Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Back Where We Began

“But the truth is that no one is exempt -- the system that crushes one will crush all.” Emily Temple, review of Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.”

Disturbing days in TrumpLand. My anger isn’t burning as hot as it was a few days back when I wrote and posted “Poet in a Bad Mood,” but I am plenty mad about all the shit going down in this failing nation. The cop who killed Philando Castile will stroll, free, as if he had gunned down a coyote or a rabid dog. Castile, like all the other unarmed black men murdered by state agents, doesn’t matter enough to warrant the prosecution of his killer. What does it take for a police officer to be held accountable for killing a black person in America? Video evidence brings the crime into the light but rarely seems helpful in securing an indictment, let alone a conviction. As Ronnie Dunn noted on Counterspin, all a cop has to do to walk away unscathed from one of these fatal shootings is claim he feared for his life. For a cop who guns down a black man, them’s the magic words.

I was reminded of the racist reality of America by a segment Bill Moyers did on the Big Lie that got Donald Trump on the national stage and then into the White House: the Birther Lie. The birther lie, in case you’ve forgotten, was the proposition put forth in 2009 by right-wing cranks, and then Trump, that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump was all over the corporate media back then, spouting this bullshit that our first African-American president was not actually an American, that he was born in Kenya, educated in a madrassa, raised a Muslim, in other words, foreign, suspect, illegitimate. On and on this went. It was a minor story that should have flashed across our TV screens and vanished, but Trump and his ilk kept it alive for several years. Bill Moyers interviewed four distinguished historians, three of them African-American, one white, about how the Big Lie placed Donald Trump in a perfect position to benefit from the white electorate’s pent up hatred of our African-American president. If not for Obama, it’s unlikely Trump would today be in the White House doing everything in his power to erase the legacy of Barack Obama, from undermining the nuclear agreement with Iran, to sabotaging the Paris Climate Accord, to replacing the Affordable Care Act with an even less effective, and far crueler, alternative. Trump is in many things ignorant, lazy, unhinged, idiotic, and bigoted, but, like every demagogue, he senses what a particular group of people want to hear, need to hear, either to give them hope that their power and privilege isn’t waning, or to give them a scapegoat for their own failure. The problem isn’t you, white America, it’s the liberals, it’s political correctness, it’s multicultural studies, it’s Affirmative Action, it’s feminism, it’s the LGBT people, it’s Muslims, it’s Mexicans. It’s the destruction from within of “American Values” by all these other, non-white undesirables.

It’s all the fault of the black man in the White House who doesn’t deserve to sit at the apex of power in White America.  

Racism is the stain on the American soul that cannot be erased, whitewashed, painted over or scrubbed away. It was present at the beginning of our history, present during and after Reconstruction and during the long struggle for civil rights, through lynchings, beatings, fire-bombings, terror campaigns, sit-ins and marches and boycotts. Every time we get to thinking of how far we have come, we turn around to find we are back where we began.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Poet in a Bad Mood

Fuck Donald Trump.

Fuck the wealthy.

Fuck all real estate peddlers.

Fuck Amazon, you deadly behemoth.

Fuck every last Clinton Democrat.

Fuck the US system of pathological capitalism.

Fuck the greedy.

Fuck Scott Pruitt.

Fuck Jeff Sessions.

Fuck the Koch brothers and all their issue.

Fuck all the neoliberal assholes who deny America’s class war.

Fuck those who measure others by net worth.

Fuck National Review and the ghost of William F. Buckley.

Fuck Henry Kissinger.

Fuck Jamie Dimon.

Fuck Predator drones.

Fuck racism.

Fuck Nancy Pelosi and her pal Chuck Schumer.

I’m too angry for my own good, another middle-aged white man beating his fists against the high wall that divides winners and losers in the rancid American wasteland;
sold out, written off, deemed disposable, redundant, surplus to requirements;

and I’ve got it easy compared to my darker-skinned brothers and sisters, nothing much to complain about, really, but I still do;

Standing by as the country is pillaged, its soul sucked dry, its treasure poured into war and death by blind hypocrites;

Knowing only too well that no savior will rise from the ashes;

Camelot is a vagrant lot, full of weeds, old tires and broken glass;

Which way will it go, how’s it going to end, a mushroom cloud, or a rising tide under a malevolent sun?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Chevy to the Levee

“Republicans believe that the rich need more money and the poor need less help. They support tax cuts for corporations and cuts in services for the vulnerable.” Editorial in The Nation, June 19/26, 2017.

Madness loose in the land, spurred on by capitalism’s death rattle, the endless drive for more profit, higher rates of return, growth, expansion. The super wealthy stash their coin in offshore accounts, away from taxing authorities and other prying eyes. Some of the wealthy build fortified bunkers for protection against the day when the entire crooked system implodes and the mass of impoverished people rise up, as people once did in France and Russia, and begin searching for those that caused their torment. Chris Hedges, journalist and prophet, calls America a tinderbox and it’s difficult to argue otherwise. It takes little imagination to imagine a full-scale government crackdown on protesters and dissenters, most police forces are already militarized to play this role, and if they aren’t, there are private goons for hire, well-equipped and eager to cash in on domestic upheaval.

America is morally bankrupt, a clear and present danger to its traditional allies, a danger to the planet itself. All the hoary mythology used to cloak America as a beacon of freedom, truth and justice, is being stripped away to reveal our true nature, who we really are, and the portrait isn’t flattering. The face of a true hypocrite rarely is.

The propaganda organs work overtime to control the narrative in order to maintain the status quo. There is no economic alternative to capitalism. Tax cuts produce jobs. The minimum wage cannot be raised or the world will end. Social Security is nearly bankrupt. We cannot afford Medicare for All. Greed is good, compassion is for wimps. And on the foreign front -- Russia, bad. Iran, bad. Qatar, bad (but they can buy our beautiful weapons). North Korea, bad. Saudi Arabia, good. Black or white, nuance abandoned and left to perish by the wayside. Enemies, threats. The nation must be ever vigilant, alert, ready to defend itself from the bad guys who hate our freedoms. We must bomb them before they bomb us. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. All problems can be solved by our beautiful military. Our cruise missiles. Our drones. Scour the kill list for new targets. We can see through the fog of war.

Orwell shakes his head. Told you so. Down the memory hole. War is peace. Truth is what the leader says it is. Slavery is freedom. You didn’t listen then, you won’t listen now.

Reign of terror. Reign of error. Reign of fools. Reign of greed. Reign of lies. Reign of bluster.

Hipsters sip $4 coffee and $15 craft cocktails, oblivious to the impending collapse. They tap their screens and keyboards, all synergy and branding and can’t miss business propositions. Self as commodity, substance buried under a layer of style. Acquire happiness in the marketplace. Enlightenment overnight from Amazon. Wisdom from Google.

Do you remember where you were when the American Dream died, when the party ended and the last note of music faded away?

Bye bye miss American pie.  

Friday, June 09, 2017

The Rise of Ideological Monsters

A country that stops taking care of its own, that loses the capacity for empathy and compassion, that crumples up human beings and throws them away when it is done with them, breeds dark ideological monsters that will inevitably rise to devour the body politic.” Chris Hedges

What day is it, and what has King Donald done to make America regret ever allowing him within a hundred miles of the White House? Has he launched another crazed Twitter war, insulted our European allies again, kissed up to any strongmen, or proposed giving away more of the commons to his corporate pals? It’s hard to keep up with every Trumpian outrage because they come hard and fast every day. I’m still digesting all the lies Trump spewed to justify pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord.

I wrote in my last blog that Trump is an aberration that we must not normalize, but in thinking about that further, the truth is that Trump is less an aberration than the logical product of a rotten and corrupt political system. I’ve made this observation several times before. The American electorate was given two horrible choices in November 2016 -- a grotesque egomaniacal buffoon with zero understanding about how our government or foreign policy works, and the undisputed queen of neoliberalism. This was a Hobson’s Choice. Although differing vastly in style, intelligence, experience and judgment, both Trump and Clinton are adherents of the neoliberal policies that are destroying our country.

What are those neoliberal policies? Well, speaking in broad but in no way comprehensive terms, neoliberalism starts with a fervent belief in the “Market.” The Market knows all and always acts fairly in its distribution of wealth and other booty; the Market is infallible; the Market is just and trustworthy, and clearly the best way to meet human needs like healthcare and housing.

Second, an undying belief that private companies do everything better than any government ever could, so the way to a better society, and a better world, is to privatize everything from water systems to public education to air traffic control to the electric grid to interstate highways to hospitals to military logistics. Because, you see, fine corporations like Enron, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Haliburton, AIG, Pfizer, Exxon-Mobil, and Countrywide Mortgage, just to name a few, are great and wonderful, and always act in the best interests of the general public. Rip us off to enrich their CEO’s? Never! Commit blatant acts of fraud? No way! Pollute the environment just to make a few more bucks for shareholders? C’mon, that never happens!

Third, a belief in trade policies that encourage the offshoring of labor to countries where wages are as low as dirt and where workers are unlikely to gripe about working conditions, pay, or health and safety concerns. The more silent and pliable workers are, the better. And if a few perish now and then, well, business is inherently risky, right?

Oh, and at home on the fruited plain, allow corporations and their allies in government to beat labor unions into submission and then extinction. Unions are bad! Democracy in the workplace is a hindrance to innovation, efficiency, and is blatantly un-American. What workers really want is insecurity! They want lower wages, fewer benefits, longer hours!

Fourth, a belief in monetary and tax policies (and low taxes on the wealthy are necessary because this produces jobs for the poor!) that favor capital and investors over labor and wage earners. And tied up with this general line of thought is the idea that Capitalism and Democracy are synonymous, one cannot exist without the other.

Fifth, and we must not forget this one, because it’s important, is undying devotion to the military-security-surveillance complex. We really can’t get along without 17 intelligence agencies or our archipelago of military bases that ring the world, and continuous warfare is just good business. An exceptional nation like the United States only employs its vast military might in the ongoing war of Good vs. Evil, to bring democracy and freedom to the oppressed and downtrodden, never to eliminate rivals or secure natural resources like oil and gas. We kill and destroy to advance peace!

The bloody hands of ideological monsters have my country by the throat.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Dumb, Numb and Passive

“The only way Democrats can take control and reverse their four decade slide into minority status is to embrace a real progressive and populist agenda that puts people first.” John Atcheson

Americans of goodwill and decent instincts cannot, must not, normalize Donald Trump, even if the corporate media does. Trump isn’t normal, he’s an aberration, a Frankenstein president. His recent trip to the Middle East and then to a meeting with NATO leaders wasn’t a success, it was an embarrassment, the fat, arrogant American Bull barging around in the tight confines of an antique shop. Trump can Tweet all he wants about the great results his trip produced, but all one needed to see was the expression on the faces of the European leaders when Trump badgered them for money.

(For the record: I am not an enthusiastic supporter of NATO, so I don’t mind a spirited discussion about NATO, its purpose and role and limits, but I don’t want Trump leading that discussion.)

During the best of times Americans have short historical memories. We hardly know our own history, let alone the history of other countries and regions. We’ve been the badass with the big stick so long we believe ignorance is our right. I don’t think many Americans comprehend how corrupt our government and financial institutions and universities and labor unions and political parties and elections have become. We still cling to the idea that we, as citizens of this republic, matter, but we don’t, and we haven’t for a very long time. The lust for salvation, fulfillment and happiness through consumption has rendered us impotent and atomized. We are dumb and numb and passive, as likely to strike fear in our country’s rulers as Trinidad is to invade and occupy California.

We know what the Republicans are up to -- cruelty and theft on a massive scale, a kleptocrats wettest dream -- but what of the Democrats? Has the Party seen the error of its ways and faced left, begun to articulate a vision that pays attention to the needs of the poor and middle class, a vision of social and economic justice, single-payer health care and an end to fruitless wars? There’s no indication that such a change of course has happened or will happen. My sense is that Democrats have decided to bide their time, wait for Trump to self-destruct (which looks like a possibility), so they can continue occupying the center-right, supporting corporate-friendly policies, endless war, outrageous military expenditures, and austerity measures. This is a losing strategy.

As Chris Hedges repeatedly points out in his speeches and columns, we have lost the language of rebellion, the language to analyze and critique power structures dominated by big banks and military contractors and insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry. We speak their language now, use their words to keep debate narrowly focused on their agenda, not a people’s agenda. When was the last time you heard a talking head on mainstream corporate television criticize capitalism, or war, or proposals to gut programs that benefit the working poor and the poor? Have you ever heard a corporate talking head speak in terms of morality, justice or equality?

Liberals used to believe in truth and the rule of law, now they believe in the fantasy of a just, fair, self-regulating and all-powerful Market; they believe in regime change and “humanitarian” intervention. In Death of the Liberal Class, Chris Hedges writes, “The liberal class has ossified. It has become part of the system it once tried to reform.”

This is one reason why Democrats like Hillary Clinton are so out of touch with the struggles and fears and aspirations of ordinary people. It’s also the reason Barack Obama’s soaring rhetoric seemed at such odds with his actions. Both Clintons, Obama, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Dianne Feinstein sound the right notes from time to time, usually when elections draw near, but when it gets down to action, they always support the corporate agenda over the needs of ordinary people.

Always. Democrats have forgotten how to stand, march or sit for justice. We can’t depend on them to deliver us from Trump’s gang of dangerous ideologues and thieves. Deliverance is a DIY project.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Iran: Our Beautiful Bogeyman

"Saudi Arabia may purchase $110bn in sophisticated US armaments, but in two years its air force has failed to subdue irregular Houthi forces in Yemen, though its merciless bombardment has brought 17 million Yemenis to the brink of famine and an incipient cholera epidemic." Patrick Cockburn

Iran. Iran. Iran. Repeat. Iran. Iran. Iran. Morning, noon and night. State sponsor of terrorism, enemy of moderate elements in the Middle East, violator of human rights, mortal danger to Israel. Iran is the bogeyman of choice for Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.S.

As it was under Obama so under Trump:  the drumbeat for war never stops and the American warfare state never takes a holiday. If there is one lesson the Trump people have learned in the first five months of their regime, it is that military action makes corporate media news personalities salivate and poll numbers rise. Things going to hell on the domestic front? Launch cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield. Press coverage a little rough, too many uncomfortable questions about Russia? Rattle the saber against North Korea or drop a massive bomb on Afghanistan. The network mouthpieces, liberal (so-called) and conservative, will nod their heads in unison and describe you as “presidential,” even if five minutes earlier they were speculating about your mental stability and wondering if you will survive a full term.

And no matter what is happening at home, always, always, always, be prepared to accuse Iran of stirring up trouble and posing a direct, imminent threat to Israel. Never mind that Iran is virtually surrounded by US military assets...If we had the honesty to strip away the BS, lies, and propaganda about Iran, we would see that Iran has more to fear -- far more -- from the US than the US does from Iran.

Here’s what John Wight had to say in a recent piece for Counterpunch: “Specifically, on what planet can Iran be credibly accused of funding and supporting terrorism while Saudi Arabia is considered a viable partner in the fight against terrorism? This is precisely the narrative we are being invited to embrace by President Trump in what counts as a retreat from reality into the realms of fantasy, undertaken in service not to security but commerce.”

Most Americans are too stressed out about their falling living standards, student loan debt, medical bills, opioid addictions, car payments, foot fungus, erectile dysfunction and disintegrating financial circumstances to fret about what their government is doing in the distant Middle East. They don’t understand, or care, about the schism between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. Most buy the fear-based lie that Islam is a religion that promotes violence and hatred against the West and is hell-bent on ruling the entire world. Likewise, we have been taught, conditioned like lab rats is more accurate, to believe that Israel is a righteous nation in a precarious situation, surrounded by murderous Arabs, and must be supported by America without question. And Saudi Arabia, oil-soaked Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most repressive regimes, where executions take place in public and all dissent is brutally stifled (the reason old Wilbur Ross didn’t see any protesters on the streets), is our staunch ally and bosom friend.  

Donald Trump appears even more ridiculous outside our borders than he does within them, cozying up and kissing the asses of despots and tyrants, professing his love for the F-18 fighter jet.  Everything about Trump screams the worst of our country: hubris, bellicosity, vacuousness, stupidity, vanity, cruelty, excess, hypocrisy, and narcissism. I feel sorry for Pope Francis, a man of decent instincts, who came face-to-face with Trump in Rome and probably felt a cold chill skitter down his spine. “Until now,” I imagine the Pope thinking as he looks heavenward, “I have considered you a merciful and just God.”

Friday, May 19, 2017

Drowning in the Cesspool

“The simple fact that occupying armies, whether allied or enemy, always become unpopular hardly ever figures in official calculation.” I.F. Stone

Being an American isn’t easy these days, not with an imbecile in the White House who barely knows that the Constitution is a document with actual meaning. A number of corporate media pundits have discovered, as shocking as this may seem, that Trump is unfit for office. Why it took them so long is anyone’s guess. Our would-be emperor has been debasing his office since Day 1.

Why does the New York Times believe that Iran is Israel’s foremost enemy? Is it because Netanyahu said so and the Times, like the rest of the mainstream herd, must repeat it for fear of offending the Israel lobby? Sober analysis of the military capabilities of Israel and Iran might lead one to conclude that Iran has more to fear from Israel than vice versa.

The Republicans shudder and turn a blind eye to Trump’s ineptitude, while Democrats chase Russian shadows like they are the Holy Grail.

The corporate media, propaganda arm of the corporate-state, warns us that Russia is a dangerous enemy, but how many sovereign nations has Russia invaded and occupied in the last fifteen years? The US has at least seven notches in its belt. How many military bases does Russia operate around the world? One, in Syria. And the US? Between 750 and 800, dotting the entire globe. Plus aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. But it is the US that shakes with fear in the face of Russia and Iran…and Venezuela. I’ll tell you what, I’m 1,000 times more afraid of the Trump administration and the American war machine than I am of Russia, Iran, ISIS or North Korea, and tiny Venezuela doesn’t even appear on my radar.  

American citizens are played for fools. The Pentagon calls for more troops for the failed war in Afghanistan, a war that can’t be won, ever, and the citizenry yawns. This is year 16 of our misguided attempt at nation building in a country that simply refuses to be built by any foreign power. Billions of dollars have been dumped into Afghanistan for all sorts of purposes, from road construction to training local security forces. The Afghans are always on the cusp of taking over their own security, almost ready to graduate to total self-sufficiency, if we only provide another five, ten or twenty million dollars. Our exalted generals can break the stalemate and wipe out the Taliban if only...you get the picture.

On a recent podcast of Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill, Pulitzer prize winning author Tim Weiner said, “We are living in Trump-world folks. You must be able to hold two opposing ideas in mind in order to stay sane.” In the same discussion, Scahill noted that it feels like Trump has been in office for four years, not four months, with mounting scandals, ever more erratic behavior, sheer stupidity, blatant lies, and total incoherence.

If you’re still waiting for Trump to find his footing, I feel sorry for you. The orange buffoon is drowning in a cesspool of his own incompetence.

The great Amy Goodman, one of my personal heroes, and her writing partner Denis Moynihan, were at La Caza de La Raza in Santa Barbara last night, in support of community radio station KCSB and independent media. La Caza, a community hub for decades in Santa Barbara was packed with more than 400 people. Goodman spoke about the stand-off at Standing Rock, and recounted how private security guards unleashed attack dogs on peaceful water protectors. Goodman herself was absurdly charged with the crime of rioting, a charge that was quickly dropped, but it shows the hostility of the corporate state for independent media. “Dissent,” Goodman said, “will save us.” Amen to that.