how to overcome toxic parents and how to triumph over the effects of our wounded past. This focus on the historical forces that have limited us, sends us the implicit message that the “We” in our world has constricted the unfolding that would have otherwise taken place, and is central in understanding our current troubles in life. Implicit in it, is an image of some idealized culture, family, planet that is loving, patient, reliable, safe and kind. It’s a world that loves us and all we are capable of, and we are mad or sad that we didn’t grow up in it.

Because of this ‘loss,’ we can't be all that (we imagine) we are capable of, because we’ve suffered damage as children. We know, from research, that the rate of things like suicide attempts, drug abuse, smoking, drinking, and being overweight are all elevated in those who have experienced abuse as children. Therefore, we make the leap that says that if we have been badly treated as children, and continue those self-destructive acts, we are not to blame. We are victims of circumstance. And if we turn inward, and away from the world in an attempt to recover from such a cruel series of events, who can blame us?

Psychological ‘Cure’

We've become a society of "discontents," looking for satisfaction. We turn both inward and gaze backward in our attempt to find a ‘cure.’ Our view is fixed, frozen, and reified. It is both suffocating and reassuring. We don’t seek to participate in the world, because the world is to blame as the source of our troubles. "Lifestyle" is what we start to search for, as a trade for being stuck with a "life." We cling to our professional identities because they provide us with a sense of self. We project a "professional image" because image becomes more important than who we actually are.

We read books to assure ourselves that “bad things happen to good people,” because these “bad things” appear somehow to be an undeserved punishment that someone else has inflicted on us, instead of just “what happens.” We attempt to distract ourselves from feeling anxiety and discomfort, with television, movies, music and internet. Cybersex and 'mind fucks' take the place of messy entanglements. We seek out those that will match us in our values, social class, religious beliefs, our fashion sense, our views, and we scorn those who fail to mirror us. We get married hoping to find someone who will "really know us," and we divorce when they actually start to, and have the nerve to tell us what they see. We look for a community to worship that is equally "fitting" of us and what we need and expect our spiritual leaders and our God to be sympathetic and undemanding. If not, we keep looking.

We are freed from the constrictions of being born in a particular place, during a particular time, in a particular climate, growing particular foodstuffs, surrounded by a set of particular people. We are free to be You and Me, and we get to mold it, as if we are the creative force itself. We no longer have to believe in a creator, because WE are IT.

The Anxious Creator

Yet, we are an anxious, restless creator, always trying to tweak our self-created images. When we imagine that there is such a thing as a Magic Muffin,’ and the world we currently live in, isn’t it, we happily join a “Second Life” that will show us pictures of rain forests so we can pretend we aren’t losing the real ones. We can construct our world of make-believe friends and make-believe communities, because the face-to-face kind are just too much trouble or require social skills we just don’t have. We can always click off or change our screen names or change our image if we run into make believe interpersonal difficulties. That’s harder to do in “real life.” And, as if to make it all more real, we have Second Life Shrinks we can visit to talk over our Second Life problems.

We reject the notion that we are "stuck" with a genetically impacted body type and we diet and exercise, or seek out plastic surgeons to shape our body to "look just right." We reject the aging process or the dying process itself, and instead choose the magic of the knife or the "fast freeze" to save our special selves until we can live forever. And always we are told that true contentment and satisfaction comes from this special candy bar, this marvelous diet, this fabulous lifestyle, this new therapeutic approach.

And yet, we still aren't told that if we do succeed in ‘healing our wounded Child,’ we still remain children--frightened, lonely, isolated, misunderstood. And so we keep looking for the right therapist and the right cure.

The Insanity of Being Our Own Creator

Therefore, if the real world collapses around us, it isn’t our fault and it isn’t our problem. We don’t ask if what we do and what we devote our lives to, is “sane,” and whether or not it ultimately benefits not only ourselves, but also our world. We only want reassurance that we aren’t “crazy.” Fitting in and not standing out is a hard enough job. So many of us have lost an internal compass that is grounded in an external reality, and have settled, instead, for trying to believe other people when they tell us over and over “You are really okay.” And, as long as we don’t look outside or don’t believe those who tell us that our world is dying, we just might believe it.

This stubborn self-focus and pathologizing people and actions become culturally endemic. We begin to see all acts of great charity as a “reaction” against a cruel parent or early poverty. Social activists are “angry people” with a “father complex” they try to resolve by trying to change the world. We diagnose Mother Teresa as having a “Savior Complex” or worse. No one works so hard to heal and repair the world, Tikkun Olam, unless they have some sort of psychological disorder. A notion of a common commitment to the civic good is a distant, quaint concept. We do so only if our “neurosis” drives us to it. And we've watched the show "Survivor," so we know that nice guys and gals finish last.

The Matrix Around Us

It is, therefore, while simmering in the pot of this cultural soup, that my readers write to me at They describe a sensation of having lived in a ‘Matrix,’ an illusionary world constructed in the movie by the same name, and have woken up to find themselves in a very different reality. Unlike those who continue to mourn the “paradise lost” of their pained childhoods, my contributors have woken up to confront real troubles in the world in real time. They have stopped looking into their past, and started to see a future that is both horrifying and compelling. Instead of seeing a “wounded child,” they see a wounded planet that they are killing.

In contrast to the Panglossians among them, who find such a view all too much to bear, they look directly into their futures and feel the despair. For indeed, when we absorb the full impact of our current world situation, and our place of having contributed to it, the sane response is, at least initially, despair. Doom, dreadful fate, or utter ruin, isn’t a view that they embrace joyfully, but one they are left with, when they recognize that the solutions are not individual, but collective ones. Here, we feel ill equipped, because collective solutions seem to fly in the very face of our “I” worldviews. Those “I” solutions, like changing a light bulb, appear inanely inadequate, and the more they are put forth as collective solutions, the gloomier my readers become. They recognize that we won’t “buy” our way out of this one.

It shakes them to their very core, as they realize that they ARE an element of their planet, and THEY are fully responsible for their futures, even more so then their past. They shake, they grieve, they feel the shock. Gradually, then, they wake up to realize that they are still standing on the same wounded planet. They begin to face and learn to manage the anxiety they feel. They start to grow themselves up. No, they soon won't be able to eat bananas on their cereals if they live up North. No, there is no single solution they can buy, to remove the Great Turning. They do not live in a Magic Muffin, but here on the Earth, in a particular place, in a particular time, and they are surrounded by a particular set of people. They have a body, a set of skills, a set of world views and no one will rescue them. They don't need to believe in a god, only that they aren't him/her/it. What a shock to realize that we are born in such a unique place and time, and that our wealth has left the rest of the planet barren, starving, and terribly polluted. We overlook the fact that it takes intense strength to feel so vulnerable, so blind, so frightened, so inept. And for many, they do look inward once again and they grieve hard, for months or sometimes years. But the grieving subsides and in its place remains the multiple decisions about how to act now, in the real world.

Most have attempted to enlist the cooperation of those around them in examining the extent of the problem, and pondering the solutions. Many have been met, instead, with a variety of Panglossian defenses. They see that for so many of their loved-ones, they cannot allow psychological room for the inevitable despair and pessimism, without feeling overwhelmed. These wounded souls, “at risk” for pathology, wounded as children by an unkind planet and careless parenting, cannot bear to view that which is outside themselves---TPTB, government, Big Daddy, the planet---as deeply flawed. And, if it is flawed so dramatically, it isn’t their fault, and it isn’t their problem. We are okay, and the world is okay. It has to be. We have enough to worry about, thank you very much. But what’s wrong with YOU?

And as our economy falters, oil supplies shrink, and the climate chaotically changes, our Panglossian world becomes even more steadfast in denying the change. Our job loss, political or banking scandals, mortgage defaults, are all “individual problems,” that have individual solutions. We want to discuss them in the privacy of our bedrooms or our therapists’ offices. But please, we beg our therapists, Don't wake us up. Don't tax us in confronting the real world around us. We are too overwrought to look outside ourselves. We are too worn out. And besides, none of what you say is on the television, so how can it be true? Help us, instead, to manage this anxiety we feel, that has no name. It floats all around us, depresses us, and depresses our children. We tell them that they are Okay, but still they feel pained, anxious, worried, upset. We need a cure, Doctor, a pill, a meditative chant, and we need it now!

As conditions worsen, fear or simply laziness may prevent us from examining whether in our individual case, the “personal is political,” and to reach out to those around us in both discussing our pain and brainstorming solutions that go beyond our individual problems.

Meglomanian Panglossia

Alternatively, we remain like the battered child, convinced that ultimately, WE have caused the abuse, and, as a result, WE have the power to stop it, if and when we feel strong enough or well enough to do so. If we get around to changing that light bulb, or buying that hybrid, the Tsunamis will stop. If we stagger our toilet flushes, the drought will stop. As soon as we find our next job, land that promotion, get back on our feet financially, the US dollar will recover and the depression will lift. If we encourage subsidies of ethanol, our addiction to oil will lessen. Getting back to “normal” is right around the corner. The Emperor has fine clothes, after all.

We do not, and cannot step back and connect the dots, because we might not like the picture that emerges.

Therefore, what I’m proposing is that unlike true optimism, a Panglossian perspective is a reaction to pessimism itself. While a true optimist can consider and plan for a negative outcome, a Panglossian perspective cannot. They aren’t wearing rose-colored glasses, but dark sunglasses that not only block out the harmful rays of the sun, but the sun itself. The view is rigid and unyielding. For some, the Panglossian view is an angry one, once more denied their ‘paradise lost.’ For others, the Panglossia takes the form of helplessness and vulnerability. Still others insist that they are ultimately in control of the entire planet, and what happens to it, is up to them.

Being Sane Is Not Enough

Now, for those of my readers who ask whether or not they are going crazy, as they see a gloomy future when those around them see “the best of all possible worlds,” I'd like to suggest that you are asking the wrong question. Being "sane" is not enough. Your actions are what matters now. Imagine yourself like Herr Shindler in Shindler's List, looking at your watch and saying "I could have sold this. I could have saved more." (Thank you, DRS, for that powerful metaphor.) You are living in an insane time, and you can't use the thinking of those around you to guide you in what to do. You have to start thinking and acting for yourself. You have to start looking around you for like-minded souls, and to be able to accurately identify those who are wrong-thinking, not to pathologize them, but to recognize them as living in a dream-world created for them by psychopathological corporate forces.

As you sit at your Thanksgiving table, open your ears and your hearts, as you listen to the Panglossians among you, and speak your simple truth, without attempting to alter this powerful delusion. It is not your job to fight this delusion. You cannot. But you can speak only for yourself and say what you see, and then listen. Maybe this year, maybe next, you may be thought of as the sane one after all, and they may come to you asking again for how you think, what you know, what you've done. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

Mental Illness and Sanity

Ultimately, it is important to look beyond whether someone is optimistic or pessimistic about the future, and ask, instead, whether this perspective leads an individual to self-directed action, and whether this action ultimately benefits the planet. It isn’t enough to live in a binary world of the “mentally ill” and those “not otherwise specified.” Looking squarely at personal or planetary problems requires more than people who aren’t crazy. A focus on mental illness will not bring us to a greater understanding of what is sane, even if it does provide mental health practitioners clients and grant monies. To define sanity, we need new and larger questions involving notions that go beyond profits and unlimited growth.

We need to be able to calm ourselves down and stand apart from our cultural norms. To be truly sane, we need the ability to grieve hard for the damage done all around us, to focus in on the Party Train as it speeds toward the abyss, and to work for collective change without any assurance that it will do a bit of good. We only adopt such a label when we develop that internal compass that directs us both inwardly and outwardly. It also, to quote airline advice, requires us to put on our own oxygen mask before convincing others to do so. Sanity, to paraphrase John Seed, is pulling our legs back away from the bus tires, and not calling it being “good to our legs.” It means shrinking our Global Footprint and not calling it being “good to the planet.” We ARE a part of the planet, even though the planet is not us. Learning to live as part of the global community sanely is no longer an option. To paraphrase Matt Savinar: if we don’t deal with our global reality, it will inevitably deal with us, whether in Panglossian delusion or not.

We, as therapists, do not need to be heavy-handed in our approach to our Panglossian clients, but neither must we remain silent about what we know and predict is coming. Here is where our therapeutic orientation and skills come in. Depending on their theoretical perspective, some of my Peak Oil savvy colleagues will approach these issues differently. Some, fearful of the impact on their clients (and themselves), will decide not to approach these issues at all. Should we speak up if a client tells us their plans to build a house on swampland, but don't know it? Will it destroy the therapeutic milieu to usher real life into our offices?

In psychoanalytic therapy, Panglossia may be regarded as an obstacle to progress that must eventually be confronted and interpreted at the right time. These therapists might want the client to appear emotionally ready or have some degree of insight into their problems before confronting them with TEOTWAWKI. In the humanistic and existential therapies, Panglossia might be seen as part of a cyclical pattern of life, death and rebirth, and clients may be helped to understand their place in this cycle, and their roles and responsibilities. In cognitive-behavioral therapies, Panglossia would be seen as another in a set of mal-adaptive behaviors used to cope with a stressful situation. Therapists would assist individuals in examining their current thoughts and behaviors and devising strategic ways to make changes. In all cases, the Peak Oil savvy therapist must be clear about the fact that Panglossia IS a defense, and to be firm that such denial IS acting against the best interests of their client.

Panglossia isn't limited to clients, however, and it effectively dulls therapeutic skill. Increasingly, those who are aware of the coming dangers report seeing therapists who are, themselves, suffering from the Panglossian condition, and ask me what they might do to help snap their therapists out of it. Friends, this isn't your job, any more than it is to educate your therapist about racism, sexism or homophobia. Therapists will begin to take these issues seriously when you begin to entrust your therapeutic dollars to those who do. Ask yourself how a Panglossian-diluted therapist can discourage you from some actions and encourage you in more useless pursuits.

Physicians and psychotherapists, Heal Thyself! Ask yourself whether your bright optimism is designed to help your clients or to help keep your own spirits up. Don't expect to be able to be effective in Peak Oil if you are in your own chaotic state after just finding out about it. Take some time to go through your own turmoil and grieving process, and develop your own internal compass about how to proceed.

Confronting major life changes such as Peak Oil, Climate Change, and Economic Collapse is, but a first step in helping the client assess their current life situation and design a new life plan. But as always, put on your own oxygen mask first, find your own sense of sanity and self-direction, before you begin to treat others. Model sanity.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Contributor Kathy McMahon writes:
Psychologists and other psychotherapists have been instrumental in teaching corporations how to promote mindless consumerism. We've promoted our own professional livelihoods in treating mental illness, while too many of us have remained silent about the cost of promoting the "I" culture while minimizing or ignoring the "We." Here, I argue for a need for change. We must re-examine our own concerns about "fitting in," and "being well thought of" and instead focus on being effective advocates not only of our clients, but also the planet we all inhabit. Our profession has done much to contribute to our malaise. It is now time we take the mandate to be 'greater change agents' seriously.

About the author:
Kathy McMahon, Psy.D. is an adjunct professor, a clinical psychologist, certified sex therapist, trainer, and a newbie chicken farmer in Massachusetts.

About Peak Oil Blues:
We assume Peak Oil is real. Our goal here is to talk about the emotional reactions to living in such a time of uncertainty.