Friday, December 15, 2017

Keeping Faith In Trump Time

“The realization that life is absurd cannot be an end, but only a beginning.” Albert Camus

The massive Thomas Fire has dominated this entire week. The fire has torched nearly 250,000 acres and caused the death of one firefighter, locals schools have been shuttered, and the streets downtown are mostly empty of people. Local merchants are panicking as they watch the holiday shopping season pass. Those of us whose homes are not in danger have dealt with falling ash and unhealthy air quality, and, depending on where in the city one lives, the rumble overhead of helicopters on their way to make water drops. I haven’t left the house without an N95 mask for almost ten days. My 16-year-old daughter is going stir crazy. As of this morning, the Thomas Fire was 30 percent contained, but unless the winds remain quiet and we get some humidity the fire could burn several more weeks. Naturally, there’s no rain in the forecast.

On the political front, the odious Roy Moore did not win election to Alabama’s vacant senate seat; voters repudiated Moore, Trump, and Steve Bannon. Democrats are jubilant but what the party doesn’t seem to grasp is that simply being opposed to Trump isn’t enough for 2018 or beyond. Despite being a complete moron and a first-class creep, Moore lost by a slim margin. After nearly a year of Trump’s idiocy and incompetence, his lies and vulgarity and cruelty, I still don’t know what or who the Democratic Party stands for; working people or Wall Street, war or peace, social justice or austerity, prisons or education, resource extractors or the environment?

The GOP tax rip-off slithers toward Trump’s desk. The Trump FCC voted to repeal net neutrality rules, yet another holiday gift for corporate America, despite opposition from millions of Americans, proving once again, as if more proof were needed, that this country is a democracy in name only. Although, I can’t help but think that this is the last desperate gasp of the insane Republicans -- they are like a pack of looters after a natural disaster, racing to grab as much stuff as they can before the authorities arrive, but they are also planting the seeds of a reckoning. The majority of Americans are better than Donald J. Trump and the cold-hearted GOP. In Trump and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, plus a host of others, the dark underbelly of America has been exposed in all its ugliness, greed and cruelty; for now the dark side holds sway, but beware stirring the masses.

And if the masses can be stirred by a set of basic ideas like living wages for workers, education not prisons, crime and reasonable punishment, a complete re-think of America’s legitimate security and military needs, an end to fouling the earth, water and air for private profit, and the humane notion that no person should go hungry, homeless and without access to medical care, and that no elderly citizen should die destitute, then a lot that is good for people is possible, because the majority of Americans are the opposite of Donald J. Trump and his followers.  

Monday, December 11, 2017

He Ain't Heavy, He's Just a Pedophile

Conflict is the lifeblood of imperial capitalism.” Jason Hirthler, writing in CounterPunch

 Will Alabama or won’t Alabama?

 Elect the alleged pedophile, Roy Moore.

The same Roy Moore who kept a tablet inscribed with the Ten Commandments in his courtroom to remind the sinners and thieves who came before him That he was righteous and tight with the Lord.

Only thing, the Judge was ordered by a higher court to remove his tablet,
Holding the Bible like a shield what did the man do?
Refused, that’s what.

Same way he refused to recognize marriage equality, even when the Supreme Court ruled it the law of the land. Old Roy got himself tossed off the bench until the people, the people! re-elected him.

Time and time again Roy Moore has refused to separate his religious beliefs from his judicial duty. He’s made racist remarks, and even declared that all Constitutional Amendments after the Tenth be repealed. Think about it: the abolition of slavery, equal protection under the law, the right to vote -- forget it all.

Moore’s no fan of the Rule of Law.

This perverse history came before the public allegations of pedophilia, before stories of Judge Moore creeping adolescent girls in shopping malls, believing, so thoroughly in biblical patriarchy that women should submit to their men, and every man deserves a young virgin, that there was nothing amiss with this behavior.

Just gettin’ what God told him he was owed.

Sucking on hubris, high on tax cuts, the morally comatose GOP chucks its support behind Moore, Figuring there’s no electoral downside.

And the Orange Menace, America’s Malignant Tumor, Donald J. Trump, is all-in for Judge Moore, rallying his tribe of racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic and aggrieved followers to vote for Moore because he’s needed to Make America Great Again.

(Did you know that we are well on our way to being great again? Trump said so. Must be true.)

Morality, conscience, compassion, commonsense, humanity, the GOP traded its soul for cash, for power, and now the invoice has come due, time to pony up big tax cuts for the donor base.

So the plutocrats can rule forevermore.

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell laugh hysterically, a pair of sociopathic pranksters who have almost pulled off the cruelest joke -- the free ride for the wealthy will be paid for by the working poor, by children and senior citizens, the disabled, the hungry, the homeless, the sick and infirm.

So funny when you can manipulate people to vote for their own immiseration.

Just talk about God and gays and transgender freaks and liberals and states’ rights and entitlements and welfare queens and the glory of the Free Market and American greatness. Stoke the fires of grievance and envy and fear, never forget fear.

Lie about tax cuts, swear to God that tax cuts for the wealthy produce wonderful jobs for the poor, even though they never have, not ever, not for Uncle Ronnie Reagan, or George W. Bush.

Easy as apple pie. Flat out lies are the New Truth, science is bogus, history irrelevant, memory an aberration.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Already Present in the World

“In an age of almost unparalleled extremism, violence and cruelty, authoritarianism is gaining ground, rapidly creating a society in which shared fears and unchecked hatred have become the organizing forces for community. Under the Trump regime, dissent is disparaged as a pathology or dismissed as fake news, while even the slightest compassion for others becomes an object of disdain and subject to policies that increase the immiseration, suffering and misery of the most vulnerable.” Henry Giroux

Ash from the Thomas Fire in Ventura is falling like snow outside my window. The air quality is unhealthy and the sun is the color of a ripe peach. The wildfires raging in various parts of California are clearly exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change, but don’t bother telling Scott Pruitt or the other venal nitwits in the Trump Administration -- they refuse to believe the evidence right in front of them.

People walking in downtown Santa Barbara wear dust masks or bandanas. Is this what the apocalypse will look like? The schools in the unified district have been shuttered for two straight days. There has hardly been any wind, so the smoke from the fires lays over the city like a malevolent blanket. Some fire officials believe the Thomas Fire could burn until Christmas. More than 130,000 acres have burned thus far. There’s no rain in the forecast, even though this is supposed to be our “rainy” season. When and if rain comes, it will likely produce mudslides, but not to fear, this has nothing to do with climate change, that Chinese hoax.

This is the age of cruelty and stupidity. As I noted on this blog many months ago, Trump and his band of kleptocrats will do enormous damage to the nation, exacerbate our most pressing problems, and fuck things up but good for a generation -- if not longer. Despair is an easy emotion to fall into, and I have been guilty of this many times in the last 12 months. In normal times -- and these are anything but normal times -- I tend to brood and see the world through a dark lens; cynicism comes easy to me. These are not traits I’m proud of, but I recognize them for what they are. But sunny optimism without an understanding of the work required to make any kind of change -- personal, social -- seems naive. Wishing will not make something so, effort is required, and not only effort, sustained effort, through setbacks and failures and dead ends and dark nights when any progress seems impossible.  

The writer Rebecca Solnit whose book, Hope in the Dark, I am reading now, says this: “What we dream of is already present in the world.” I dream of a world less bent on its own destruction, a world where cooperation is more valued than competition, a world in which the pursuit of money isn’t the highest ideal, a world where one human life isn’t deemed more valuable than another, a world of far less wealth inequality, one in which large numbers of people can satisfy their basic needs for food, shelter, medical care, clothing, work and education, a world where a person of color in a hoody and baggy pants and white sneakers  can walk in a predominantly white neighborhood and not be considered suspect, dangerous, a threat.

Come off your corner stool, move to the middle of the ring, start punching. Don’t stop.

Friday, December 01, 2017

The Uses of Fear

“The chief principle of banana-ism is that of kleptocracy, whereby those in positions of influence use their time in office to maximize their own gains, always ensuring that any shortfall is made up by those unfortunates whose daily life involves earning money rather than making it.” Christopher Hitchens

Demagogues throughout history and the world over understand the use of fear, and how to stoke fear in order to manipulate their subjects or followers. When he’s not at war with black athletes, the NFL, CNN, Elizabeth Warren or members of his own cabinet, or insulting indigenous people with his breathtaking stupidity, Donald J. Trump never misses an opportunity to raise the spectre of crime, immigrants, and Muslims. The litany goes: soft on crime, soft on the border, soft on terrorism, yada yada. In reality, the crime rate in the United States is down, immigrants are not pouring across the border to pillage, rape and plunder, and we have far more to fear from deranged homegrown white men armed to the gills than we do from Muslims. But fear works on a large segment of the American public that doesn’t think, read, or know much, if anything, about history.

Trump bangs on endlessly about the threat of Muslim terrorists, but where did he go on his first overseas trip as President? Right, Saudi Arabia, that bastion of moderation and tolerance. As Al-Jazeera journalist Mehdi Hasan noted recently, “The Saudi Arabians have been exporting their particularly puritanical, intolerant brand of Islam to the rest of the Muslim-majority world since the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.” Naturally, Saudi Arabia is our bosom ally, and naturally, Trump is far too ignorant to see the hypocrisy of American policy.

I noticed the other day, quite out of the blue, a sudden surge of disquiet followed by a flash of white hot anger, and I realized the source of these feelings: Trump, the immoral GOP tax scam, the smirk on Paul Ryan’s face, the ongoing genocide in Yemen, aided and assisted by the United States. These are all people or events that take place far from my everyday life, but they feel real, bothersome, and often infuriating, primarily because I am powerless to do much but write my elected officials, sign on-line petitions, and write this blog. Might as well spit into a Category 5 hurricane. I’m not alone in feeling politically impotent; it’s obvious that the views of the majority of Americans are completely disregarded by political, financial and media elites. The people are only needed every few years to legitimize the system by casting votes in sham elections that are bought and paid for by corporations and the super wealthy.  

The proposals and proclamations issuing from the Trump kleptocracy are so heinous and cruel that it makes me wonder if people in Washington sit around thinking of the most damaging things they can inflict on the nation. How can we punish senior citizens, children, the infirm or disabled? What can we do to foul the environment and hasten the effects of climate change? How can we make it more difficult for young people without piles of cash to attend college? How can we get the masses to pay for the excesses of corporations and the wealthy? It’s as if there is a diabolical think tank around the corner from Pennsylvania Avenue where morons and fucktards hatch schemes…Trump has no respect for his office, the Constitution, the rule of law, basic decorum, and he’s even incapable of awarding commendations to elderly American Indian war veterans without making an ass of himself. If Trump were the president of Trinidad and Tobago or the Marshall Islands, I might be less troubled by his penchant for fouling everything he touches, but he’s the President of the United States and his buffoonery isn’t a laughing matter.

My wife clings to the idea that only the arts can save us from our worst impulses, live theater, plays, music, dance, painting; I want desperately to believe her. In a time of darkness, we must look for the light wherever we can.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

What powerful man will be toppled next over charges of sexual misconduct, and why hasn’t the stain of misconduct reached our Groper-in-Chief, Donald J. Trump? Obviously, sexual harassment in the workplace pre-dates Trump ascending to the Oval Office, but Trump has altered the zeitgeist like no president before him. Trump continues to call his accusers liars, and claim, as only Trump can, that nobody respects women more than he does. Right. Trump respects women as long as they give in to his ego, narcissism, tiny, wandering hands, and boorish behavior. Isn’t it curious how the corporate media largely give Trump a pass at the same time they go on endlessly about movie moguls, actors, and other politicians?

I don’t know what to make of this flood of accusations, other than this is still a male-dominated world, and certain men in positions of power and authority seem to believe they can act as raunchy as they want without fear of consequence. Even an old goat like Charlie Rose is in on the act, pawing women at office parties, flashing his sagging member at co-workers, and who knows what else. All over the world, in offices, factories, hospitals, City Halls, and schools, women suffer at the hands of men -- and mostly in silence, behind closed doors, out of sight, and far too often when they do come forward, they are not believed.  

Depressing vibe for a holiday week, when the sun is shining here on the Platinum coast, and there’s cold beer in the fridge, Champions League football on the tube, and my daughter bugging me to raise our Christmas tree before the end of November, which I resist doing with all my being. I don’t believe in the holiday “season,” the ceaseless exhortations to buy, spend, and get the deal. We need to buy more stuff like we need to spend more money on the war machine. We’ve got enough stuff, enough wars. What we lack is a sense of balance and proportion, of fairness and equity, of empathy and compassion. Thanksgiving doesn’t get it’s due any more -- as dubious as the holiday is -- it’s just a springboard to the interminable Christmas season, the day before Black Friday. How many scenes of  shoppers surging through the doors of Wal-Mart or Target will the mainstream press feed us this year? Get your diamond tennis bracelet, your Lexus tied up with a red bow, the new iPhone whatever…

The air-conditioned nightmare is what Henry Miller called America back in the early 1940’s. Not sure what Henry would say if he were to come back for a visit with the living. The American nightmare is much, much worse now, and the air-conditioning sputters on and off. We are a hollowed-out hulk of an empire, a rust-bucket aircraft carrier running out of fuel and drifting wildly off course. The President is a dangerous fool and his party is a collection of hacks, perverts, pedophiles, and hard-hearted ideologues. The Republican-controlled Congress is very close to passing a breathtakingly hideous tax plan that will benefit a small number of wealthy people at the expense of the many. This disgraceful legislation will, when its effects are fully realized a few years down the trail, immiserate millions of average people.

And that’s when the air-conditioning switches off for good.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Amnesia of Power

“It is time that we stopped our blithe lip service to the guarantees of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. These fine sentiments are embodied in the Declaration of Independence, but that document was always a declaration of intent rather than of reality. There were slaves when it was written; there were still slaves when it was adopted.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I can’t recall. I don’t remember. I don’t have a specific recollection. In fact, I don’t even have a vague recollection.”

The white Attorney General of the United States of America can get away with this two-bit BS’ing of Congress. Imagine an African-American defendant trying these lame responses on an all-white jury. How quickly do you think the jurors would return a guilty verdict?

When the rule of law becomes a farce and a carnival show, and one class of people set themselves above the law, all is pretty much lost. The poor routinely experience the full weight of the law on their necks, even for relatively minor crimes, while the wealthy and well-connected plead amnesia and pillage with impunity.

Like a Greek tragedy, these are dark and perilous times. Trump returns from his jaunt to Asia and declares that American prestige and honor has been restored, and that the fecklessness of his predecessors has been vanquished. With the exception of the murderous president of the Philippines, most Asian leaders would disagree. What did Trump achieve? Next to nothing.

Why isn’t the disaster in Yemen in the mainstream American news? Saudi Arabia, with considerable assistance from the United States, is perpetrating genocide on millions of human beings, with death from the sky and cholera and famine on the ground, but we can’t be bothered to pay a minute of attention.

The detestable Roy Moore, candidate for United States Senate from Alabama, hides behind his Bible while he defends himself against accusations of sexual predation lodged by multiple women; but, hey, no problem, because according to Moore, the girls he creeped gave their consent. Grown men marry and fuck teenage girls in other nations, so why not in America? What’s wrong with a 32-year-old pervert stalking 14-year-old-girls in a shopping mall? Sounds like the perfect training ground for a United States Senator in this Age of Trump, himself a serial groper.

Hundreds of people, including journalists, who protested the inauguration of Donald Trump, are on trial and face decades in prison for engaging in one of the most fundamental acts a citizen in a democracy can engage in: dissent. Once dissent is criminalized we are finished as a democratic republic. You can shut out the lights and close the door and declare the American experiment over.

Russia, Russia, Russia. Talk about a distraction. I must be stupid because I still fail to see how Russia tipped the electoral college for Trump.

Trump embodies everything that is vile and loathsome in the American character, the ugly American writ large, loud, bombastic, ignorant, and dangerous.

Sitting here in California, waiting for the other combat boot to drop, feeling sick to my stomach every time I see Donald Trump on the TV screen, or hear his voice. While I know that it probably never will, I’m old enough to want my country to live up to its exalted ideals, not bow to its basest and most venal instincts. The veneer of participatory democracy has been ripped away like a tin roof in a hurricane, and now all can see the tyranny of the wealthy minority over the struggling majority. This is the new feudalism. I am a serf, no doubt about it, landless and without title. Look at the massive tax giveaway the GOP-controlled House of Representatives just approved for the wealthiest individuals and corporations. Never mind the cruelty of this bill, what of the utter hypocrisy? Any time Barack Obama proposed to spend money, every GOP representative squealed about the budget deficit and accused Obama of saddling future generations with ruinous debt. Remember the Tea Party?

We have the worst government money can buy, of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.  Those of us who live out here in the real economy of rents and medical bills and student loan payments and every other expense it takes to survive, are going to bear the burden if the United States Senate follows the House. Best prepare to bend over. And make no mistake -- this will hurt.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

A Dubious Anniversary

“Be it ancient Rome or modern-day America, you’re either citizen or slave. Lion or Jew. Guilty or innocent. Comfortable or uncomfortable.” Paul Beatty

Another day, another mass shooting by a disturbed white man with a history of domestic violence. As always, the NRA and its political enablers wring their bloody hands, offer thoughts and prayers, or like Vice President Pence, vow to stand against evil, whatever that empty statement means, and then proceed to go about their deadly business. The problem isn’t the prevalence of firearms, they always say, in fact, what we need are more people armed with guns...

How much more proof is needed that this is a sick society? Plagued by an excess of rage and animosity, fueled by people like Donald Trump. Mass shootings won’t stop any more than the oligarchs and plutocrats will stop parking their loot offshore to avoid paying US tax. There are myriad forms of violence at work in America, Inc, against the poor, people of color, the working poor, and the environment. We live by Hellfire missile abroad and the AR-15 at home. The rage bubbles like a pot of stew on the stove. But do we stop and consider the systemic causes of our maladies, the impact of savage capitalism on flesh and blood human beings? Rarely. Getting to root causes takes time, effort, reflection, and critical thinking. The party that wields political power over the country disdains intellectual activity, ridicules anyone who searches for truth or questions prevailing orthodoxy, who points out the hypocrisy of our leaders. It’s much more comfortable to believe in myth and fairy tales, the Garden of Eden and the Yellow Brick Road, magic beans, the Lone Ranger,  Superman, and the Big Myth -- American Exceptionalism.

King Donald I is in Asia hawking American-made weapons. Big, beautiful, shiny, weapons. South Korean protesters tell Trump to shut up and go home.

Meanwhile, Trump stooges like Steve Mnuchin and Paul Ryan are spewing lies about the GOP tax plan, the latest blatant giveaway to our wealthiest and least deserving citizens, by alleging that slashing taxes for the wealthy will create jobs for everyone else. This is the tried and true and discredited, let-me-trickle-my-piss-down-your-leg idea that only leaves wage workers standing in a noxious puddle.

A year since the anti-democratic Electoral College went for Trump. The Orange Menace, who lost the popular vote, let’s not forget, and has no mandate, has flailed and failed on all fronts, his approval rating is in the toilet, historically low for a president in the first year of his first term. Of course, in Trump’s alternative universe, he is winning like no president before, his ratings are fantastic, the stock market is soaring, and America is on course to be great again. The hacks, sycophants, incompetents, and criminals who surround Trump scheme day and night to rob the treasury and make millions of Americans absolutely miserable.

As Jeremy Scahill says, history and context matter. The Orange Menace didn’t rise from a vacuum -- he was vomited up by a system of predatory capitalism, racism, and militarism.