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.”

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Muhammad Ali, Pugilist and . . . Pundit?

Acel Moore, a fellow editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, dropped by my office one day in the late 70s to ask if I’d be interested in publishing a column by Muhammad Ali.  He said that a longtime friend, a Philadelphian who was in Ali’s inner circle, had proposed the idea to him.

“Let’s talk,” I said.

The feature content of the Inquirer was among my responsibilities, and a regular column by the most recognizable human being in the world would sell a lot of newspapers, perhaps even win the circulation war with the Philadelphia Bulletin.

Although I urged them to bring him with them, the Ali negotiating team arrived without The Champ.  I had hoped to be able to judge in person how serious Ali was about becoming a newspaper columnist. His delegation assured me that he was enthusiastic, had even come up with the idea himself.  “He wants a forum,” they said, “to get his message to as many people as possible.”

If the column came to be, I told them, major syndicates would be bidding to distribute it worldwide.  I also had heard that Ali — once banned from boxing because he refused to be drafted for the Vietnam war — was strapped for money.  I think he envisioned the newspaper column as a big payday —  probably a bigger one than the Inquirer alone could afford.  I was thinking of a partnership with a syndicate.

“What would the column be about?” I asked Ali’s contingent.

“All the big issues of the day,” came the reply.  “Ali has a lot to say about what’s going on in the world. He would pull no punches, you can be sure.”

“Who would be his ghost writer?” I asked.

“He would write it himself.  He would not trust a ghost writer.”

“Do you have any sample columns?”


“Bring me some and we’ll continue these discussions.”

They never came back,  I understand they took the proposal to a major syndicate but couldn’t reach a financial agreement.

When Ali refused to be drafted, he wrote:

“Newspapers have given the American public and the world the impression that I have only two alternatives in taking this stand: either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative and that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my Constitutional rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail. In the end I am confident that justice will come my way for the truth must eventually prevail.

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of  my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what?"

He was the poet laureate of pugilism: 

--“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”

--“I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”  

--“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and got into bed before the room was dark.”

On TV one time, David Frost asked him, what would you like people to think about you when you’re gone?

Ali replied:

I’d like for them to say:
He took a few cups of love.
He took one tablespoon of patience,
One teaspoon of generosity,
One pint of kindness.
He took one quart of laughter,
One pinch of concern.
And then, he mixed willingness with happiness.
He added lots of faith,
And he stirred it up well.
Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime,
And he served it to each and every deserving person he met.

Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Marcellus Clay), The Greatest, is dead at 74.

If I’d had my wits about me his obituaries might also say that his newspaper columns were read by millions around the world.  He had something to say, after all,  and he pulled no punches.