Thursday, March 22, 2018

Operation Iraqi Freedom

The only certain way of remaining above suspicion was to regurgitate the official catchphrases and to echo the insipid pronouncements of the Leader. Statistics were as threatening as hand grenades…” Victor Serge and Natalia Sedova Trotsky, The Life and Death of Leon Trotsky

Shock & Awe turns 15 this week
an American War of Choice
sold to the American public and the world as absolutely necessary

Once the missiles began to slam Baghdad, 
the American media shifted into full war overdrive,
fawning over ex-Generals who praised the US military
day and night on cable TV
millions of people around the globe who marched against this manufactured war
were ignored as if invisible

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Missile strikes described as surgical
harmless to civilians, women and children, old men, newborn babies
meant only for Saddam, the dictator, the evil tyrant holding WMD’s that were never found
because they never existed

Bush knew that, Blair knew that, Cheney knew that, Powell knew that, Rumsfeld knew that,
but emblematic of our time, none of them were held to account for the chaos they unleashed;
W. Bush paints portraits and tosses out the first pitch at the World Series,
plays the jovial ex-president,
oblivious to the bloodstains on his hands;
his accomplices walk free

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Sold with sleight of hand worthy of a traveling carnival,
flogged by the best PR machine the Pentagon could buy
hired masters of illusion,
wizards of “perception management,” 
dim and dark arts
more potent than any wielded by Joseph Goebbels

Embedded reporters loyal to everything but the simple, obvious Truth -- Shock & Awe was unnecessary, unjustified, illegal, a crime against humanity 

Never did we bother to accurately count the Iraqis killed as we “liberated” them
from Saddam’s iron fist;
200,000, 600,000, 1,000,000?
most Americans could care less,
crowds roared when F-14’s streaked over baseball and football stadiums
the lowliest private feted as a conquering hero,
a defender of every beautiful American myth;
we learned to repeat thank you for your service,
until the words were bled of meaning

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Deeper into blissful ignorance we sank
Bush said we won, toppled Saddam, made the world safe again
war had produced peace,
the use of overwhelming military force against a nation that posed
no threat was justified then sanctified
Mission Accomplished

It’s said that the meek shall inherit the Earth
try the line on an Iraqi from Fallujah
who lost his wife, his brother, his baby daughter
everything he once held dear;
now the street where he played as a child
is divided by a bullet-pocked blast wall

Operation Iraqi Freedom

A lie then, a lie now,
a crime then, a crime now
A war of choice waged by the ultimate rogue nation;
for the Iraqi people the war and the suffering are present,
not past

Friday, March 16, 2018

Gone Team

“Brilliant, gifted, energetic, yes, but also anxious, greedy, bland, and risk-averse, with no courage and no vision -- that is our elite today.” William Deresiewicz

Imagine the person in the White House whose job it is to update the staff directory, produce stationery, business cards and signage for the offices and the Cabinet. During a “normal” administration, where the key players are largely static for a few years, at least, the gig isn’t too hectic. But we now live in Trump World where chaos and incoherence is the norm, and people come and go in droves. Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State from Exxon-Mobil, is gone; Hope Hicks, gone; Sean Spicer, gone; Gary Cohn, gone; Steve Bannon, gone; Mike Flynn, gone; Tom Price, gone. A host of lesser people have also been escorted out the revolving door of the White House. Trump, who lives in his own fantasy world of made up facts, claims to be close to having the Cabinet he really wants, which means, most likely, a Cabinet and advisors who will not contradict him or make him feel intellectually inferior, but who will constantly tell Trump that he is the greatest president of all time.

A Cabinet and White House staff populated with mediocrities loyal to Trump no matter how outrageous or dangerous his behavior.

It’s no surprise that Trump is making madness ordinary, just as he is making conflicts of interest ordinary, hardly worthy of notice. The corporate media reacts to every Trump tweet but fails to see and acknowledge the rot and gangrene at the heart of the system, and by “system” I mean predatory capitalism at home, and imperial designs abroad. As long as Trump occupies the national stage I’m going to keep saying this: he’s only a symptom, not the disease. If Trump were to keel over and expire tomorrow, the system -- in all its heartless cruelty, stupidity, and disregard for the common good -- would continue to function.

As a society we can’t agree about facts, even when the evidence is compelling and visible. America has lost its vision, its boldness, and its confidence. When polled most citizens express a desire for  government to provide services that will make their lives easier, less precarious; single-payer health care, free tuition at public colleges and universities, affordable housing, retirement security, clean air and water, safe roads and bridges, but the political class consistently, and blatantly, ignores the will of the people, claiming that such social benefits are too costly and a drag on the country’s “producers” and “job creators.” It was once accepted that creating a broad middle-class was a worthy objective, but that was before Ayn Rand and neoliberal economic ideas infected the policy stance of both parties.

This nation’s priorities emerge in stark relief when we look at what is always affordable: weapons of war, military invasions and occupations, tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, subsidies for energy extractors, and bailouts when the elites overreach and crash the economy. Owners and investors are afforded a cushioned landing, no matter the cost, workers and the poor foot the bill.

This is a sobering date in American history, the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, when US soldiers murdered some 500 Vietnamese women, children and elderly villagers. The My Lai carnage lasted four hours. These days the US kills civilians with drones, a more sophisticated method, but one no less savage and immoral.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

A Shot at a Meaningful Life

“I think after going through the common humiliations of a human life, I realized it just doesn’t matter. There’s nobody who can disguise himself. Eventually we’re all outed in one way or another.” Denis Johnson

Survived another week in TrumpLand. The Orange Menace didn’t blow up the world. Trump and his mafia family, Jared and Ivanka, all the corrupt hangers-on, the grifters, and the outright idiots, profaning the White House, day after day. Mike Pence and the Mad Hatter Christians wait in the shadows, Paul Ryan holds the bloody scalps of the poor. Cruel nation, up by your bootstraps or into the gutter with the rest of the losers.

My wife is on the phone with Verizon Wireless, trying to add international calling to her mother’s line ahead of an upcoming trip to the UK. The voice on the other end is that of an African-American male, and he’s obviously reading from a script, and I’m certain that he’s a prison inmate, somewhere. I give him the name Jerome Pettis, guest of the state, working for a Verizon call center, cheap, accessible labor with no rights -- a capitalist’s dream of heaven. Jerome has a southern accent, Arkansas or Mississippi, and talks slowly: “I can definitely help you with that, Ma’am, can I tell you about our packages…” I wonder what Jerome did that landed him in prison, armed robbery, rape, murder? More likely a minor drug crime for which, in the great American tradition of injustice, the big book was flung at him. Black and poor has always equaled injustice. At heart I imagine Jerome is a decent man, simply trying to make the best of his situation, there are worse things than talking to a cranky widow from Toledo, Ohio about her new iPhone. Jerome is patient as he reads from the approved script, but of course, he’s got nothing but time, slow time. Jerome tears me in two: part of me applauds his desire to improve his circumstances, and part wants him to rebel, to refuse, to rise from his cubicle quoting Malcolm X, and demand to be remanded to his cell.

The heaviness of this stupid country, my country, the heaviness of injustice, in contrast to the simple joys of my little family, our spats and petty arguments about who left the milk out all night or forgot to take the trash out. Simple, everyday life. Domestic chores, grocery shopping, my wife watching Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. I want my children to have a solid liberal arts education so they can understand who they are as people, their place in the world; I want them to think independently and to see issues from all sides, to question, to stand up to authority figures who often misuse their power; I hope they will revere books and writers as I do, and painting and theater as their mother does. Like all parents, Syrian, German, Yemeni, Chinese, I want my children to have a shot at a meaningful life. Why do we make this so hard for so many? Why do we cause so much needless suffering? Because some are never satisfied, they must have bigger, faster, shinier, and they must have control over others. Story of humankind -- let me impose my religion, beliefs, culture, and economy upon you. What? You will not submit willingly? Well, no problem, we have many other ways to extract your obedience.

And on it goes, on we go, into the unknown.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Calling BS on Hypocrisy

“The realities of American politics don’t change much from year to year.” Alexander Cockburn

Has the school shooting in Parkland, Florida led us to some kind of turning point in the never-ending gun debate? While money-grubbing political hacks like Marco Rubio continue to do the NRA’s bidding, hiding behind campaign contributions (legalized bribes) and contorted fealty to the 2nd Amendment, teenagers are calling Rubio and other “adults” out for hypocrisy and cowardice.

As in the aftermath of other mass shootings, the NRA’s apologists urged the public not to have a knee-jerk reaction and do something sane and logical like demanding an end to easy access to firearms; Republicans offered thoughts and prayers, as they always do, which is like handing a can of jet fuel and a blowtorch to someone whose home is engulfed in flames; the dipshit in the White House who masquerades as our president called for arming teachers -- one of the lamest ideas, ever. The NRA and their political allies banked on being able to confuse the issue by claiming that the source of the problem of gun violence isn’t guns (it never is, right?), but mental illness, or that the survivors of the shooting who call for decisive action had been put up to it, or Russia was to blame, and even this priceless bit of drivel: many mass shooters turn out to be, wait for it, Democrats!

The United States is a violent country -- at home and abroad -- with zero capacity or inclination to face its most pressing problems. Go right down the list, from climate change, income inequality, mass incarceration, endless war, staggering student loan debt, a nearly extinct middle class, lack of affordable housing, healthcare and education, political gridlock, racism, and you find the same root cause: money. The incentives in this insane society lean toward private profit and property, and legal exploitation of workers, the poor, and minorities. Human needs don’t matter; everything must bow before the God of Profit. If a price tag can’t be slapped on something, it may as well not exist. Social justice is for wimps and dreamers and socialists. The profits of gun and ammunition makers are more important than the safety of citizens, in the same way that the profits of Boeing and Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are more highly valued than helping the unfortunate.

Like the State of Israel, a small nation that wields outsized influence on US policy, the NRA, an organization of 4.5 to 5 million members, exercises too much influence over US politics. Marco Rubio sold his ass to the NRA on national television like a common street hooker. Rubio, and many of his smug, satisfied ilk, weep crocodile tears for the unborn but will not lift a finger to protect the living from the scourge of guns. This is the tyranny of a minority.

The kids are right to call BS and to demand that the adults in charge do more than pay lip service to their concerns; they are right to shame cowards like Marco Rubio who have made a devil’s bargain with the NRA.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Poem: When The Next Time Comes

Add 17 more names to our long list
Of students murdered in school
Bow your head
Wring your hands
Offer your prayers
And then forget
Until the next time

Because there will always be a next time
In a violent country like ours
A gun culture
Where the answer is always
More guns
Not less

Calls to arm school teachers
And deploy more police
Will ring out
As will calls to protect
Our sacred right to bear arms
And the names of the victims will be drowned
Out by noise amplified by

When the next time comes
We can bow our heads
Wring our hands
Offer our prayers

And bury the dead

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Fearsome Foursome: Leonid, Saddam, Muammar, and Donald

“Money, like vodka, does strange things to a man.” Anton Chekhov

Another fine week in Trump Land which more and more resembles a banana republic where the government steals from the people and the wealthy build taller walls and deeper bunkers. An unarmed citizen like me hardly knows where to begin. On February 5, less than a week after Trump boasted about all the dough his fellow oligarchs were making from the rising stock market, the NYSE took a 1,175 point tumble; three days later, the market took another big hit. Take note: Trump’s casino businesses always went belly up, and the stock market is the largest casino of all.

On February 6 on Good Morning America, the talking heads got to jabbering about the stock market, and determined, after pallaver that might have been written by the US Chamber of Commerce, that Monday’s sharp fall was just one of those periodic corrections, nothing at all to panic about. Besides, they said, the economy is robust, jobs are being added by the thousands, and wages are rising. No relevant statistical data was offered; just take their word for it, and if your personal circumstances don’t mirror their sunny pronouncements, well, it’s your fault because this is America, where every citizen has the same opportunity to make big money.

Trump was reportedly upset with congressional Democrats for not clapping at all the fantastic news he spewed during his droning State of the Union address, going so far as calling the Democrats un-American. Pretty clear that Trump never watched any of Barack Obama’s State of the Union speeches, during which Republicans sat stone-faced, or smirking like Paul Ryan, no matter what Obama said. If Obama had professed his love for the GOP and his admiration for Mitch McConnell, he still would have been met with dead silence. Forget the obvious absurdity for a moment and realize that Trump, like all insecure wannabe dictators, equates loyalty to him with patriotism. This is dangerous.

And then the media reported that Trump had demanded the Pentagon stage a massive military parade in the streets of Washington D.C., for no reason other than to stroke Trump’s frail ego. When I read this news I immediately imagined Trump -- who, let’s remember, dodged the draft -- decked out in military finery, complete with sword and scabbard, his chest festooned with medals and gold braid, saluting as tanks, artillery pieces and troops pass his reviewing stand, just like Leonid Brezhnev, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi once did, and Little Rocket man (Kim Jong-un) in North Korea does in our time. Perfect way to solidify our standing as a bonafide banana republic. The cost can be added to the obscene increase that Senate Republicans and Democrats want to gift the Pentagon. Tax cuts and a huge increase in military spending, like the Reagan years all over again. It’s not difficult to predict what the outcome of this irresponsible spending orgy will be. Groundhog Day in Washington D.C.

One of the most laughable boasts Trump made during his State of the Union speech was that the US is now deadly serious about winning the 16-year-long-undeclared war in Afghanistan. According to Trump, no more fooling around, it’s time to remove the gloves and knock the living hell out of the Taliban because the Taliban is killing people left, right, up, down and sideways; we will win because our warriors are strong, our cause just, our God more righteous, and, most of all, because Donald J. Trump is so-friggin’-awesome that he will triumph where George W. Bush and Barack Obama before him choked on failure.

Sure, and climate change is a hoax, coal burns clean, the surest way to give the middle class a boost is to cut taxes for the wealthy, the only cure for welfare dependency is work (jobs and transportation and child care being affordable and plentiful), Paul Ryan worships Social Security, Jeff Sessions respects the Constitution, and five days from now the sky will glow and all the pigs in America will take glorious flight. Trump is making America great again. We’re back, baby, hear us roar. USA! USA! USA!

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Roaming Like a Three-Legged Buffalo

“We are in the hands of greedy businessmen and weak politicians. Such people will see to it that poverty grows every day.” Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist of the Floating World

This week I will roam between topics, like a three-legged buffalo in search of the herd that has left him for lost. I couldn’t bear to watch the State of the Union speech, and, from what I’ve read, and the few clips I’ve seen, I didn’t miss much; it was long and dreary, filled with insipid political platitudes, and Trump looked idiotic while he clapped for himself. The Republicans in the chamber cheered and applauded like fawning morons, but that’s hardly a surprise; Trump remains useful to the GOP and the party’s donor base. The finance, energy and defense sectors still find it useful to back Trump since he’s basically handing them their wish list. We all should know by now that the modern State of the Union address is a piece of political theater that usually bears little resemblance to reality. It has been a long time since an American president told the truth in a State of the Union speech, as long ago as Gerald Ford in the aftermath of Nixon’s resignation, when sugar-coating the real deal wasn’t an option.

I’m reading a book titled Jumping at Shadows by Sasha Abramsky which details how an epidemic of Fear has taken hold in America. Not a new idea by any means. Hunter S. Thompson put out Kingdom of Fear back in 2002 or so, after the nation lost its sanity over the 9/11 attacks and we began trading our civil liberties for a false sense of security. I’ve written about the many political uses of fear on this page, but Jumping at Shadows probes much deeper into the phenomenon. Immigrants, radical Muslims, insect-borne diseases, extreme weather, mass shootings, train wrecks, and on and on. Right after I began reading Jumping at Shadows I happened to catch a few minutes of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir. On the one hand Muir’s breathless delivery was hilarious, and on the other it supported Abramsky’s argument that the television news media is our primary source of fear. Every story Muir introduced was of danger, tragedy or mayhem, a steady drumbeat of things for people to worry about, right up to the end of the broadcast when Muir reported a feel good story.  And of course, Donald J. Trump stoked our fears in his overly long, dull speech, equating immigrants from south of our border to savage MS-13 gang members. Trump likes to paint with the broadest brush he can get his tiny hands on; he’s obviously clueless that MS-13’s origins were a result of US policy in Central America in the 1980’s and 90’s, or that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native born.  

From time to time I turn to the work of Anton Chekhov for solace. I was reading the short story, “Gooseberries” and came across this passage, which, though written about Russia in the 19th century, reminded me of contemporary America: “Just look at this life: the insolence and idleness of the strong, the ignorance and brutishness of the weak, impossible poverty all around us, overcrowding, degeneracy, drunkenness, hypocrisy, lies…” The staggering income and wealth inequality present in the US in 2018 has turned millions of Americans into virtual serfs, with insecure low-wage employment, no access to healthcare, limited educational opportunities, heavy debts. American oligarchs, like Russian aristocrats, want to own and control everything so they can squeeze the people for profits. As I’ve written more times than I care to remember, capitalism not only puts the biosphere in peril, it also grinds human beings down, causing all manner of social ills, anxiety, depression, homelessness and hunger, and at the same time rendering anything that can’t be commodified and sold irrelevant. This is crystal clear where Donald J. Trump is concerned: the only thing Trump has ever loved is money, and I don’t think the Donald can fathom why everyone doesn’t feel the same. Funny thing though, for all his purported wealth, Trump appears to be a very unhappy man, miserable even, hated by millions the world over. It must gall Trump to no end that he will never be as popular as his African-American predecessor.

On the flap created by the release of the Nunes memo, all I can say is that it’s amusing to see the hypocrisy of Republicans and Democrats, who consistently vote to expand the surveillance powers of the national security state, and have no problem allowing intelligence agencies to spy on American citizens, but become outraged when their own malfeasance or conflicts of interest are uncovered by one of those agencies. Another sign of the corruption in our government.