Tuesday, January 31, 2017

To Desecrate Hallowed Ground

Forty-seven years ago, in a prescient, prize-winning Detroit Free Press special section on the environment, the late Gary Blonston wrote that a day might be coming “when the only robin will be in a zoo.”

Protection of Planet Earth and its creatures has waxed and waned over the years since then but now, with a new regime in place in Washington and far-right control of many state governments, especially in the west, it is time to revisit Blonston’s warning.

Outrages abound.

In New Mexico, the Bureau of Land Management has auctioned oil and gas drilling rights on land adjacent to the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  Despite the objections of native Americans who live there, and of environmentalists everywhere, the BLM held that a measly $3 million in dirty money was worth more than the centuries of history and culture the Chaco park protects.

That’s just the tip of a melting iceberg.

The Bannon/Trump regime is determined to undo President Obama’s designation of a new national monument, called Bears Ears after a dominant central landmark, in beautiful southern Utah.  The right wingers who hold office in Utah have been seething ever since an alliance of native American tribes and environmental scientists persuaded Obama to act.

One of those ideologues, Rep. Jason Chaffetz. a longtime advocate of dismantling federal agencies, and a supporter of the Muslim ban, has introduced H.R.621 “To direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.”  The full text of the bill had not yet been published as of noon today in Washington, but a Utahan with a pipeline into Chaffetz’s office said parts of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument would be savaged by it. Sneak attack?

The House has already passed a bill that strips environmental protections for hundreds of thousands of square miles of public lands along the U.S. border, including National Parks and wildlife refuges. It lifts key protections for several other national wilderness and forest areas and blocks wildlife conservation measures for coastal areas. The bill overrides dozens of environmental laws within a 100 mile zone on Federal public and tribal lands along the Mexican and Canadian borders. Wolves, large felines and grizzly bears could be hunted to extinction, legally, as a result.

 H.J. Res. 46, introduced by an Arizona Republican, would  weaken environmental protections for national parks under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). If these repeals become law, it would not only erase protections, it would also prohibit agencies from issuing similar rules and protections in the future.

Even worse, H.R. 427, the Koch-backed REINS act, would render all environmental and wildlife protection agencies of the federal government powerless by requiring them to submit all regulations to the White House before they could become effective.

This war against things of beauty, of historical and cultural significance, of forests and streams and purple mountain majesties, was kindled by the gradual rise of right wing rule in the United States, and came ablaze with the election of the new White House regime.

I, and many of my family, wept when we heard about the Chaco oil leases.  When our grand-daughter, Darcy, learned that she had been accepted for a university doctoral program in archaeology, we celebrated by treating her to a trip to Chaco, where she hiked every inch of every trail. “That is sacred land,” she posted.  “Who knows what we could lose from the archaeological record when they destroy the land near the park? This is so sad. The time I spent in Chaco canyon was life changing! After spending years in school reading about the great houses , and then seeing them right before my eyes, it's an unbelievable area that should be preserved for future research and enjoyment.”

The spirit-lifting aura of protected public land as a vast cathedral pervades Chaco, especially when one first experiences it.  Lois and I first went there with my late brother Bob, like us an avid photographer.  As the sun moved lower in the late afternoon sky, we decided to take pictures in the magnificent light at the great kiva of Chetro Ketl.  We stood in the doorway surveying the panoply of light and shadow, imagining angles of perspective.  Below us, a native American woman of middle age, probably a member of one of the Puebloan tribes, sat on the rock apron transfixed.  Utterly immobile, she was chanting ritual songs in a low voice, her eyes fixed on something far, far distant and invisible to us.  

We froze, then backed away slowly, respecting her sacred solitude.

Our pictures could wait.

The Ventriloquist President

Alt-President Edgar B. S. Bannon and his lap dummy, Donnie, put on quite a show last weekend.  

Any day now they're going to put up something like a government but for the moment they're on a roll with the comedy schtick. 

Somebody has taught the dummy to actually write his name!  They set up a television event so that we could watch him signing something.  When they sent the paper to the Keystone Kops in the airports the slapstick was hilarious.

Not everyone digs slapstick.  Some surly bitch over st DOJ was not amused.  Just what Alt-Pres. Bannon wanted: you need a foil to sustain slapstick.  Bannon could barely keep his lips from moving while he had the Donnie dummy shout "You're fired! You refused an order from the White House!" Hilarious.

Some of the satire here was probably too subtle for people who actually thought they were voting for the dummy when they put the ventriloquist in charge of the country.  Here's the background:

Back in September of 2015, when we still had a real president, he nominated Sally Yates to be deputy attorney general and the Senate held a confirmation hearing.  One of her questioners was Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is now Alt-President Edgar B. S. Bannon's nominee to be the permanent attorney general and actually supposedly sort of run the Department of Justice.  (This is not a joke.  They mean it.  Sessions. Justice.  Really.) Anyway, at that Senate hearing, the following exchange took place:

 SESSIONS: You have to watch out because people will be asking you to do things you just need to say “no” about. Do you think the Attorney General has the responsibility to say no to the President if he asks for something that’s improper? A lot of people have defended the [Loretta] Lynch nomination, for example, by saying, “Well [Obama] appoints somebody who’s going to execute his views. What’s wrong with that?” But if the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General say no?

YATES: Senator, I believe the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president."

Hilarious.  It’s like, the Dean waxed wroth and then they turned things around, see, and had Roth wax the Dean for a while. Meanwhile Harpo is behind a fern, laughing like crazy.  I mean, like, send in the clowns!  Don’t bother, they’re here!

You’ve got to hand it to the Alt-Pres.  Takes a guy with his very excellent IQ to divine that old-fashioned vaudeville would play so well  today if you moved it to D.C. and put it on the TV.  

Of course, it helps if you can teach the dummy to write his name.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Chaos Rules. Bigly.

The guy thinks he’s a bloody king, ruling by decree.

See how he flourishes the pen in his little hands, the triumphant smirk when he holds up the parchment in its fine leather-bound folder for the Photo Op.

The guy has a fourth-grade vocabulary, strong on words of derision, like a playground bully, so it devolves upon the Rasputins and consiglieres to actually write the decrees.

Even with the better minds of the regime providing the words and sentences, the meaning isn’t always clear to the guys with the guns and badges out there at the checkpoints.

Who gets stopped at the airport and why?  Chaos reigned. Protests formed.  Lawyers sued.  Hold that guy!  Let that one go!  Run! Stop!  Shoot!  Don’t shoot! A Texas mosque was burned to the ground. A federal judge suspended the king's diktat.  The department of Homeland Security defied the judge. 

The civilized world hasn’t experienced anything quite as bizarre since the first time President Yeltsin got drunk and tried to climb a tank.

But the White House was ready with its own set of alternative facts:  “It’s working out very nicely,” the despot said. “You see it at the airports, you see it all over.”

The parchment shower continues, the fine leather bound folders keep streaming out of the oval office and into the corridors of power in Trumpistan.  He thinks he’s making law but he’s just making noise.  It’s just more of his reality television, which is not real at all.  He is still the spoiled brat who owns all the best toys, still the hot little pre-adolescent  with raging hormones and no attention span.

Uncertain of what they’d been ordered to do, the uniforms and badges became thugs.  A Sudanese graduate student at Stanford University was blocked for hours from entering the country. She is a permanent, legal resident.  She was ultimately released to go about her business, but others like her are still in detention and their keepers don't know what to do with them.  Police in banana republics are better informed, better behaved.

The kakistocrats are just beginning to shift into high gear.  Already they have thrown into entropy the agency that is supposed to keep our air safe to breathe and our water safe to drink; the agency that manages federal public lands, supposedly on our behalf; the agency professionals of the Department of State; the intelligence community; and what remains of public education in this sorry, failing country.

He issues sweeping edicts.  When they are unclear, and they always are, neither the king’s horses nor the king’s men can offer any clue, any hint of clarity.  Their alternative facts contradict themselves.  They flail and fume and flounder on.  

Meanwhile, a new stack of parchment in  fine leather-bound folders has been delivered to the office of the king, and a new batch of big pens for his small hands.

“It’s going to be big,” the king said.  “Very big.”  His kind of words.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Titans Collide . . . Again

One more time .. .

In the wee hours of our morning, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer faced one another on a tennis court  for the 35th time in their careers, and the ninth time with a Grand Slam championship at stake.  It seemed that half of Australia was there.

One More Time . . .

On this same Melbourne court in 2009 they played five agonizing sets.  Federer’s serve deserted him and Nadal won. Federer, weeping, said, “God, it’s killing me.” Nadal led 6-2 in Grand Slam finals between the two men and 23-11 overall.  The consensus in tennis circles held that this 35th meeting would be the Legacy Match. Federer had won 17 Grand Slam championships, the most in history, and Nadal had won 14, tied with Pete Sampras for second-most.

One More Time . . .

Federer played a flawless first set.  As usual, Nadal set out to break down Federer's backhand, relentlessly pounding the world's most spin-heavy ground strokes to that side.  But when it's "on," Federer's one- hander is at least the equal of any in the world.  It was "on."  First blood to Roger, 6-4.

One More Time

Their contrasting styles have made their competitions into one of the greatest tennis rivalries ever.  Nadal, now 30, has been the epitome of power, hitting shots from behind the baseline with unprecedented depth and spin.   Federer, now 35, has been the epitome of elegance and grace hitting virtually every shot known to man with balletic skill.  The second set was vintage Nadal: two early breaks, cannon fire to Roger's increasingly erratic forehand.  Nadal, 6-3.

One More Time . . 

Nadal, whose fighting, scrambling style and tortuous ground strokes take a heavy toll on his physique, has suffered several career interruptions because of injury.  Federer, until last year, had played virtually his entire career without serious injury.  Both men were making comebacks in this Australian Open and neither expected to make the final. But here they were again.

Federer started the third set as Nadal had begun the second, getting an early break, then another to go up 5-1, serving for the set.  A forehand error let Nadal get to 30 all. Open the door a crack and Rafa breaks it down.  Federer staved off a break point, then took the set 6-1 with another pair of fine backhands to set up the clinching volleys.  We were seeing the full panoply of skiils that had made each man No. 1 in the world, Federer for more than 300 weeks, Nadal for nearly 150.

One More Time . . .

Federer continued to hit magnificent backhands, including a down-the-line service return winner, but his forehand errors mounted, the 19th letting Nadal break serve for 3-1 in the fourth set. Roger fought back in a gruelling fifth game, but another costly forehand error and a great Nadal reply to Federer's good crosscourt backhand put Rafa in command at 4-1. Parry and thrust.  Thrust and parry.  Two old war horses showing the kids how grown-ups do it. Fourth set to Nadal, 6-3.  Another five-set classic between the two finest players of their time -- perhaps of all time.

One More Time . . .

Federer, misfiring on two more forehands, allowed Nadal to break serve on the very first game of the deciding set.  The script was beginning to look familiar. Federer made a fight of it in game four, but could not convert his break chances. Nadal held for 3-1 with a mean serve to Roger's navel. Federer held serve.  They began game six with an 18-shot rally that Roger won with  a sizzling crosscourt backhand. Roger hit the very same shot to set up the service break that put him even at 3-3. Up 4-3 at deuce on Nadal's serve, Roger won a 25-shot rally, one of the great  points in championship tennis history.  Finally, on his sixth break point, he converted to lead 5-3. But this was Nadal, the Nemesis, across the net.  Roger needed an ace and a superb inside-out forehand to get to match point.  And in this 35th contest, not even the Nemesis could deny him.  Federer, 6-3.  His 18th Grand Slam title.  Oldest man to win a slam since "ageless" Ken Rosewall in 1972.

Best of all time?  Let others argue the point.  i just watched a helluva tennis match between two great players.  One more time.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Milquetoast to the Rescue? C'mon, Man!

Face it, sane Americans, neither the Democratic party nor any of its elected officials is going to save the country from the insanity of its new regime.

The evidence is in the Senate, where the best and the brightest of the Democrats have already voted to approve unqualified nominees to cabinet posts.

Elizabeth Warren, the favorite of many lefties to run for president next time around, joined other “leaders” like Cory Booker and Sherrod Brown in voting for Ben Carson to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  They actually supported a fruitcake who:

—Believes that tax relief for poor people is “condescending.”

—Says that the Affordable Care Act is “like slavery.”

—Thinks a president can ignore the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality.

—Suggested that if bakers were “forced” to make wedding cakes for gay marriages, they might put poison in them.

—Said the police should never be criticized because it would make them “too timid” to do their jobs.

The Democrats’ so-called leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, voted for the CIA nominee, Mike Pompeo, who wants to resume torturing people suspected of sympathizing with “terrorists.”

Kirsten Gillibrand, who many Democrats believe is presidential timber, voted for the utterly unqualified, anti-education, anti-abortion Carolinian Nikki Haley to become ambassador to the United Nations.

These are not opposition “leaders.”  These are Quislings.

When Obama was president, Republicans in absolute solidarity shut down the government, refused even to consider judicial nominations, and sent treasonous letters to foreign heads of state to block perfectly legal efforts at governance.

Yet even at the highest levels, Democrats lack the spine to play similar hardball against the most kakistocratic regime ever to take power in this country.

Like the party’s most recent candidate for president, none of these Democrats is worthy of the support of citizens who want their country to do right by its people and all of humanity.

Hang “Resist” banners from every tall place in the country.  March thousands strong in protest every day. Knit a billion pink hats with cats’ ears and print two billion clever protest signs.  If all that you achieve is the election of a few more Democrats like these, there is no hope for this country.  No hope at all.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Who Rules by Fear, Fears Truth

Already one thing is perfectly clear: their greatest fear, these bullies and blusterers, is truth.

Truth is their Kryptonite.

Confront them with truth and they hide behind “alternative facts.”

What prompts instant and paranoid late-night tweets? Truth.  Facts about crowd size.  The actual, audited numbers of the popular vote.  

Science scares them silly.  They silence, intimidate and shutter the Environmenal Protection Agency because it employs scientists.

Consider this:  no scientist in the EPA may divulge a shred of his or her research without having it vetted by the administration.  People like Scott Pruitt, who detests scientists and sued the EPA when he was attorney general of Oklahoma.  People like Rex Tillerson, the $180 million man whose Exxon scientists discovered anthropogenic climate change decades ago and were told to keep it secret; whose Exxon funded the anti-science lies of the Idsos and Heartland Institute. Would you have atheists vet the Bible?

EPA employees have said privately that they are “terrified.”  Of course they are.  That’s exactly how despots rule — by terror.  They want everyone to fear them, even as they fear the truth.

And make no mistake, America: they are ruling, not governing.  Governing is what happened when this was still a democratic republic.  What is happening now is ruling, a.k.a. despotism.

Of course they had to declare a “war on the media.”  Some in the media have dared to tell us the truth.  When the despot tweeted (again) that illegal immigrants had swollen the popular vote count that went against him, newspeople told us there are no facts to support that assertion.  Then he tweeted that he would order an investigation into voter fraud, including people who registered in two or more states. And the media revfealed that his closest advisor, Steve Bannon, and his own daughter, among other high-ranking administration people, are in fact registered to vote in two states.  Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander?

Tyranny trembles before the truth.  They must stifle it; round up those who speak it and terrorize them into silence, or jail them, or, ultimately, even torture and kill them.  Among us, the enslaved, silence would be survival; truth would be our own damnation.

Unless all of us know the truth, and perpetuate it, shout it from the hilltops, fill our journals with it and our airwaves and the Intern . . .

Already they have put in place a hired gun to kill internet neutrality.  Voices — even remote, feeble ones like this Pianist — will be silenced. They must be silenced because if people know the truth, the truth will make them free.

Are we like the sons of Abraham, insisting we don’t need to be set free because we have never been slaves?  Insisting this even as new shackles are fastened around us?

Or will our scientists somehow find ways to put their truth before the public?  Will journalists still seek and speak the truth?  Will we the people know these truths and repeat them and act upon them and do as free people must, overthrow the despot?

It’s up to us.  Can we do this?  Only if we start now, before it is too late.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Time Already for the I-Word?

So the guy is going to build the damned wall anyway.  Ronnie Reagan gained sainthood in conservative theology by demanding that a wall be torn down.  The new guy aspires to something higher than sainthood — god — and aims to get there by building a wall.  Go figure.

Bob Reich wrote that he had lunch recently with a former Republican congressman — still well connected in the House and Senate — who said the leaders there are just biding their time, licking their chops, panting to trigger Impeachment.

Let me suggest the grounds for doing so right now: mental incompetency.

Face it, America: your president-elect is crazy as a loon.

I know a young man who is rising rapidly in the ranks of the Border Patrol.  He has worked in three border states — Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  He has chased down coyotes and their clients.  He is intimately familiar with the existing sections of wall.  He says walls are useless on this border.  Too expensive to build, diverting money from technology that actually works against illegal immigration and drug smuggling.  He says it’s too expensive to maintain, distracting Border Patrol officers from more important duties.  He comes from a long line of Republicans.  But this new guy is, he thinks, totally loco.

First he insults the entire U.S.intelligence community.  Then he goes to CIA headquarters, ostensibly to make peace and pledge his fidelity  to all our spooks, but he brings along a claque of toadies and ensconces them in the front row to turn what should have been a sober session into one more circus act. The pros were not amused at this desecration of the memorial wall they have erected to honor comrades who gave their lives to gather the kind of intelligence data that he denigrated in his campaign.

Then he insists on raising again the canard that he’d have won the popular vote if only those three million illegal immigrants hadn’t been allowed to cast ballots.  Not even Paul Ryan or Lindsey Graham could stomach more of this insanity.  Either show the evidence you purport to have or shut the hell up, they told him.   Telling this guy to shut up is like telling the fox not to eat that chicken.  

Now he’s ordering the damned wall to be built.  The media continue to be so obsessed with his crazy tweets, twiddles, whims and what-nots that they paid virtually no attention to an important and dangerous new wrinkle in foreign affairs that his administration has already caused: China has deployed inter-continental ballistic missiles near Russia, positioning them to be able to reach targets in the United States, Canada and Europe. The DF-41 missiles (range: 9,000 miles) are in northeastern Heilongjiang province bordering Russia. International weapons experts say that selecting this area for deploying the missiles clearly indicates that they are not  meant to target Russia. Konstantin Sivkov, head of a geopolitical studies group, said, "If that were the purpose, the missiles should have been stationed deep inside mainland China or on its southern border.” He added, “This is China’s response to threats pronounced by the new US president. These Chinese missiles would be able to use a more advantageous northern strategic route for approaching targets in the United States, thus bypassing the US missile defense.”

A symptom of mental incompetency is divorce from reality.  Obsessions with minor annoyances frequently preoccupy MI victims to the neglect of far more important matters.  Many MIs are prone to middle of the night rants (alcoholics who indulge in such behavior are called “telephone drunks.”)

So we’ve got Chinese ICBMs pointed at us and this guy is going bonkers about building a useless wall along our southern border.

Impeachment, anyone?

Travelers in Trumpistan

Couple of folks left New Mexico the other day, driving east through Texas, and stopped for the night at a motel in Odessa.  The motel guy gave them a key to their room and a supply of bottled water.  “Don’t use the tap,” he said, “not even to bathe or shower.”  The travelers wished he had told them this before they registered.  The Motel guy shrugged and flashed what my midwestern neighbors used to call “a shit-eating grin.”  

“Wouldn’t have mattered.  All the motels got the same problem.  We’ve got a water situation here,” the motel guy said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found that the water is contaminated with chromium.  Independent environmental scientists traced the contaminated water to the facilities of Schumberger oil and gas, one of the Permian Basin’s big fossil fuel, drilling, fracking, testing and equipment companies.  Schumberger insists it isn’t their chromium.  “The source is likely an adjacent site unrelated to our facilities.”

Felicia Acosta, who lives nearby, doesn’t care whose chromium caused her water to turn yellow, then green, she just wants it to stop. “I’ve got rashes on my arms,” she said. ““Stomach problems, a lot of stuff that my doctor doesn't know where it's coming from.” Darrell Moody says his property values have plummeted.  “"I have emphysema and other health problems," Moody said. " I've got some bad headaches.” 

Welcome to Life in the Divided States of Trumpistan.

    * * *

Oh, you can’t drink the water in Odessa, Texas, 
You can’t drink the water down Midland way,
‘Cuz somebody’s chromium has laced it with poison,
If I was a Texan I’d move out today.

* * * 

The government of Trumpistan has declared that construction will resume on the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline.  Construction on both had been halted by the Obama administration because of the threats they pose to the environment, especially the water supplies of dozens of communities along the routes. Protests against the Dakota pipeline by native American tribes have won support from all over the world.  

The lines are especially dangerous because they would move diluted bitumen from the tar sands of Canada, highly toxic substances so thick that they can only be moved at extremely high pressures, which makes the pipes more susceptible to rupturing.  At a point near Baker, Mont., the pipeline would take on crude from the Williston Basin, whose characteristics are like those of the Permian Basin that surrounds Midland.

And so, Steel City and Cushing, Lincoln and Patoka, and all the other towns along the way,  you are Odessa, you are Flint.  You are f-, f-, fracked.

* * *
A voice that sounds like Sean Spicer’s blares from the loudspeaker:

Attention, citizens of Trumpistan!  Attention!  Pay no attention to the lies coming from the nasty media. Ignore them!  Your water is perfectly safe to drink.  Take many baths, many showers.  Yellow is a beautiful color. Green is even more beautiful.  If God had intended water to be clear He wouldn’t have made the oceans blue, would He?  You know we would not lie to you.  Drink the water.  Pretend it is Kool-Ade.

Me and The Big Mountain

They’re going to re-measure Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.  Scientists fear the big guy may have shrunk as much as three feet as a result of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

 Surveyor General of India Swarna Subba Rao said,  “Everest height was declared, if I remember correctly, in 1855. Many others also measured it. But the height given by the Survey of India, even today, is taken as the correct height. It is 29,028 feet. We are remeasuring it. Two years have passed since the major Nepal earthquake. After that, there is a doubt in the scientific community that it is shrinking. That is one of the reasons. Second reason is, it helps in scientific studies, plate movements etc. We plan to send our expedition team in two months.”

Mountains can speak — the wind gives them voice — but I doubt they can hear.  If Everest could hear, I would try to console it by telling it the story of my last visit to the doctor.

Before you see the doctor, they weigh you, take your blood pressure and measure you.  The nurse fiddled with the measuring apparatus and said, “Six feet two inches.”

“Oh, no,” I objected.  “Your device must be wrong.  I’m 6-4.  Have been since junior year of high school.”

She remeasured.  “Six feet two inches,” she said firmly.  “High school was a long, long time ago.”

“You have 32 vertebrae,” the doctor said.  “They bear a lot of weight over your lifetime.  As you get older, the space between them tends to compress.  It only takes 1/16 of an inch between vertebrae to reduce your height by two inches.”

Shrinkage, it seems, is part of the natural cycle, like the “growing pains” of youth.  What goes up, comes down.  

Everest, being a relatively young mountain, might be upset at first but it should consider that the Appalachians, which used to be very tall like the Himalayas, seem to be quite happy in their current, much shrunken status. They’ve even figured out how to grace their so-called “balds” with lovely patches of rhododendron. 

Mountains are spared the problem of worrying about other kinds of shrinkage, like hands.  

I used to be able to palm a basketball in each hand, I told the doctor.  Even sent a picture of me doing so to a surgeon who had repaired one of my hands after an injury.

“Don’t try it now,” the doctor said. “Too much arthritis.  Maybe a soccer ball . . .”  But it wouldn’t be the same.  Sad.
This is no time for anyone on the political left to be afflicted with small hands.

Monday, January 23, 2017

This Is Only the Beginning

As of Jan. 20, 2017, when the new guy was sworn in, the right of assembly, the right to protest, no longer exists in the nation’s capital.  It has become a felony offense.

In North Dakota, demonstrators who block a road can be run down — legally — by motorists.

International agencies that help poor women end unwanted pregnancies, often the result of wartime rape, will no longer get foreign aid funds from the USA.

Federal agencies cannot hire new employees; existing employees will not get pay rises they have earned.

Without even consulting Congress (not that those idiots would object), the new guy has disavowed a treaty legitimately negotiated by his predecessor. (The TPP is a lousy treaty, as we who have examined it well know, but still, there used to be a thing called due process.) Also, the heads of state in Canada and Mexico have been told that the North American Treaty Alliance with the United States, under which they have been operating for more than a decade, will soon be deconstructed as well.

And his first “business day” in office is not even half over.

This is just the beginning.

Medicaid — the program that enables most of our poorest people to get some form of medicine and treatment when they’re sick — is being turned upside down.  States will get either “block grants” or “per capita subsidies” to enable them to care for their sick poor folks.  Even Republican governors are saying this will be a travesty.

Medicare and the Affordable Care Act are in the crosshairs.  Nonpartisan number-crunchers with appropriate expertise say the forthcoming actions will cost the country a trillion  dollars, leave millions of people without medical care.  Aside:  Polls show that a majority of voting age Americans don’t like Obamacare, but virtually the same majority likes the Affordable Care Act!  These are the people whose votes put us where we are.

The Dakota Access Pipeline soon will be forced upon the indigenous people, poisoning their water.

We are in decline.  Already the First Amendment has begun to melt away, with the felony charges against those who demonstrated on inauguration day.  Remember what happened after the terrorist attacks of 9/11?  The day before, we were a free people.  The day after we lived under the onus of something called the USA Patriot Act.  This legal abomination was rushed into law by a shocked and numbed Congress, and will be the foundation of the new police state that is already in the works.

Wise men have warned us that if we ignore history we are doomed to repeat it.  What kind of history might that be?  Noam Chomsky, scholar, writer and public conscience, remembers:

The Weimar Republic was the peak of western civilization in the sciences and the arts, also regarded as a model of democracy. Through the 1920s, the traditional liberal and conservative parties entered into inexorable decline, well before the process was intensified by the Great Depression. The coalition that elected General Hindenburg in 1925 was not very different from the mass base that swept Hitler into office eight years later, compelling the aristocratic Hindenburg to select as chancellor the "little corporal" he despised. As late as 1928, the Nazis had less than 3 percent of the vote. 

Two years later, the most respectable Berlin press was lamenting the sight of the many millions in this "highly civilized country" who had "given their vote to the commonest, hollowest and crudest charlatanism." The public was becoming disgusted with the incessant wrangling of Weimar politics, the service of the traditional parties to powerful interests and their failure to deal with popular grievances. They were drawn to forces dedicated to upholding the greatness of the nation and defending it against invented threats in a revitalized, armed and unified state, marching to a glorious future, led by the charismatic figure who was carrying out "the will of eternal Providence, the Creator of the universe," as he orated to the mesmerized masses. By May 1933, the Nazis had largely destroyed not only the traditional ruling parties, but even the huge working-class parties, the Social Democrats and Communists, along with their very powerful associations. The Nazis declared May Day 1933 to be a workers holiday, something the left parties had never been able to achieve. Many working people took part in the enormous patriotic demonstrations, with more than a million people at the heart of Red Berlin, joining farmers, artisans, shopkeepers, paramilitary forces, Christian organizations, athletic and riflery clubs, and the rest of the coalition that was taking shape as the center collapsed. By the onset of the war, perhaps 90 percent of Germans were marching with the brown shirts.

I am just old enough to remember those chilling and ominous days of Germany's descent from decency to Nazi barbarism, to borrow the words of the distinguished scholar of German history Fritz Stern. He tells us that he has the future of the United States in mind when he reviews "a historic process in which resentment against a disenchanted secular world found deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason."

Chomsky, when recalling these things, remarked that today, the world is too complex for this history to repeat.

Or is it?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

America. The Day After

They filled the downtown square here in this little New Mexico city, and they spilled over into the nearby streets and a big parking lot.

The people.

It was windy as only the southwest can be windy and there was a cold edge to the wind.

“Thank you for coming,” said the first speaker.  “Thank you for braving the weather.”

“Dump Trump!” cried a voice in the crowd.  It became a chant.  “Dump Trump.  Dump Trump.”

The people.

It was, officially, a women’s march of protest against the misogyny and lewdness of the the billionaire’s campaign and against his cabinet of repulsive rich people opposed to the very ideas their agencies were supposed to advance and protect.  Here in the southwest, and in many of the pictures from around the world, there seemed to be as many men as women.

A fireman carried a placard supporting Planned Parenthood.  A guy with a thick black beard applauded when an elderly woman passed him carrying a sign, “Pussy Grabs Back.”  Everywhere there were pink hats with little cats’ ears knitted into them.  

The town’s top environmental scientist said, “I've been attending events like this for 28 years in this town, and this is the biggest and best one yet.”

The people.

The People in the city squre
Word circulated that the rally in Denver was so big they had to cancel the march because people had packed the entire route.  In Los Angeles they clogged the streets despite a severe rainstorm.  In Washington the women’s protest drew larger crowds than the previous day’s inauguration ceremony. “Nothing can quite replace your first love, or your first march,” Gloria Steinem told them. In New York they turned fifth Avenue into “a river of people.” A sign said: "Make America Think Again." Huge turnouts were reported in cities around the world where women organized demonstrations against the new leader of the United States.

The people.

The Rally in Sacramento
Singers.  A chorus of men and women from the Social Justice Center sang protest songs, winding up with a rousing “We Shall Overcome” in a new arrangement written especially for the occasion.  The city’s self-described “first openly transgender male” called on us to protect the gains the LGBT movement made during the Obama administration.  “We will not give up,” he shouted and the crowd roared its approval.

The people.

A native American leader called for solidarity with Standing Rock and the movements for tribal rights.  “Stop the DAPL” signs waved.  A tall old guy asked if he could hug a woman waving a “We Are All Immigrants” sign.  An environmental activist warned that “extinction is not an episode.  Extinction is forever.”

The people.

A Latina’s placard urged Peace and Resistance.  No Wall! her companion shouted.  “Love Trumps Hate” signs were everywhere.  A young hispanic man read his poem, “Who Am I.”  He is every man, every woman, every child, crying out for justice. “Small Hands Cannot Hold Us Back,” a placard said.

The people.

Our friend Steve, the folk singer and gifted lyricist, performed with his partner, Kathy.  Guitar, mouth harp, tambourine — the age old weapons of the civil rights movement, the peace movement, of Occupy and Black Lives Matter.  He sang:

Standing Rock, our conscience stands with you
protectors all united for a cause we know is true

The people applauded.

He sang:

I will not waver in my path
I will not fear the tyrant’s wrath
I will not close my heart to love
Abandon hope or slay the dove
I will not close my heart to love
Renounce the world we’re dreaming of

And the people cheered.

And Now There Is No Road

In 2004 when he was seeking a second term, Dubyuh came to our town for a speech and local party big-shots took him to dinner at one of our better restaurants.  I had kind of liked the place but for years afterward I refused to eat there, because it hadn’t been properly fumigated.

Today I’m thinking the same way about the White House.  What if, four years from now, the other side has come up with a decent candidate, someone truly fit for the office, and that someone wins the election and has to move into a place that has been occupied for four years by this new guy?  Could the place ever be properly fumigated after having been occupied that long?  Will the country have to tear down the historic executive mansion and build a new one in order to have a fit residence for a president fit for the office?

Indeed, will this country ever again have a president fit for the office once occupied by Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR. . .? 

Will there even be a country such as we once knew, a democratic republic of, by and for the people?

An acquaintance who voted for him explained, somewhat sheepishly I thought, “maybe he’ll do something, anything, just one thing.”

He did two things, actually, in his very first hour in office.  Two anti-people things.  First he made health care less accessible, less affordable, for thousands.  Then he made home ownership impossible for thousands more. 

First steps only.  Soon millions will be without health care.  Millions swill be without homes.  Driving poor people out of their homes is the specialty of one of his cabinet nominees.  Another Big Lie: those nominees, he said, have the highest collective IQ in history.  Pure fiction, made up on the spur of the momen, like so much of what he utters, tweets or even thinks. The man even lies to himself.

I say again:  there is no man so dangerous as a stupid man who thinks he is intelligent.

There was blood on the streets of the nation’s capital the day he took office. Rubber bullets, shock bombs, more than 200 protesters arrested.  More protests are scheduled today, his second in office.  Five states governed by his followers have already passed laws in effect repealing the First Amendment to the United States constitution.  In one of them, motorists have been given license to run over protesters who attempt to block a road.

Raised fists . . . military parades . . . police cruelty . . . bullying . . . insults . . . sneering authoritarianism . . . white supremacy . . . contempt for the poor , , , lies, deceit, exaggeration . . . false patriotism . . . misogyny . . .  American carnage . . . 

Once we were exhorted to heed our better angels.  Now we are called upon to tilt at windmills.  Once we were told the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Now we are told we must slay imaginary daemons,  disguised as people of color or followers of a different god. Once we were called upon to act as a people “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

“America First!  America First!” he cried, echoing the rallying cry of anti-Semitic Nazi sympathizers in the United States before World War II.

Far to the west in this land, a hiker wrote yesterday of watching “a promising sunrise at one of my favorite places on public land. My soul needs the beauty this morning. My prayer is that it will still be public land for my grandchildren.

But in Washington yesterday, “At last we have a LEADER!” someone tweeted.

Hitler, too, was a “leader.” 

But what of us, the followers, the people?  He says we are newly empowered even as he enfeebles us, but this is his way.  He says one thing, then does another.  Like many dictators in the past, he rules by whim, by impulse, by an overarching need for self-aggrandisement.  And so what of us?

"There is no ship for you," C.V.Cavafy wrote nearly a century ago. "There is no road. As you have ruined your life here in this little corner, you have destroyed it in the whole world.”

Thursday, January 19, 2017

No Grizzlies. No Tigers. Just Greatness.

Whenever I begin training a new puppy, one of the first things I teach him is to keep tigers away from our house.  The tactic is very successful, really beautiful, very successful, because no tiger has ever invaded our house.

Thus I know from personal experience that Betsy DeVos will be a great Secretary of Education, really really beautiful, just great, because her idea of putting guns in all our schools will prevent any children from being attacked by grizzly bears while they’re in the classroom.

I’ll be sleeping a lot better at night knowing that the White House is occupied by a man who is so great he can grab ‘em by the pussy and they won’t do a thing -- no, not tigers, silly, or grizzlies -- he can grab women that way and they’ll just be pleased to receive so much attention from such a truly great, really beautiful man.  You know he’s great because he’s so rich, and he's a star, and the people he’s putting in charge of our government are really rich, too, maybe not as rich as he is, but really really beautiful because they’re very very rich and if you know how to get rich of course you know how to run a country.  

Some of them inherited wealth, as he did, but everybody has to start somewhere, right?, and he, after all, went from the relative poverty of being a mere multimillionaire to being so rich that he could borrow money from half the oligarchs in Russia.  Debt is good,  Plain and simple.  Debt is a very very good thing and nobody in the world knows how to use debt better than the Man Who Grabs ‘Em by the Pussy.  How many people can say they’ve shrugged off seven bankruptcies and still are able to live in a mansion atop a building on Fifth Avenue?  Not one.

Another very important thing to understand, which now nobody in government seems to understand, is bidding.  Starting tomorrow, people who sell things to the government are going to have to submit bids.  No more getting away with murder.  You have to submit bids.  They are especially helpful when you don’t intend to pay them anyway.  That’s how you build towers on Fifth Avenue and casinos in New Jersey. Make ‘em submit bids and then don’t pay ‘em. Beautiful.

Another way to make money, bigly, really really bigly, is to get rid of stuff you don’t need.  Stuff like health care.   The Affordable Care Act is a disaster.  Really really awful.  Our new government is getting rid of it.  What will sick people do?  One of these days the Man Who Grabs ‘Em by the Pussy and his pals in Congress will agree on something to replace the ACA.  Something really really good, really beautiful.  Trust them.

Take the Environmental Protection Agency.  Who needs it?  A bunch of so-called scientists, making work for themselves, inventing a Chinese hoax called “climate change.”  Of course the climate changes.  Don’t need so-called scientists to tell us that .  Our new government is working on something really really good, really beautiful, to replace all those worthless scientists.  They’re looking at a really really good deal on some prayer flags from Tibet.  Beautiful flags.  Very nice.  Colorful.  Very very beautiful.

The Man Who Grabs ‘Em by the Pussy and his henchmen — terrific people, all of them, really rich —have got great plans to dismantle a bunch of other agencies, too, outfits we don’t need.  Like, who needs to regulate bankers?  Bankers are good, because they sell debt.  You want to build a resort and a great, really great golf course, maybe with a few gold-plated bathtubs in the VIP suites, you go to the bankers and, Bingo!, a Brinks truck drives up with bagsful of cash.  Really great, really really beautiful.  

I’m feeling really great, really really beautiful as all of this is about to take place,  and more, bigly more, and I can’t wait to see what else they’re going to tear apart, right off the bat, starting tomorrow.

Meanwhile, when Secretary DeVos has finished solving the grizzly bear problem and is ready to turn her attention to the tiger problem in our schools, I’ve got just the dog for her.  I’ll submit a bid to provide tiger protection, but I know I won’t get paid anyway.  That’s America for you.  It’s great again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Tall Tale in Tennis

Let us now praise a famous (and very tall) Croat.

Ivo Karlovic  hit  a record 75 aces in a first-round tennis match yesterday at the Australian Open.  He had 38 in the fifth set, which he won, 22-20.  He broke the old record by 24.

Karlovic is 6’10” or 6’11” depending on who measured him and when.  Andy Roddick, who once held the world’s record for the fastest serve in a professional match, called Ivo’s serve “the biggest weapon in tennis.”  Ivo now holds the record for the fastest serve in an ATP match, 156 mph.  He also holds the all-time record for most career aces, well over 10,500, and probably will become the first player ever to record 11,000 of them. Ivo also holds the record for the world’s fastest SECOND serve — 144 mph!  He once served a record 45 aces in a three-set match (20 is considered a lot).

Next month, Ivo Karlovic will be 38 years old.  Last year he became the oldest player in four decades to win an ATP tournament.  He is the oldest man in three decades to be ranked among the top 20 players in the world. He is the oldest player ever to reach the third round of play in the French Open.  He is one of the few players in history to win titles on all three surfaces — grass, clay and hard courts — in a single year.

Ivo has become the grand old man of tennis despite a succession of injuries and surgeries and a bout of viral meningitis that went undiagnosed until he fell into a coma.  When he awakened he couldn’t remember his own name or what year it was — but three months later he made the finals of an ATP tournament, which he lost despite hitting 22 aces.

A few months ago, he was drawn to play a teen-ager in the first round of a tournament.  When a reporter mentioned the difference in ages, Ivo said, “Yes, I am old enough to be his Daddy.” (Pause). “Maybe I am!”

Actually, Ivo, who was married in 2005, has a five-year-old daughter, Jada.  Karlovic recently tweeted: “My daughter said, ‘Daddy, you have a big nose, like an elephant.’  I told her, ‘Go to bed.  No story tonight!’”

Karlovic frequently is in the running in the annual voting for the ATP tour “fan favorite” player.  His amiable banter in press interviews, and his tweets on twitter, may be one reason why.  During a recent tournament he tweeted that he had been watching Stan Wawrinka’s match on TV, but “commentators talking so much bull that I had to mute them.” Once when he was about to play another big server in a tournament, he quipped to his opponent, “We could save a lot of time by just playing tie-breakers right away.”  After he lost a match 6-7, 7-6, 6-7, 4-6 to Pete Sampras, he said the match was “a crapshoot.  Maybe we should just roll dice.”  

He has beaten both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic when they held the world’s No. 1 ranking. A reporter once asked him if he thought he could beat Federer without the benefit of the tie-break rule.  “Yup,” he said. “In a street fight.”  

“Who do you like in this tournament?” a reporter asked before a Grand Slam event. “Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray?”  Without a pause, Ivo said, “I prefer girls.”  When asked about the mechanics of the world’s greatest serve, he said, “Throw the ball up and smack it.”

Years ago the conventional wisdom held that tennis wasn’t a sport for tall guys, but that myth has been shattered over and over again.  Marin Cilic, a Croat who won the U.S. Open, is 6’5”, and Goran Ivanisevic, a Croat who won Wimbledon, is 6’4”.  Ivanisevic held the all-time career record for aces until Karlovic broke it. The American John Isner, who won the longest match ever played in professional tennis, is 6’9”. Many of the most promising young players today are over 6’4”. Reilly Opelka, a 19-year-old American who lost a five-setter to the 11th seed in Australia yesterday, is 6/11”.

Tall guys will do great things on the tennis court in years to come. When they do, Ivo Karlovic will be in the wings with something funny to say.  Count on it.