Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Food Was Good, but Nobody Noticed

The lunch club was in a bad mood today.

“My attitude needs a lift,” Floyd said.

“There is no hope for this bleeping country,” Wade said with a deep sigh.

“The BRICS are going to destroy the dollar, and with it our entire damned economy,” said Jim.  His MBA specialty was international finance.

“What we get for sanctions on Russia,” I said.

Gerald said, “Did any of you see Hillary on TV the other day, when she was asked about the vast wealth she and Bill have accumulated, and whether it blinds her to the economic straits of real Americans? It was a snide question, but even I could think of more than one intelligent answer.  I cringed when Hillary said instead that she and Bill are not among the ‘truly well-off.’”

Groans around the table.

“I could not tolerate her as president,” Floyd said. “I wonder how she as president  would prevent the economically powerful BRICS coalition from torpedoing the dollar.  Surely she would not call off the sanctions and quit demonizing Putin.”

“Maybe,” Wade proposed, “she could start by putting duct tape on Kerry’s mouth. Somebody needs to do it and Obama clearly won’t.” 

“It seems to me,” Jim said, “that a wise president would convene a panel consisting of Dean Baker, Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Simon Johnson and maybe one or two others, lock them in a room in the White House and not let them out until they had come up with a new and viable economic plan for this country,”

“Hell,” said Wade, “Obama doesn’t even know how to pronounce Krugman’s name.”

“Economists can’t resolve out foreign policy mess,” I said.  “We flit from one disaster to another, compounding our difficulties with each new blunder. Now he’s sending ‘advisors’ to Iraq.  Has he never read the history of the Kennedy presidency? Of the Vietnam war?”

Floyd said: “I read a piece today by William R. Polk, a top foreign policy advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.  Let me read from it:

A whirlwind, as the Old Testament warns us, is the inevitable reaction to the sowing of the wind of war. That is what we are seeing today in Iraq. Now, it seems, President Obama has decided to try whistling in the wind.
Whistling in the wind is the least dangerous interpretation of Mr. Obama's decision to put 300 "advisors" into Iraq—where have we heard of such a move before! Those of us who are old enough will remember that President Kennedy began in the same way. Arguably he was a bit more realistic, sending initially about six times that many "Special Forces" (then called "Green Berets") initially to Vietnam. Both Kennedy and Obama swore not to send ground troops, but Obama can at least claim credit for being more honest: our "advisors" are to be "combat ready."
“Honesty is not one of Obama’s most prominent characteristics,” Wade said. “He may not be quite as bad as Bush on the truth-falsehood scale, but no matter what he says, it sure looks like we’re headed for Vietnam all over again.”
“Even our allies privately don’t trust us,” Jim said.  “The Snowden revelations of spying nailed that coffin shut.  If the BRICS assault on the dollar does come about, the Brits might stick with us, but you can bet the European Union will bail on us.They already snicker behind our backs about our hegemonic mania while our problems at home fester and get worse.”
“Amen!” I said.”Millions of jobless, out of work so long and so abandoned by their government that they’ve given up hope.  Legions of young people, burdened by trillions in student debt, and unable to find decent paying jobs even with their hard-earned degrees. Desecration of our public lands: our grandchildren may have to go to a zoo just to see a robin.”
“This conversation is not providing the attitude lift I needed,” Floyd said.  “Let’s find something pleasant to talk about.”
The ensuing silence was broken only when we all decided to call for our checks.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Seeing Red, But No Evil

Good thing we’re not putting boots on the ground in Iraq again; those troops we’re sending are just advisors, like the ones we sent to Vietnam in 1962.  But unlike Vietnam, Iraq is not another quagmire, from which we can not extricate ourselves.

Heavens no!

The current mess in Iraq is all Obama’s fault. Dubyuh accomplished the mission  there but Obama screwed it up.  The untried war criminal and notorious truth-teller Dick (Darth Vader) Cheney has been resurrected from his tomb of infamy and welcomed on talk TV to tell us, again, how we actually won the war with a surge. But Obama pulled our troops out, on the insane idea that perhaps we shouldn’t suffer any more military casualties over there, and look what happened. The ISIS happened, a Sunni invasion of “our” Iraq, using arms we gave to the good guys in Syria.  What’s that? The ISIS guys in Iraq are the same guys as the good guys in Syria? Well, hell, don’t blame Cheney if all ragheads look alike. Or the CIA.  Where would our economy be if the CIA didn’t keep endless wars going to enrich the defense industry oligarchs?

Remember Sadam’s WMDs that threatened to vaporize us into a mushroom cloud? Remember Colin Powell’s proof positive to the U.N. that turned out to be laundry trucks? Remember the Downing Street Memo, wherein American intelligence was cooked to fit pre-ordained policy?  Well, it was either fight ‘em over there or fight ‘em over here, right? And when we piped 2 or 3 trillion taxpayer dollars into the Iraq quag-, er, “victory,” who knew that we were going to have a debt crisis?  Besides, the debt crisis was Obama’s fault.

After all, BENGHAZI!  

Now we’re considering a partnership with Iran to fix things in Iraq.  Things that we broke.  Iran is shiite and our puppet government in Iraq is shiite but the ISIS invaders are Sunni, and so Iran seems to be inclined to help out.

Meanwhile, in Vienna, America and its allies are trying to force peace down Iran’s throat at a conference about Iran’s nuclear capability.  Iran has a bunch of centrifuges, which it uses to make fuel for nuclear power plants, of which it has several and intends to build more.  But our scientific genius, John Kerry, allows as how, left to its own devices, Iran could maybe perhaps in, oh, eleventy-six months or so, convert that peaceful use of enriched uranium into a warlike use of it, and maybe even produce . . . . .a single atomic weapon! How many have we got? Russia?Pakistan? Israel? Never mind, if Iran gets one, it will be a threat to world peace.

Except in Iraq.  There, if it allies with the great humanitarian state of Amerika, it would be a peacemaker, centrifuges and all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why the Vienna Talks Will Fail

Picture the playground bully palavering with a much smaller boy: “Give me all your marbles,” the bully says, “and then we’ll decide the conditions under which you can play marbles.”

This is what’s going on in Vienna, where “negotiations” are taking place between the P5+1 gang of nations and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program. (P%+1 = the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.) The deadline for a final, binding deal was set for July 20, although that could be extended by mutual agreement.

Iran, originally given nuclear technology by the United States when its friend The Shah was in power, now has some 19,000 centrifuges enriching uranium to about 20% for nuclear power plants and medical purposes.  As a signatory to the international Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Iran has a perfectly legal right to do this.

Legal it may be, but the United States government entered the Vienna talks demanding for starters a draconian reduction in Iran’s centrifuges and enrichment capacity. The infamous truth-teller, John Kerry, invokes a Yeti called “breakout capability” to justify this give-up-your-marbles diktat.  “Breakout capability,” invented in the Bush administration, is said to be the time it would take Iran, in theory, to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade (90%) for a single nuclear weapon.  There are no incontestable hard data to support the “breakout capability” theory.

The U.S.knows Iran cannot and will not accept its unconscionable demand.  Thus, while appearing to “negotiate,” the U.S. has torpedoed the prospects for agreement in Vienna. Iran  needs a much greater number of centrifuges than specified in US demands, enough to provide nuclear fuel for future nuclear power reactors as they come online. Iran  proposes to reassure the United States and its negotiating partners that it isn’t interested in breakout; it will do so by converting all low-enriched uranium immediately into a form that would not be available for weapons-grade enrichment, and then into fuel assemblies for a nuclear reactor.

Kerry’s truth brigade insists that Iran does not need all those centrifuges to produce its own enriched uranium; it could buy all it needs from Russia and France.  Oh, sure! France, knuckling under to Uncle Sam, refused to provide enriched uranium fuel assemblies to Iran in the early 1980s despite earlier legal arrangements to do so. It was the U.S. bullying that forced Iran in the mid-1980s to develop its own enrichment capability because it could no longer rely on foreign supplies. Russia, yielding to U.S. pressure, delayed the shipment of nuclear fuel for Iran’s Bushehr power plant in 2005–06. There is a long history of agreements with other states, both on nuclear fuel supply and other forms of nuclear cooperation, on which the other states have reneged.

The U. S. also has a long history of “cooking the intelligence” to justify its foreign policy follies: the Gulf of Tonkin incident (Vietnam), “weapons of mass destruction” (Iraq), the Russian “invasion” of Crimea (Ukraine).  Cooked intelligence, once again purchased at face value by an intimidated press, accounts for the U.S. position, almost universally accepted in Congress, that Iran somehow has been hiding a program of nuclear weapons development since the turn of this century.

The International Atomic energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections in Iran, has not found a shred of evidence that such a program ever existed.

The truth is that Israel, through its rich and powerful lobbies in the United States, calls far too many of America’s shots in the Middle East, including Iran policy.  This goes back to its strong ties to Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), the cult-like Iranian terrorist group that has been fighting the Tehran regime ever since the early 1980s. Fake documents and other information from MEK, filtered through Israeli intelligence, are the basis for the American myth of Iran’s “nuclear weapons program.”

Bullying succeeds on playgrounds when there are no adults around.  But it has no place in international diplomacy.  We need some adults in Washington.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Reports from Land We Liberated

Oh, my friends, my friends don’t ask me
What your sacrifice was for . . .
—Lyric sung by the character Mario in the musical play, Les Miserables.

* * *
The United States lost 4,801 lives in its illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Nearly 1.5 million Iraqi men, women and children were slain in the illegal United States invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq cost American taxpayers $1.5 trillion.

In the news today:

A terrorist group that  even al Qaeda  deems too radical and unpredictable now controls the second largest city in Iraq,  commanding the airport, government headquarters, and prisons.

Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) — also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — seized control of Mosul, the capital of northern Iraq, after six days of heavy fighting against Iraqi security forces. 

Iraq’s speaker of parliament, Osama Nujaifi, told reporters in a televised news conference that the militants have taken over the entire city along with several villages and a military air base south of Mosul. This means ISIS now has control of some military aircraft and helicopters.

Nujafi said, “The presence of these terrorist groups in this vast province … threatens not just the security and the unity of Iraq, but the whole Middle East.” He heaped derision upon the performance of Iraq’s U.S.-trained military during the ISIS assault. “When the battle got tough in the city of Mosul, the troops dropped their weapons and abandoned their posts, “ he said. Photos of the aftermath of the takeover show  Iraqi army uniforms strewn on the road out of Mosul by the fleeing troops.

          More news from Iraq:

In the eastern city of Baqubah, a least 31 people were killed and 29 injured in a Tuesday bombing that targeted Shiite mourners. An explosive device planted inside a cemetery went off as mourners buried a local teacher killed in an earlier militant attack.The death toll is expected to rise further as many of the injured are in critical condition.
Iraq has experienced a surge of violence in recent months.
While the army battles militants in the country's western and northern provinces, other areas of Iraq have had unrelenting bombings, assassinations and attacks on both civilians and security personnel.

The United States government named its illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

National Shame: The Bergdahl Frenzy

The right-to-life party is screaming that, having freed Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, we now ought to kill him.

The rush to judgment in this case is a form of mass bloodlust unlike any I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. 

Leave it to Fox Falsehoods to cap the madness by suggesting that the death penalty should be “on the table” for the soldier held for five years by the Taliban. And for the scum we’ve put in Congress to pick up the idea and run with it.

With virtually no facts at hand, monstrous fools have decided on their own authority that Bergdahl is a “deserter”and a “traitor.”  There is not on the record a single utterance from the soldier himself, except a second-hand report that he may have told his doctors in Germany that he was tortured by his captors and held in something resembling “a shark cage.”

There was no eyewitness when Bergdahl vanished from his unit in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009.  Within the unit, some soldiers now say they believe that he deserted.  But that’s hearsay.  Nobody SAW him desert. There are reports that the unit itself — Second Platoon, Blackfoot Company in the First Battalion, 501st Regiment — was in disarray, ill-governed and lacking discipline.  This, too, is largely hearsay.

The only eyewitnesses to his capture were his captors.  Ditto for his time in captivity — five long years. We know no facts for certain about his captivity.  We know no facts for certain about the state of his mental or physical health. Hearsay — word from unnamed people “familiar” with details from his hospital treatment, given on “condition of anonymity” — holds that his physical condition is better than doctors expected.

That would seem to contradict the government officials who said fears for Bergdahl’s safety, fears for his life, dictated the urgency with which they negotiated his release in exchange for five prisoners held by the United States in its black hole in Cuba.

The military is conducting an investigation.  Congress is nattering its usual ill-informed nonsense.  The Internet is a-Twitter and the pundit class is pontificating every which way, like John McCain.

None of this serves the public good.  Or the military’s.  Or the nation’s.

The best a sane citizen can do is ignore all the bovine excrement and theatrics until a few more facts are known.

Until then, Bowe Bergdahl is just one more severely damaged human chattel among the millions victimized by a long, immoral and illegal war of choosing launched by the good ol’ U.S.A.

Post-Paris Reflections of a Tennis Buff

My favorite tennis pro, a scholarly historian of the game, has now deemed Rafael Nadal “the greatest tennis player of all time.”

Other historians once tendered this accolade unto Pete Sampras, the last lord of serve-and-volley, for dominating tennis in the last decade of the 20th Century.

Still other historians then took the mantle off Pete’s shoulders and gave it to Roger Federer, the Swiss master who dominated tennis in the first decade of the new century.

But the present decade belongs to Nadal, who won his ninth French Open championship in ten years the other day.  No player in history has ever so completely dominated a single Grand Slam tournament.  Appropriately, the former King of Clay, Bjorn Borg, handed the trophy to Nadal, who has succeeded Borg as the best player ever to get his shoes stained pink on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The Spaniard is but 28 years of age.  Assuming he plays only four more years, he would probably retire with at least 18 Grand Slam championships, and likely more.  He has won at least one in each of the last ten years, a feat no other player in history has achieved.

Nadal is no one-trick pony.  He has won two Wimbledon championships, two U.S. Opens and one Australian Open.  His 14 Grand Slam championships tie Sampras for second place all time.  Federer, with 17, is best, a record that anchors his claim to being “best tennis player of all time.” What primarily diminishes his status is that Nadal has dominated their head-to-head meetings.

Federer owns only one French Open championship, for which he can thank Robin Soderling, who knocked Nadal out of the 2009 tournament in the fourth round.  That is the only match Nadal ever lost in his lifetime of playing on the red clay of Roland Garros. Sampras, despite his dominant form in the ‘90s, never won the French.

All of the “greatest ever" talk is, of course, nothing but talk.  It’s one of those just-for-fun debates that sports fans love and sports talk shows endlessly fuel.  I love it.  Think of all the bar fights over the years!

In tennis, Wimbledon rightfully calls itself “The Championships.” It is the crown jewel of tennis. It’s the only Grand Slam event still played on grass (in a sport whose official name, after all, is “lawn tennis.”) At Wimbledon, Federer and Sampras are the kings — each with seven championships.  Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands was Sampras’s Robin Soderling at Wimbledon.  In 1996 the Dutchman beat Pete in the quarterfinals and went on to win the title.  It was the only loss for Sampras on the grass of Wimbledon between his first championship, in 1993, and his last, in 2000. Federer won five consecutive Wimbledons before losing the 2008 final in five epic sets to Nadal, who has won 23 of their 33 meetings.

Each of these three brought a distinctly different style to the game -- styles molded to fit their eras.  Sampras's serve was the nonpareil of its time, his second serve, the best ever to this day.  Federer began his career as a serve-and-volley guy but tempered his style to deal with the baseline bangers who were coming to the fore.  Nadal has developed a decent serve by world-class standards, but where Federer was elegant, Rafa is earthy.  He sweats a lot.  He has no peer at banging enormous topspin bombs to the far corners of the court.

It’s clear to me that Nadal is the best ever on clay.  His record on other surfaces, so far, is not quite the equal of Sampras’s or Federer’s.

Did I mention that he’s only 28?  He has plenty of time to equal and surpass them. Besides, he has a pretty good challenger named Novak Djokovic to push him.

Decade by decade, a king dies.  Long live the king.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Let Freedom Shoot . . . er, Ring!

After a brief flirtation with knives, Amerika is back to killing its children the Constitutional way, with firearms. Most recently, in Seattle, a guy toted a shotgun into a small Christian college and asserted his Second Amendment rights, killing one young man and wounding three other people.

As the great American philosopher, Joe the Plumber (who is not named Joe and is not a plumber) asserted, “Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights.”  Praise Wayne LaPierre and pass the ammunition! Now there’s a patriot!

We had the NRA worried for a while when we went on a little spree of killing kids with knives: two on an elevator in Brooklyn;  a 12-year-old in Wisconsin stabbed 19 times by two friends, also 12; and the biggie, the 16-year-old who rampaged through his high school in Murrysville, PA, stabbing 22 people.

Gun-lovers’ lawyers huddled in emergency session, trying to determine if knives were “arms” in Second Amendment terms.  Invitations were ready to print asking cutlery manufactures to join the NRA’s lobbying effort with new fistfuls of cash. False alarm.  As abruptly as the heresy arose, it ended, and guns regained their rightful place as the weapon of choice for killing kids.

In 2014 there have been 25 school shootings in the United States, leaving 17 dead and 32 wounded.

Whoopee!  What a resounding statement in support of our constitutional rights.

Even gun owners are  only human.  They’re not perfect.  Every statement of Second Amendment solidarity can’t be a Columbine or a Newtown.  Although Elliot Rodger killed only seven the other day in Isla Vista, CA, he also wounded 13 and staged two pretty good gunfights with the cops.  Not bad for a 22-year-old.

Episodes like this, thank Charlton Heston, make it clear that the torch will be passed to a new generation of shooters. You try to take away our guns, you’ll get what's comin' to you. Couple of well-placed rounds. Cliven Bundy ain’t the only patriot in this country, not by a long shot.  Or a short shot.

It’s why the good ol’ USA is the Light of the Free World.