Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Remember When We Sang About a Cup o' Kindness?

We make a big fuss when one year rolls over into another -- they sell tons of fireworks for the occasion here in Southern New Mexico -- but if we used a calendar other than the Roman one today would be just another day.  (We also got the notion of empire from the Romans and you see what that did for us.)

Take away the fireworks, the hangovers from last night's parties and a few other silly conventions and what we've got is the same old screwed-up country, in the same old war-torn and hate-filled world that we had for the last 12 months or more. What, indeed, is "new" about this Happy New Year except the page in the calendar pad?

We're still the country where the biggest, most profitable retail giant in the history of money actually had a store that ran a food-donation drive for their impoverished employees.

We still have more jobless would-be workers than we can count, simply because so many of them have become so discouraged that they've quit looking and so disappeared from the official rolls of the unemployed. Roughly 3.5 workers for every joib that turns up -- most of which pay the minimum wage.  

We're the same country that gleefully spends trillions of dollars fighting wars all over  the globe, then periodically shuts down the government because of worries over its debt.  The shutdown ends when our elected geniuses decide to punish the people who caused the debt -- the elderly, the poor, the children of the poor -- by taking pittances away from them and cutting the taxes of the wealthiest one per cent of us so that they can become much richer.

We're still the same country where benefits for 1.3 million of the unemployed were terminated by the party that, according to the most recent polls, voters want to control every part of government.

We're still the country where the government by gawd had better not pay for a woman to get a pill to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, but that same government by gawd better not try to keep guns out of the hands of any damned cockamamie jackass with a simmering hatred and a yen to massacre a schoolful of 8-year-olds.

We're the same country whose industries poison our air and water while compiling record profits and whining about "government controls" that no longer exist, that extract planet-stifling fossil fuels from our public lands while leaving toxic tailings behind. Where mythology and ignorance overrule science.  Where rape victims got what they had coming and  we're not racist but we stuff our prisons with people of color and hire corporations to starve them for profit.  Feeding an adult male for less than a dollar a meal?

Look around today.  What's different from two weeks ago?  What reason is there to hope today that wasn't there four months ago?  Resolve what you will but neither you nor anything around you is going to change in any meaningful way.

Happy New Year.

Or, as the unpunished war criminal Dick Cheney once told a citizen, "Go f--k yourself."

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Guns in a Sick, Ignorant Society

Another school shooting.  Eight miles from Columbine.  Ten miles from Aurora.

What a sick society.  What a tragically ignorant society.  One that deludes itself into thinking that, in attempting to found a democratic republic, the framers of its constitution somehow intended to invent an inherent human "right" to bear lethal arms. One that shrugs and tolerates carrying firearms into schools a year after the callous slaughter of 7- and 8-year-olds in a grammar school.  One whose bloody history records thousands of killings of fellow mortals by gunslingimng vermin somehow transmogrified into "heroes" of our past.  One that willingly finances massive lobbying of corrupt elected officials to sustain a brotherhood of beer-swilling bubbas with shotgun racks on their pick-up trucks who insist that guns don't kill, people kill, and that THEIR rights are guaranteed by Smith & Wesson.

What infantile madness!  Our intimidated media respond to events like the  school shooting in Littleton the other day by reviving the myth of a national "debate" about gun control, by giving equal weight to the reactions of, say, Wayne LaPierre and Gabby Giffords.  What garbage!

Nothing.  Nothing.  NOTHING  in a modern civilized society justifies the possession of lethal arms by anyone who is not part of a legitimate, controlled police organization or of the military.  There is no debate.  This is a moral absolute.  When it comes to √•rms, Wayne LaPierre is a bloated bag of bovine excrement.  Gabby Giffords is a lucky survivor of a mindless, moronic, vile shooting by someone who should never have been allowed to have a gun, and she speaks from the deep, deep pain of having her career and nearly her life ended because of the cowardice of those who should be making laws against the possession of firearms.

Don't give me the responsible hunters and sportsmen bullshit.  Nobody in these United States needs to hunt to put food on the table.  Population, profiteering and political patronage have reduced the acreage in which game can be safely hunted in this country to to a paltry few plots of public land that must, by law and by reason, be shared with a host of other users with equal rights to its use, without risking their lives in a barrage of quail season, or deer season, or whatever season gunfire.

No society respectful of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by every single one of its citizens can reasonably tolerate the "right" of some of  its citizens to possess the means of assassinating others.  

Is it any wonder that in a country with such an insane gun culture, " we the people" are unable to find solutions to hunger, racism, war mongering, inequality, ignorance, unemployment, sickness, death, pollution, pestilence, intolerance, bullying, deceit, thievery . . . . all of which, like the myth of the "right" to bear arms, are part of the American Way.

Ready. Aim . . . . . .

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thoughts on Mandela and the U.S.A.

Thinking back over the long and extraordinary life of Nelson A. Mandela, I began to feel a twinge of something almost like hope that the United States might one day again be a democracy.

What odds Mandela and his followers had to overcome!  Apartheid -- separation of the races, absolute suppression of people of color by a white minority -- was not just a practice, it was the law of South Africa.  Whites built enormous fortunes on the backs of slaves or "indentured" workers who were virtual slaves while raping the natural resources of the country.

Mandela himself spent 26 years in prison as a "terrorist." His most loyal followers lived subhuman lives in the bantustans, segregated supposedly "independent" states walled off from the basic government services the ruling white class enjoyed.

Enormous wealth, the force of arms and the law itself were on the side of the ruling class.  What possible chance did Mandela and the blacks and the coloreds -- the enslaved, the impoverished, the suffering --  have against such strong and brutal forces?

And yet Mandela emerged to see apartheid stricken from the law in 1990, and, in 1994, to be elected president of a new, multiracial democracy.  He would win the Nobel Peace Prize and become arguably the most widely respected national leader of his time.

Surely, if Mandela and his people could win their struggle against such overwhelming odds, there must be hope for the the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the jobless, the growing underclass of the United States, mustn't there?

The gap between rich and poor in the United States is racing to exceed that which existed in South Africa 65 years ago.  Racism, if not enshrined in law here, is enshrined in practice and in the political realities of our corrupt system.  An enormously wealthy corporate oligarchy manipulates that system to continually engorge its own wealth and power.  Citizenship and the vote are next to meaningless. Peacable people are required to pay taxes to support endless war, wars in which their country slaughters innocent civilians by the thousands  "to protect us from terrorists."  Terrorists like Nelson Mandela?

We are hurtling toward a repressive police state, one in which the kindly cop on the corner is replaced by armour-clad bullies with tasers, lasers, tommy guns, tanks, drones and  night-scopes on their grenade launchers. They have the same capacity to slaughter those in insurrection that the authorities of South Africa had.

Our truth-tellers and whistle-blowers are in prison or in exile. If only the truth can keep us free, then we are already enslaved.

Can we rise up and win freedom, equality and justice in the example of Nelson Mandela and his people?

Alas, we don't have a Nelson Mandela.  We have Barack Obama and his drones and his Wall Street masters.

Alas, we don't have a people willing to lay down their lives fighting for a dream of peace and freedom.  We have the Tea Party.

Alas, we are a nation condemned to not only the poverty of economic inequality, but also a stifling, enfeebling poverty of the spirit.

Mandela once said, "Poverty is not an accident.  Like slavery and apartheid, it is man made and can be removed by the actions of human beings."

Such is our flicker of hope.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

An Intriguing, If Imaginary, Meeting

Imagine an opulent room somewhere in the Vatican, and six people are locked up in it: five of the six highest-ranking Roman Catholics in U.S. government, and their spiritual leader, Pope Francis.

The  five are Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court, and associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.  These are the five who decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in favor of big corporations, holding that they are people and as such cannot be limited in the amounts of money they spend to influence the outcomes of elections. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. It argued that the government had no place in determining whether large expenditures distorted an audience's perceptions, and that the type of "corruption" that might justify government controls on spending for speech had to relate to some form of "quid pro quo."

Pope Francis has warned the world that “we are living in an unjust international system in which ‘King Money’ is at the center.”  In the first major document of his papacy (Evangelii Gaudium), he condemned the "new tyranny of unfettered capitalism" and the "idolatry of money."

While Alito and Scalia have supped at the lavish table of the corporate oligarch Koch brothers, and Roberts is close friends with the Bush dynasty, Pope Francis likes to dress as a humble priest  and sneak oout of the Vatican to rub shoulders with the homeless and give them alms.

I wonder if, in that opulent room, Pope Francis would ask the court's Catholic Five if, since they hold corporations to be people, corporations have souls? If they sin, must they confess? If so, who must do so: the officers? shareholders? directors? Surely the voluble Scalia -- a member of the church's powerful secret society, Opus Dei -- would wish to enlighten His Holiness on such matters.

How would he justify the American court's clear approval of ever expanding corporate power to the Pontiff who wrote:

“The absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” creates “a throwaway culture that discards young people as well as its older people.”

“What I would tell the youth is to worry about looking after one another and to be conscious of this and to not allow themselves to be thrown away,” he told a television audience in his native Argentina. “So that throwaway culture does not continue, so that a culture of inclusion is achieved.”

In his manifesto, the pope decried the current “economy of exclusion and inequality.” “Such an economy kills,” he wrote. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

What, indeed, would the Citizens United justices say to their Pontiff?