Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Lethal Arithmetic of Now

“This must be how it feels to lose a war,” a friend remarked on the morning of Nov. 9.

His perspicuous remark haunts me as the names and faces of our new regime emerge.

One can almost see the lines of occupying troops marching into our cities and towns, barking commands in a strange language, flying unfamiliar ensigns over our public buildings and places, taking obscene advantage of our wives and daughters, looting and pillaging at will from the bombed-out shells of our homes.

We are now the subjected, the oppressed.

A friend of my vintage was doing his personal arithmetic the other day.  An aging retiree, he has up to now been able to meet all of his basic needs with enough money left over to travel a bit, visit the kids and grandkids.  His income consists of Social Security, a modest defined benefit pension and the required minimum distribution from an equally modest IRA.

The new regime means to do away with all restrictions on the financial chicanery of corporations, which puts my friend’s pension fund at risk.  It has announced its plan to do away with Social Security, which would further reduce his income.  It will eliminate government involvement in health care, taking away the insurance that now covers 60 per cent of his prescription medicines and virtually all of his doctor and medical bills.  His IRA is invested in a conservative mixture of stocks and bonds.  It plunged precipitately in 2008.  In the volatile financial market to come, the billionaires in the new government will do just fine; my friend could be wiped out virtually overnight.

Even before the election, the pharmaceutical industry warned us to expect a 19 per cent increase in the cost of our medications.  Now, with no government restraints at all, the increase almost certainly will be much greater.

My friend, like so many aging retirees, requires life-sustaining prescription medications for a condition that only a few years ago would have meant certain death.  “We may come to that again,” he said.

If the new regime simply takes away his prescription insurance, he will be required to spend every penny of his Social Security income, plus a substantial portion of his pension income, just to buy medicine.  If either of these sources of income vanishes, or is significantly reduced, he will have to choose between eating or getting the medicine that keeps him alive.

If the new regime eliminates Medicare, as it has said it will, my friend will no longer be able to go to the doctor, or to the hospital if his condition worsens.  Medical care will become, for him, a luxury he can no longer afford.

He will die.  Painfully and ignominiously, for his is a condition that, if unmedicated, is accompanied by severe pain.

Every day when he looks out his window at the quotidian parade of mankind, he knows that of, say, every ten  passersby, at least five voted in favor of this new regime, voted to put him to death, slowly and painfully, in the hell that used to be the United States of America.

Do you hate them? Are you bitter? I asked him. 

“Maybe not bitter,” he said, “but sad and fearful.” 

Like the Poles after Hitler took over their country eight decades ago.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How Now Brown Cow?

As the Pussy-Grabber assembles his cabinet and administration, it becomes increasingly clear that the democratic republic of the United States is breathing its last.

The dysfunctional mish-mash that emerges will be as much a puzzle to the rest of the world as it will be a disaster for its resident small-r republicans.

At some point the millions who voted sanely will reach the point of willingness to join an armed insurrection.  Only then will they realize that it’s impossible,  Literally all the firepower will be on the other side, in the hands of the vengeance-crazed supporters of the regime and the militarized, racist police.

Consider the  enormous military force the authorities brought to bear on the unarmed, peaceful protesters at Standing Rock, who were seeking only to protect their drinking water from pollution by pipeline.  Now imagine if millions, armed only with axe-handles and bolt-action .22s manufactured half a century ago, sought to overturn the Pussy-Grabber’s regime by violent protest.

First there would be the massacre, the slaughter of the activists.  Then. as the Pussy-Grabber promised during his campaign, their families would be rounded up and tortured and slain. What remained of the citizenry would be forever cowed, heiling the white supremacist bullies running the zoo.

What recourse other than a doomed insurrection offers a ray of hope to the poor souls inhabiting this nightmare?

Precious little.  Even as the Pussy-Grabber clumsily puts together his team of rogues, the so-called opposition party is a raffle of fools and weaklings floundering like beached whales.  While the Pussy-Grabber rounds up monied thugs to tear apart the very departments (health, education, public safety) they are ostensibly meant to manage, the Democrat party struggles pitifully to “rebuild”  in the wake of the electoral disaster it has just inflicted upon itself.  Having shot itself in the foot, it will try to make a better holster.

What the country really needs is a viable left that will seriously and effectively oppose the worst threat to democracy in the history of the nation.  Each day that passes without intense efforts to form such a coalition diminishes the chances of its ever happening.

Thus, absent an effective opposition, the Pussy-Grabber will quickly acquire absolute dictatorial power over the country.  Almost certainly he will eventually sail his ship of fools into global war.  

The consequences are too terrible to imagine, although many have tried.  Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Road” offers the most optimistic scenario.  Read it and weep.  Weep for the America you grew up in.

Monday, November 28, 2016

'Tis a Puzzlement . . . or a Conspiracy

The way things are going in this sorry land, how can you NOT be some kind of conspiracy theorist?

See, the Rooskies hacked Hillary because they wanted the Pussy Grabber to win so that all those loans he has from Russian oligarchs would enable Putin to dictate U.S. policy in Madagascar.

OK, maybe not that one.

How about the latest goings-on in the media world?  Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like . . . .

First, there was the business with Jill Stein and the Greens raising all that money for recounts in states where the Pussy-Grabber’s margin was razor thin.  Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania.  The rust bucket rebellion.  The Greens said they didn’t want to help Clinton, necessarily, they just wanted the American people to have a degree of certainty that their electoral process was safe and sound.  Well, the Clintonians said, if that’s the case, we’ll join you in initiating recounts because, while we’re not sore losers, we think the American people have a right to know if they can trust their electoral process.

Then the New York Times  came out with a strange piece saying “the Administration” has one hundred per cent faith in the integrity of the American electoral process.  At first, the Times didn’t explain who in “the Administration” said this or why suddenly at this time they issued a “statement” exclusively to the Times.

This seemed passing strange to a lot of journalists familiar with the old-fashioned standards of the Times regarding attribution by name, rank and serial number.  Even several former Times journalists joined the chorus questioning the story.  Hastily, the Times rushed out the text of the “statement” by “the Administration” with a weird introductory paragraph written by Times editors.

That paragraph said the “statement” was issued by “the Administration” because the Times asked for it.  With all this hullabaloo about recounts and fake news and such like, well, the Times just decided that  maybe “the Administration” might want to quell people’s fears about the integrity of the election system.  “The Administration” would not  say which of its officials wrote the statement, or what his/her position was in “the Administration,” or even characterize his/her level of importance within “the Administration” hierarchy. Why would the Times agree to such terms?  Well, because  . . . .just because.

Next, less than 48 hours later, the Washington Post came out with an eerie story about the recent wave of fake news, producing a list of 200 news aggregators and reporting agencies that were said to be guilty of soliciting fake news from the Rooskies and rushing it out to the unwary public. The Post learned this from a murky outfit that crawled out from the cyber-woodwork only last August; refuses to identify any of its operatives; whose alleged collaborators deny having anything to do with it; and whose executive director was only too happy to give the Post juicy quotations  about the success of this Russian disinformation campaign — but who wouldn’t give his name for fear of reprisals. Reprisals by whom?  Wouldn’t say.

Got that?

Nameless, faceless officials of “the Administration” . .. .  Nameless, faceless agents of an outfit nobody ever heard of, whose credentials are chimeras, whose spokesman may or may not even exist . . . . assuring us of “integrity,” decrying “false news” by issuing false news . . . .

I give up!  If there’s no conspiracy here, somebody tell me, what the hell is going on?  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Man to Walk Through Fire For

The rancid orphan of wealth who is about to lead our country to new depths of depravity has put his venality on display once again with his coarse and ignorant comments about the death of Fidel Castro.

In the vastness of world leadership the Pussy-Grabber is to Castro as a flea is to an elephant.  In condemning Castro as “a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,"   he merely betrays his utter incapacity to deal with the complexities of a deeply troubled world.

A better understanding came from Deena Stryker, the Philadelphia-born journalist, author and cosmopolite.  She wrote: 

I contemplate with dismay what the world has become: a battlefield between a small group of Muslims that have taken the world's fastest growing religion hostage, globalization, led by my own country, a global left that no longer has the faith, and a rising right that looks different from its forerunners and whose impact will be felt worldwide. Few countries have had leaders so determined to lift their people out of poverty and those of us who witnessed his efforts, can only wonder how much longer it will be before the rest of the world's South catches up to Cuba. 

Anthony DePalma’s masterly obituary in the New York Times captured the man and his era:

He dominated his country with strength and symbolism from the day he triumphantly entered Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, and completed his overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by delivering his first major speech in the capital before tens of thousands of admirers at the vanquished dictator’s military headquarters.

A spotlight shone on him as he swaggered and spoke with passion until dawn. Finally, white doves were released to signal Cuba’s new peace. When one landed on Mr. Castro, perching on a shoulder, the crowd erupted, chanting: “Fidel! Fidel!” To the war-weary Cubans gathered there and those watching on television, it was an electrifying sign that their young, bearded guerrilla leader was destined to be their savior.

It was Batista who had been “a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people.”  But he was our dictator.  American corporations fattened their profits on Cuba’s natural and agricultural resources even as their bribes fattened Batista’s bank accounts.

At first official Amerika welcomed Fidel as a colorful revolutionary who would restore democracy to Cuba. Henry M. Wriston, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations when Castro came to power, said he was “was everything a revolutionary should be.”  But when he began to nationalize  American businesses in Cuba, the U.S. turned on him and he turned toward the Soviet Union and a version of communism that was unique to his regime.

He ruled Cuba like a tyrant.  It was perhaps the tactic of necessity against the giant enemy 90 miles away, which tried over and over again to assassinate him and overturn his government. As the ruler of a tiny island nation  he became a figure of worldwide influence and importance. His efforts to eliminate poverty never entirely succeeded, yet the strides made in medical care, education and science were monumental.  

Expatriates in Miami hate him.  Freedom seekers throughout Latin America worship him. Yet everyone in the world — except possibly the Pussy-Grabber — recognizes that he was a giant.

I was a young journalist covering minor league baseball when his revolution began.  One spring the local team came out of spring training with a Cuban second baseman.  When I learned that he had operated a machine gun for Castro’s beleaguered guerrilla brigade in the Sierra Maestra, I asked him what it was like to fight for the charismatic rebel leader.

“I would walk through fire for that man,” he said.  “Because of him, today my family has food on the table, and I can come here to the USA and play ball.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

'Thinly Thought Through'

 The give-him-a-chance crowd will find much to like about  Donald’s on-the-record session at the New York Times yesterday.

The Times’s editorial board  did, too, although it expressed alarm about “how thinly thought through" many of his opinions on important issues were.

“Thinly thought through" is a good phrase.  It applies particularly damningly to mainstream media coverage of the entire 2016 election process.

Take “those damn e-mails.”  Beaten to death in print and on the air, yet no serious investigation ever found any criminality.  But what about the equally serious concerns over Donald’s possibly criminal business and tax escapades over the year?  Virtual silence; the possible criminality in these affairs has yet to be determined. 

Donald appeared to back away yesterday from some of the extreme positions he took during the campaign, positions that were never thoroughly enough explored back when they were uttered, when complete vetting might have had an effect on some voters.

He sort of conceded that maybe human activity did contribute to climate change, that maybe torture as official policy in combatting terrorism wasn’t a very good idea and that promises to “lock up crooked Hillary” wouldn’t actually be kept. 

But even as these modest concessions emerged, the Times writers and editors in the session largely fulfilled their publisher’s promise at the outset.  What would follow, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told Donald, will be “the easiest questions you’re going to get this administration."

Donald has demonstrated throughout his business career and his campaign that he is a serial liar.  He has even contradicted himself in the same sentence, on certain occasions when he actually spoke in lucid, complete sentences. He switches good cop, bad cop roles with the seamless ease of an accomplished television performer, which he is.  

The TV performer uttered some mildly flattering words about the Times yesterday even while repeating his claims that it treated him unfairly and reported inaccurately about him during the campaign.  More than once he suggested that he could “change” the paper’s reporting on him, but how? by bullying, lying or . . . . . what?  We aren’t sure, are we?

That’s his skill.  See?, the give-him-a-chance crowd is saying, he has an “open mind.”

In fact, nothing he said at the Times yesterday changes the established record about him.  He is still the boastful Pussy-Grabber.  He is still the same con man whose phony “university” defrauded thousands of gullible people.  He is still the same guy who stiffed laborers and small contractors, who reveled in rubbing well-tailored elbows with gangsters and drug kingpins,  who left investors holding the bag in countless bankruptcies (which are still going on), who publicly ridiculed people with physical disabilities and who promised to build a wall along the border and make Mexico pay for it.

The wall nonsense didn’t even come up at the Times yesterday.  But the Israel-Palestine conflict did.  Apparently sounding sincere, Donald said he’d like to resolve that conflict and at last bring peace to one of the most troubled areas in the world.  A noble goal.  And who would be his agent to achieve that goal?  His son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

C’mon man!  Buying that isn’t “giving him a chance.”  Buying that is buying a “degree” from Trump University.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Donald's Good Pal, Nigel

The Pussy-Grabber has made an unprecedented incursion into the affairs of a sovereign foreign government by calling for the United Kingdom to appoint Nigel Farage as ambassador to the United States.

The UK has refused.

Farage and the Pussy-Grabber are birds of a feather.

Farage led the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union (Brexit).  

He is a climate change denier.  When Prince Charles appeared before the European parliament to urge it to take a leadership role in the battle against climate change, Farage, a member of the parliament, remained seated during the standing ovation for the prince’s speech.

Like Donald, Farage believes that so-called “legal tax avoidance” is smart.  He has diverted income into private companies and into offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes, and, like the Pussy-Grabber, refuses to release his tax returns while running for public office.

He’s a big fan of coal power despite its harmful effects on the environment and public health.  Like the right-wing neanderthals of the U.S., he opposes wind power as ”disgusting ugly windmills.”

Like the Pussy-Grabber, he uses the word “disgusting” frequently in dismissing critics.

Farage says there is no link between handgun ownership and crime,  even though most responsible studies attribute the UK’s low violent crime rate to its strict control of handgun ownership.

Farage fantasizes the existence of “a fifth column” of Islamic extremists determined to destroy the United Kingdom.  He approves of Donald’s proposed strategy of internment for Muslims in the United States.

When the Pussy-Grabber’s infamous remarks demeaning women became public, Farage excused them as “alpha male boasting.”  

He  describes himself in Trumpian terms: “quite ballsy, good on a platform, unafraid of the limelight, a bit noisy and good at selling things.”  He is an alcoholic stockbroker’s son who, even as a high school student, was identified by a teacher as having strong “racist and fascist leanings.”

Bannon.  Flynn.  Gingrich.  Giuliani.  Sessions.  Putin.  Farage.  Donald’s kind of guys.

Is there any hope of saving the republic?

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Cadillac Revolution

Chris Hedges, one of our most important contemporary writers, has just published “We Are All Deplorables,” a perceptive essay that articulates the reasons why the white working underclass rallied behind the candidacy of Donald.

What it misses is the vast pool of white American voters — especially women — who are not particularly distraught economically but yet angrily and even vengefully supported the new Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief.  They remind me of a mini-episode I witnessed on a local road not long ago.  A nicely-coifed, meticulously-garbed, blue-haired lady of some means was driving her Cadillac sedan ever so slowly in a no-passing zone.  The frustrated male driving behind her, obviously in something of a hurry, honked and flashed his headlights trying to urge her to get a move on.  She blissfully ignored him.  When at last there was an opportunity to pass, he glared at her as he roared by.  She rolled down her window and gave him the finger.

A woman who runs a prosperous family business — inherited from her parents — smugly but coyly made it clear to me just before the election that she would be voting for Donald.  “I’ve been around shop workers all my life,” she said.  “I hear worse things (than what Donald said about women) in the shop every day.”  A virtual finger.

As for the prosperous physician who supported the Pussy Grabber in a mood of anyone-but-Hillary, I can understand that Obamacare was at the heart of his decision.  Obama himself publicly acknowledged that a single-payer system would have been the best way to fix our terrible health care system, but before even putting a proposal on the table he sold out to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, and to the Republicans in congress.  Only the 22 million Americans who had been without health insurance but now possess it could possibly be happy with Obamacare.  But my physician friend and others who think the Pussy-Grabber will make health care better by destroying Obamacare will be sadly disappointed.

I’m certain there is a deep-seated seam of racism inside many of the well-off whites who voted for Donald.  These are people who kept their feelings in the closet in the years after the Civil Rights Act was passed.  Now here was a candidate for the highest office in the land saying the same things they had been ashamed to say for all these years.  Suddenly the  Pussy-Grabber made it OK to hate and resent the progress of brown, black, red and yellow people and to say so publicly.

While racism played its part on the election of Donald, it alone can’t explain the phenomenon. Rather, what happened was the coming together of many streams of discontent with the System, the Status Quo.  Certainly the fact that our first Black President failed to make things materially better, and actually continued some of the worst policies of his predecessor, fed another stream of protest.  The Hedges essay superbly documents how important was the economic desperation of a white underclass.  The false patriotism of flag-worshipping, war-hungry, kick-‘em-in-the-ass American Rambos played its part. Democrats will be blame-gaming these and other factors for a long time to come.

But my metaphor for this election is the blue-haired white lady in the Cadillac, smugly giving everyone the bird.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Problem of 'Fake News'

There is much ado these days about "fake news” on Facebook and other social media.  Manufacturers of such falsehoods are said by some to have contributed to Donald’s winning the presidential election.  Indeed, one highly-paid writer of such untruths claimed that he alone won the presidency for Donald.

The New York Times exposed and deplored “fake news” in an article last Friday; President Obama railed against it in public comments during his trip to Europe.

Movements are afoot to curb it.  Facebook, the most prominent target of “fake news” adversaries, says it is continuing to take steps to deal with the “fake news” problem.  One move entails creating a commission to review suspect articles and excise those found to be untruthful. But, as the superb investigative journalist  Robert Parry reminds us, who verifies the veracity of the verifiers?

Who gets to decide what is real and what is not real?,” he wrote.  “And – in an age when all sides propagate propaganda – when does conformity in support of a mainstream ‘truth’ become censorship of reasonable skepticism?”

If a commission of major news media were to determine what’s real, what’s not, one might wonder if, say, the deemers included the New York Times of Jayson Blair, Judith Miller and David Sanger, or the Wahington Post of Leonard Downie and Fred Hiatt.  Frying pan to fire?

In a Media Essay in The New York Times, John Herrman wrote:

“‘Fake news’ as shorthand will almost surely be returned upon the media tenfold. The fake news narrative, as widely understood and deployed, has already begun to encompass not just falsified, fabricated stories, but a wider swath of traditional media on Facebook and elsewhere. Fox News? Fake news. Mr. Trump’s misleading claims about Ford keeping jobs in America? Fake news. The entirety of hyperpartisan Facebook? Fake news. This wide formulation of ‘fake news’ will be applied back to the traditional news media, which does not yet understand how threatened its ability is to declare things true, even when they are.”

How would one classify the work of satirists of contemporary affairs such as The Onion or Stephen Colbert?  Forty years ago a judge held that such satire was fair comment when he dismissed the $6 million lawsuit filed by then  Mayor Frank Rizzo against Desmond Ryan of the Philadelphia Inquirer who, in his column called “The Skeptic,” imagined a conversation in which Rizzo (who opposed putting women on the police force) said:

“I mean, who really wants broads on the police? What about you’re having a fight with the wife and givin’ her the back of your hand when the Polack down the street puts the squeal in. You want some bull dyke come chargin’ on your property all ready with a swift kick in the lasagnas? No way. Not while I’m mayor.”

The very fabric of effective satire, and what makes it funny, is that on its face it’s plausible.  And if the unsophisticated read it and think it’s true?  Shame on them.

The Internet is an incredibly valuable tool in this modern world, but it is, alas, one that can lend credibility to lies.  I used to take delight (until the volume of such messages made the practice too time-consuming) in debunking the falsehoods forwarded to me on e-mail by gullible acquaintances.

There are, of course, those like the Trumpistas who will gleefully circulate certain bits of fake news to further their own agendas.  Donald’s nominee for national security advisor, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, did just that several times during the recent campaign, tweeting lies about Hillary Clinton that he surely knew were lies.

As I was writing this post, a friend forwarded me a longish e-mail that is full of obvious falsehoods regarding Warren Buffet, the U.S. Congress and other public issues.  My dilemma: shall I spend three hours researching and documenting the truth on all of this, or should I ignore it and go out to lunch?

I’m thinking of a reuben.  No fries. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Bipartisan Dismay

Today I changed my voter registration.  I am no longer registered as a member of the Democratic party.  It long ago ceased to represent my views or to nominate candidates I deemed to be worthy of the offices they sought.

This was especially true in the 2016 presidential election. 

Some arrogant jackass writing for Newsweek castigated a fellow liberal and, by extension, me, using the oh-so-cutesy euphemism that we should "have sex with ourselves."  Dear me. That great philosopher, Dick Cheney, said it better.  "Go fuck yourself," he said to a congressman who disagreed with him. 

Our liberal crime, according to the Newsweek person, was voting for Jill Stein. Apparently, as this guy sees it, there is no room for conscience in U.S. politics today.  He's probably right. And that's exactly what's wrong with our entire political system.
                                                                  * * *
Many commentators mentioned Donald's repeated sniffling during the second so-called debate and wondered if it was symptomatic.

Look up the signs of cocaine use and you will find something like this: 

They (users) may seem excited and act more confident and exhibit a greater sense of well-being. They may be more excited sexually and talkative. Their energy will be pumped up and they probably will not have a normal sleep pattern.

In this context, consider the headlines a couple of days after the election:

Trump Resumes 3 a.m. Tweets
With Rant Against the NYT
                                                                         * * *
President Obama appears to have gone back into his Dr. Kidglove mode.  Obama recently said that after meeting with Donald last week he believed his elected successor was "sincere" about being president "for all Americans."  He said he didn't think Donald was "ideological. . . but (rather) pragmatic."

Dr. Kidglove's signal registered with the new Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York. He said he plans to be a  bridge-builder, to be nice and seek compromises, and he expects his fellow Democrats to play along. "If (President-elect) Trump comes up with good policies, I'm going to be 1,000 per cent behind him, OK?", he said. "Maybe the rest of my caucus will not, but I'm going to find a pathway forward."

After eight years playing this losing game -- and against Republicans who weren't always quite as crazy as Trump -- one might expect Democrats to have learned how to be an opposition party. Clearly they haven't.  Another reason to sever connections with them.
* * *
Twice now, the elected Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief has ditched the press pool to go off and do stuff on his own.  Is this how it's going to be for the Unfortunates assigned as journalists to cover the new administration?

"Just called a Republican congressional office I deal with often," a correspondent told friends today.  "I was told the press relations staff is no longer speaking to reporters."

Got that?  The press relations staff is no longer having relations with the press.

"Where is George Orwell when we need him?" a fellow reporter said.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

When Dirty Words Ousted a Washington Big Shot

Gather round, children, and learn about a man who was fired from a job in Washington, D.C., for verbal crudities that were mild compared to those that spew from the mouth of the man who will soon be sworn in as President of the United States.

The man’s name was Earl Butz and President Richard M. Nixon appointed him to be Secretary of Agriculture in the 1970s.  Butz transformed American farming — much for the worse, in the opinion of many (including this Iowa-reared midwesterner).  Butz championed corporate agriculture, food as big business, and his policies were the death knell for thousands of generations-old family farms in the country.  Hundreds off current problems, from high food prices to health issues like salmonella and “filth tolerances” in our food resulted from Butz’s initiatives.

But that hardly mattered.  What mattered was his foul mouth.  He liked to tell dirty and racist “jokes” when he thought he was off the record.  

One of his early eyebrow raisers was a joke about sexual intercourse between a dog and a skunk.  I’ve forgotten the punch line.

Then he enraged Cardinal Cook of the Catholic archdiocese of New York by telling a joke about Pope Paul VI’s statement in the Vatican regarding the church’s rules against forms of birth control.  Its punchline was: “You no playa da game, you no make-a da rules.”  

I remember this one well, because I was the news editor of the New York Times when he told it to a group of reporters after a news conference in which he announced an important change in Department of Agriculture policy regarding corn crops, which favored big food corporations over small farmers.  The Times’s agriculture reporter, Bill Robbins, rightly argued that his piece should be Page One news.  I was mulling the idea of fronting it when an edition of the New York News landed on my desk, its entire tabloid first page devoted to Butz’s Catholic-insulting joke.

“Use agencies (wire services),” I called to the national desk, which was scrambling to reach Robbins in Washington.  By the time they tracked him down, our second edition was on the presses with an AP sidebar to Robbins's corn policy story— on an inside page.  Robbins said Butz’s lame joke had been told at an impromptu palaver with reporters after the news conference and follow-up Q and A.  He said he and the other reporters agreed not to mention it because it had been said in private and had no bearing on the important policy change.

Gerald Ford had succeeded Nixon as President when Butz finally made his last and fatal gaffe as head of the nation’s farm policy agency.  Just after the Republican national convention of 1976, Butz was on a commercial airlines flight with a group of celebrities and newsmen when he said, “I’ll tell you what the Niggers want.  It’s three things: tight pussy, loose shoes and a warm place to shit.”

The quote leaked to various news media immediately.  Some attributed it to an unnamed “cabinet member” and attempted to clean it up.  The actual words circulated to news media as background, so that they could choose to publish them as spoken or use euphemisms. 

The ensuing public uproar forced Butz to resign in October of 1976.

Yes, children, 40 years ago that kind of talk could force a man out of the cabinet and into obscurity. Today such a man is about to become our Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief.

Ain’t progress wonderful?

Friday, November 11, 2016

How About a Black Friday of Mourning?

A smidgen of post election arithmetic and a suggestion for Friday, Jan. 20, 2017:

Hillary Clinton, according to the most recent data I’ve seen, won the popular vote by some half a million ballots. If you take those 60.4 million citizens, and add to them the 4.1 million Gary Johnson voters and the 1.2 million Jill Stein voters, you have nearly 68 million adult citizens of the United States who do NOT want D. Trump as their president.

That is a lot of unhappy, disenfranchised folks,

There is also this:  the last demographic data I saw divulged that majorities of young voters, and early middle-age voters voted against Trump.  His  voters were the older crowd, including 53 per cent of white women. What this means is that our side, the side of peace and justice and dignity for all, has the advantage in youth and vigor as well as sheer numbers.

Now let’s do some s’posin’.  S’pose 60 per cent of those people cared enough to want to express their feelings publicly? That’s right close to 40 million folks.

I suggest that  the 68 million disenfranchised Americans declare Friday, Jan 20, 2017 to be the national Black Friday of Mourning for Democracy.  

I suggest that to show Trump that he is not our president, we all don black clothing and go to some public place in our communities and just stand around in silent protest.

Forty million silent mourners wearing black and standing around could perhaps stop traffic in some places.  Maybe a lot of places.  

Even as the new Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief was being sworn into office in Washington, millions of Americans would be saying in silent eloquence, “He is  not OUR president.”

Think about it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Task Is Impossible; Let Us Begin

The Democratic Party, like the democratic form of government in Amerika, lies in ashes around us.  Dead.  The Trump election victory did not kill the party; it killed itself when it nominated Clinton.  Yesterday’s vote was merely the last nail in its casket.

Something calling itself the Democratic Party will probably continue to exist in name for a while, home to the zombies of Clintonism.  

Something calling itself “democracy” will probably be on display in Trump’s Washington, but like Trump himself, it will be a chimera.  The people who elected him will call themselves patriots, populists, defenders of liberty, etc. but they are in fact believers in and supporters of virtually all that is antithetical to genuine democracy.

What horrors will this country reap from their success and his governance?  

Probably the worst will be what he does to the Supreme Court.  These are lifetime appointments.  He has said he will appoint justices who are as much like the late Antonin Scalia as possible.  Scalia was, arguably, the worst ideological force on SCOTUS in many generations.  When more Scalias are adjudicating our great issues, there can be no hope for a decent country with “liberty and justice for all.”

Can the United States ever become again a decent place for people, not corporations?

Only if it can find strong leadership within the remnants of its political left. I expect that its battered and tattered progressive elements will align themselves with Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Our Revolution movement.  Out of this may come a new, liberal political party.  Followers of Dennis Kucinich, Russ Feingold , Jill Stein and Elizabeth Warren would naturally gravitate there, especially now, having learned how it must feel to lose a war.

It must begin today to seek out those leaders. It must begin today to build itself into a genuine movement.  By next week it must have begun to develop lists of candidates for city councils, school boards, state legislatures.  People like Mary Gourdoux, of El Paso, TX,  who ran as a Green and lost, and Jeff Steinborn, of Las Cruces, NM, who has stood on progressive  ground in successful elections to the state legislature and now, as of yesterday, to the state senate.  In a bastion of conservatism even among Democrats, he soundly defeated a Trumpish incumbent lout, proving  that progressive seeds can flourish in the arid right wing earth.

The American left must do for itself what the right did after its Goldwater humiliation: build from the ground up.It must take control of the vocabulary of the debate, expose the demons of the other side’s ideology, make inclusiveness the norm and divisiveness the evil, empower the poor and the female and the hispanic and the black and the LGBT and the physically disabled, curb militarism, rein in the over-armed police, take fearsome weapons out of the hands of private individuals, make corporations and oligarchs pay their fair share of taxes, make adequate health care a cost-free right for every citizen,  take big money out of politics . . . the list goes on and on.

The obverse of these democratic principles will have been more hardened and more deeply embedded in the American fabric after one term of Trump; utterly impossible to overturn after two.  So the rebirth of freedom led by the left must move fast, faster than the right wing resurgence after Goldwater.

Already, so much harm has been done under decades of mis-rule by both Republicans and Democrats, that our children may never know what it’s like to live in a genuine democracy, a government that is truly “of the people, by the people and for the people.”  But perhaps a burgeoning New Left can make this country a better place for our grandchildren and their children.

Or perhaps not.  But as John Kennedy said, “Let us begin.”


Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Apparition in The Desert

Out in the desert this morning I settled onto a favorite sittin’ rock to savor the silence while Brandi chased rabbits.  A wave of nostalgia washed over me, nostalgia for the America I used to know.

Times were tough in the Great Depression but we could usually spare a dime for a brother who was worse off than we were. We sang along with the union maid and then one day she became Rosie the Riveter making the weapons for the bloodiest war this old world had ever seen.  The boys from the CCC camps became GI Joes. We knew that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself.  

We danced the jitterbug to swing orchestras.  We sang Rodgers and Hammerstein songs.  We treasured our spacious skies and amber waves of grain.  We liked Ike and we built Levittowns and generations of our sons and daughters got college educations their parents could never have dreamed of.

Things weren’t perfect, especially for people of color, but we were Americans, stuck like a dope with a thing called hope, and there were answers out there blowin’ in the wind. We passed a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act and proudly claimed the leadership off The Free World.

We asked not what our country could do for us, but what we could do for our country, and we joined the peace corps and went eyeball to eyeball with the Soviets over Cuba.  We went to Woodstock and marched on Washington and finally got the hell out of ‘Nam because we really didn’t want to be mad at no Cong.

We got a lot of things wrong but at crunch time, when the chips were down we got it right.

Come Tuesday, I was thinkin’, there on that sittin’ rock, we’ll do the right thing again.  

Suddenly a figure materialized before me, stompin’ up the hill from Box Canyon.  He wore camo fatigues and  his combat belt held two grenades and a holstered .40 caliber Smith and Wesson.  He had an assault rifle slung over his shoulder,  Rambo style, and his cap said, “Make America Great Again.”

“You got a gun, Old Man?” he barked.


“Old guy like you, shouldn’t be out here alone without no gun.  We ain’t that far from the border.  All kinds of rapists and druggies crossin’ over every day.  They find an old man with no gun, they’d slit his throat without thinkin’ about it.”

He vanished into the brush.  I heard the sound of an ATV engine starting up.  In a cloud of dust, the apparition vanished.

On the way home my nostalgia gave way to sadness.  Nobody has danced the jitterbug in a coon’s age.  Rodgers and Hammerstein are ancient history.  Only thing blowin’ in the wind is particulate pollution.  Things move fast now and if you can’t keep up, get off the road. 

“You can’t grab pussy with arthritic hands,” I told myself.  “It’s not your America any more, old man.”

Friday, November 4, 2016

What the Yard Signs Told Me

Many years ago, when there were three channels and a lot of snow on your black-and-white television screen, a journalist friend used to predict elections by counting yard signs.

Recently I tried his method during a driving trip through four southwestern states: Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.  Somewhere around St. Johns, AZ, I lost count of all the Trump/Pence signs.  Yesterday, back home in New Mexico, I counted my third Clinton/Kaine sign.  It’s a landslide, folks.  Get ready for President Trump. 

"The fault, dear Democrats, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings."  We are underlings to a system that has devolved from merely bad to criminally evil and corrupt.  The system gave us two utterly unqualified candidates for the presidency.  The Democrats had an opportunity, in Sen. Bernie Sanders, to choose a candidate who might have swept all 50 states against Trump or any of the other Republicans seeking the nomination.  Instead they rigged the process to put forward Hillary Clinton, knowing that she espoused a foreign policy that would take us to the brink of World War III, had insurmountable problems involving her use of a private e-mail server as Secretary of State, had the baggage of her husband’s marital infidelity trailing her like a hungry jackal, and would be vulnerable to some of the most vile attacks from the right in the history of presidential politics.  Go figure.

The Republicans, having sold their souls to the most extreme right wing elements in their number, had an opportunity to restore their party to the decency and honesty of its Eisenhower years, but could not find within their ranks a single person who reflected the better angels of their own destiny, offering instead the likes of Cruz, Rubio, et al.  They tried to pose as reasonable, honorable men.  Trump instead ran as what he is: an egomaniacal, racist, woman-bitching imbecile. The genuine article took the nomination.  Go figure.

An old comedy monologue punchline goes something like, “Somebody told me to cheer up, things could be worse, so I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.”  Cheer up, America.  Things will indeed get worse, much worse, after Nov. 8.

Remember, the fault is not in your stars.  Try to learn from that.  If you can.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Auctioning of Paradise

Come, Pilgrim, come up through the gate and across the slickrock, come up to the summit of Comb Ridge and admire the grandest landscape on this earth.  Due west, the icons of Monument Valley.  Turn ever so slowly, Pilgrim. The gooseneck meanders of the San Juan. Valley of the Gods where mighty spirits shaped huge rock sculptures. Cedar Mesa where the Ancients built their finely crafted houses and granaries of stone, and inscribed their stories on the red-rock cliffsides where they still speak to us today. The Comb itself stretching northward into infinity.  Golden cottonwoods in Butler Wash.The Abajos, blue and misty beyond the Bears Ears tall in the forest.  Sleeping Ute Mountain, sacred to the tribes. Ship Rock. The Big Rez.  Gaze reverently, Pilgrim.  Take  photographs. More precious still, Pilgrim, are your mental images, how the air smelled, how the breeze felt on your bare arms in the autumnal sun.  Drink deeply of this, Pilgrim, and keep it inside you, where it will be safe.

* * *                                                                                      

On Oct. 19, the State institutional Lands Administration of Utah, amidst great controversy, sold a section (360 acres) of Comb Ridge to a privately-held corporate entity, Lyman Family Farms. The section, which straddles Utah highway 163, has for generations been precious to hikers, naturalists, conservators of cultures, lovers of the outdoors and citizens of Bluff, the historic Mormon town six miles to the east.

Sixty-five million years ago, shifting tectonic plates deep beneath the earth's surface forced up an 80-mile long, one mile narrow ridge of jagged peaks and steep canyons, tilting almost 20 degrees to the west.  Known today as Comb Ridge, it runs in jagged, multi-colored splendor from Kayenta, in the Navajo nation in Arizona, to the Abajo Mountains 11 miles west of Blanding, UT.

From roughly 800 A.D. to about 1300, it was part of the homeland of early puebloans sometimes called "Anasazi."  They were remarkable stone masons, astronomers, potters and weavers.  Priceless remains of their buildings and artifacts of their civilization remain on and around Comb Ridge, as throughout the Four Corners area.

In 1879, a party of Mormon pioneers set out from Salt Lake Valley to found new settlements in the San Juan River valley.  Seeking the most direct route, they manhandled their livestock and heavy wagons down a sheer cliff -- the Hole in the Rock -- south of Escalante to the Colorado River where Lake Powell has since been created. Their mission, planned for six weeks, took more than six months, taking them through wild, uncharted mesas and canyons until, on the point of exhaustion, they founded the city of Bluff.  Their last and most daunting task before reaching their destination was to cross Comb Ridge, at a point which they called San Juan Hill after the nearby river.

In 1976, Comb Ridge was designated a National Natural Landmark.  

Early this year, the Hole in the Rock Foundation of Bluff petitioned the State Institutional Land Administration to auction its land holdings on Comb Ridge, intending to buy the tract and use it as a starting point for tours commemorating the San Juan Hill crossing.  Signs opposing the deal popped up all over Bluff and southern San Juan County.  Worse, as several local publications put it, the auction "opened a Pandora's box" by attracting monied private interests.  The deepest pockets belonged to Lyman Farms, which not only outbid the Hole in the Rock Foundation for the Comb Ridge land, but also snapped up several other choice parcels close to national parks and monuments.  Nobody seems to know what the corporation intends to do with its acquisitions.  The Lyman Farms corporate filings with the Utah secretary of state identify its business interests as "vegetable and melon agriculture."  A local rancher pointed out, "you can't even put cows up there," let alone grow melons or carrots.

A Bluff resident who seemed to favor the sale remarked that the Lyman corporation is "a bunch of entrepreneurs and businessmen, so you can't expect them to reveal their plans." But a Bluff business owner reported dark rumors that the Comb Ridge site would become "a training camp for survivalists."

A member of the Hole in the Rock Foundation said his group is "in close contact with the Lyman  group."  Everything will work out for the best, he suggested, and future generations will have the opportunity to "go up there and learn how their ancestors survived the rigors of their journey." The State Institutional Land Administration's holdings, he said, were "set aside (when Utah achieved statehood) to provide money for the schools,” so that last month's sales would provide a landfall for Utah public education.

Utah has 899 public schools with close to 500,000 students.  Lyman Family Farms paid $500,000 for the section of land on Comb Ridge, which would yield each school in the state about $500, or a dollar per student.  Pencil money.

 * * *

These are god-fearing folk, Pilgrim, Bible readers who gave  places names like Moab and Jordan.  Tell them, Pilgrim, tell them to go back and re-read Genesis 25: 29-34 (wherein Esau sells his birthright for pottage).

* * *

The Comb Ridge land and other parcels acquired at auction by Lyman Farms are part of a much larger area and a much larger controversy, with the landmark called Bears Ears at its center.  A coalition of native American tribes, ardently supported by environmental, historical, scientific and conservation organizations, has asked President Obama to use his powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act, to designate some 1.9 million acres of public land in Utah as what would be the nation's largest national monument.  Republican state and local governments have countered with their own plan for the land -- highly favorable to the extraction industries -- which they hope will soon come to a vote in Congress. "If we fail," one of them said, "San Juan County will become Bears Ears County."

Some right-wingers seem resigned to the probability that their plan, despite the vast wealth and political power of  the extraction industry, nevertheless will fail in Congress.  They expect that Obama will create the new national monument before leaving office, as President Clinton did 16 years ago with the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument elsewhere in Utah.  Even so, some precious places will not be protected because they are now in private hands.

Proponents of the national monument are acutely aware of the residual anger up north over Grand Staircase/Escalante, which some ranchers still refer to as "the stealth monument." The Lyman  purchases have kindled new fears about the future of the public land in the Bears Ears plan. Could that auction have been part of some intricate and well-financed conspiracy to prevent federal protection of the lands from ever happening?

* * *

Treasure your memories of these places, Pilgrim.  Lock  them deep inside you, where they will be safe.  Perhaps some day they will be all that we have.