Saturday, August 27, 2016

There's a New Man in the Fight

Welcome, Colin Kaepernick, to the real home of the brave.

It’s not an easy place to walk, but those who walk there walk tall.  Tommie Smith walked there.  And John Carlos.  Peter Norman.  Others, too.

You hadn’t even been born yet when those three — Smith, Carlos and Norman — walked the walk.  It was 1968.  The Olympic Games.  Mexico City.

Smith was, in a manner of speaking, the Usain Bolt of his times, arguably the fastest man on earth.  He had just won the 200 meter sprint in world record time.  Norman placed second; Carlos, third.  They mounted the podium to receive their medals.  The national anthem of the United States, as is the tradition, was played for the presentation of the gold to Smith.  He and Carlos were without shoes, wearing black socks.  They raised their black-gloved fists in what was known back then as the black power salute.  They did it to call attention to segregation and racism in the United States, and to stand in silent protest against it.

Norman, a white man, represented Australia in that Olympiad.  Back home, he had opposed his country’s “white Australia policies,” which restricted non-white immigration and persecuted the its black aboriginal population. He knew that Smith and Carlos had decided to make a silent statement if they got to the podium; they would wear black gloves.  Norman wanted to make a statement of his own on that podium.  He approached Paul Hoffman, a U.S. Olympic rower, and asked to borrow his badge for the “Olympic Project for Human Rights.”  Wearing it would be his statement of solidarity with Smith and Carlos.

Avery Brundage, the Nazi-loving head of the American Olympic committee, ordered that Smith and Carlos be suspended and banned from the Olympic Village.  They were vilified in the media.

Norman, too,  paid a heavy price for his role.  “As soon as he got home he was hated,” his nephew, Matthew Norman, said.  Although he qualified in both the 100 meters and the 200 meters, Norman was not invited to represent Australia in the 1972 Olympic games.

Peter Norman died of a heart attack in 2006.  Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave eulogies at his funeral and served as pall bearers. 

Smith and Carlos had brief professional football careers.  Both later became educators and coaches.  In 2008 they shared the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage for their action forty years earlier in Mexico City.

When you refused to stand for the national anthem before a football game the other night, Colin Kaepernick, you stood instead beside Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," you said. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

As Carlos told Occupy Wall Street on Oct. 10, 2011, “There’s a fight still to be won.”

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Oblivion

In this election you can fit the Republican candidate’s brain in a flea’s navel and still have room for the Democratic candidate’s heart.

If Trump wins he will be the first American president able to call a summit meeting at which no participant speaks English.

If Hillary wins they will replace the security checkpoint at the White House grounds with a cashier’s station for the Clinton foundation.

Between now and November the late night shows can fire the writers for the hosts’ opening monologues.  All they have to do is read the transcripts for the evening “news” shows.

Clinton  has already  spent $82 million buying time to air television commercials.  Trump hasn’t spent a nickel; he gets twice that amount of air time free just for opening his mouth. The only complete sentence he has ever uttered is, “You’re fired.”  

Someone said, “The lesser of two evils is still evil.”  

“Crooked Hillary.”

“Stronger together.”

It’s the age of sound bytes, issues be damned.

Count all the cool things.

How cool is this?  There’s a thing, invented by scientists, called the “Doomsday clock.” it is intended to reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age; when it reaches midnight, kaboom!, nuclear holocaust destroys the planet. Just before Bush II took office, the clock read nine minutes to midnight.  Now it’s three minutes to midnight.

How cool is this? Fifteen years after Bush II took us to war in Afghanistan, our longest war is still raging, and it’s going badly, and there’s no end in sight.  Our president boasts that we’ve bombed 18 countries, and droned still more, and we’ve just resumed bombing in Libya, which we “liberated” by giving its ex-leader a bayonet colonoscopy.  

How cool is this? Earth Overshoot Day came on Aug. 8 this year, the earliest ever.  “Overshoot Day” is the point when we have used up more natural resources than the planet can replenish in an entire year.  Now we’re living on resources borrowed — stolen? — from future generations.  Explain that to your kids and grandchildren, if you can. 

One per cent of us still own more wealth than all the rest of us.  People in blue uniforms charged with maintaining peace and safety routinely kill more innocent black citizens every year than have been killed by the dreaded Zika virus.  Millions of kids still go to bed hungry every night.  Millions of your fellow citizens still can't afford health care.  

Less than a block from where I live is a house (one of many in the neighborhood) with a three-stall garage.  In each stall is a new vehicle costing more than $60,000. Less than a mile further on is a tract of agricultural fields.  Tap any shoulder harvesting those crops and you’ll likely find a parent whose children consider it a feast when the laborers get their Friday pay and everyone goes to the nearest convenience store for chips and soda pop and beer.

Oh, it’s a hoot here in Amerika this election season.  I can’t wait for Colbert’s next monologue.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Madness I Ends; Madness II begins

One sort of madness has ended (not a moment too soon!) but another, possibly worse,  sort begins.

In Amerika we call this the political party conventions, followed by the presidential election campaign.  The framers of the Geneva conventions would probably have called it torture of civilians. Nevertheless, it’s the Merkin way.

Everyone knows the presidential candidates are the two most disliked individuals ever to pursue the highest office in the land.  Everyone is trying to get to know the vice presidential candidates, who were introduced to us during the period of madness that ended last night.

Tim Kaine seems like a friendly enough Joe and, as he demonstrated the other night, he does a pretty good impression of Ernest Borgnine. Having “Marty” as vice president isn’t the worst thing that could happen.  Rather than risk his inadvertently pissing off some important ally, we could send him down to the corner drugstore every day to watch girls go by. Mike Pence is a born-again Christian who hates queers and Planned Parenthood. His attorney general said that the young people (including my granddaughter) protesting for civil treatment of civil servants in Wisconsin should have been thrown in  jail.  Pence thought that would be too lenient.  I invited both of them to come to my front door and say these things to me.  Of course the friggin’ cowards didn’t show up. Pence is a gap-filler for his running mate:  everyone Trump doesn't want you to fear and hate, Pence wants you to fear and hate. Both would-be veeps have sons in the Marine Corps. Both were lower level office holders before becoming governors.

Just about everyone seems to agree that the Democrats put on the better TV show.  They have all the good public speakers.  (Some might say that Donald Trump is very entertaining when he tries to be a public speaker, but others say that good Christian mothers listening in would want to wash his mouth out with soap.) Whether poetically or prosaically, the Democratic orators took credit for every good thing that has happened anywhere in the world in the last eight years, exposed the bad things that need to be corrected and offered ringing, plausible ways to make them right.  The problem is, as Barack Obama has proved over and over,  that these tintinabulations of truth never translate into noble deeds.  At Democratic conventions the rafters ring with the sound of music, but afterward the promise of affordable health care for all, for example,  gets lost in discordant deals with the pharmaceutical profiteers, the greedy insurers and the Republican congressmen who yell “Boo!”  So when Hillary Clinton, who when I was a kid would have been considered a  Republican, made her Democratic promises while accepting her party’s nomination for the presidency last night, we who have been around the block a few times took them with many grains of salt.

Speaker after speaker, including a four-star Marine ex-general, assured us that we wouldn’t want the nuclear codes in the hands of a reckless fool like Donald Trump.  But do we want them in the hands of a ruthless regime-changer whose closest advisors like Victoria Nuland can’t stand the sight of no blood?

She told us she has been on the side of working people all her life.  But she gets a quarter of a million dollars to give a speech to Wall Street banksters and won’t let us read the text.  Does she want us to think she stood before those greedy bastards and read Chugga Chugga Choo Choo?

The Democrats did not try to hide the facts about bad things that have been happening even with a Democratic president.  Black mothers of slain sons and families of police officers killed in the line of duty were trotted out on the stage in Philadelphia to acknowledge one of the worst festering sores in our national conscience.  “Love Trumps Hate,” they told us.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, told us the week before, in Cleveland, that being born rich and becoming even richer makes him the best qualified candidate to be president.  He also made other loud noises that resembled speech.  Recognizable words tumbled out of his moth, and the mouths of his endorsers, but few of them came together as coherent sentences.  Once such sentence, repeated ad nauseam, was, “Only I can . ."   whatever.

Trump calls himself a great deal-maker and a great businessman but refuses to release his tax returns -- an established tradition for those who would be our president. 

David Cay Johnson, a superb journalist with whose work I am personally well acquainted, has spent the last 30 years researching and reporting on the career of Mr. Trump.  His new book, The Making of Donald Trump,  will be available Aug. 2.  Trump’s “Only I . . .” won’t resonate once that book is out.

By that time, the campaigns will be at full steam.  As speaker after speaker implored last night in Philadelphia, god save us.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Pieces Are Falling into Place

The incalculably rich Dark Powers that own both parties and their candidates have got things back to just about where they want them.

The Bernie Sanders revolution has been put down.  The Democrats tossed him a few orts from the big table and in return he endorsed Hillary Clinton.  Now the media whores are touting those orts as if they were caviar, promoting the meaningless party platform as the most progressive in history.  Holy Thoughts and Prayers, Batman, it’s healing time again!  Lock up the good silver!

Big name Republicans are lining up — some of them poutily, but good soldiering nonetheless — behind Donald Trump’s candidacy.  Bob Knight, surely the slimiest insect ever to infest college sports, is going to speak on behalf of the Man With the Orange Otter at the party’s national convention.  If ever two slimeballs deserved one another . . . Speaker Ryan”s going to speak for Trump, too.  I bet they’ll even dust off old Dubyuh in another few days.  After all, we have nothing like the Chilcot commission to shed light on his war criminality the way the Brits did on his lapdog, Tony Blair.  Sarah Palin will be there, too, no doubt.   All told, expect enough intellectual firepower to ignite a bulb in a flea’s navel.

My so-called liberal friends tell me it’s time to bite my tongue and vote for the lesser of two evils.  I tell them to bite my arse.

This country has been going downhill ever since it elected a corporate-owned B-movie actor to be its front man as the cold war before this one was winding down. I used to invoke the rubber ball theory — the notion that our government, like a rubber ball, could fall only so far before hitting the floor and bouncing back up.  But with the nomination of the two most disliked individuals ever to seek the presidency, I have come to realize that we have an unlimited supply of mendacious mediocrities waiting in the wings to preside over the decline and fall of our empire. And we have rigged the system to assure that no candidates of merit will ever again have a chance to win the White House, because such people tell the truth — the last thing American voters want to hear.

The party conventions are just around the corner.  Listen up, Americans.  Listen up and lap it up.  It’s your kind of bovine excrement.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Make 'Em Buy Gun Insurance

The insurance industry is the perfect conglomeration of greedy thieves to provide a capitalistic solution to the problem of gun violence in the United States, which has reached epic proportions in the last week.

All we need is a simple law requiring that every gun owner must purchase  liability insurance, the way auto owners must purchase liability insurance. Let the market set the rates.  

A so-called hunting rifle, after all, can cause at least as much damage as, say, a Ford Focus. Just ask the families and friends of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling or the five police officers shot to death in Dallas.

We’ve tried “thoughts and prayers” to no avail.  The senseless killings persist . . .Columbine to Orlando. NRA whores in Congress  won’t even permit votes on the meekest efforts at controlling gun sales.

So let the Second Amendment bullshitters have all the damned guns they want — shotguns, rifles, machine guns, assault rifles, semi-automatic handguns, bazookas, howitzers, gatlings —any bloody kind of gun they want.  Just make sure they buy insurance before they walk out the door with them.

Liability insurance premiums for law enforcement weapons would be paid by the government agencies issuing them. If you want your cops carrying the weapons of war, use some of your tax money to buy insurance for the damage they cause, including loss of lives (especially black lives).

Yep, the gun insurance premiums would be expensive, very expensive.  But, hey, that’s the American way.  Insurance is a business, and businesses are entitled to profit. In many cases of mass murder, the killers were found to have stockpiled arsenals of weapons and ammunition.  Could they have amassed so many guns if they had had to buy insurance, too?  Maybe, maybe not.  

Perhaps having to buy gun insurance would not deter would-be killers from getting their guns.  At least there would be a pool of money to compensate victims’ families, to pay the medical bills of the wounded.

Wouldn’t it be difficult to enforce a gun insurance requirement, especially on the millions of weapons already in circulation?  For a while.  But with all this new profit to be made, the insurance industry would find a way.

You have an uninsured gun in your house, and the insurance companies find out about it, they just might send in a bomb robot.

Is an AR-15 worth the risk?



Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Post-Brexit Conundrums

British voters have put us asea, clinging to our bits of flotsam, pondering the future and shuddering at its complexity.

Was it good, this Brexit, or was it bad?

David Cameron, the “buttock with eyes,” has had to resign as prime minister of England (good).  But his likely successor is Boris Johnson (bad) — somewhat like dumping Trump only to wind up with Ryan or Cruz.

Financial markets (including ours) have tanked.  As I, like so many fellow retirees, watch a hard-earned nest egg vanish into thin air, fear takes over.  We survived 2008, but this . ..? Many big banks, we understand, are in trouble again.  As they plummet like the pound sterling, there is a pervasive sense that, as he did in 2008, President Obama will bail them out again.  With our tax money.  Once again, we go broke, the banksters get big bonuses.  Nothing changes.

And yet, everything is changing. After 43 years, the European Union could be breaking up.  France, the Netherlands and Austria are making noises about following Britain out. Would others join them?  On the other hand, Scotland, which voted to Remain, now wants another vote on independence with intentions of staying with Europe.  Go figure.

Will we return to the days of a deeply, even bloodily,  divided Europe?  We already have a divided UK.  Croats and Serbs still dislike one another intensely.  Crimean Ukrainians still cannot forgive western Ukrainians for collaborating with the Nazis.  Everyone still hates the Turks and why the hell did the EU expand to the East, anyway? That enabled the damned Yanks to get Europe ensnarled in the Middle East and put it at risk of suffering Russia’s nuclear wrath because American neocons like Hillary Clinton and Robert Kagan insist on twisting the bear’s tail.

Some say Brexit will deter Washington’s aggression toward Russia viz a viz the Ukraine.  Cameron’s Britain, after all, has been a proxy for the U.S. within the E.U. and NATO.  And what, by the way, ultimately becomes of NATO after Brexit?

We saw the rage of Brits swallowing the bitter pill of austerity while surrounded by immigrants who took their jobs and bloated the cost of welfare.  What now of the Greeks, who know damned well that despite the austerity imposed by Brussels and the bankers they can never repay their debt.  And that’s the very idea, isn’t it, all around the world? Keep the little bastards so deeply in debt that they can never get out, and thus remain powerless to restrain the oligarchs who run everything.

How will Brexit affect public opinion in Europe? As more and more draconian austerity is imposed upon captive citizens to pay banks and bondholders, will, as Chris Hedges predicts, the people revolt, the system crash?

And what if Trump is right? What if Brexit does indeed portend a Trump presidency? Can a narcissistic imbecile with no experience at government somehow make things better in the bitterly divided United States? Especially in a United States now confronting complex and difficult diplomatic relations in a fractured Europe and a lonely, not-very-United Kingdom?

Have the Brits set in motion a massive upsurge of populist right-wing fascism?  Is this good or bad for those who champion trade agreements like NAFTA and TPT?  Can the curious admixture that created Brexit transform itself into a spate of socialist movements, like Podemos in Spain, that will take many western countries leftward? Surely this would be bad for the trade agreements — and good for the masses.

Trump, the foul-mouthed phony, dared to quote Lincoln in his verbal sewage after Brtexit, calling for “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”  He has no idea, really, who “the people” are but he understands that they have just voted for a profound change in Britain, in Europe, in the world — change that he sees as further enriching him.  I wish a couple of gnarly Highlanders had seized him by the scruff and taken him out into the heath to be flogged with a haggis.

Right or left?  Trump or Podemos?  Debt or prosperity?  War or Peace?

It’s scary out here clinging to a hunk of flotsam.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

No Bill, No Break! No Bill, No Break!

The Democrats who conducted the Senate filibuster for sane gun legislation, and those sitting on the House floor as I write this, have my unreserved admiration.

The longest journey, as the saying goes, begins with a single step.  Forcing a vote on some aspect of gun control — any  aspect of gun control — would be a step forward in our insane times.

But perhaps the more important point they are making is this: elected Democrats, at least some of them, do in fact have spines.  I suspect that the success of the Bernie Sanders campaign, unabashedly championing liberal points of view, may have inspired them.

Whatever may have inspired them, I applaud them, and hope this new assertiveness continues and expands.  Perhaps even before the November elections, we will have a true opposition party in Congress.

Misled as they have been by their Dr.  Kidglove in the White House, the Democrats in Congress have compromised when they needed to attack, folded when the enemy shouted “Boo!” and otherwise allowed bullying, ignorant, political thugs to run roughshod over them every time there was a showdown over chamber rules, national fiscal policy, health care, guns, foreign policy — all the big issues.

You don’t play nice with thieves.  You can’t negotiate with troglodytes.  Truth is not malleable and justice is not a two-way street.  The American people desperately need an institution that will fight — dirty, if necessary — for their interests and against those of the military-industrial, corporate, neocon, greedy, nasty oligarchs who have been running everything in the United States for far too long.

Perhaps the next Democratic filibuster will be joined by all the Democrats in the Senate.  Perhaps, if it continues, all of the House Democrats will have the courage to sit in the well of the chamber and shout, “No bill, no break!”

If that happened, I’d bet that their ranks would increase when the returns are counted in November. And if that happened, I would expect even bolder minority action than filibusters and sit-ins.  Perhaps their party would even regain control of the Senate, and exercise that control, and act, for a change, like a majority party. Perhaps they would even elect a majority leader with the courage to tell the NRA to slink off into a dark corner of its rat’s nest and stroke the barrels of their AR15s.

Maybe that’s asking too much of the Democrats.  They are, after all, mere politicians.  And this is still, after all, Amerika.

We shall see. 



Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sick Sick Sick Sick Sick

Once again “thoughts and prayers” are being offered in response to an American massacre by gunfire.

After Columbine in April of 1999, “thoughts and prayers” did not prevent:

—The shooting  deaths of 12 people in Atlanta two months later.

—The slaying by gunshsot of six people at a prayer service in Ft. Worth.

—Sniper slayings of ten in Washington in 2002.

—Killing by gunshot of six on the streets of Chicago in 2003.

—A hunter killing six fellow “sportsmen” after an argument in Wisconsin in 2004.

—The deaths by gunfire of seven worshippers at a church service in Wisconsin in 2005.

—The slaughter by a Pennsylvania shooter of six school girls in 2006.

—The massacre of 32 innocents at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., in 2007.

—Shootings in 2008 in Washington, Arizona, California and Illinois that left 20 dead.

—The deaths by gunfire of 58 people at seven different United States locations in 2009.

—The Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson in 2011 that left six dead including a nine-year-old girl who wanted only for everyone to be able to splash happily in rain puddles.

—The deaths by gunshot in 2012 of 38 Americans, including 20 first grade children at a school in Newtown, Conn.

—The fatal gunning down of 19 people in two separate shootings in 2013.

—Seven shooting deaths in a gunman’s rampage in Isla Vista, CA, in 2014.

—11 killings by gunshot at two sites in 2015.

And now, at least 50 dead and another 53 hospitalized by a single shooter’s gunfire at a nightclub in Orlando, FL.

Spare me your “thoughts and prayers,” office holders and public figures.  Give me laws.  Strict laws.  And enforce them.  Yes, take away the guns of the NRA, every single god damnable one of them. And if they resist, throw their sorry asses in jail.

Don’t dare mention your distorted version of the Second Amendment, you sex-challenged jackoffs waving your AR15s and Glocks.  Anyone who can read and think knows that it was written two and a half centuries ago to assure the wherewithal for a standing militia when there was a need for a standing militia to defend the new country.  Today we have the biggest, costliest, most powerfully armed military in the history of the world and the idea of needing a militia is absurd.  Today, virtually every mid-sized city police department is better armed than the Wehrmacht, but for all of their tanks and guns and swat teams the Orlando cops could not prevent a single armed hater from slaughtering 50 people in the middle of downtown. Because he had guns, stupid.  GUNS.

Until they are forever banned we cannot call ourselves civilized.  We are a sick, sick, sick, sick society.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Doomsday. A Holocaust of Our Own Making.

The collective electorate, I am certain, has no idea what peril it has wrought for the republic.

Of course, even before re-electing Bush II the collective electorate had manifested its profound ignorance to the rest of the world. (A British tabloid headlined the American election results of 2004 thus: How Can 50 Million People Be So Stupid?”)

Now, we fools have put ourselves on the brink of nuclear war.

For all of his egoism, racism, buffoonery, ignorance and disdain for simple civility, the greatest danger about a potential Trump presidency is that he would blunder us into nuclear war.

For all of her duplicity, greed and neoconservatism, the greatest danger of a Hillary presidency is that she would lead us into nuclear war.

But we will vote one of them into the White House.

Hang onto your ass, Amerika.  The worst is yet to come.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Environmental Science and Media Failures

Craig Ammerman, the last editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin before it died, once said, “there’s a lot not to miss about daily metropolitan journalism.”

And this was before it got really bad.

We had warnings. Years ago, the New York Times fired a good reporter, Phil Shabecoff, from the environmental beat.  Why?, I asked him.  “They said I was too pro-environment.”

The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyspon had an answer for that.  “Shouldn’t we be looking at the educational system that somehow allows people to not think about data, to not think about what is or is not true in the world?”

Too pro-environment?  Times editors, like everyone else, are entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to their own facts. Shabecoff left the Times and wrote a brilliantly prescient book about the American environmental movement called “A Fierce Green Fire.”  Edward O. Wilson, himself a giant in environmental science, called it “a timely, wise and urgently up-to-date” contribution to  the literature of the field.

American journalism has a shabby record on environmental coverage.

The greatest crisis of our time, the man-wrought climate change on a rapidly-warming planet, happened while American newspapers, magazines and broadcast services were scrambling to, at worst, stifle the story at the behest of powerful corporate advertisers, or at best, present “ both sides” of a story that really had only one side.  Truth is the objective of good journalism.  Once arrived at, there is no need to solicit false prophets to say, “On the other hand . . .”

News organizations reported the recent flooding in Texas and in France and the abnormally early start of hurricanes on the American east coast as natural phenomena.  In fact, they are symptoms of global warming and climate change. Yet to even the most responsible media this truth is too “controversial” to report. 

Water vapor above the oceans has increased by 5% in the last 35 years. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas.  It reflects heat back to earth. The result is what scientists call a "water vapor feedback loop" that accelerates the rate of climate warming over time.

A new peer-reviewed study published last week in a scientific journal shows that global temperatures could rise more than 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2300. 

 The lead scientist for that study, Katarzyna Tokarska, of theUniversity of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia, warned that, “if we continue to burn our remaining fossil fuel resources, the Earth will encounter a profound degree of global warming, of 6.4 to 9.5 degrees Celsius [about 11 to 17 degrees Fahrenheit] over 20th-century averages by 2300." 

Such an increase in warming, which the scientists called “a worst case scenario,” would be catastrophic for life on this planet.

Of course, weather and climate are different things.  But the relationships between  extreme weather events and long-term  climate change are too important to the future of mankind to be ignored.  They are, to borrow a phrase that itself has been tarnished by the irresponsible media, “an inconvenient truth.”

We need to learn how to recognize and think about “what is true in the world.”