Saturday, December 31, 2016

Time to Be a Real President

The end game of the Obama presidency, like the 95 months that preceded it, is a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Kudos for the new national monuments, which add new layers of protection for unique and sacred public lands in Utah and Nevada.

Special applause for finally standing up to the criminal Netanyahu regime of Israel by refusing to veto the U.N. security council resolution condemning the illegal and inhumane settlements in Palestine. 

It will be difficult if not impossible for the Pussy Grabber to reverse these actions.

But such commendable actions have to be weighed against his legacy of death-by-drone lists that include American citizens, and unprecedented numbers of penal actions against whistle-blowers and journalists who expose dirty secrets.  These establish precedents for the next president to wield as weapons of dictatorship.

And then there’s the “Russian hacking” fiasco.  His extraordinary action of expelling 35 Russian diplomats and imposing new so-called “sanctions” against Russian individuals or organizations would suggest that he has iron-clad proof of the allegations of “malicious cyber activity and harassment.”

If such proof exists, the national interest demands that he make it public now, before he leaves office.  The evidence offered up to now has been flimsy, none moreso than the report that was offered as justification for the latest action.

The issuing agency, the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledged as much with the following disclaimer:

“This report is provided ‘as is’ for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within.”

Huh?  C’mon man!

Even if there is real proof of the Russian hacking, and even if Obama makes it public, as he should, the rest of the world will snigger at American hypocrisy for taking such umbrage.  It has been United States policy for decades to do exactly what it now accuses Russia of doing.  Let us count the countries in which the U.S. has interfered with democratic elections:

Greece, Turkey, Italy, France, Portugal, Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Bosnia, Ukraine, Russia (Yeltsin’s 1995-96 campaign), Algeria, Lebanon, Palestine, Cyprus, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Yemen, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Congo. Haiti, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua,  Venezuela, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina.

Vladimir Putin has thumbed his nose at the Obama administration’s hysteria by rejecting his foreign minister’s recommendation to respond in kind to the expulsion of Russian diplomats, saying grandly that the children of U.S.diplomats are cordially invited to the state celebration of the New Year’s holiday in Russia.

It is time, President Obama, to come clean.  If you have proof of your allegations, let the people of the United States and of the world see it.

Meanwhile, there are other important tasks you can perform before leaving office, tasks that would embellish your motley legacy. 

One is to issue legal protections, by executive order, of all federal employees from witch hunts such as those the Pussy Grabber’s transition team have attempted against climate scientists and proponents of gay and transgender rights.

And most important, Mr. President, make this the signature act of your final days in office: Make Merrick Garland a Supreme Court justice.  Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution gives the President power to fill any vacancy during the recess of the Senate. Justice William Brennan began his Supreme Court tenure with a recess appointment in 1956. The Constitution requires the Senate to receive judicial appointments and either reject or consent to them.  In a monumental act of criminal nonfeasance, the Republican Senate has done nothing.  So you are legally entitled on Jan. 2 to fill the Supreme Court vacancy by executive action.  Do it.  By law such an appointment would last at least until December of 2017, the end of the first session of the 115th Congress.  We must have a full court of nine justices to deal with the many unprecedented issues that will surely arise after the Pussy-Grabber takes office.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

In the Shadow of the Bears Ears

Dear Grandkids and Great-Grandkids:

When you crest Cedar Mesa via the Moki Dugway. the only way to go is straight ahead, toward the Bears Ears.  They’re the top o’ the world in this part of southern Utah.

Some day you will come this way.  There’s a good chance it will still be worth the trip when you come.  This is so because yesterday, President Obama designated a new national monument, named for the Bears Ears, which stand roughly at the center of the million-acre monument.

All the usual bad guys — the pols, the land-raping miners and drillers, the off-road vandals, the gun-toting anti-feds — fought the thing tooth and nail.  The new regime will try to undo this but I’m guessing they’ll fail.

I hope so, because you and the generations that follow have a right to explore its wonders, if you choose  (and I hope you will), or just to know it’s there, part of the nearest thing we’ve got to real wilderness.  The coalition of Native Americans, environmental activists and natural scientists who urged Obama to create the monument cited its unequaled scenic beauty; its ancient ruins, petroglyphs and artifacts; its historical significance; and its sacred sites in the religions of the tribes. All of this, of course, is magnificent beyond words, But there is more . . .

The road west from Bluff Takes you up and over Comb Ridge (See recent post, “The Auctioning of Paradise”) and then down into Valley of the Gods.  You enter, and you never want to leave.  Once while photographing the hen and rooster rock formations we saw a deer approaching, unafraid.  Saxon, who usually chased such creatures, perhaps as smitten by the magic of the place as we were, invited it to play.  It stared curiously, as if considering the idea, but then wandered away.

You exit Valley of the Gods onto Utah 261 and turn north toward the sheer cliff face of Cedar Mesa.  You travel — slowly and carefully — from the valley floor to the top of the Mesa via the Dugway, an unpaved series of tight switchbacks originally built for hauling ore from a mine on the mesa to a refinery near Mexican Hat. Atop the mesa, you can choose any of a dozen jeep tracks and dirt roads into a wonderland of pinon forest, wildlife, cliff-dweller ruins and ancient artifacts.  Or you can stay on the main road to Natural Bridges National Monument.  The jeep track to the Bears Ears veers right off the road to Natural Bridges. The first time we went there the campground was full so we went to the overflow camping area at the intersection of Highways 261 and 95. There we had our first taste of Navajo fry bread courtesy of friendly camping neighbors.

To the east, a dirt road runs between 95 and 163, parallel to Comb Ridge. It takes you into Butler Wash where we camped in a copse of cottonwoods and used a brand-new GPS to find our very own Anasazi outbuilding, a granary built into the cliffside. Previous explorers had made a flat rock into an altar for the display of potsherds, arrowheads and other items protected by the same Antiquities Act that allowed the President to create the new Bears Ears monument.  Years later, when my metal replacement hip had healed, we came back here to test it on a slickrock hike, and heal our souls, as well,  at the foot of Comb Ridge.

North of here, in the high country overlooking Canyonlands National Park, is Sandy’s last campsite. Sandy, a spaniel, was old and ailing when we camped on a ledge beneath Antelope Rock, overlooking a wild and beautiful canyon ablaze with fall wildflowers.  In this part of the new monument is Windwhistle Campground, where on a crisp morning we first heard the haunting sounds of an expert Navajo flute player, a direct heir to Kokopelli.  Here we first learned to walk like Spiderman up sheer slopes of slickrock.  Here we made our famous breakfast slumgullion for half a dozen fellow hikers.  Or, come to think, was that the campsite in the  Abajos?  That was the day when Saxon “helped” a team of cowboys round up their cattle to take them to lower elevations before winter set in.

We’ve trod these canyons and forests, these mountains and mesas, these byways and trails, first with Sandy, then with Saxon, now with Brandi, each, in his own time, the perfect trail and camping companion.  All of these places, all of these memories, are part of the new national monument, under a new umbrella of protection from those who would profit by abusing it, by stealing from it.

A new regime is determined to take it away from you.  Don’t let them.  Come, drive the Moki, walk the mesa top, camp in the shadow of the Bears Ears. hear the flute in the whistle of the wind, ponder the message of the rock art, look for the deer in the shadow of the rock spires . . . This is your legacy, if you can keep it.

The Grandgeezer  

Monday, December 26, 2016

We Are Our Only Hope

We outnumber the Trumpistas by more than three million, but that’s scant comfort in a place where the Other Side has all the guns, all the money and no shame.

As the country’s most important writer, Chris Hedges, put it in his Christmas essay, all we have is each other.

Clasp hands, then, with the boycotters.  My daughter Laura is one of them.  “All they know is greed,” she said, “the only thing they understand is money.  So we should hit them where it hurts.  Boycott the corporations, the banks and fossil fuel companies, Big Agribusiness, Big Everything — quit buying their goods and services.  Massive boycotts would wake them up.”  The revenge of the 99% against the 1%.  Do it, say I.

Pledge allegiance to the resisters.  “Don’t let Trump get away with anything!” writes Robert Koehler of PeaceVoice. “Fight every alt-right and nutcase appointment he tries to make, every racist or reckless policy he tries to implement. Above all, don’t let him shift the paradigm of normal.” But the Other Side is in the Rapture of Power and hears not the voices of resistance. Koehler, citing Standing Rock, says, “for some reason the national or perhaps global moment was ripe for it to be something else. The struggle for water rights, for the sanctity of the land, for a wounded people’s dignity, sent a tremor through the whole country. Something sacred — to use a risky, old-fashioned word — had been violated. And maybe we’re no longer simply Consumer America, using up our resources, destroying our rivers, clotting our veins, to consequences born only by the racially and culturally marginalized. We used to be, but this is changing. . .I pledge allegiance to the new world that is coming into being.”

Perhaps the tragic truth of Nov. 8 has at last caused the beginning of an awakening of the betrayed millions.  Perhaps, like Koehler, they have begun to ask if we really want to be “the United States of War . . .the United States of Prisons . . .the United States of Poverty and Infrastructure Decay and Contaminated Water.”  

Whither now this collective awakening to what has happened to us?  Hedges: “Students were no longer taught how to think, but what to think. Civic education died. A grotesque kind of illiteracy—one exemplified by Trump—was celebrated. Success became solely about amassing wealth. The cult of the self, the essence of corporatism, became paramount.”

Ellen Schrecker, who has written the definitive historyies of that ugly epoch we call the McCarthy era, told Hedges, “There is an attack on the American mind.”  Trump, she said, “is the product of 40 years of dumbing down” the American people.

How shall we rebel?

Hedges: “We must begin again. Any hope for a restoration of civil society will come from small, local groups and community organizations. They will begin with the mundane tasks of holding back the expansion of charter schools, enforcing environmental regulations, building farmers markets, fighting for the minimum wage, giving sanctuary to undocumented workers, protesting hate crimes and electing people to local offices who will seek to mitigate the excesses of the state.

“We must not become preoccupied with the short-term effects of resistance. Failure is inevitable for many of us. Tyrants have silenced voices of conscience in the past. They will do so again. We will endure by holding fast to our integrity, by building community and by spawning new institutions in the midst of the wreckage. We will sustain each other. Perhaps enough of us will endure to begin again.”

We have the advantage in numbers, in righteousness, in veracity, in intellect.  Let us recruit, as we did in former times, the best and the brightest among us, the young, the idealistic, the energetic, and bid them run for elective office — for the school board, the town council, the county commission.  Let us speak on their behalf, ring doorbells, print leaflets, chip in pennies to buy ads, walk the byways, get them elected.  

I know  a woman who has twice sought office and twice lost.  She plans to run for another local office next year.  “I don’t want to be a politician who won an election,” she told me.  “I want to be a public servant.”

Let us find another three million like her, and begin the revolution by putting them in local office. It is our only hope.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Promising Survival Strategy

In the great post-election rush to find survival strategies, I think I’m onto something: Animal videos.  Funny animal videos.

The realization came to me when I stumbled across the recent video from the Toronto Zoo of a giant panda playing with a snowman.  When the panda did a pratfall after beheading the snowman, I laughed out loud for the first time since Nov, 8.

That humor is an effective weapon against pain and depression has been known for some time.  Norman Cousins, who dealt with his painful terminal illness by watching Marx Brothers movies, was a pioneer of the movement.

It would be fitting, then, for a majority of Americans to adopt his strategy as we face a future filled with pain and depression.  For Cousins was everything the Pussy Grabber and his Team of Reptiles are not: literate, intelligent, compassionate, peace-loving, advocate of nuclear disarmament, generous and kind to others, a humanist. “Life is an adventure in forgiveness,” he famously said.

While Cousins was partial to the Marxes, he recognized that “ten minutes of genuine belly laughter” however achieved had the effect of benign anesthesia.

Just what we need.  My preference for funny animal videos is based upon vast research, a survey of two friends who suffer chronic severe pain.  One, a retired lawyer, has bouts of gout.  He gets relief from petting his dog, Boots, who has learned to recognize his symptoms and offers herself up for stroking and affection.  She also understands that if she can make him laugh, it counts double,  She has mastered the art of slapstick, deliberately flubbing tricks she can do perfectly well.  Works wonders.  Another friend, suffering from arthritis pain, has built a library of funny animal videos from You Tube.  “Better than meloxicam,” she says.

A long, long time ago, my father, an avid photographer, made a movie of me as a toddler,  playing in a sandbox with a new puppy.  I was building primitive sand structures.  As I nearly finished one, puppy would dash across the yard and jump into the sandbox, destroying my sand structure.  I would push puppy out of the box, build a new thing, and puppy would repeat his dash, jump and destroy act. We repeated this several times.  Finally I took pail and shovel, climbed out of the sandbox, leaving it to puppy, and began digging in the dirt.  To this day, that old movie brings a smile or chuckle, and that’s a start.

For belly laughs, there’s the panda bear and the snowman.  A sure-fire LOL is the video of the puppy chasing his own  leash around a mulberry bush.  Puppy videos are great for belly laughs.  Clips of the “Puppy Bowl,” a TV staple around the time of the Super Bowl football game, will make you forget that after a year or so of the new regime, you won’t be able to afford to be sick any more.

Dogs are infinitely creative in the ways they play together.  Any motion picture record of canine playtime can be worth a laugh.  My late companion Saxon had a very intelligent Australian shepherd playmate he loved to romp with in a field near our house in Pennsylvania.  Saxon had invented a version of “stick” and, because it was his game, he was the undefeated champion at it in the doggy park. But Tess, his smart girlfriend, picked up the game in a trice and always won against Saxon, often by tricks that were hilarious, especially on the video replays.

There is an endless supply of funny animal videos, thanks to modern video technology.  Elephant videos, bear videos, koala videos, squirrel videos, cat videos (I am not especially keen on these), prairie dog videos, dog-with-other-species videos.  Endless.

The Pussy-Grabber is an ugly, unfunny human being.  On the other hand, even ugly dogs can be funny and lovable.  

Cancel the newspaper and magazine subscriptions!  Ignore everything that purports to be “news” on TV.  Turn off the radio except for the classical music station and re-runs of “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!” Bring on those funny, furry doggies and beasties!

The country may not survive the next four years, but I will.  LOL!

PS -- I lied about not laughing since Nov. 8.  Whenever I'm "too busy" with the depressing news of the day, Brandi tries to play ball with himself.  It cracks me up every time. You're going to love the video!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Savvy v. The Kakistocracy

Here we are, 24 hours from the Electoral College vote, and the electors who requested an intelligence briefing on the hacking assertions are still in the dark, along with the rest of us.

Odds are we’ll stay there.  It appears that whoever decided to throw the manure at the barn door — Obama?  Clapper?  Panetta? — didn’t really care if it stuck.

John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent and a truth-teller who did time for his courage and honesty, recently called the Russian hacking story “a red herring.”  Like the electors — 70 of them?  56? whatever.— he wants to see some evidence.  He said to an interviewer:

Are the Russian being accused of having hacked in the voting machines to steal the election? I’ve not seen that yet. Have they been accused of hacking emails? Yes, but if so, what was the fallout? I mean, this is something that the big powers do to each other all the time, and God knows the United States has a very long history, a rich history of interfering in the elections of other countries. I’m not really sure what the outrage is. I’m not sure why we should really care. This is just something that the KGB does to the United States and that the CIA does to the Russians, and it’s just one of those dirty little poorly kept secrets and it has been for decades. 

A group of six former intelligence officials, including the impeccably reliable Ray McGovern, signed an open letter that declared: “It remains something of a mystery why the media is being fed strange stories about hacking that have no basis in fact. In sum, given what we know of NSA’s existing capabilities, it beggars belief that NSA would be unable to identify anyone – Russian or not – attempting to interfere in a U.S. election by hacking.

In the real world, pledged electors are not likely to break with tradition tomorrow and throw the election into the House of Representatives.  With or without an intelligence briefing, they could do so as an act of conscience and be within the bounds of the Constitution.  But it won’t happen.  Despite his ethical, intellectual and personal unfitness for the office, the Kakistocrat will be designated president-elect of the United States tomorrow.

In a long lifetime on this planet, I never dreamed that our democratic process could ever anoint such a person to lead the country.  But it has happened, and we the people have allowed it to happen.

Now we will pay the price of our stupidity. The questions are: Can pockets of decency, civility and humanity survived the new holocaust?  Will it be possible some day to begin evicting the Kakistocrats from the national government?  Can a new left emerge from the ashes of our former democratic republic? Can people of honesty, vision and social altruism retake the reins of government?

The outlook is not sanguine, especially if one listens closely to the blood lust at the Pussy-Grabber’s “victory” rallies in states that he won.

But the sifters of election statistics say that Americans under 40 did not vote for the president-elect.  As older voters, who did support him, die off, and younger voters become the majority, perhaps things will change.  A young voter in Hawaii, who sniffed out many a falsehood in fake news items before they became staples of the internet, assures me that he is not unique among his generation in being able to smell a rat where one lurks in cyberspace.

“We’re savvy, Gramps.” he said. I hope he’s right.  We need savvy.  Perhaps, just perhaps, they will find a way to save this country from itself.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

All the Fax That's Fit to Fix

The online chambers of vox populi echo with post-election rue, rancor, boasting and bullying.

I am struck by the common denominator of the “get-over-it, you-lost” crowd: their quasi-literate, playground argot; their ignorance of grammar, spelling and usage.  In a single day of browsing these exchanges I counted nearly 500 such illiteracies.  “Illicit” for “elicit.”  “Whose” for “who’s” and vice versa. “Loose” for “lose.”  Plural subjects with singular verbs and vice versa.  Reliance on third-grader insults: “Put on your big boy pants.”  “Waaah, waaah, waaaah.”  No wonder almost half these people believe their man won the popular vote as well as the electoral college.  No wonder they believe there really are pedophile parties in that pizza restaurant.  No wonder they think the Pussy-Grabber can actually build a wall across the southern border and make Mexico pay for it.  No wonder . . .

There I go again.

A university of London professor recently completed a factor analysis of the Brexit vote in the UK and the presidential vote in the US.  White racism was the most powerful  factor in both votes.  “Immigrant” is the new dirty word.  The most significant gap between the two sides was education.  The winning side, frustrated, it would seem, by their own limited articulation, spoke with their vote instead and cast it for someone who makes no sense whatsoever to an intelligent listener.

And so here we are, in chaos, in the post-truth era.  Did Russia hack those computers?  Was Putin personally involved?  Did it make any difference, really, in the outcome of the election?  Can we trust the CIA, the FBI, the White House, the “transition team,” leaders of the houses of congress, our mothers, our clergymen, Boy Scouts, altar boys, the media, the talking heads, educators, police officers, judges, celebrities, our neighbors, the druggist, the baker, the candlestick maker?  Can we trust anyone?  Does truth exist?

Some of the post-election posts are reasonable.  Here’s one: “The case against Russia is plausible, even likely, but too many questions remain. U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly demonstrated that they regularly both lie and get things horribly wrong. In this case, they may well be correct, but they cannot expect Americans to simply take their word for it.”

Makes sense.  It isn’t sufficient for Obama to tell us he barked at the bully and the bully backed off.  Show us the evidence.  Give us the reports of the CIA, the FBI, whatever intelligence you have that makes you so certain that Russia did this.

Back when Shrub was gearing up to invade Iraq, I went to a city where he was scheduled to speak and walked side by side with a prominent scientist and other protesters.  Someone from the other side approached and sought to engage us.  The scientist, a mild-mannered guy with the patience of Job, took up the challenge.

“You people ain’t got any fax,” the guy said.

“We do have facts,” the scientist said.  “Here are some.” He quoted the facts cited in the international inspection team’s reports averring that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  He quoted international law.  He  talked about the differences between the branches of Islam — Sunni, Shi'a, Ibadi, Ahmadiyya, and Sufism. He offered the lessons of history and described the scientific requirements to produce significant stores of WMDs, which Iraq lacked.

“Them ain’t fax,” the guy snorted, stomping away.  “You ain’t got no fax.”

USA! USA! It’s his country now.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Guest Post: Our Vulnerable Internet

By John T. Wark

The New York Times’s recent in-depth article on how Russians apparently hacked into computer systems during the presidential election raises alarms: the Internet is not your friend.

The article revealed how unprepared  the Clinton campaign and others  were and how casual the attitude of FBI was. Yet everybody knows  — or should know — how fragile and vulnerable are our Internet infrastructure assets. Look at what Russia is said to have done in Ukraine.

From the  NYT story:

"Last year, the attacks became more aggressive. Russia hacked a major French television station, frying critical hardware. Around Christmas, it attacked part of the power grid in Ukraine, dropping a portion of the country into darkness, killing backup generators and taking control of generators. In retrospect, it was a warning shot.
"The attacks “were not fully integrated military operations,” Mr. Sulmeyer said. But they showed an increasing boldness."

The Internet by its very structure remains vulnerable everywhere. The great irony is that the Internet structure was designed back when it was university-based and funded by U.S. Department of Defense. This network of networks was intentionally designed so that the packets of information we send on it follow random pathways. It was thought if the country's infrastructure was attacked the Internet piece would be safe because information would still move freely on any portion that remained, thanks to that random patterning.

The problem is that the servers the packets zip between randomly from your home computer to mine must be able to "read" the data that give instructions to the server relay stations on what to do with the packets. To accomplish this, though, resulted in a design protocol that meant everyone can see everyone else's packets.

Thus, bad actors can steal info almost effortlessly. Which accounts for the frequent publicized reports about Target or a federal agency being hacked and the many billions of bits of information about everybody's credit accounts and personal identity being stolen all around the globe.

And it also is why stories like this one in the NYT show the victims/targets acting defensively by introducing programs into their systems that allow them to "detect" intruders. You will note articles never say the DoD, Bank of America, or DNC took step A, B or C to totally prevent a cyberattack. 

Because that's not realistic and may no longer even be possible. 

To make the Internet secure would probably involve a redesign. Packets of information would likely no longer travel randomly and in a way that allows everyone to see everyone else. If you control the packet movements you can lock out bad actors.

But then the entire Internet economy collapses. Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. (and every bit of monetization attached to them) are built on the random packet "everyone can see everyone else" movement structure. It is the DNA of their business model and today dominates the world's communication structure. Internet companies, foreign governments, our government, advertisers, the joker down the street who studied programming at the local community college and now builds bots to go out and scrape info from websites and return it to him -- they all "see" us and what we do and where we go on the Internet, often tracking us using cookies. The big companies (governments) grind up the info they gather in their algorithm machines and that allows them to anticipate what ads you should see and what information you should get first when searching or doing whatever it is we do on the Internet. 

It is another feature of the "new normal" in today's world that our children, friends and neighbors are familiar with military grade communication encryption AND why we are all routinely advised to use it.

Of course, encrypted messages or only as good as the encryptors. Governments have proven successful at convincing companies to give them the keys. So called "blunt force" computer attacks have cracked the privacy features baked into iPhones. And so on. Nothing is safe. (*)

This is all by way of saying I wish articles like this one in NYT included a few graphs that reminded readers that we wedded an incredibly powerful profit-driven commercial enterprise to a system designed to enable university researchers at different ends of the earth to communicate with one another, hooked in everybody on earth, including Wall Street, ingenious thieves (are they the same?) and governments out to eviscerate each other -- with no way of securely protecting ourselves from bad things happening. And the big Internet companies all know this.

If we lived in honest times, whenever we powered up a computer and heard that banal and benign musical upswell that sounds the audible brand notes of Apple or Microsoft (PC or Mac) there would immediately follow a flashing message:

WARNING: This is a powerful and useful communication tool. But its use may be likened to immediately unlocking your home, file cabinets, home safes and bank safety deposit boxes, and most intimate communications for anyone in the world to gain access. The user/consumer assumes all responsibility and acknowledges that all of his/her activities and personal information is at all times at risk of being viewed, stolen and used without permission by other Internet users. (Sometimes even when your information is encrypted and your computer is turned off.) There is nothing that can be done about this. (If anyone could fix it, don't you think it would have been done by now?)

The new normal. 

Not surprising that such a system would play such a pivotal part in elevating the executive producer of The Apprentice to the once most important public office  of the once most important free democracy on earth.

And not surprising that he should use it to communicate lies and falsehoods instantly to millions. 

This is merely another facet of the "new normal."

I just realized that the term "new normal" is like "alt right." It white washes the darker truth.

It is a doubly ironic term.

What a price we are paying for technology. 

There is no way, once in, to opt out. 
* * *

(*) A free (end to end) encrypted message service popular with security researchers and privacy advocates (including Edward J. Snowden) is the messaging app Signal.  Android version available via Google Play. And iOS version is available via iTunes. There's also now a Chrome app that can link with a Signal client. (Signal uses cell phone numbers as identifiers and end-to-end encryption to secure communications to other Signal users. The person(s) you are communicating with also have to use the app to exchange/get/send info with you.)

This Is Your Country

How depressing it is to consider all the realities of being an American citizen today.

This is the fourth anniversary of the Sandy Hook atrocity.  On December 14, 2012, a gunman slaughtered 26 people including 20 first-grade children at an elementary school in Newtown,Conn.

Reality No. 1 — No significant change has taken place since that date in our gun laws, nor is any significant change likely when the new regime takes office in January.  What is more likely is that protections of the mythical right to bear arms will be strengthened.  The slaughters of innocents will continue.

Here are some other realities about life in these formerly United States:

—Your public lands — parks, open spaces, recreation areas — will become wastelands.  For years, extractors of climate-changing fossil fuels have coveted the riches under, for example, Arches National Park near Moab, UT.  Now they will be given free rein to savage that park at their pleasure. Chaco Canyon national cultural preserve in New Mexico.  National forest land in Colorado, California and Alaska.  Rivers and streams.  Yes, even the purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.  All will be devastated because there will be no rules, no governance.  Profiteers will be free to plunder.

—You will buy your drinking water from corporations like Nestle.  It may or may not be pure, may or may not be safe.  There will be no inspectors to verify its safety, no regulations to require its purity, no agencies to curb price-gouging.  Everyone will live in Flint.  

—Only the rich will be able to afford sickness or surgery.  Health insurance costs will soar.  Doctors’ and hospital fees will increase tenfold.  Prescription drug prices will rise, on average, 20 per cent per year.  Some of the most important (because they are life-preserving) medicines will increase in price ten times over, fifty times over . . . . there will be no limits. Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid will vanish.  Nothing will replace them.  The old folks will not only lose their Medicare; their Social security will also be cut to the bone.  Younger people fortunate enough to have jobs will have to either support their aging parents or leave them to die.  Working people, absent a minimum wage or federal safeguards regarding pay and working conditions, often will face such dilemmas as choosing between buying food, paying the rent or buying clothing.  

—Millions of home buyers will lose their houses to foreclosure.  There will be absolutely no curbs on the rapacious banksters who caused the collapse of 2008.  Their best friends have already been appointed to high office in the new regime.

--Roe v. Wade will be overturned.  Get pregnant, bear the child.  Or else.

—Thousands of your friends and relatives will die in wars in far-off places.  They will be told they are fighting to make America great again.  In fact they will be fighting to protect the interests and profits of Exxon-Mobile, Gulf, Trump enterprises and the makers of war machines.

—The enormous total of American debt in the hands of Chinese citizens, banks and the government will be called in.  Swaths of the U.S. economy will collapse.  The president-elect owes huge sums to China; when it’s called in the Russian oligarchy will bail him out and the White House will issue torrents of vile Tweets racially demeaning the Chinese. 

—White racists will menace, abuse and even kill people of color, Muslims, Hispanics and native Americans.  It will be wanton, ruthless and go unpunished. White racists will seize absolute control of state and local police forces.  They will be armed with enough surplus military equipment to invade most of the Third World if they so chose.  Not just water cannons but real cannons will disperse crowds of protesters in your towns and cities.

—Waterboarding “and far worse,” to use the president-elect’s own words, will become de facto common law in your country.  Sass the policeman ticketing you for your “Resist” bumper sticker and you’ll do time, hearing the screams of the prisoner in the adjoining cell undergoing torture.

—Christianity will become the official religion of your country.  Non-believers will be shamed, excluded from work and deprived of the vote. There will be no public schools.  If you want to send your children to school, you will line up outside the courthouse to apply for vouchers.  These will enable you to send the kids to brainwashing centers called charter schools.  

Eventually there might even be federal training centers for adolescent boys to teach them the presidential art of pussy-grabbing. The question is, would it be put under Betsy DeVos’s department of education or Ryan Zinke’s department of the interior?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

How Did We Get Here?

We the People are living the beginning  of the end of the nation that sought to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,”

The agencies this nation established to achieve and safeguard those noble goals will be directed by individuals who have publicly dedicated themselves to the destruction of the agencies they will head, who are zealously devoted to thwarting those very goals.

Not just the country is in danger.  Recent climate science suggests that the destruction of the planet as a habitat for humanity and many other forms of life is more advanced than even the most dire previous findings had projected.  With a new regime of greedy capitalists, dedicated polluters, science deniers and bellicose generals running the once United States of America, the planet, too, may be doomed.

Some hunk of space junk will continue to float around the galaxy, perhaps even serving as host to some form of surviving life.  Appropriately, perhaps, roaches or other insects are the likeliest candidates to inherit the Earth.  But humanity and the fools who wrought its demise will be dust.

Why are we surprised that this sorry state of affairs has come to pass?  Why did we not see that someone like this snake-oil seller, this pussy-grabbing fraud, this sleazy, scheming know-nothing, was the inevitable  end of the path we were following?
When did it begin, this precipitate slide into ignominy?

If not before, then surely in 1980, when Iranians exposed the myth of American exceptionalism, and our ignorant masses blamed them and the luckless Jimmy carter for being the messengers of truth.  Carter, perhaps the last decent man to occupy the White House and surely among the least effective, happened to be in office when 52 U.S.  diplomats and citizens were taken hostage at the American embassy in Tehran.  Worse, an ill-designed rescue effort called  “Operation Eagle Claw” failed when two  faulty helicopters crashed.

Our citizenry, already dumbed down by a diet of television sitcoms and disheartened by losing a war in Vietnam, reacted not rationally but emotionally, putting blind faith in the presidential aspirations of a B movie actor who had portrayed heroes on the motion picture screens of our childhood.  Ronnie Reagan, a good memorizer of scripts, emoted masterfully playing the role of world statesman while at the same time allowing his scurrilous surrogates to dismantle and deregulate, to bust unions and let corporations run roughshod over our freedoms.  The great American moral and ethical decay was on.

Bush I presided over the continued rightward drift of the country, the death by a thousand cuts of the New Deal. the belief in voodoo economics, and gave us a vice president, Dan Quayle, who couldn’t even spell.

Bill Clinton, a smart and ambitious Democrat, read the political tea leaves and turned his party and his administration into Republican Lite.  His people called it “centrism” but as long as the tech and housing bubbles didn’t burst, many people prospered. While Congress and the citizenry fretted about the blow jobs he got from a witless young White House intern, the country quietly continued to go to hell.

Bush II, the first of the worst of presidents, left a legacy of illegal and unending war and a sick and foundering economy.  

Barack Obama, our first black president whose articulate speechifying was welcome after his predecessor’s quasi-literacy, promised much but delivered little.  He not only continued most of the worst of te Bush II policies, he actually worsened some of them.  His signature accomplishments — a slightly improved national health care program, and the nuclear agreement with Iran — will soon be dismantled by the incoming regime.

And that’s where we are.  Burning in a hell of our own making.  Eat, drink and be merry, those of you who voted for this vain and venal Pussy-Grabber, for tomorrow . . . . well, there is no tomorrow.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Fixes, WMD's and The Right to Know

Unnamed sources have told some of the media that the CIA has evidence of Russian hackers helping to elect the next president of the United States.

Reminds me of the Grosse Pointe Little League decades ago.

The Mafia capos were laundering their dirty money through legitimate businesses, whose owners lived in the upscale neighborhoods of “the Pointes” on Detroit’s near east side.  Those businesses sponsored Little League baseball teams.

Back then, Little League teams were selected from among all the eligible boys in all the neighborhoods at a single mass tryout every spring.  Players were “drafted” one at a time by teams following the reverse order of the league standings the previous season.  The idea was that last year’s poorest teams would get first dibs on the new year’s best players.

Since the teams sponsored by the mafia front businesses always won, they faced the prospect of having the best players chosen before it was their turn to pick.  They solved the problem by financing Florida vacations for the entire families of the best players, so that they would not be be in town when the tryouts were held.  The mafia teams then drafted those players in absentia and assured themselves of continuing to win championships.

Yes, children, the mafia put in the fix on Little League baseball.

The Pussy-Grabber and Russian oligarchs share common traits with mafia capos so it’s plausible that powerful forces in Russia might do what they could to assure an election victory for him.  They may or may not hold massive shares of his companies’ debt.  They may or may not have back-door deals with him.  And how much difference is there, really, between the mind-set of 11 and 12-year-old baseball players and the juvenile misogyny of a 13-year-old in a 70-year-old’s body?

I applaud the efforts of the bipartisan group of senators to get to the bottom of this hacking business.  The Pussy-Grabber, speaking as always the argot of playground bullies and churls, tried to denigrate their efforts as sour grapes on the part of the Clintonites.  But Lindsay Graham, John McCain and Mitch McConnell aren’t Clintonites.

Sure, the U.S. intelligence agencies “fixed the intel to suit the policy” as the Downing Street memo famously revealed about the chicanery in Washington before Dubyuh invaded Iraq under a cloud of lies. And sure, James Clapper, U.S. director of intelligence, has been caught lying to Congress and to the American people. And sure, then Secretary of State Colin Powell lied to the United Nations and to the world about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Will the CIA report on election hacking be any more trustworthy than the rigged intelligence we were fed on these prior occasions?  Possibly not.  But foreign interference in the basic mechanism of democracy is serious business, just as weapons of mass destruction are serious business.

Weapons of mass destruction do exist. They have the capacity to destroy the world as we know it.  

We have just elected one to the presidency, and if foreign interests had a hand in accomplishing that, we have a right to know about it.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Pussy-Grabber's Infamous Mentor

What aspect of his disgusting life is most dangerous as the president-elect prepares to assume the reins of government?

Quite possibly the degree of influence Roy Cohn had in shaping who and what he is.

Most of the ardent Trump voters I know weren’t around when Cohn was, as one journalist put it, “the lurking legal hit man for red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose reign of televised intimidation in the 1950s has become synonymous with demagoguery, fear-mongering and character assassination.”

The Pussy-Grabber was just another rich brat from Queens when he met Roy Cohn at a trendy night club in Manhattan.  But Cohn had used his association with McCarthy as a springboard to wealth and influence. He was the most powerful lawyer in New York, a staple of the gossip columns, counsel to mafiosi, financiers and the New York Yankees.

Young Donald needed a good lawyer in 1973 because the Justice Department had accused him of violating the Fair Housing Act by barring people of color from 39 of the buildings he operated in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.  He hired Cohn who counter-sued the government for $100 million. Lesson No. 1 for the young Pussy-Grabber: always attack. “If you needed someone to get vicious toward an opponent,” Donald told an interviewer in 1979, “you got Roy.  He has been vicious to others in his protection of me.”

Cohn used his underworld and overworld connections to get zoning variances, tax abatements and other sleazy deals for concrete work critical to the construction of his Grand Hyatt Hotel and the Trump Plaza in Manhattan.  Donald thanked him with the gift of  diamond-encrusted cufflinks in a box from Bulgari, the high-priced Italian jewelry firm. A mutual friend said, “Roy became Donald’s mentor, his constant adviser on every significant aspect of his business and personal life.”

What sort of man was this mentor, this adviser on every aspect of life?  He and McCarthy destroyed the lives and careers of hundreds of government professionals like Owen Latimore and Val Lorwin, of artists and writers like Dalton Trumbo and Pete Seeger, but this was just the beginning for Cohn. He and McCarthy alleged that closeted homosexuals employed by the federal government had passed  government secrets to the Soviets in exchange for keeping the identity of their sexuality a secret.

Convinced that the employment of homosexuals was now a threat to national security, President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order on April 29, 1953 to ban homosexuals from obtaining jobs in the federal government. The irony in this is that Cohn himself was a homosexual.  He in turn gave to a lover, Peter Fraser, the Bulgari diamond cufflinks he’d received from Donald.

Cohn hosted lavish parties for the gay community in Provincetown, MA, on Cape Cod.  Many of these were like precursors of Trump campaign rallies, with ostentatious displays of faux patriotism.  An ex-lover of Cohn recalled, “he'd haul people to their feet to sing "God Bless America," evidently his favorite song.Roy's idea of a good time was to sing patriotic ditties at a piano bar in Provincetown. One night Roy sang three choruses of ‘God Bless America,’ got a hard-on and went home to bed.”

At the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, Cohn’s testimony included a story of Joe McCarthy as a World War II tail-gunner that was so compelling that afterward, a teary-eyed old lady approached him and said, “ "Oh, Mr. Cohn, your tribute to the senator was wonderful. It meant so much to me." A friend who was there said, “Cohn turned to me--although she was standing right there--with that cold look he had. ‘I almost believed it myself.’  She looked like she had been hit with a whip, and l said to him: ‘You dirty SOB.’”

Cohn was disbarred from the practice of law in 1986 for “unethical, unprofessional and particularly reprehensible” conduct.  Shortly thereafter he died if AIDS.  All of his earthly possessions — a Manhattan town house, a country estate in Greenwich, Conn., a Rolls-Royce, a private plane — went to Peter Fraser, his last lover.  The IRS, collecting Cohn’s unpaid tax debts, confiscated all of this.

Fraser kept the Bulgari cufflinks the Pussy-Grabber had given to Cohn.  When he had them appraised, he learned that they were cheap knockoffs.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Team of Reptiles

As we watch the Pussy-Grabber construct his cabinet, we are in fact watching the step-by-step process of building a dictatorship.

Did you notice the Gestapo-style witch hunt to root out every employee of the Environmental Protection Agency who ever worked on climate science?  The top snake at the EPA will be Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who has a record of attacking every environmental protection the EPA is supposed to enforce.  He has received nearly half a million dollars in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel polluters. He is a prosecutor and a litigator.  Do you suppose the climate science people from the EPA will not be simply fired, but sent to Gitmo or to a black hole next to the police academy outside of Warsaw?

I suspect that the Pussy-Grabber had never heard of many of the people he is appointing to his team of reptiles. He likes the idea of BEING president, getting his puffy mug on magazine covers, but he doesn’t relish the prospect of DOING the hard work presidents are supposed to do.  He leaves that to Bannon, Hughes (Goering, Goebbels) and the other scum who are turning over rocks to find these creatures for him.  Once they are in place, he will let the reptiles run the government while he promotes his businesses and figures out new ways to hoodwink the common folk.

Already, foreign leaders who figure chumminess with Donald is the new way for the rich to get much richer are flocking to Washington to pay $850 and up per night to stay in the new Trump hotel within spitting distance of the White House (which is too shabby for the Pussy-Grabber to make it his permanent presidential residence. But he’ll maintain an office there, presumably.) How like a tawdry banana republic! Stay in bossman’s hotel.  Ride in bossman’s helicopter.  Kiss bossman’s patootie.  Beg bossman’s table leavings.  Get rich.

As for the Pussy-Grabber himself, we’ll probably never know how rich he is — or isn’t. As The Wall Strreet Journal reported recently:

President-elect Donald Trump owns a helicopter in Scotland. To be more precise, he has a revocable trust that owns 99% of a Delaware limited liability company that owns 99% of another Delaware LLC that owns a Scottish limited company that owns another Scottish company that owns the 26-year-old Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, emblazoned with a red “TRUMP” on the side of its fuselage. Across Mr. Trump’s business, he uses a similar web of privately held LLCs and other entities to house his assets—everything from real estate to a vintage carousel in Manhattan’s Central Park, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of hundreds of pages of his corporate filings and personal financial disclosures. Fifteen entities, for example, are used to hold his interests in two airplanes and three helicopters.

Does an honest man need such complex entanglements?  I think not.  I think they are designed to hide things the leader-to-be doesn’t want known about himself, his businesses and his methods.

Some think that what he’s hiding is his massive debt, which would prove that he’s not as rich as he wants everyone to believe he is. A friend who messes with big numbers for a living writes:

He claims to be a billionaire several times over, so let's be generous and give him $4-5 billion…that's 4-5 thousand million dollars! So why does a guy worth that much go to the trouble of selling stock last June worth a measly $85 million?  And this a few months before he won the nomination. He had to know that in the unlikely event he won the big prize, the presidency, everything he owns would rocket up in value. So the big question is, why was he so desperate to sell six months ago?  The only logical explanation is some creditor was holding his feet to the fire and he didn't want a raft of bad publicity that would expose his net worth for what it is--a house or cards held up by lots ofdebt.  Also, is he so hard up for cash he signs up again to produce 'The Apprentice'? I hope some little guy down in the bowels of the IRS who wears a green visor and never sees the light of day works up the courage to sneak his tax return(s) out and expose him for what he is--damn near broke.

A dictator doesn’t have to worry about mundane things like debt,  creditors and such.  He he can toss scientists into the clink for citing facts he doesn’t like; he can Tweet dissenters into oblivion; he can rile his followers into mobs; he can send creditors into exile.  He can do whatever he damned pleases to the country and its people.  Soon, his team of reptiles will be doing exactly that on his behalf.  Get used to it.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Vast Miasma of Falsehood

Good journalists, active and retired, were aghast at the revelations in a recent Guardian USA article relating how extremists have tinkered with and tainted the information we get from the internet.

“Awful” . . .”horrible” . . .”frightening,” they said.

With consummate technical expertise, right wingers and worse have been able to game the algorithms of Google and other popular sources of information.  As an aid to searchers, Google, which prides itself on the speed with which it responds to queries, has developed an autofill algorithm.  When you type a word or two, it offers you a sub-menu of possible searches,

The Guardian article disclosed that, for example, if you typed,  “Are Jews . . .” the first choice you saw was “Are Jews evil?”  If you clicked the first choice, you’d see a page of articles asserting that, yes, Jews are indeed evil, historically and genetically.  In another experiment, if you typed “Are women. . .” the sub-menu offered a first choice of, “Are women evil?” According to the article:

 Every one of the 10 results “confirms” that they are, including the top one, from a site called, which is boxed out and highlighted: “Every woman has some degree of prostitute in her. Every woman has a little evil in her… Women don’t love men, they love what they can do for them. It is within reason to say women feel attraction but they cannot love men.”

Looking for information about Hitler?  Don’t Google “Was Hitler bad?”  The top result you’d get would be “10 Reasons Why Hitler Was One of the Good Guys” which asserts that “He never wanted to kill any Jews”; “he cared about conditions for Jews in the work camps”; “he implemented social and cultural reform.” 

The Guardian article examined research by scientists who created a cybermap, showing what happens when searchers share such false information via Twitter, Facebook, etc.  A great, self-regenerating cloud of falsehood is created which, like a vast living organism,  encircles legitimate sources of information (say, the New York Times).  Very quickly this miasma of misinformation blocks truth they way thick jungle overgrowth blocks the sun. 

Immediately after the Guardian article appeared and was itself widely circulated on the Internet, Google fixed the specific algorithms regarding Jews, women, Hitler.  But it did nothing about the systemic problem the article exposed.

I discussed this with several friends, including a retired newspaper and magazine editor of my vintage.  We agreed that we were unqualified to even consider possible solutions to this frightening state of affairs.  We did our work on typewriters, fagawdsake!

My son John, however, has a foot in each camp: as a print journalist he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and in the cyberworld he served as publisher of an online news site.  He suggests:

Google (and Facebook, etc.) should issue simple to understand reports on groups that manipulate its search system and issue daily caveats to all users about blindly trusting its information.

 Next, it should offer users tutorials on how to do research online to determine if information is predicated on fact, opinion, or a defect of character.

The message and tutorial should automatically pop up every time a user visits these sites.

People will say there is no point because most users will ignore the warnings and lesson. Maybe. But some, at least,  would become better educated.

And school children, our next generation of citizens, could be taught an important lesson early.

Technophobe I may be, but these sound like good ideas to me.  One of the experts the Guardian consulted said that Google “can and should do better.”  With paternal pride I suggest this way to begin.