Sunday, April 9, 2017

More Tales from Trumpistan

There is turmoil in Trumpistan.  Its spokesman has turned into a bowl of cheese puffs.  Its Alt-Pres. has been demoted.  In fact, Ratso Rednose has lost his seat on the National Security Council, too.  Orange Boy has ordered the First Son-in-Law to put away the knives and make nice with Ratso and the rest of the schemers and plotters.

Who's in? Who's out? Who's up? Who's down? Why cheese puffs? What happened to the chocolate mints? It's like the bad old days in Russia. Pundits are panting over the picture of the White House meeting before Orange Boy ordered the missile strike on Syria.

Who's seated where? Who's scowling? Who's smiling? Sneering? Scratching his ear? Who was fer it, who was agin it?

Why did Orange Boy change his policy? He didn't change it, he never had a policy.  Well, he has one now: his policy is not to have a policy.  

He likes military toys.  The Tomahawks worked so well that he's learning the names of all the other missiles.  He's got warships sailing thither and yon all over the eastern seas. Gotta be careful they don't bump into one another.  Aircraft carriers can't turn on a dime, y'know.

He had a "working meeting" with President Xi Jinping of China.  Big diplomatic triumph, Trumpistan crowed.  Not if you read the newspapers in China. Their guy treated the American like a scolded schoolboy, they wrote, especially if you looked at the photograph of the two men seated on a White House sofa: Orange Boy slouching in a pout, Xi Jinping upright and stern, pointing a finger at the host.  The two presidents were supposed to “work on” another problem brat in the world, Kim Jong-un of North Korea.  Fat Boy, too, likes to play with military toys and has been shooting missiles in a manner that annoys his neighbors.  Orange Boy got no promises from Xi Jinping about controlling North Korea.

So what did he accomplish?  Well, some of the TV guys said, he looked really presidential when he shot those Tomahawks into syria while eating baked Alaska with his guest.  How can a fat, pouty 70-year-old manchild with a dead orange animal on his head look presidential?  Never mind the truth.  It was the designated narrative of the day: “Looked presidential.”

Rex Tillerson, the Exxon-Mobil warlord who has been made secretary of state, defined the North Korea situation one way: “President Xi clearly understands, and I think agrees, that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken.”  Nikki Haley, the addle-pated United States ambassador to the U.N. saw it differently.  Xi Jinping might be dragging his feet, but the U.S. was quite ready to go it alone using force.  Who writes the scripts for these people?

ButOrange Boy had a really big victory in the Senate, you’ve got to agree on that, right?  Got his man Gorsuch confirmed to the open seat on the Supreme court, giving the fascist wing a 5-4 majority again. And all they had to do was kill the last vestiges of democracy in the upper house, changing the rules of operation in ways that had never been attempted before.

Trumpistan stands where once there was a democratic republic.  It wasn’t perfect, and recent regimes had presided over  symptoms of decay, but at least it retained vestiges of what its founders had intended.  Every now and then sane office-holders actually engaged in serious, civil debate.

But that was then.  This is now.  Bigly.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Toys of Mass Destruction

Great Powers have been meddling in the Middle East at least since World War I.  Each meddle has made an impossibly complicated geopolitical mess even more complicated.

Now comes the narcissistic manchild of the west, taking a turn at havoc.  The Orange Boy loves toys almost as bigly as he loves himself and seeing his name in large gilt letters.  Yesterday, he turned loose 59 of them against Syria, without bothering to consult Congress, as that finicky old Constitution requires.  Wheeee!  See the bang-bangs.  I am sooooo great!

As he intended, he is now the center of attention in the world, basking in the praise of just about everyone except Russia, Iran and a few fuddy-duddies in congress who still think the Founders were serious when they invested war-making powers solely in the legislative branch of government.

What next? is the frightening question now.  Things are vastly more complicated than they were a mere two days ago.  Then we were wondering what really happened with the chlorine-sarin gas attacks in battered, shattered, civil war-torn Syria.

Orange Boy’s secretary of state, the oil baron Rex Tillerson, who knows where the crude is buried but not the hatchets, assured the world that there is absolute proof that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind horrible nerve-gas attack in Idlib.  Just as then Secretary of State Colin Powell assured the United Nations, the United States and the world that there was absolute proof that Saddam Hussein of Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. (False). Just as the Obama administration assured everyone in 2013 that Assad had used banned nerve gas in an assault on his own people.  (False).

Tillerson’s proof consists of radar video, not yet released to the public, clearly showing planes taking off from a Syrian air force base and dropping bombs on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a province in northern Syria controlled by an alliance of rebel groups, including a powerful faction linked to al-Qaeda. Tillerson says the projectiles the aircraft dropped contained the deadly, banned gas.  Russia says they were conventional bombs that hit a building where the rebels had stored the gas.

Orange Boy
It was Russia’s President Vladimir Putin who, in 2013, brokered the deal that caused U.S. President Obama to hold off on military reprisal against Assad.  The deal called for Russia to monitor Syria’s destruction of all its chemical weapons.  Supposedly, this was done.

The air force base that Orange Boy’s toys targeted is 67 miles from Khan Sheikhoun. We are told today that our military gave the Russian military advance notice of the strike.  Even so, some Russians soldiers were still there when the cruise missiles hit. Syrian sources said only 26 of the missiles reached their targets.  Does it matter how many?  Seven people were reported killed in the strike.  One of them may have been Russian.

Today, Russia responded by announcing it would beef up its aerial presence and aerial defense support in Syria. The Kremlin suspended a 2015 memorandum of understanding  to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents between United States and Russian military aircraft operating over Syria.  That could lead to big trouble. It was Russia’s military assistance that enabled the Assad government to turn the tide in the six-year-old civil war.  It was, inch by inch, village by village, winning that war when the poison gas incident occurred. Why, then, would Assad risk everything, outraging the world by killing civilians and children with outlawed chemical weaponry that he had promised to destroy?  Doing so, an Iranian political analyst named Mosib Na’imi said yesterday, “would be a crazy move” under the circumstances.

But crazy is normal in the Middle East.

Somebody loosed the nerve gas on civilians.  Horrid pictures of dead and suffering children were on TV.

Orange Boy doesn’t read.  He gets his information from the TV.  His generals offered him a range of options — including one that called for firm insistence that Russia make good on its 2013 deal, with the implied threat of future military action against Assad.

Orange Boy chose instead to make bang-bang with his big, bad toys.

Now the world cringes.  Its diplomats and generals and political leaders ask themselves, what next in the Middle East?

Hang onto your ass.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Good Day at the Pass

They turned on the river yesterday.  It seemed like a good time to drive way across town and revisit the mountains.

For much of the year our part of the Rio Grande is a river of sand but in spring, they open the gates at the reservoirs upstream and it flows, brown and fetid, into Texas and Mexico. Near the Mesilla bridge, two cars were parked and guys were sitting in folding chairs, fishing.  Hundreds of miles to the north, the Rio Grande roars between high cliffs and anglers catch trout.  I don’t want to know what, if anything, they catch down here.

When we first drove out University Avenue almost three decades ago, Dripping Springs Road and Baylor Canyon Road were rocky, pitted, narrow passages, little better than jeep tracks.  Now almost the entire route is paved and the section that isn’t has been widened, scraped and covered with “crusher fine” gravel.  Smooth.

I presume the road improvements, and the other refinements we noted, were paid for with federal funds that accompanied the designation of the new Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National monument, which embraces the Dripping Springs recreation area, the Baylor Pass trail, the Aguirre Springs campground and recreation area, and much more. Lois wanted to photograph the golden poppy fields at Aguirre Springs.  We took the scenic route.

Poppies in the Organ Foothills
It had been so long since we last went over there that we were surprised by the enhancements the monument designation had spawned, and by the sheer beauty of being up close to the mountains.  New signs and markers have been placed at various points, with text explaining how the mountains came to be, where the old Lost Padre Mine was, the stories of the padre, the Hermit, Col. Baylor and his great Civil War victory. The new regime in Washington wants to give all these public lands back to the states and to private interests which will exploit and spoil them for a brief spree of obscene profit. The Republican who represents this district fought the national monument for a decade.  Our U.S.  senators and other saner voices prevailed, but now the people-haters and climate-deniers want to tear apart everything we’ve gained.

How, I wondered, as we paused at Organ Peak Road for picture-taking, could anyone with a soul, a brain, a shred of humanity, want to end the protections of these places? The sun was intense, the sky virtually cloudless.  Others were about, exploring and enjoying the monument.  California, Minnesota, Nevada, Iowa, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wisconsin.  On our second or third visit here we had seen only one non-local vehicle, driven by a nurse from El Paso whose boyfriend helped us change a tire on the Jeep. Now we were part of a flow of tourists.  Tourists spend money for local goods and services.  Recent studies have shown that all of the newer national parks and monuments have been economic boons for local businesses.  Yet here, and in Utah, especially, the congressional fruitcakes of the GOP want to dismantle them and let the corporate bloodsuckers dig and drill and despoil.  Madness.

Monument money at last has enabled the Bureau of Land Management to replace the stolen marker that tells the story of Baylor Pass.  During the Civil War, a Union battalion was stationed at Mesilla,  It had its own hospital and medical staff.  Among its stores was a supply of medicinal whiskey.  One day the Pinkertons, as was their wont, reported to the Union commander that a far superior Confederate force was on its way.  The order to retreat was sounded and many of the troops, rather than letting the stuff fall into Johnny Reb’s hands, filled their canteens with whiskey rather than water. By the time they had traversed the 13 miles over hot, arid desert to the foot of the nearest pass over the Organs, most of them were sick and drunk.  Some had even ditched their weapons and gear.  When the six or seven mounted troops of the Confederate advance unit overtook them, the entire battalion surrendered to Col. John Robert Baylor’s men. The pass where these events took place is now named for the man who won this great victory.

It’s a short jaunt to Aguirre Springs from the end of Baylor Canyon Road, via U.S. Highway 70.  The road follows St, Augustine Pass from whose  7,500-foot summit one has a sweeping view of the Organs, the San Andres and the White Sands Missile Range.  The road from the highway to Aguirre Springs borders an artillery range.  Little puffs of smoke rose in the distance to the east.  We scanned the western slopes for poppy fields.

We had missed the peak season, which had come a little earlier than usual this year.  Lois, who is passionate about these poppies, spotted a few patches, glittering golden in the bright sunlight.  She made many pictures.

It was a good day.  As always in the west, we wondered how many more such days there would be before the bad guys had their way with the land.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Treason Against Mankind

Whatever remains of this nation, and this planet, four years from now, historians and scientists will sift through the ashes looking for evidence of criminality.  Which crime of Donald J. Trump will they assess to be the most serious?

Arguably, his massive destruction of environmental progress and protections.  “Treason against the human race” is how my journalist friend, Steve Klinger, aptly describes these horrors.  Absent the initiation of nuclear war, these crimes will stand as the most serious attempts ever made by a national leader to destroy the entire world.

As usual, the carnival antics of his attempt at governance will distract attention from the depths of his depravity on this and the other great issues of our time.

Who leaked what to whom and why?  Who owes his or her vast wealth to dalliances with the worst of the financial criminals in other countries? Who sold out to whom and when?  Secret sallies by corrupt congressmen in the dead of night into White House grounds to receive purloined documents. Lies to congress by appointees to head the regulatory agencies of government.  Lies to the people by a peccary in an ill-fitting suit.  Lies! Fake news!  Tweets! Sad.

Never has the democratic republic been in such a sorry state.  Never has there been such a paucity of integrity and leadership at the highest levels of government.  Never has the common man been under such relentless attack from all directions.  Never has there been such a sweeping destruction of basic human rights.  Life — air fit to breathe, water safe to drink, poison-free food in adequate supply to feed all the people. Liberty — freedom from fear of the police and of government spies and of religious hatred; freedom to speak openly in criticism of government mis-rule; freedom to worship, or not worship, as one’s conscience dictates.  The pursuit of happiness — health care for all, with women guaranteed the right to control their own bodies without government interference; public lands, wisely managed and protected for the good of all, not just a handful of greedy corporations and land-rapers; living with and loving whom one pleases; a share of the great national wealth allocated to the encouragement and development of the arts and sciences; tolerance of neighbors of different colors, traditions and values.

Day after day the populace is assaulted by new hateful executive orders, vicious new laws, rights-stomping regulations.  Our leaders open their mouths and villainy spews out.  Even the rhetoric of government pollutes air already increasingly laden with deadly elements.  The technology is so vast, so rapidly expanding, that there is no safe corner, no soothing nook, in which to find a moment’s rest, a few seconds of peace and safety.  We are encased in a vast and sophisticated apparatus of repression and it is managed by a madman.

But worst of all, this madman has chosen to make war upon the thin veneer of elements enveloping this planet that can sustain the life that has evolved upon it.  Not since the Great Extinction have so many creatures been threatened with elimination within so brief a period of time.  Never have there been so many threats to human health, vitality and existence, deliberately and maniacally exacerbated by a single man and his vile cohorts.

Once, Time magazine wondered on its cover, “Is God Dead?”  More recently, Time magazine wondered on its cover, “Is Truth Dead?”

Now it is time to wonder, “Is Civilization Dead?”  Because there will be no one left to wonder when the entire world is dead.