Thursday, January 28, 2016

Much Ado About Absolutely Nothing

The biggest jackass in the pack will be missing when the other Republican candidates for president take the stage for another braying contest tonight.

The fools who bother to watch this nonsense should thank their lucky stars for the absence of Donald Trump. I am reminded of the rubber stamp my friend Tom Houston kept in his desk drawer, to use on whatever documents the public relations flacks brought to his attention at the Detroit Free Press.  “WGAS” it said.  (For “Who Gives a Shit?”)  But I digress.

You can bet that, no matter if someone onstage tonight actually utters something meaningful to the national interest, all the media attention will be focused on the blowhard billionaire who wasn’t there.

As someone who knew good journalism and practiced it, I lament how low the craft has fallen.  Day after day, front pages, TV screens and airwaves are filled to overflowing with bilge about The Donald.  Bernie Sanders’s substantive plans to depower Wall Street, provide health care to everyone who needs it and take the first steps toward restoration of democracy in the United States go unreported, or treated as minor quirks of an inconsequential old socialist.

Election campaigns always have been silly season for American media.  Even when good journalists did good reporting on candidates for public office, they were easily distracted by silly fluff.  So what if Adlai Stevenson had a hole in his friggin’ shoe sole?  So what if Richard Nixon had “five o’clock shadow?” So what if Dennis Kucinich wasn’t very tall?  So what if Jimmy Carter thought he saw a swimming rabbit?  So what if . . . . No wonder someone made a fortune in America selling a game called “Trivial Pursuit.”

We have become a trivial nation.  The only qualification to vote is that you be old enough (or, in many states, white enough).  Voters aren’t expected to know anything about the vital issues.  In fact, the more ignorant they are, the better the pols like it.  Never mind if they can find Afghanistan on a map.  They by god know if a candidate wears a little American flag in his lapel!

When Barry Goldwater suffered his landslide defeat in the 1964 presidential election, the Koch-Scaife fascist billionaires’ club got together and formulated a plan to assure that it would never happen again to the conservative cause.  It was a brilliant plan whose key was pouring unimagined amounts of money into the political process to buy control of the country, which would assure them of a twenty-fold or more return on their enormous investment.  Their plan was at once grassroots, nationwide and global.  It has succeeded so grandly that, in all probability, the right-wing stranglehold on Amerika can never be broken.

Two of the most effective elements of the plan were to (a) take control of local school boards and (b) create think tanks to brainwash voters.  As a result, we have schools in which boys and girls learn that St. Ronnie Reagan single-handedly won the Cold War, but do not learn how as far back a Woodrow Wilson, American presidents lied us into war by creating things like the Creel Commission.  Scaife and Koch money created think tanks like American Heritage and the Cato Institute to dupe the media and the gullible public into supporting measures that are antithetical to their own best interests. Now we are trapped in a policy of endless war costing trillions while cutting back on essential social services in the name of austerity.

We are a nation of blind, silly fools.  And so we natter and prattle about Donald Trump boycotting Fox’s so-called debate.

What we ought to do is employ a giant rubber stamp: WGAS.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I Miss "My" Cooper's Hawk

The Cooper’s hawk would arrive every January to roost on our back gate, hunting.

A handsome bird was he and his flight a beauty to behold.  Incredibly swift, yet maneuverable, dodging branches till he snared his airborn prey.  He and his fellow accipiters are sometimes called “blue darters.”

He would often leave a half-eaten white-winged dove carcass inside the patio walls.  His calling card. Lois hangs hummingbird feeders on a juniper in the patio.  The Coop was the hummingbirds’ pal, holding at bay the larger birds that liked to raid the hummers’ nectar.

Now, for the third winter, the hawk hasn’t appeared on the back gate. Lois has to refifl the hummingbird feeders more frequently than she did when he hunted here.  

I can’t help but wonder if the no-show Cooper’s hawk is one more anecdote in the litany of natural examples of climate change and habitat disruption.  A New Mexico State University doctoral candidate doing research on the Coopers has found a surprising abundance of them in the Albuquerque urban area where he’s working. 

The researcher, Brian A. Millsap, told me, "I do think its possible Cooper's hawk population outside of Albuquerque in NM is declining. The Breeding Bird Survey (a nationwide annual monitoring program for birds coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey) suggests that might be the case, with Cooper's hawks declining by over 1 1/2 percent per year over the past decade over most of NM (see:  Of course this is a pretty coarse survey, so these results need to be considered with that in mind.  But my data from Albuquerque support this idea, because about half of the females fledged in town end up filling breeding slots elsewhere."

Millsap is the National Raptor Coordinator for the Division of Migratory Bird Management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Good science takes a while, and then it takes another while to penetrate the consciousness of the laity.  But birds and animals are equipped to intuit what it takes us months or years to observe and document. Perhaps the Cooper’s hawks know something we’re not even dimly aware of.

In the nearby desert I used to watch big grey owls — Great Horned, probably — gliding down the arroyos for two or three hundred feet,  barely  48 inches above ground level, hunting rabbits or other prey.  No longer.

In a few weeks the avid birdwatcher in the family, a granddaughter, will be visiting and we’ll head over to the Chiricahua mountains in Arizona.  I’ll ask her to keep a casual eye out for the owl and the hawk during her pursuit of more exotic species like the elegant trogon.  Perhaps she’ll tell me that they haven’t vanished at all, that my old eyes aren’t as sharp as they used to be, that my old feathered friends are still to be seen if you look hard enough.

But National Wildlife Federation scientists have already documented that climate change affects waterfowl around the world, changing their habitats, food sources and migration cycles.

They project up to 91 percent reduction in wetlands area in the Prairie Potholes region on both sides of the U.S.-Canada boundary in the Great Plains. This is one of the most important waterfowl breeding areas in North America. Populations of mallards, gadwall, blue-winged teal, northern pintails, canvasbacks, redheads and ruddy ducks are imperiled.

Science is only beginning to look deeply into how climate change can affect wildlife habitat. An Australian study found that current methods like wildlife reserves and bird sanctuaries may not be relied upon to sustain species as the climate changes. 

If only the scientists could interview “my” Cooper’s hawk, wherever he has gone.  Brian Millsap, for one, would love to hear his story.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Time for Action in Oregon

On the very day that the so-called “militia” of white men took over the wildlife refuge building in Oregon, my son e-mailed me, “Imagine if a cadre of armed black men took over a federal building.”

I imagined.  There would have been only bloody body parts left for their families to bury.

Contrast that imagined but likely reaction with the federal government’s actual cosseting of the criminal trespassers in Oregon’s high desert country.

Only when a fed-up Gov. Kate Brown demanded that the government take action against the arrogant criminals did the FBI bestir itself.  An agent talked by telephone with Ammon Bundy, the bloviator-in-chief of the terrorist occupiers.  Yep, the FBI actually talked to  the bastards.  The FBI agent — identified only as “Chris” — reportedly asked the criminals what it would take to end the occupation.

These redneck rogues have thumbed their noses at the law, the U.S. government and the local officials and citizenry ever since their armed takeover on Jan. 2.  The citizenry has made it clear that they want the invaders  to get the hell out of their business.

Public land use is a volatile issue in most of the west, where ranching and mining interests have had their way for so long that the other legitimate interests — recreation, the environment —  have risked violence when they tried to restore balance.  Here in New Mexico, crazies like the Bundy crowd toted automatic weapons to a courthouse and brandished them to intimidate people attending a public hearing on a proposed national monument.  But in Harney County, OR, all the stakeholders have worked hard to craft compromises and peaceful solutions to the land use issues.

The stakeholders include the Paiute Indian tribe, whose ancestors owned much of the land whose use the trespassers are now trying to dictate.  One of the terrorists, LaVoy Finicum, has posted a video on the internet of himself sifting through boxes of documents and artifacts belonging to the Paiute tribe.  “We want to make sure these things are returned to their rightful owner,” said Finicum, who recently provoked the destruction of a Fish and Wildlife Service fence and the disabling of security cameras that he claimed the government was using for surveillance.  From the outset, the Paiutes  opposed the invaders.

The new Finicum video has enraged tribal leaders.They have called on the feds to protect native cultural resources at the refuge and to criminally prosecute the militiamen. “I feel disrespected that they’re even out there,” said Jarvis Kennedy, the tribal council’s sergeant-at-arms. Kennedy said he was too upset to watch all of Finicum’s video. “It’s like me going through the dresser drawers at their house.”

Tribal leaders say the refuge stores confidential documents and thousands of historic artifacts, such as baskets, spears, tools and beads. The refuge is also home to Paiute burial grounds, whose sacred status has been respected by the refuge management  but is imperiled by the “militia” shenanigans.

“I could go to the Bundys where his grandparents are buried,” Kennedy said. “How would they feel if I drove over their grave and went through their heirlooms?”

Kennedy said the tribe has a good relationship with refuge officials and noted that the Paiute people refuse to communicate with militia leaders or visit the occupation. “I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of meeting with them,” Charlotte Rodrique, chairwoman of the Burns Paiute tribe, said last week.

Kennedy noted that the militiamen, with the tacit consent of so-called law enforcement, are free to come and go at the refuge.  He said it would be easy for one of them to damage or steal their artifacts and documents. “All the stuff they are doing out there, it’s like a crime scene,” he said. 

In fact, it IS a crime scene.  One that everyone involved recognizes except for the federal government whose stewardship of our land — yours and mine — has been challenged by a lawless batch of gun-toting yahoos.  It’s time to take our land back from them and treat them like the law-breakers they are. Now!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

As Others See Them

The dangers inherent in electing one of the Republican idiots to the presidency were briefly exposed in recent days with the release of four Americans who had been jailed in Iran for various reasons, mostly contrived.

Not just the airheads seeking the presidency, but also their party-mates in the zoo called Congress, had tried to block the nuclear agreement with Iran unless it included a deal to release the Americans, especially the Washington Post reporter,  Jason Razaian.

Linking these two unrelated issues would have violated every tenet of good-faith diplomacy known to international relations, and would have jeopardized not only the most important peace development in the Middle East in three decades, but also the delicate negotiations going on offstage involving an exchange deal to release the prisoners.

The Republican nincompoops, in their ignorance and buffoonery, very nearly sabotaged both these important negotiations.   Theirs is the kind of shout-first, think-later (if at all) bluster that could turn all our little wars into one great, big World War III if practiced by our head of state.

Does anyone actually want to risk nuclear war by putting one of these imbeciles into the Oval Office?

Recent debate in the U.K. Parliament gave an indication of what citizens of other nations think of the people seeking the GOP nomination for president.  Half a million Brits petitioned Parliament to ban the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, from the U.K. on grounds of hate speech.

MP’s debated the issue for about three hours. “An idiot,” is how Gavin Newlands, a Scottish National Party MP described Trump. “ I have tried to find different, perhaps more parliamentary adjectives to describe him but none was clear enough. He is an idiot,” Newlands said.

Even Conservative politicians found Trump appalling. The Conservative member Victoria Atkins said he could be called a "wazzock" -- a mild insult that can be “used on telly without frightening your gran."

Gavin Robinson, a Northern Irish member of Parliament branded him a “ridiculous xenophobe” and a "buffoon." Keir Starmer, a Labour politician and former chief prosecutor, disagreed. “That is not buffoonery. That is absolutely repugnant,” he said.

Naz Shah, a Labour politician, called Trump a “demagogue who panders to people’s fears, rather than their strengths.”

Trump is “not only racist but homophobic and misogynistic,” said Rupa Huq, a Labourite. 

To Marcus Fysh, a Conservative, Trump is “the orange prince of American self-publicity.” Labour member Tulip Siddiq, said that Britain needed to prevent “a poisonous, corrosive man from entering our country.”

Is this the image the American people want their president to project to the rest of the world?

Monday, January 18, 2016

We Still Need Answers from Tennis Brass

Has the last “clean” sport been dirtied?

BBC and the online news site BuzzFeed purport to have obtained documents containing “evidence of widespread suspected match-fixing at the top level of world tennis, including at Wimbledon”

Despite having documents, the report names no names.  Tennis players, after all, can afford very good lawyers.

“Over the last decade,”the BBC reported, “16 players who have ranked in the top 50 have been repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) over suspicions they have thrown matches.” None of the players was disciplined.

The TIU was set up to police tennis, which has been largely free of the doping and behavioral scandals that have afflicted football, soccer, baseball, basketball, bicycling, track and field and others sports. The BBC/BuzzFeed stories refer back to 2007, when tennis officials looked into fixing allegations regarding a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello.  The Association of Tennis Professionals investigated and, in 2008, said it found no evidence of wrongdoing by Davydenko, his opponent, or anyone else associated with their match in Sopot, Poland, on Aug. 2, 2007.  However, neither Davydenko nor his family — rumored to have unsavory associations with a major Russian sports betting syndicate — was cooperative with the ATP investigators.  Requested cell phone records were not made available and were later destroyed.

The latest reports from BBC/BuzzFeed seem to rehash a lot of what came out in the ATP investigation.  The world’s No. 1 ranked player, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, this week affirmed what he had previously disclosed — that an effort was made to bribe him to throw a match earlier in his career.  The contact was through a member of his support team.  He said it was immediately rejected and “never got to me.” Roger Federer, the sport’s Mr. Clean, called for names to be made public so that “we would have something concrete to debate.”

The BBC/BuzzFeed reports said that eight players entered in the current Australian Open tournament were named in the documents they received.  But those names were not made public.

At a hastily-called news conference there, senior tennis administrators denied that any evidence has been suppressed regarding match-fixing suspicions.

As a lifelong player and fan of the game, I hope they are telling the truth.  But then, I hoped Lance Armstrong was telling the truth when, after recovering from cancer, he won more bicycling championships than anyone in the world.  Think how that ended.

At the very top of the sport, tennis players would seem bribe-proof. What can you offer billionaires as inducement to throw a match?  But at lower levels, where betting is big-time, a hundred thousand is a lot of cash.  It costs a helluva lot to identify, train and bring up a world-class tennis player.  National foundations help when a youngster is good enough, but when you’re traveling around playing in qualifying tournaments with $20,000 pots for the entire field, perhaps living in a Volkswagen van and eating beans, who’s to know if you tank a set here and there for 50,000 dirty dollars from some gambling crook?

Most of the betting on tennis these days is perfectly legal, as it was in London in 1939 when Bobby Riggs won a bundle betting on himself to win the singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon.  But legal betting does not guarantee honest bettors. Gamblers have famously fixed events in other sports. Baseball, after all, banned Pete Rose for life for betting on himself.

The high officials’ statement at the Australian Open has not buried this thing.  We need answers to Federer’s questions: “Was it the player? Was it the support team? Who was it? Was it before? Was it a doubles player, a singles player? Which Slam?"