Light for a dark season


This time last year I was in mourning and now I’m celebrating. I feel so thankful for the life I have and for the people with whom I have been blessed to share it with. Am I naïve to be so positive?

Six months ago, everything was about going green, electing Obama and a bright future. Now I’m told that the next great depression looms on the horizon, our government is in shambles and no one cares about the environment anymore because we’ve got terrorists again. I try to grasp how all the news will actually affect my life; it seems like a comedy skit that’s gone from parody to reality.

I’m no economic sage, but these recent bailout plans seem a little odd under the current system. It is a free-market Darwinist philosophy when times are good for the big boys. But when times get bad, we hand them a socialist taxpayer-paid bandage. Go figure. Well, the fact that there is a president who plays basketball is something to be thankful for. In the New Year, I imagine we’ll be reading about people in the White House shooting jumpers in their friends’ faces instead of shotguns.

I hope there’ll be news that I actually want to hear about: how the concentrated efforts of conscientious, generous humans are widespread and making the world a distinctly better place.

These days, I’m humbled by Mother Nature’s abundant delivery of snow and the way its gentle force makes us slow ourselves and ponder the world inside and out. In all the cultural stir at this time of year, remember what we’ve already got, love the people you’re around and be kind and gentle with yourself.

I think it’s realistic to have hope. One can be a perverse idealist and say the easiest thing: ‘I despair. The world’s no good.’ That’s a perverse idealist. It’s practical to hope because the hope is for us to survive as a human species. That’s very realistic. – Studs Terkel

The Visitor
The Wire 
(All five seasons)
Hamlet 2


Ishi graduated from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 2001, with a BFA. He makes films, collects cacti, and ponders many things. Currently he is doing what he can for himself, his family and the planet.

Hijacking the information highway


Perhaps more than anything else, the open Internet allows us to envision and actually produce a more democratic media system. But the open Internet is under threat by the very companies that bring it into our homes and workplaces: the Internet Service Providers (ISPs). These big telecommunication companies want to become the gatekeepers of the Internet, charging hefty fees to reach large audiences as they do with other mediums.

Big telecom companies are trying to do away with the governing guidelines of the Internet – known as net neutrality or common carriage – which require that Internet service providers not discriminate, including speeding up or slowing down Web content, based on its source, ownership or destination. Net neutrality protects our ability to direct our own online activities and also maintains a level playing field for online innovation and social change.

The activity of limiting, or slowing access to specific content and services, is referred to as “traffic shaping” or “throttling” and it fundamentally changes how the Internet works. According to Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, ISPs already have a “history of blocking access to contentious content (Telus), limiting bandwidth for alternative content delivery channels (Rogers) and raising the prospect of levying fees for priority content delivery (Bell).”

The importance of net neutrality was made clear when Bell Canada’s traffic “throttling” began limiting users’ ability to view the CBC’s hit show Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister. Some users claimed it took more than a day to download the show. In addition to manipulating its own customers’ use of the Internet, Bell also “shapes” traffic passing through its network from independent ISPs like Teksavvy Solutions, thereby also limiting one of its few competitors in offering open access to the Internet.

The Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) stood up for independent ISPs by sending a formal request to the CRTC, urging them to order Bell to cease and desist from throttling its competitors’ Internet service. Unfortunately, on November 20, the CRTC ruled that Bell could continue to throttle independent ISPs who interconnect with its network. The CRTC’s ruling acts to limit competing ISPs from offering differential services, like providing access to the open Internet.

The battle continues; the CRTC recently announced a new public hearing on the wider issue of traffic shaping (“throttling”). Many of the anti-consumer aspects of the Bell/CAIP decision could be reversed if the traffic shaping hearing comes down in the public’s favour.

When social entrepreneurs and public interest organizations in Vancouver aimed to create an innovative online news organization (The Tyee) in the most concentrated media market in North America, they didn’t have to ask for ISP permission. Likewise, when the new Toronto-based, global, independent news organization, theREALnews, wanted to experiment with real-time online debate formats, it did not need to pay expensive distribution costs; it just began streaming its content. Similarly, when wanted to create its own online national TV station, it didn’t need to pay exorbitant fees for a TV station; it just innovated by using the online tools available. These projects would not exist if the Internet were not an open medium. What’s worse, the next TyeetheREALnews or won’t exist if we don’t have an open, neutral network. When we lose the open Internet, we lose the freedom to innovate.

Let’s be clear; this is not a battle between big ISPs and CAIP. This is not a battle between big ISPs and Google. This is not just a battle between big ISPs and their own customers. This is a battle between a handful of big telecom companies on one side and online innovation, free speech, small business, independent media, artists and civil society on the other. It’s a handful of big telecom companies against the rest of Canada.

The question is who will control Canada’s digital soul? More about this issue at

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He contributed to Censored 2008 and Battleground: The Media, and has written for The TyeeToronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters. Reach him at:

Drop your reactions

THE POWER OF NOW by Eckhart Tolle

Your relationships will be changed profoundly by surrender. If you can never accept what is, by implication, you will not be able to accept anybody the way they are. You will judge, criticize, label, reject or attempt to change people. Furthermore, if you continuously make the Now into a means to an end in the future, you will also make every person you encounter or relate with into a means to an end.

The relationship – the human being – is then of secondary importance to you, or of no importance at all. What you can get out of the relationship is primary, be it material gain, a sense of power, physical pleasure or some form of ego grati€cation.

Let me illustrate how surrender can work in relationships. When you become involved in an argument or some conict situation, start by observing how defensive you become as your own position is attacked, or feel the force of your own aggression as you attack the other person’s position. Observe the attachment to your views and opinions. Feel the mental-emotional energy behind your need to be right and make the other person wrong. That’s the energy of the egoic mind. You make it conscious by acknowledging it, by feeling it as fully as possible. Then one day, in the middle of an argument, you will suddenly realize that you have a choice and you may decide to drop your own reaction, just to see what happens. You surrender.

I don’t mean dropping the reaction just verbally by saying, “Okay, you are right,” with a look on your face that says, “I am above all this childish unconsciousness.” That’s just displacing the resistance to another level, with the egoic mind still in charge, claiming superiority. I am speaking of letting go of the entire mental-emotional energy €eld inside you that was €ghting for power.

The ego is cunning so you have to be very alert, present and totally honest with yourself to see whether you have truly relinquished your identi€cation with a mental position. If you suddenly feel very light, clear and deeply at peace, that is an unmistakable sign that you have truly surrendered. Then observe what happens to the other person’s mental position, as you no longer energize it through resistance. When identi€cation with mental positions is out of the way, true communication begins.

Non-resistance doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing. All it means is that any “doing” becomes non-reactive. Remember the deep wisdom underlying the practice of Eastern martial arts: Don’t resist the opponent’s force. Yield to overcome.

Having said that, “doing nothing” when you are in a state of intense presence is a very powerful transformer and healer of situations and people. In Taoism, there is a term called wu wei, which is usually translated as “actionless activity” or “sitting quietly doing nothing.” In ancient China, this was regarded as one of the highest achievements or virtues. It is radically different from inactivity in the ordinary state of consciousness, or rather unconsciousness, which stems from fear, inertia or indecision. The real “doing nothing” implies inner non-resistance and intense alertness.

On the other hand, if action is required, you will respond to the situation out of your conscious presence.

The ego believes that in your resistance lies your strength, whereas, in truth, resistance cuts you off from Being, the only place of true power. What the ego sees as weakness is your Being in its purity, innocence, and power; the ego exists in a continuous resistance mode and plays counterfeit roles to cover up your “weakness,” which, in truth, is your power.

Until there is surrender, unconscious role-playing constitutes a large part of human interaction. In surrender, you no longer need ego defences and false masks. You become very simple, very real. “That’s dangerous,” says the ego. “You’ll get hurt. You’ll become vulnerable.” What the ego doesn’t know, of course, is that only through the letting go of resistance, through becoming “vulnerable,” can you discover your true and essential invulnerability.

Adapted from The Power of Now, copyright 1999 by Eckhart Tolle. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA, 800-972-6657 (ext. 52). Visit

Cinema as therapy


Scene from Waltz with Bashir

Israeli director Ari Folman, a draftee during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, wanted to tell a story about his wartime experiences, but he realized that “no one would want to watch a middle-aged man telling stories that happened 25 years ago without any archival footage to support them.” So he took the unusual step of making an animated documentary.

The four years it took Folman to make the autobiographical Waltz With Bashir (Vals im Bashir) was a kind of therapy, as he sought to unlock repressed memories of that episode in his life through interviews with friends and former comrades. Each of the former soldiers coolly and almost matter-of-factly recalls the horrors and stresses of combat, both as it happened and as it affected them in the ensuing years.

The resulting arrangement of original interviews put to comic book style visuals is at once haunting, dreamlike and beautiful in its imagery, through a combination of Flash, classic animation and 3D. “It was shot in a sound studio and cut as a 90-minute length video film. It was made into a story board and then drawn with 2,300 illustrations that were turned into animation,” Folman explains. The visual style is simple but effective and while it doesn’t use rotoscope animation, where artists illustrate and paint over video images, it does have that naturalistic aspect to it.

Animation allows Folman to decompartmentalize the worlds of dream, memory and reality, showing how each is more closely connected than we normally acknowledge, something that normal video could not accomplish here. Each of the interviewees has powerful images that they carry within them. One has the recurring nightmare of being chased by a pack of snarling dogs. Another remembers the feeling of peace as he floated at sea after swimming away from an ambush that wiped out the rest of his squad. Folman, himself, frequently sees a recurring scene – possibly a memory – where he and two comrades emerge naked from the sea in a war-torn Beirut. They then dress and walk into a street of wailing Palestinian women running toward them.

Folman’s search for the blanks in his memory leads him to an understanding of Israel’s role in the massacre of an estimated 3,000 refugees in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. The title of the film, incidentally, is taken from the then president-elect of Lebanon, Bachir Gemayel, whose assassination in 1982 led to Phalangist Christian militias exacting their horrendous revenge. Along the way, the film vividly conveys the tragedy and enduring psychological damage caused by war.

Waltz With Bashir is Israel’s foreign language submission for the Oscars and it was nominated for a Golden Globe in the same category in December. There are a number of Globe nominees among this month’s new movies.

In The Reader, Ralph Fiennes grapples with his conscience when, after the Second World War, he discovers that his first love, a blonde Kate Winslet, was a Nazi concentration camp guard.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920s story, retells the adventures of a man (Brad Pitt) who is born old and ages backwards. The film, which also stars Cate Blanchett, has been nominated for five Golden Globes.

Among the flurry of romantic dramas out this month is the pairing of Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in Last Chance Harvey (January 23). Hoffman is an over-the-hill jingle-writer, who, while visiting London for his daughter’s wedding, strikes up an unexpected relationship with an unhappy, aspiring writer played by Thompson. Both actors were nominated for Globes for their performances. The Globes ceremony takes place January 11.


Robert Alstead maintains a blog at

The chi chickens

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

We keep chickens – five mature females and two youngsters – who we think are roosters. That spells possible trouble ahead, since the roosters may fight once they mature, but right now they are total buddies, scouting the garden for bugs, seeds, worms and anything else that pleases a young chicken’s palate.

These are some happy chickens. They have a custom-made home I made using a plan from a 1948 British gardening book, with cozy roosting boxes and a shaded space where they can shelter from the rain. For much of the year, however, we open the gate, giving them an acre of rural land to wander.

I never thought much about chickens before we had them. To see them in their free state has been a revelation. Every day they explore the garden, clean up fallen birdseed and scratch for bugs everywhere. In summer they jump for the lowest-hanging raspberries. These are wild birds that humans have domesticated; they are the closest living relatives of the dinosaur.

After a morning of hunting and gathering, they look for a quiet place with whatever sun they can find to lie in; our dog and cats don’t bother them.

Their chi – their life energy – is healthy and alive. It is so satisfying to see how they enjoy their daily explorations, how they bond together and how they play their little pecking order games, just as humans do. How they rush to hide a tasty morsel of food, trying their best to eat it in private. How they clearly enjoy their lives. And how they chatter – chickens make up to 200 different sounds, using 30 different phrases.

When dusk falls, they slowly make their way back to the henhouse; there’s always one who lingers for the last bug. One of our young cockerels has decided he prefers to roost in a tree so he makes an effortful jump-fly into the branches of the maple that overhangs the coop.

We’re vegetarian so we keep our chickens for their eggs, which they announce with a squawk. When they stop laying, we keep them till they die – or are killed, alas. We live in the country where mink, eagles, hawks and raccoons all fancy a tasty chicken, if they can catch one.

Contrast this with the life of a captive chicken, forced, if it’s laying, to spend its whole short life in a cage the size of a piece of paper, stacked on high with 30,000 other birds. If it’s a broiler, raised for its meat, it is crammed in a space so crowded that each fellow chicken has an average of just 550 square centimetres (9 inches by 9 inches) in which to live out its entire life. Being crammed so tightly, they peck each other. To prohibit them, the ends of their upper and lower beaks are forcibly cut off, using an electrically heated blade.

In Britain, during the run of celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s TV series, Hugh’s Chicken Run, residents of the Devon town of Axminster were invited to see free-range and intensive systems alongside each other in a shed. Many people left in tears and half of the four million viewers who saw the shows said they would only buy free-range chicken.

This is our doing, driven by profit and the desire for a cheap chicken wing, regardless of the pain it causes. We cause the birds’ suffering and we can end it, if we choose.

Sweden banned battery cages in 1995, Austria in 2004, Germany in 2007 and all of Europe will do so in 2012. In California, voters in November’s elections approved a motion to end the use of battery cages, as well as cramming veal calves and breeding pigs into cages and crates so small that the animals cannot turn around or fully extend their limbs.

What about Canada? Which of our politicians will speak up for the chickens? They are awaiting our choice to set them free.

Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, editor of EcoNews and author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change and other titles. He lives in Victoria.

If I had a trillion dollars

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

Many of you are working to recycle, reduce energy consumption and improve the world for your families and neighbours. The collective impact of these many small efforts is making a big difference.

Just think what you could do with $4.1 trillion.

That’s how much the US and 17 European countries are spending to bail out financial institutions involved in a crisis that began in the US and now reverberates around the world. The final amount will likely be a lot more. It’s difficult to fathom such a large number, but consider that one trillion seconds is about 32,000 years. To top it off, most of the details are secret; we don’t really know what the money is being used for, although it probably hasn’t stopped your retirement savings funds from plummeting.

The effect on people in developing nations is even worse. Most of them didn’t have savings to begin with; now, the economic crisis, coupled with the effects of the climate crisis, including drought and food shortages, is causing more of our human family to suffer from extreme poverty and joblessness.

Just think what they could do with $4.1 trillion.

A report from the Institute for Policy Studies, Skewed Priorities: How the Bailouts Dwarf Other Global Crisis Spending, points out that the amount is 40 times what the US and Europe are spending in developing nations on programs to deal with poverty ($90.7 billion) and climate change ($13.1 billion, none of it from the US). In fact, the US spent far more to bail out insurance firm AIG ($152.5 billion) than all the countries together spent on developmental aid last year.

And what did the AIG executives do after getting the taxpayer-funded bailout? They celebrated with a $440,000 trip to a luxury spa resort. The cost of the trip is about what the US spent on food aid last year to Lebanon, “a country struggling to recover from conflict,” according to the IPS.

If we think we needn’t worry about what happens to developing nations because it isn’t affecting us, we should remind ourselves that just as everything in nature is connected, so is everything in our global economic and political systems. Increased international job competition and reduced export opportunities are just two of the smaller impacts mentioned in the IPS report.

But the worst meltdown isn’t the global economy. Another report, Climate Safety, from the Public Interest Research Centre, shows that the Arctic’s late-summer ice is melting much faster than scientists predicted and may disappear within three to seven years. The cascading consequences of such an event could be catastrophic.

Just think what we could do with $4.1 trillion.

Instead of giving companies these huge sums of money so they can continue bbuying and selling, merging and paying their executives obscene salaries and bonuses, we could put it toward renewable energy, sustainable urban planning, and research into ways to lessen the impact of climate change – things that really would stimulate economies.

Canada has continued to bolster its reputation as a country lacking in imagination and concern for the planet. Environment minister Jim Prentice told Alberta business leaders recently, “We will not aggravate an already weakening economy in the name of environmental progress.” His job is to protect the environment yet he sounds like the minister of finance.

But if Canada is hindering progress other nations are showing more enlightened leadership. French president Nicolas Sarkozy said before heading to Poland [for the United Climate Change Conference in December] that nations must keep their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: “Climate change is so important that we cannot use the financial and economic crisis as a pretext for dropping it.”

As citizens, we can and must do everything possible to keep our finite world alive and healthy. Along with changes we are making in our own lives, we must also call on our leaders to stop downplaying the unequivocal science that tells us failing to quickly address the climate crisis will make the economic crisis seem like a minor blip in history.

We could tell them where to put that $4.1 trillion.

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at

Be the change


Dear Dhammanusari: (those who love Truth)

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” When an individual first starts to walk a spiritual path, they find that, in contrast to the loving kindness they are trying to develop, they see more negativity in the world and in the people around them. Perhaps negativity that they did not even see before. This may seem puzzling at first and it can be quite frustrating. It seems almost as if the decision to become spiritual has made that person into a negativity “crap” magnet. This is not the truth; the negativity is just standing out more, in contrast to the chosen goal of loving (spiritual) growth.

This occurs mostly because people who have chosen growth are not also choosing anything alternatively for themselves (in kamma formations i.e. ways of action) and are giving into what appears to be true, rather than seeking out the real and greater truth. The world comes along and presents a person with reasons for dissatisfaction; they have no basis to experience anything else. So people mostly choose the very things that are so dissatisfying to focus upon and hence live them out (in experience).

This is not uncommon; Mother Teresa, herself, did the same thing in her early years. It was decades before she “awakened” to see it differently. (She had a mindset in the beginning times of her work that all came from love. Then looking at the world, it saddened her to see what others were doing in, amidst and with that love). We too look at the world and see all the selfish things that people do and know that we all could be doing better. This, for those walking a path, is not in any way judgemental, but rather it is a sadness, a disparity, a frustration, with what is and what could be.

These frustrations occur because of the difference between what is “wanted” (spiritually and otherwise) in that person’s life and how it is actually accomplished. What does this mean? You must “Be the change you wish to see.”

Most lovingly and respectfully,
Namo Amitabha, don

Environmentalist Thelma MacAdam passes peacefully

by Lorna Hancock

Thelma MacAdam, a well-loved and respected environmentalist, passed away in her sleep on December 19. She was bright and active right up until her last day. I am one of thousands of people who are honoured to have known her, and will miss her greatly.

Thelma MacAdam

As Chair of the Environmental Committee for Burnaby-based Health Action Network Society for 25 years, Thelma provided good, solid, scientific arguments against chloramines, chlorine, fluoride, incineration, food irradiation, pesticides, herbicides, mercury amalgam and many other topics. This modest, but determined, Port Coquitlam grandmother and environmental activist won recognition across Canada. Her name Thelma means will and volition in Greek, qualities she certainly embodied.

The following is a partial list of her achievements: 

  • 1989 – Homemakers Magazine’s top 10 women Making a Difference.
  • 1999 – BC Environmental Network honour for outstanding community service on behalf of the environment.
  • 1999 – Featured internationally in the book Sweeping the Earth,Women Taking Action for a Healthy Planet.
  • 2000 – Environmental Awareness Award at the Spirit of Community Awards, Tri-Cities Society for Community Development.
  • 2002 – City of Burnaby Environment Award in Communications

Thelma was quoted in major Canadian media and she was a frequent talk show guest. Rafe Mair said, “I admired Thelma enormously. The community was a much better place for her fighting the fight for our atmosphere long before it was fashionable to do so. She did indeed make a difference.”

Lorna Hancock is executive director of HANS Health Action Network Society –

The heights of the fall

by Shakti Mhi

Dedicated to Daniel, who was there for me with his whole being.

My body was in motion, falling 30 feet down. As I fell, time didn’t slow down; it simply stopped. Maybe because I fell at the speed of light, or when you take off from your usual orbit, the laws of nature cease to exist.

As I was in the air, I was very clear and relaxed. I thought, “Is this going to be the end?” I felt a bit disappointed as I was in the middle of teaching a yoga teacher training program and I had a few things to do in my life. I didn’t resist the fall with my body; I let my body fall like a heavy pillow and I hit the rock on the ground. The impact was incredible; bones and flesh hitting the ground at a speed that is only meant for diving birds. I lost my breath but not my consciousness. I watched my body in its stillness; no air moved in or out. I knew at this moment I was entering a new era of my existence, but I wasn’t sure if it was in the form of death or a new kind of life.

I wondered if the reason I was not breathing was because one of my ribs had pierced my lung. I decided to gather all the energy that was left in my broken body and force a deep inhale into my shocked lungs. There is a good reason why in Zen it says, “If you are aware of your breath, you are aware of the moment.” I guess the last time I had been forced to inhale so intensely was when I was born. I felt so much joy when my lungs started to move, vacuuming the air in.

The aftermath

I knew my spine was broken and my next thought was, “Am I paralyzed?” I searched for my toes, but it wasn’t easy to map them in my brain. I was determined to find the group of muscles responsible for moving my toes. I did and when they moved, I was in bliss. I checked my legs and was thrilled to feel them moving. My left hand was lying beside me with no life in it. Broken bones were exposed to the air covered with a jungle of dark mud. I thought of the long journey before me. I was on a small island off the main coast of Thailand that had no medical facilities and the only way back was on a tiny boat on a stormy ocean. Honouring my practice, I knew there was only one way for me to go through the ordeal: being in the moment.

Lying on the ground, waiting for an emergency team to arrive, I had to restrain my mind from leaving the moment and wildly galloping into the unbounded desert of fears, doubts, worries and the replay of moments that had past. I needed to be 100 percent focused, tuned in and crystal clear. I couldn’t afford to lose any energy by letting my mind wander outside of the moment.

People carried me from the jungle to the beach and the pain was unbearable. I knew if I identified with the pain it would swallow me alive and I would lose consciousness. So I started to say loudly, “I am not this body and this pain is not me.” I kept repeating it as a mantra until I established a state were I was fully able to watch the pain, knowing it was in my body and knowing that it was not me. It helped me to manage the pain as a separate thing from my self. When I was informed that it would take some time for the speedboat to arrive, I started to chant like there would be no tomorrow. I chanted so loudly that people started to move towards the beach thinking maybe there was a Satsang going on. I couldn’t understand where this powerful voice came from in my broken, bleeding body. But I didn’t care; my intense chanting established life in my injured body by evoking Prana and circulating it in my physical and energy bodies.

And the journey began – endless moments of awareness, bliss and gratitude for being alive. When I arrived at the hospital a few hours later, I was informed that it would take another six hours for the surgeon to fly in from Bangkok. I asked Daniel to remove the big clock from the wall across from my bed, as I needed to bend time to my own terms to survive the long wait. The next thing I heard was the surgeon explaining how serious the injury was. He suggested surgery for my spine. I went within my self and came back with an assertive command not to touch my spine, just to care for my hand. They respected my wish, but didn’t support it.

What made this experience so powerful and spiritual is that I was forced to immerse fully into the moment and move beyond space and time, move beyond all concepts of pain and pleasure, of good and bad. I experienced each moment as it was.

Another significant aspect of my injury was watching the power of the mind when it was guided with intuition

Illustration © Mahesh14

and cleared of all fears. My mind and I decided not to let any predictable diagnoses and bad news from the medical staff stop us from being creative in our dance of healing. Meditation, visualization, loud affirmations and tons of humour were my yoga practice, day and night. I was talking to my body and guiding it gently as it found its way back to a place of balance and health. I refused to remain on morphine and instead exercised changing the concept of pain into pleasure; after all, it is only a concept.

Long distance healing

Because we are all connected to each other on the energy level, healing from a distance works powerfully. Immediately following my event, many people in Thailand, including teachers, students, yogis and friends, meditated and sent me powerful energy to encourage rapid healing. The news travelled quickly from India to Vancouver and beyond and wonderful people sent me more and more energy. Lying in my hospital room, I felt strong vibrations moving along my spine, aware of a beautiful gold colour, healing my broken bones. Even though I was isolated, I felt connected to an ocean of high frequency vibrations. I could physically feel streams of energy entering my body. I owe my rapid healing to all the people that sent this wonderful, loving energy. Sometimes the energy felt so intense, I burst into tears of bliss and gratitude. Thank you all.

Shakti Mhi is the author of The Enigma of Self-Realization and founder of Prana Yoga College International.

Battling the banks to save public power

WRITING ON THE WALL by Representative Dennis Kucinich


Once they were as gods, but the deities of the American banking system are now in ruins, plunged from their 

Rep. Dennis Kucinich

pedestals into the maw of taxpayer largesse. Congress voted to give the banks $700 billion, lifting them temporarily out of their sepulcher of debt, while revealing a deep truth about the condition of America’s financial powers:

They never had the money they said they had as they constructed their debt-based monetary system, which now lies in ruins. Their decisions on behalf of depositors, shareholders and investors were lacking in basic integrity and common sense. Green gods bailing out with their golden parachutes. There was a time when their power was real. Come with me to Cleveland 30 years ago today.

Dec. 15, 1978, Cleveland, Ohio
I awoke to find a curt payment demand that was dropped on my front step by a grandfatherly man who supplemented his Social Security delivering the morning newspaper. The headline plastered across the front page:

Cleveland Trust: Pay Up. Bank would relent if Muny Light were sold, Forbes believes.

One of America’s largest banks, Cleveland Trust, led local banks in demanding immediate payment from the city by midnight, Dec. 15, of $14.5 million in short-term loans.

I regarded the headline skeptically. Having lived in 21 different places by the time I was 17, including a couple of cars, I had come to an encyclopedic knowledge of dun letters, sent to my parents by battalions of bill collectors seeking immediate payment for televisions, cars and a variety of household appliances that never seemed to work. I first came to regard these credit alarms with trepidation, later with impassiveness, with the expectation that as our family grew to two adults and seven children it would soon be on the move again, incurring new delinquencies with each new address. Lack of access to money, housing and credit seemed to be a permanent condition.

Now, having fought through a thicket of consequence to become America’s youngest mayor, elected on a promise to stop the privatization of the city’s electric system, I was faced with paying off loans taken out by the previous mayor, for the financing of municipal projects of dubious value.

The banks refused to extend terms of payment and connived with City Council members to block alternative payment plans, such as the sale of city land or tax revenues. The banks knew the city couldn’t otherwise pay. They demanded instead the sale of the city’s electric system, Muny Light, to an investor-owned electric company, the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. (CEI). The president of the Cleveland Council, George Forbes, had met with the head of Cleveland Trust bank, who insisted on the sale of Muny Light as a precondition for extending the city credit. This was a case of the bank blackmailing the city, pure and simple.

The alternative to accepting the bank’s blackmail was default. Cleveland could become the first city since the Depression to default on its financial obligations. Cities rely on credit for everyday operations and for meeting long-term financial obligations, such as infrastructure improvements. If banks called in their loans, the city would head toward dire straits. No one knew that better than the law firm of Squire Sanders and Dempsey, which had served as bond counsel for the city of Cleveland while the city entered fiscal peril and was simultaneously, though not coincidentally, the principal law firm for the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. Through Squire Sanders and Dempsey, CEI had access to the intricacies of the city of Cleveland’s financial records.

Under the previous administration, the city began using bond funds for general operating purposes. As mayor, I inherited $40 million worth of debt that had to be refinanced before the end of my first year in office. Under my predecessor, the city had illegally spent money it did not have, and yet it had the key to every bank in town and the confidence of the bond rating houses, at precisely the same time it was preparing for the sale of the municipal electric system to CEI.

Cleveland Trust and another bank demanding the sale of Muny Light, National City, were principal stock owners in CEI. Several members of CEI’s board sat on the boards of local banks as interlocking directorates. There was a myriad of bank-utility business relations. Cleveland Trust bank, which handled CEI’s demand deposits, pension funds and other assets, would directly profit from the sale of Muny Light. In a way, the banks were the private utility. With the sale, CEI would have an electricity monopoly in Cleveland and would be able to name its price for electricity and get it. Everyone in the Muny Light territory would receive at least a 20 percent rate increase as the rates would be raised to CEI’s levels.

The city was self-sufficient with Muny Light for many years. Muny provided power to 46,000 homes with low electric rates, which contributed to the economic growth of the city. That was until the late 1960s and early ‘70s, when a series of suspicious mechanical failures and power outages diminished the system’s reliability. At that time, under heavy lobbying from CEI, the Cleveland City Council delayed the passage of legislation for $9.8 million in repairs to Muny Light’s generators, thereby forcing the city to purchase power at a premium from its competitor, CEI. The city became increasingly dependent on an interconnection between CEI and Muny Light, a high-voltage line over which power could be transferred from CEI to the city, to ensure reliability. The city’s power system began to experience more unexplained power failures. CEI began to make public overtures to purchase Muny Light. The sale of Muny Light to CEI was soon supported by most of Cleveland’s media, business, political and labor interests.

In November 1976, the City Council passed legislation authorizing the sale of Muny Light for a fraction of its value. I was clerk of Cleveland’s Municipal Court at the time and I objected to the sale. I was advised that there was no way to stop the sale, but I saw it differently. Cleveland had a long history of municipal power. I could sense a terrible injustice was being visited upon the people of the city by its leading institutions, which were conspiring to deprive the city of its public power system.

I organized a petition drive that attracted support from city neighborhoods served by Muny Light. A full civic campaign was born with an intense effort made under brutal weather conditions to gather the signatures necessary to put the issue on the ballot. There was much at stake besides the monetary value of the system: The people’s right to own an electric system. And the historic position of Muny Light, one of America’s first municipal electric utilities, founded 70 years earlier by Cleveland mayor Tom Johnson. Muny Light provided electricity to about one-third of the homes and businesses in the city at a peak savings of 20-30 percent over the rates charged by CEI. Additionally, Muny Light provided millions of dollars annually in savings to taxpayers by serving 76 city facilities. It also provided Cleveland’s street lighting. High electric rates and higher taxes would follow if Muny were sold. The private sector was forcing the sale for its own profit at the expense of the community.

On January 4, 1977, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), in an antitrust review required of any company applying to operate a nuclear power plant, ruled that CEI had conspired to put Muny Light out of business. CEI tried to force Muny Light into price-fixing and blocked Muny expansion, stopped the installation of Muny Light pollution-abatement equipment and forced the city to buy power it didn’t need. In addition, the ASLB uncovered a CEI budget planning report for 1971 that spoke of a five-year plan “to reduce and ultimately eliminate” Muny Light.

The ASLB determined that CEI deliberately caused a Christmas season blackout on the Muny Light system and sent salesmen into Muny Light territory offering “reliable CEI service.” The private utility illegally tripled the cost of purchased power, thereby driving up Muny Light’s operating costs. CEI illegally blocked Muny Light’s access to power from other companies, all in violation of federal antitrust law. As a condition of receiving its license to operate a nuclear power plant, CEI had to provide Muny Light with access to cheap power. Documents showed that CEI executives believed the purchase of Muny Light would increase CEI’s earnings by $2.732 a share, eliminate a competitive threat, and push the company’s growth rate to 10 percent, further enhancing investment.

Documents in the case also demonstrated CEI’s successful attempts to subvert media editorial policy through cunning use of the company’s large advertising budget. Over the years, several local reporters lost their jobs after writing reports unfavorable to CEI, and CEI bragged internally about placing verbatim company-written propaganda as general media editorial content.

Confronted with the federal finding that bolstered a previously filed $330 million antitrust damage suit, the Cleveland city administration’s response was incredible: “Now CEI has to buy Muny Light!”

At the same time the campaign to sell Muny Light accelerated, a high-powered rifle shot ripped through my house, just missing my head.

A cavalcade of media editorials commenced favoring the transfer of Muny Light to CEI. During an ensuing legal battle over the validity of the referendum petitions, I became a candidate for mayor. I promised that if elected I would save the system. I won the election. My first act in office was to cancel the sale of Muny Light. I next had to pay off a $14 million CEI electricity bill that the previous administration owed and wanted to satisfy through the sale of the light system.

I had been in the mayor’s office barely a year, facing a municipal horror story of huge snow storms, massive water main breaks and a police strike. I had cut city spending by 10 percent through eliminating corrupt contracts, payroll padding and attritional cutbacks. Through the year, I struggled with a recall attempt for firing a police chief. The recall was backed by banks, utility and real estate interests with a last minute appeal printed by the Plain Dealer to sell Muny Light. Credit rating agencies, which had looked the other way while CEI was attempting to gain Muny Light in the previous administration, downgraded the city’s finances.

Another Muny Light-related attempted assassination was averted when I was rushed to a hospital vomiting blood from a profusely bleeding ulcer. Some years later, a congressional investigation produced information from an undercover agent of the Maryland State Police that the assassination attempt was to occur while I was the grand marshal in a local parade. A local television investigative report claimed the assassin’s services were purchased because I refused to sell the electric system.

One month later, I was back at work trying to find a way to save Muny Light. The utility’s financial difficulties, though contrived largely through interference with the system by CEI, were depicted as so overwhelming that only the sale of the electric system itself would save the city from financial catastrophe. I held several meetings with bank officials and it became clear we were heading for trouble on the question of refinancing. The banks were going to try to force me to sell the electric system. I went public with a plea for an income tax increase to protect the city’s solvency.

On December 15, I made a last-minute appeal to Cleveland Trust. It was eight o’clock in the morning. I met with Brock Weir, the chairman of Cleveland Trust, council president Forbes and our host, a local businessman. I had the intention of protecting Muny Light and avoiding a default.

“There’s just one thing you’ve got to do,” said the council president, who strongly favored the sale.

Weir, the bank CEO with the stern visage: “If you sell Muny Light, we’ll roll over the notes. I can get you $50 million in new financing. We’d get other banks to participate.” It was a bribe.

My thoughts went to the street just outside the boardroom. Some 20 years earlier, a few blocks from where this meeting was taking place, I slept with my brothers and sister and parents in a car, homeless. I remembered an apartment where my parents sat underneath the pale yellow light of a kitchen wall lamp, counting their pennies on an old porcelain-topped table. The pennies dropped, click, click, click. Pennies to pay the utility bills.

It matters how much people pay for electricity. It matters if the public owns its own system and has political and financial control over rates. I could hear the pennies dropping, click, click, click, as Mr. Weir insisted on the sale of Muny Light. I remembered my family and the struggles of people like them. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sell. Not for $50 million, not for anything.

“I’m not going to sell, even if it means my career,” I said, as council president Forbes looked on in surprise.

“Why do you want to end your career? Sell the system. Get rid of it!” he said.

“Is there some other way we can work this out?” I asked Brock Weir.

He shook his head “No.”

Throughout that day, every media outlet in Cleveland echoed the sentiment of Cleveland Trust’s chairman, including the morning newspaper headline, with such depth of coverage and intensity that it seemed the city itself would crumble unless I agreed to the sale, which also included a provision dropping the $330 million antitrust damage suit.

The objective condition of the city’s finances received no honest review. The sale of Muny Light was depicted as the only way the city could avoid fiscal disaster. The majority leader of the City Council held a news conference live on the six o’clock news. He declared that if I sold Muny Light, “the chairman of the Cleveland Trust bank has informed the council that his bank will purchase $50 million worth of city bonds. So, in effect, we have a plan sitting on the mayor’s desk that will absolutely end the city’s financial problems, if he will put his signature on it.”

The $50 million bribe had been brought out into the open in a manner that now suggested it was a legitimate offer, a fake solution to a fake crisis. I refused to sell.

As Cleveland television stations covered the event live, with a countdown clock that looked like a twisted version of New Year’s Eve, midnight struck. Television networks of several countries recorded the grim event: The city of Cleveland became the first American city to go into default since the Great Depression. The default was over just $14.5 million dollars in credit.

When I called for a congressional investigation a few days later, Cleveland Trust denied it wanted Muny Light, CEI denied it wanted Muny Light, the council president denied the chairman of Cleveland Trust wanted Muny Light, and the majority leader said he was mistaken when he said live on the six o’clock news that the bank chairman offered $50 million in credit for Muny Light. Muny Light was no longer the issue. It was the mayor and his obstinacy that caused the crisis. So went the waltz into a netherworld devoid of truth, justice, reality or morality.

Though the people of Cleveland supported keeping Muny Light by a margin of two to one in a referendum a few months later, and passed an income tax increase by the same margin in order for the city to pay off the defaulted bond anticipation notes, the state of Ohio intervened and put the city into fiscal receivership. I lost the mayor’s race in 1979. The banks renegotiated the defaulted notes, at a profit. The city lost its antitrust suit against CEI in 1981, in a hung jury. An appeal failed.

I was out of major public office for almost 15 years until, in 1993, Cleveland announced an expansion of Muny Light (now called Cleveland Public Power). At that time, the City Council and others decided that I had made the right decision in refusing to sell Muny Light. The city and its residents had saved hundreds of millions of dollars through Muny Light’s reduced electric rates and the savings the taxpayers enjoyed from Muny’s lower-cost power for street lighting and city buildings.

I attempted another political comeback and this time succeeded, getting elected to the state Senate with the motto: “Because he was right.” My campaign literature showed a radiant light bulb behind my name. Two years later, I was elected to Congress, with the slogan “Light up Congress.” Today I am the chairman of the House Government Oversight Domestic Policy Subcommittee, which has broad jurisdiction over most government departments and agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and electric utility matters generally.

The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. is now a subsidiary of First Energy Co., which was fined by the NRC for various safety violations and, a few years ago, was found to have primary responsibility for the 2003 blackout that left 50 million people throughout the northeastern United States without electricity.

Cleveland Trust no longer exists. No other bank involved in the default survives, except for National City, which faces extinction through shareholder approval of a takeover by PNC bank. I have spent much time trying to save National City.

One newspaper, the Cleveland Press, which advocated that CEI be Cleveland’s sole electricity provider, ceased publication. The other strong proponent of the sale of Muny Light, the Plain Dealer, struggles to survive.

The city’s electric system endures and this past year celebrated its 100th anniversary.