Saturday, July 20, 2013

Nonfunctional. Dead. Kaput. RIP Democracy.

Even Jimmy Carter, who knows a good malaise when he sees one, recognizes that the U.S. has "no functioning democracy."

The former president and Chris Hedges, a reformed journalist who now writes the painful truth about our riven nation, both mentioned this fact recently. Hedges, who with other litigants sought a court's protection against persecution of journalists for such truth-telling, lamented that - having already been betrayed by Congress and the President - citizens can no longer rely on the courts for justice, either. Three strikes and democracy's out.

July, when we celebrate our independence from the English monarchy, has been a bad month for truth, justice and rule of law.

Besides the court's ruling against Hedges et al, we have witnessed:

--The acquittal of George Zimmerman by a jury of six white women in Florida.  These "peers" ruled that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, was perfectly justified in shooting to death a 17-year-old black boy named Trayvon Martin who was wearing a hoody and carrying Skittles in a white neighborhood at night. Their logic was that Zimmerman, who had a gun, feared for his life at the hands of Martin, who was unarmed and whose hands, in fact, bore no trace of Zimmerman's DNA. 

--The refusal by the military officer in charge of his court martial to dismiss the "aiding the enemy" charge against Pfc. Bradley Manning. The lady colonel ruled that Manning did in fact "knowingly" aid the (unnamed) enemy when he released a trove of covered-up government documents to WikiLeaks. They disclosed, among other unsavory things, that U.S. forces have committed war crimes in their waging of endless war around the globe. Citizens, it seems to me, are entitled to know such things in a democracy. We laughed when a character in Walt Kelly's comic strip "Pogo" said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."  Nobody's laughing now, least of all those who believed, like Manning, that the truth shall make us free.

--The governor of Texas signed the most Draconian anti-abortion law in the land. It has already forced many women's health clinics to close.As in the Zimmerman trial, race is the looming specter here.  White middle aged males are telling black pregnant teenagers they have to bring their pregnancies to term because "life is precious." Well, precious in the womb, anyway.  When those black baby boys are old enough to wear a hoody and buy Skittles, they're fair game for any white whacko with a handgun.

--A United States Department of Justice lawyer filed a brief in court alleging that government use of drones to kill American citizens abroad was legal -- because the Attorney General and the President said it was legal.  No further comment necessary.

--A federal appeals court in Virginia struck down the long-established legal precedent of reportorial privilege that emerged from the Constitutional guarantee of a free press.  In ordering New York Times reporter James Risen to reveal his sources under oath, the court specifically held that there is absolutely no ground for protection of a reporter's sources. Risen's testimony is wanted in criminal proceedings against a CIA whistle-blower.

Wise guys used to say, "It's a free country, ain't it?"

It ain't.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Happiness Is a Deep Lake

SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF A REDWOOD TREE, Oregon--I love it! There's The Gas Station (also sells firewood). The Resort (The Post Office is behind the registration desk). The Pizza Shop (also sells 16 flavors of ice cream). The Campground (National Forest Service; fire ring and table at every site, pit toilets).  The RV Park (across the road from The Campground, privately owned and operated.  No propane; you get that at The Gas Station).

And there's The Park.  That would be Crater Lake National Park surrounding the deepest lake in the United States, 30-some miles in circumference and nearly 2,000 feet at its deepest point. Although it has at least as many Spectacular Things per square mile as Yosemite or Yellowstone, only about 500,000 people a year navigate south central Oregon's narrow, twisting Cascade range roads to visit it. For miles around it, there is, as Dorothy Parker put it, "no There there."

The Gas Station is open 7 days a week from 7 to 7. But there's a hot line telephone that rings up the night watchman at The Resort, who will hustle down there and fill your tank when the station is closed.

The nearest real grocery store is 35 miles away but there's a small store inThe Resort that sells the necessities of life -- fishing tackle, snowmobile route maps, sleeping bags, mosquito repellant, lots of mosquito repellant, bread, milk and coffee.  Plus Dave's amazing organic bread and Sin Dawgs. "Dave" is actually a small corporation far away in Salem, but, hey!, they're people, aren't they?  Dave bakes up the best-tasting loaf of healthy, whole-grain organic bread between the Atlantic and Pacific. And the Sin Dawg? It's a whole-grain baguette with a cinnamon-raisin filling that is so sublime it drove two generations of French pastry chefs out of business. A Sin Dawg breakfast sends you to heaven despite its name.

The Restaurant (part of The Resort) occasionally features Pan Seared Rainbow Trout. A patron might imagine he's devouring an animal that swam that very morning in Muir creek, but he'd be wrong.  It's a farm-raised fish from Idaho. The patron can content himself as he consumes the import with the knowledge that Muir creek indeed teems with the real thing.  The waterway, a thing of great beauty, is an appropriate tribute to John Muir, the great American naturalist who campaigned so articulately for the preservation of just such places as these. To sit beside it, hearing only its babble and the songs of birds, is to know at last what serenity is.

Absent the crowds attendant to other national park neighborhoods, Crater Lake is host to countless other serene places. Knowing this, one is prone to condemn the more harshly the crimes mankind, most especially corporate mankind, commits against too many of the planet's finest places. Imagine a mine pumping toxic tailings into Crater Lake near Wizard Island; behemoth thumper trucks pounding Pumice Desert seeking pockets of oil to drill into; a field of natural gas pumps where now stand the redwoods that tower over worshipful pines in the Rogue-Umpqua National Forest. Such sacrilege has been committed elsewhere on our public lands, and the profiteering overlords are pounding on the doors at this very moment of Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Otero Mesa and more.

Almost 8,000 years ago, Mount Mazama erupted in what may have been the greatest volcanic episode ever to take place on this continent. It made the crater that Nature filled with rain and snowfall alone (no river or stream flows into the lake carrying sediment; that's why its waters are so deep, deep blue) . For a long time native Americans were the custodians of this special lake and held it sacred. Sandals worn by their distant ancestors have been found buried under volcanic ash in a cave deep in the surrounding forests.

In 1853, a European-American Caucasian looking for gold found something far better: today we call it Crater Lake. We've only had 160 years In which to spoil it.  Give us time.

The Cuckoo's Nest

Insanity, Einstein remarked, is repeating the same action and expecting a different result. United States foreign policy of endless war, by this measure, is incurably insane.

Ah, but it's profitable for the powerful few corporations and indivuals who form the American ruling class. If by magic all military spending ceased tomorrow and forever, most of the country's economy would vanish just as magically.  Poof!

This is the corner into which unfettered capitalism has painted us.  Even if we could agree (althought not even the most powerful magic could accomplish this)  that fossil fuel energy must be replaced by renewable energy, the Exxons and BPs and their ilk are so powerful and so profitable that we could not do so, even though we know we are literally killing our planet by degrees.

Vietnam should have taught us that hegemonic war is disastrous, too, and if not Vietnam then Iraq, but here we are, in an Afghan quagmire, trying our damnedest to follow Israel into war against Iran, being prodded into making the Syrian civil war our war while a legion of "national security" experts plot the scenarios for their successors in our chain of endless war. Never mind the fact that each new war in fact diminishes our national security. Each new president, regardless of party, boards the war-making roller coaster the moment he steps into the Oval Office. When he leaves office he steps into one or another of highly compensated places within the hierarchy of the miIlitary-industrial complex. The policies   of endless war, of unfettered profiteering, of planetary  destruction are self-perpetuating.

We subsidize the companies that fuel the machines of war and spew the carbon that is killing the planet.  Their margins of profit make Midas look like a pauper.

Once in a discussion about climate change I remarked to a friend that technology is at hand today to transport goods and people in vast areas of the country with just the energy of the sun.  He replied that when it can be done profitably it will become reality.

Aye, there's the rub.  In this land of unregulated capitalism, it is unthinkable that we should make things happen for the immediate health and welfare of the populace, and the long term improvement of the health of the  planet. We act only on that which will further enrich the oligarchs of the ruling class. As long as they toss a few orts to the rest of us every now and then -- say, a few thousand minimum wage jobs -- the people remain anesthetized and sedate.

Poor fools think they're living in a state of democracy.  Actually it's a state of insanity. The kind Einstein warned about.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Neither Truth nor Law Shall Prevail

"when the President does it," Richard Nixon infamously told a TV interviewer, "that means it is not illegal."

Thus did the president who was not a crook establish the guiding principle of the two worst presidents in this country's history. When it comes down to presidential prerogatives, both George W. Bush and  Barack Obama hold that the law is a ass. International law especially is a ass.

And so it came to pass that the Obama administration bullied three of its European allies into acts of air piracy against the head of the sovereign nation of Bolivia because his airplane was wrongly thought to be spiriting Ed Snowden to safe harbor.

To their everlasting credit, President Evo Morales of Bolivia and the heads of two other Latin American countries, Venezuela and Nicaragua, told the U.S. and its pals, "we are not your colonies," threatened to close the American embassies in their countries, and offered asylum to Snowden.

Snowden, the former government contractor who made public secret documents disclosing massive American spying on its own and other citizens and governments, is in legal limbo in an area of a Moscow airport that is technically not "Russian ground." On that basis the Putin government won't extradite him, but it won't help him leave, either.

This raises questions as to whether Snowden can actually do anything with the new offers of amnesty.  The Obamanations have canceled his  U.S. passport.  He needs some kind of legal document to get out of Russia. His would-be benefactors in Latin America so far are being careful to stay within the complex rules of international law for such stateless persons. Perhaps one of the Latin American countries will decide to show the same disdain for law that the U.S. regularly shows, and figure out a way to pluck Snowden out of Russia and deposit him safely onto their soil.  But that's unlikely.  They may be piqued but they're not crazy.

Obama, playing the laid-back moderate role, said he wasn't going to send up a fleet of jet fighters to gun down any plane that dared to try to  fly Snowden to safe harbor. Given the episode of the Bolivian state plane, and Obama's record for truthful public statements, would you want to pilot a plane anywhere in the world with Snowden aboard?

I thought not.

Obama holds all the cards in his high-stakes game of Texas hold 'em against truth-tellers.  Julian Assange languishes in Ecuador's London embassy; Bradley Manning has his neck in a noose in a military "court" in Maryland, and Snowden is holed up in a ratty old Moscow airport.
Once upon a time in this land of the free, a Daniel Ellsberg could turn over the secret documents that exposed the lies and deceit of the Vietnam war, and there was still enough justice in our system for him to go free.

Back then, It was the president who was not a crook, not Mr. Ellsberg, who was discredited under the law.  These days, the president is above the law but truth-tellers are fugitives FROM  the law.

Go figure.