Thursday, April 27, 2017

The 100 Day Nightmare

Everything is public relations and public relations is make-believe.” I.F. Stone

Almost 100 days of the Trump regime. The marker is somewhat artificial, a measure without much meaning in the big scheme, but presidents and the media pay attention to it. To hear Trump tell it, his first 100 days have been fantastically successful, unprecedented, stupendous, almost FDR-like, loaded with monumental accomplishments that have already lifted America from the quagmire in which it has been stuck.

Reality paints a far different story of Trump’s first 100 days. Most of the silly promises Trump spouted on the campaign trail lay broken on the White House lawn. Signing executive orders is not the same as passing legislation, but those signing ceremonies make fine photo opportunities for Trump, and provide the illusion of momentum, of accomplishment, and Trump clearly relishes them; almost as much as he enjoys his weird campaign-style rallies before friendly, fawning audiences. The adulation junkie needs these periodic fixes.  

Read almost any transcript of an interview with Trump and you quickly realize how inarticulate and ignorant the man is, how incapable of coherent thought; he’s nothing but a showman, carnival barker, and fraud; this was true the day Trump announced his bid for the presidency, and every day thereafter, but because his campaign reality show produced such bounty for the corporate media his idiotic bleatings were treated seriously.

In less than 100 days Trump has degraded the office of president, made it tawdry and risible. No, the office hasn’t changed the man as many pundits predicted, the man is changing the office. If many countries around the globe were not also lurching to the far right, proposing barriers, nationalism, attacking immigrants, the United States under Trump would be a laughing stock. But Trump has company, kindred souls, who favor heavy-handed solutions to every conceivable problem; these are strange, unsettling times all over the world and it’s damn hard not to feel pissed off all day every day.

Despair is easy, resistance hard. Trump and his merry kleptocrats came out with a tax proposal today, and, lo and behold, it’s at bottom all out class warfare, designed to make the rich even richer. Wonderful. Trump claims tax cuts for the rich will produce jobs and bounty for the rest of us, a myth the GOP has peddled for decades. Far too many of us bought this load of steaming BS, and continued to buy it when the evidence of its failure was all around, easy to see. Shame on us for falling asleep at the wheel and allowing these greedy bastards to strip away our hard won gains. Now our democracy is in tatters, bought and paid for by corporations and Wall Street financiers, big banks, defense contractors, private prison operators, the rapacious pharmaceutical industry.

The will of the people? The powerful could care less because they know they have nothing to fear from the people.

It has been a long, long time since the people frightened America’s ruling class. Systems of surveillance and intimidation and control are many times more sophisticated now.

I’m tired and my head hurts. How bad will things get? How much pain, suffering and degradation will be heaped upon the masses? Wake up and the nightmare rages on, the broken empire lurches into another grim morning, snarling threats, pumping petrol into the death machine, ready for another run at its enemies, foreign and domestic, real and imagined.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Last Train to the Gates of Hell

“Young Americans aren’t stupid. They can read the writing on the wall, and they recognize that our economy is broken, functioning for the affluent few at the expense of the many. And young Americans will be vital to producing structural political or economic change in the coming decades.” Anthony Dimaggio

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an aristocrat and member of the American oligarchy, but unlike contemporary oligarchs, he understood that if capitalists were left to their own devices they would destroy the economy and cause unrest among the masses. Many of the reforms and programs passed into being during FDR’s four terms were designed to save capitalism by blunting its rougher edges.

Today’s oligarchs lose no sleep worrying about capitalism’s rough edges. Cruelty is on display and it begins with Tiny Hands Trump who clearly believes the wealthy are not only better and more deserving than anyone else, but bear no responsibility for the less fortunate. The oligarchs no longer bother to hide behind a facade of concern for the masses, except, perhaps, during election campaigns when vague promises are made to voters. Trump played to the embattled white working class, men and women hammered by the neoliberal economic, trade, and monetary policies of the last 40 years, but once elected, Trump’s true colors emerged as he surrounded himself with Goldman Sachs alums and a host of capitalist vultures.

A terrible illness afflicts our society and as a result we are among the most harried, stressed out, insecure, worried, and drug-addled nations on the planet. We are two distinct nations, very similar to a developing country, extremely rich on one end, and a huge number of poor or destitute. America’s brand of capitalism is destroying America, ripping and tearing, puncturing vital organs, breaking bones. From the Powell Memo to business leaders in 1971, to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, the Crash of 2008, the apologetic administration of Barack Obama, to Trump and his gang of kleptocrats, the disease has spread, metastasized. Unbridled capitalism destroyed our manufacturing base, forced states to seek revenue through gambling schemes, casinos, lotteries; cities and states have paid ransom to corporate America in the form of tax relief and subsidies; public goods have been auctioned off for private gain, and national tragedies like what happened to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina were exploited for corporate profit. Ideologues and media enablers told us that a financialized economy was THE ticket to prosperity for all, but the income gains have accrued to those who already own the most. The level of income inequality in America is staggering, immoral, untenable, and wrong. The plight of so many of our elderly citizens is a disgrace.

And Trump and his gang will only make economic suffering -- and all the social ills that go with that suffering -- worse.

I remember watching a snippet of a town hall meeting during the first George W. Bush administration. A woman told Bush that she had three jobs, to which the affable nitwit said something like “isn’t America great,” thinking perhaps that the woman was simply ambitious rather than desperate. Things have not improved since. Automation will eliminate more and more jobs, including, one day, truck drivers, bus drivers, cab drivers, a legion of retail workers, and many others. The capitalist drive to lower or altogether eliminate labor costs will never stop unless there are laws and regulations in place to force the capitalists to consider the human costs of their thirst for maximum profit.

I walked past the shuttered Macy’s department store on State Street in Santa Barbara the other day. Macy’s, along with Nordstrom’s, was for years an anchor in the Paseo Nuevo Mall. Across State Street sits another deserted space that once housed the restaurant Left At Albuquerque and after Albuquerque went under, Panino. The City Fathers and Mothers blame vacant retail space on the homeless who camp on the sidewalks and panhandle passersby, but there is something far deeper at work here; wages for workers have been flat for decades while people pay more for housing, medical care, and education, particularly in a city like Santa Barbara where rents are stratospheric and everything seems to cost more. The economy depends on consumers, but what is the logical outcome when consumers can no longer afford to consume? When jobs are part-time, contingent, low-wage, temporary, and without benefits?

American-style capitalism may be destroying us but that doesn’t mean we can have a serious, rational discussion about it; capitalism itself -- the entire bullshit system of cutthroat competition and individual gain -- is sacred, unassailable, and infallible. If we had any respect for history, for the concept of moderation in all things, we would recognize that we’ve been on this road before.

The difference this time may be that we are passengers on a speeding locomotive with no brakes, hurtling straight for the gates of Hell.  

As Martin Luther King Jr., put it many years ago, “Capitalism fails to realize that life is social.”

Friday, April 14, 2017

Dropping the Mother

We’re very, very proud of our military.” Donald Trump

First, I am compelled to apologize to the entire nation of Afghanistan. Never in a hundred years would I have supported the dropping of a 21,600 pound, Massive Ordnance Air Blast Weapon on your country.

I’m sorry my country is now in the hands of a bunch of psychotics who want to rule the world.

What was the point of dropping a GBU-43/B weapon now? After 16 years of futility and failure in Afghanistan, why drop this particular weapon? Was it a propaganda ploy to demonstrate that the US is prepared to unleash everything in its arsenal in order to wipe out Islamic extremism? Was this a message to Iran, North Korea or Russia? Donald Trump’s statement about being proud of our military was yet another example of how unfit this man is to hold the highest office in our land. I’m sorry, Trump, you fucking coward draft dodger, I served in the military and I am not proud that we dropped a massive bomb on a country that has been pulverized by decades of warfare. I am appalled, absolutely sickened, by how psychotic my country has become. From the time I was about 19 or 20, I knew I had been born and raised in a violent, racist, barbaric country, but I always believed that we could somehow control our baser instincts. No more. The title of most dangerous nation on this planet is ours.  

Compared to the US, Iran and North Korea are amateurs.

The idiot spokesman for the Trump White House, Sean Spicer, babbled about the accuracy of the GBU-43/B, but anyone who has paid attention since 9/11 knows that “precision” weapons are a myth. Innocent people always die or are terrorized, and with every drone, cruise missile or GBU-43/B strike we launch or drop, we engender more hatred and create more determined terrorists. How fucking stupid are the leaders of the US?

It’s all good for business though, good for Boeing and Raytheon and Lockheed Martin and all the rest of the arms manufacturers, dealers and brokers; good for tyrannical regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Israel; good for countries the US wants to drag under the NATO umbrella.

But it’s also fucking madness. The US is a sick nation, perverse, deranged. Look at us -- we celebrate ignorance, cruelty and brute force, the killing of innocent women and children, from Afghanistan to Yemen, and most of our political leaders are quite willing to let our own citizens perish if it produces a dime of profit for the investor class. We choke on hypocrisy and arrogance. Money has corrupted every aspect of American life; Donald Trump is but a symptom of a terminal illness.

The exceptional nation? No, not even mediocre. The heart of America is hollow.

I am sorry.

Friday, April 07, 2017

The Dogs of War are Off the Leash

The timing is certainly suspicious. The Assad regime had nothing to gain and everything to lose from dropping chemical bombs on civilian targets. The Syrian government is winning the war. The rebel forces are in retreat. ISIS is a splintered force. Europe is desperate for a resolution to the Syrian war and an end to the tide of refugees.” Jeffrey St. Clair

I had been thinking about capitalism this week and had planned to write something about it when Tiny Hands Trump decided to launch cruise missiles against a country that hasn’t attacked the US directly, making Trump no different from many of his predecessors. American presidents love cruise missiles because they are big and flashy, launched from distance, look great on TV, and rarely endanger the lives of American servicepeople. What’s not to love?

MSNBC anchor Brian Williams actually referred to the Pentagon’s photographs of cruise missiles arcing across the night sky as “beautiful.” No mention of the poor souls on the receiving end, though one can assume all beauty ceases on impact. Williams isn’t unusual -- most of his elite media colleagues puff up with pride when the US goes to war. Shock and awe, you know?

There are a number of problems with Trump’s action, most notably that the US cannot know with any certainty that the Assad regime was behind the use of chemical weapons. As Jeffrey St. Clair noted for Counterpunch, the Assad regime had no compelling reason for launching a chemical attack now because government forces are winning the conflict. US crocodile tears about the gassing of infants and small children are cynical as well as hypocritical: how many innocent human beings has the US killed during the past 16 years of its insane War on Terror? While Uncle Sam may hang his head and sob, his hands are smeared with blood. When it comes to determining friend and foe in the Middle East the US is clueless. We can’t sell enough arms to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and of course our support for Israel never fails.

Trump ordered the strikes without approval from Congress, an investigation into who was responsible for the chemical attack, or with a resolution from the United Nations. Given the lapdog nature of Congress, Democrats as well as Republicans will applaud Trump, giving Tiny Hands a needed respite from all the turmoil he and his henchmen have created. Trump certainly needed a “win” of some kind to nudge his lagging poll numbers up from the doldrums, and launching missiles rarely fails to do the trick. After nearly two decades of continuous war, American citizens are numb and blind to the consequences of military actions taken in their name.

One must always ask who the beneficiaries are when an empire like the US decides to attack. Clearly, the attack on Syria benefits Tiny Hands, at least in the short term; Trump can bask in a rosy military glow for a few days, pass himself off as a decisive and “strong” leader, grab some decent press, and also take shots at the weakness of his predecessor; the markets are up today, so Trump can take credit for that as well; the arms makers and dealers always reap rewards; Israel will be pleased.

But then what? Will Syria cease to be a problem area, even if Assad falls? Will Russia just bow out of the region? We exterminated Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the colonel in Libya and those countries are hardly models of stability and prosperity. I can’t wait to read what Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn have to say about this latest twist.

Why is the US’s first inclination always to bomb? If we really wanted to help the long suffering Syrians, we would provide massive quantities of food, medicine, portable shelters, and other necessities of life, not more death and destruction. We can comfort our consciences by calling these strikes limited or surgical, but the likelihood is that innocent people are going to be killed or injured.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

A Tide that Never Ceases

Evil is like a shadow. It follows you.” Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

My family and I are just back from a short trip to Honolulu to visit my mother who has lived on the island since the late 1970’s. The last time I was in Honolulu was 1984. I knew the place would be different, but the number of high-rise buildings that have sprouted up, most of them high-end condos for the global wealthy, shocked me. Local folks sure as hell can’t afford two or three million dollars for a place and exorbitant monthly or annual “association” fees.

The traffic was as bad as I remember; the aloha spirit vanishes when someone gets behind the wheel of a car in Honolulu.

Ala Moana Center, a vast shopping mall, is now full of luxury retail outfits like Gucci, Prada, Kate Spade, Mont Blanc, Jimmy Choo, and even a Tesla automobile showroom. Crazy, but this is the age we live in, a very good time to be wealthy. On Kalakaua Avenue in the heart of Waikiki the same upscale phenomenon has happened; it felt like Vegas or Beverly Hills or any other glamor place that caters to the rich, a mind-numbing sameness, no matter how glitzy.

It takes an army of workers to keep the wheels of the tourist racket going, waitresses, bartenders, front desk clerks, janitors, cooks, maids, tour guides, taxi and bus drivers, musicians, dancers, and all manner of people hawking stuff. But you can bet that few of these soldiers earn enough money to stay in the hotels or eat in the restaurants they toil in.

We stayed in a condo at the Ilikai, a property whose glory days are behind it. Not a dump by any means, but the competition nearby is newer and grander. Our condo was on the 12th floor with a fine view of the marina, Magic Island, and the bay at Ala Moana Park. All day and into the night we could see airplanes lifting off, bound for the mainland, Japan, China, Guam, and the Philippines. Day after day, people arrive on the island and people depart, a tide that never ceases.

Air travel has become tedious and uncomfortable, not to mention expensive. How long will it be before passengers are forced to pay money to use the toilet? I was stopped by the TSA in LA and again in Honolulu, my bag opened. In LA a female TSA worker removed an oversized tube of suntan lotion from my bag, and in Honolulu my MacBook Air was inspected. At least we avoided having to remove our shoes and belts.

Although we had access to TV and the Internet I avoided both for the majority of our trip, giving myself a mini-break from Trump and his heinous band of kleptocrats. Better to sit on the lanai with a bottle of beer, watching the sun dip in the sky, the waves break, and the palm trees sway. The fate of Waikiki in the face of rising sea levels crossed my mind, and the Trump gang’s determination to accelerate the impact of climate change seemed, not just stupid, but insane.

I wholeheartedly recommend the novel, Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi. It’s a brilliant novel that got deep under my skin.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Half-Baked, Cruel & Craven

One of the essential explanations for mounting economic inequality in the United States is the increasing monopoly power over the economy.” Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy

As I write this, House Republicans are gathering to cast votes to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with a half-baked, cruel, craven and crass alternative. I have never understood why the ACA -- a scheme cooked up by right leaning think tanks -- engenders such animosity and hysteria in Republicans. Is it simply because the ACA became known as ObamaCare, and that moniker alone is enough to make Republicans foam at the mouth? Listening to Paul Ryan one would certainly think the ACA has been ruinous to the American character.

Ryan, of course, is purported to be the GOP’s Big Thinker, but this is only because the intellectual bar in the GOP’s ranks is set six inches from the floor. In a room full of dimwits, a nitwit stands out.

The Russia-tampered-with-our-sacred-electoral-process story, and its myriad offshoots, continues to skitter around the newscycle. I still don’t buy it. From the very beginning, the story lacked coherence, and the passage of time hasn’t made it less so. Too many things don’t add up.

Trump’s Supreme Court justice nominee, Neil Gorsuch, gives me the willies.

I wonder if we could have one day with no American made munitions falling anywhere in the world.

Here in Santa Barbara, jewel of the Central Coast, hipsters and gentrifiers, under the encouraging gaze of city planners, continue their assault, demolishing the old, erecting the new; rents are high, vacancies almost non-existent, and tenants are making noises about their rights, some going so far as to whisper the dreaded words, “rent control” out loud, an utterance that freaks out the owner class. There are decent landlords in SB -- I am fortunate to rent from one -- but the stories of greedy, unscrupulous, shitbag property owners are the stuff of legend around here. Many a prospective renter has responded to an advert promising a “spacious, airy, upper East Side cottage offering lovely appointments and off-street parking,” only to discover, on inspection, a cramped, dilapidated hovel with water stains on the ceiling, piss-stained carpeting, peeling paint, and a shower infested with mold.

I was thinking about the online retail behemoth Amazon the other day -- as I was searching for a book -- and got to wondering how many different businesses all over the nation Amazon has sundered. Macy’s is closing stores, including one here in the retail core of SB, and Sears/KMart may be on the brink of the same fate. Technology is a wonderful thing, but technological advances rarely fail to produce unintended consequences. Amazon is too big for our good, but the same can be said for any number of industries which have been allowed to become virtual monopolies. For this we can thank the political duopoly. As a mechanism for checking the size of corporations and their raw power, antitrust laws are a laughing stock.

If I possessed a magic lamp and could make one wish, only one, I would wish that the 99% of American citizens who have been losing economically for 40 years, whether white, black, Latino, female, queer, straight or trans, wake up to the fact that our need for decent employment, health care, affordable education, and housing unites all of us far more than our identity differences divide us.

Are the stock market averages still rising? Are we headed for another burst bubble? Economic growth is anemic and yet the casino economy hums right along. Bankers are delighted. Seems like a warning sign.

And Trump is still in the White House.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Dangerous and Stupid: The New Normal

“Fascism says, disregard the evidence of your senses, disregard observation, embolden deeds that can’t be proven, don’t have faith in God but have faith in leaders, take part in collective myth of an organic national unity and so forth.” Timothy Snyder

While the world watches the bumblings in Trump’s Washington, people in Yemen are dying of starvation. The nation was poor before the US-supported war began, dependent on food imports, and years of war have made the situation dire. The chances for a negotiated ceasefire seem slim. The innocent people caught between the warring factions have no place to turn.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the disaster that is Fukushima goes on. It’s now six years since the earthquake and subsequent tsunami crippled the nuclear facility. The Japanese government and the operator of the facility have shoved their heads into the radioactive soil. Nothing to see or fear except radioactive water, sludge, and tons of contaminated soil. Return, dispersed former residents, and pick up your lives where you left off. In a few years we will host the Olympic Games and show the world our resiliency!

The world isn’t getting the full story about Fukushima.

Back home in Trump-Land, the Republican majority in Congress, led by the heartless Paul Ryan, is on the cusp of maiming, if not killing, the hated Affordable Care Act, the insurance- industry friendly legislation touted as one of Barack Obama’s signature accomplishments. Since the passage of the ACA, Republicans in Congress have labored to kill it by shrieking hysterically about “socialized” medicine and “government takeover of our healthcare system”. What they actually object to is the ACA’s funding mechanism; the GOP’s pathetic replacement is a boon to the wealthy, who hardly need more tax relief. But this is how kleptocratic regimes operate -- they plunder the state in order to reward their cronies.

Damn the poor, the elderly, single mothers, children.

The cruelty of Trump and the Republicans is staggering and we are only in the early stages. Trump’s budget plan, euphemistically titled his “America First” budget, includes huge cuts to a range of social programs, almost all federal agencies except the military and the internal security apparatus, the arts, public broadcasting, foreign aid (surely Israel will be exempt) and even Meals-On-Wheels. Any voter who cast his or her ballot for Tiny Hands Trump must now have at least some inkling of how utterly they were conned.

Trump blathers on about safety, security and protection, as if our country is under constant siege from within and without; the Big Bad World is targeting the US and only Tiny Hands can save us from the blood-thirsty hordes. If it wasn’t so dangerous, Trump’s strongman posturing would be hilarious. I wonder if Trump and his cabal are preparing the ground for a Gulf of Tonkin type pretext and imposition of draconian measures in the name of “security.” It could happen. Like all authoritarians, Trump is fixated on strength, on appearing strong, never weak or soft, on winning grand victories, whatever this means in his muddled, second-class brain. His language is violent, reactive, and overwrought, his posture and facial explanations are those of a classic bully.

And what word from the Democrats? Have they learned how to speak to ordinary people yet, to step outside their wonky, insider bubble and articulate what they are for rather than what they are against? Do the Democrats realize that if they slide left, away from banksters and corporate donors and the military-security complex, they could become relevant again to millions of voters. If Democrats talked about making the economy work for the 99% rather than the 1%, they might find a reason for their continued existence.

The US has held the title of most dangerous nation on the planet for a long time. Now we are stupid as well as dangerous, a combination that is sure to produce terrible consequences.