Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tone Deaf

“The prevailing quality of life in America -- by any accepted methods of measuring -- was inarguably freer and more politically open under Nixon than it is today…” Hunter S. Thompson, 2002.

Where to begin? Like the scene in Chicago, the area around the site of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia is awash in temporary fencing, barricades, and police, all dedicated to keeping thousands of protesters from injecting a dose of reality into this week of political fantasy. How Orwellian when peaceful protesters are penned in blocks away from the convention hall in what are called “ free speech zones.” Free speech that the powerful do not have to hear or see or respond to.

Looks like Bernie Sanders was right all along -- the Democratic National Committee was actively sabotaging his upstart campaign from the get-go, using the sort of tricks that are normally reserved for the opposition party. The revelations (thank you Wikileaks) show a few things. First, Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a hack who would do anything for her pal Hillary Clinton. Second, the big-shots in the DNC obviously knew that Hillary would not win a contest played on a level field; cheating and foul play were necessary to push Hillary over the top, because her campaign sure as hell failed to generate much organic enthusiasm.

But even with all the DNC’s shenanigans on Clinton’s behalf, the Sanders campaign made Clinton work. What does this tell us? That there is a reason Donald Trump is today leading in the polls. Now, Clinton will get the usual jump coming out of the Convention, but even so, voters east, west, north and south will still view her unfavorably, as a prevaricator and liar, and one who, like the fictional Mafioso Don Corleone, rewards loyalty. Instead of kicking Wasserman Schultz to the curb, Clinton makes Wasserman Schultz the honorary chair of her campaign.  

Talk about tone deaf and oblivious to voter perceptions. But we knew that when Clinton tapped Tim Kaine to be her sidekick; that was like flipping the bird to Bernie supporters with one of those oversized foam fingers. Clinton chose a nice, safe corporate clone who believes in the fairy tale of “free” trade and “clean” coal. Talk about one step up and two back. Clinton is so insulated in her DC/NYC bubble among the political and financial elites that she really has no clue what her actions look like to those of us out here in the real world.

Clinton’s arrogance is breathtaking, and it’s that total disdain for ordinary citizens that is giving Trump buoyancy. As filmmaker Michael Moore recently wrote, a lot of people in this country are fed up with politicians of both parties, fed up with the influence of bankers and hedge fund managers and resource extractors, fed up with the way the middle class is being ground to dust. Now, rich, white, demagogic Donald Trump is a strange champion for the downtrodden middle class -- but when Trump hammers bankers and free traders and pols, he’s speaking a language struggling people relate to; all the promises of the Bush’s, the Obama’s and the Clinton’s haven’t amounted to shit, so why not take a ride on the Trump express and lob a Molotov cocktail at the elites?

Hillary Clinton is damn lucky the election isn’t tomorrow. You can bet she will not receive the same reception on Thursday night that Bernie got on Monday. When the camera panned to where Bill Clinton was sitting you could see that he understood this, too. Hillary doesn’t engender the love that Bernie does -- she wants it, terribly, but it’s not who she is.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The American Shit Show

I refuse to watch the Republican National Convention. Masochism isn’t my thing. Neither is stupidity on a massive scale. I understand that Trump is the nominee, but personally, I can’t take the Great Buffoon, his wife, his children, and any person who speaks on his behalf seriously. I just can’t. The rise of Trump to the top of the cesspool that is the modern Republican party is more confirmation that America -- though an economic power on paper and a military power that cannot win an undeclared war -- has become a certified banana republic.

A fair number of people outside the US read this humble blog (thank you) and I wonder how we look to you? Does the US appear as stupid and ridiculous and dangerous as I think we do? If America is the last best hope of mankind, well, we are totally fucked, no two ways about it.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: maybe, just maybe, the US deserves a tinhorn dictator like Donald Trump. Absent leaders -- and citizens -- blessed with courage, wisdom, judgment and moderation, why should we expect better? Perhaps a disastrous Trump presidency is the only thing that can slap this nation upside its head and bring it to its senses. Perhaps then, as we are crawling through the ashes left in Trump’s wake, we will understand the error of our ways, the incredible hubris and ignorance that governs our behavior around the world. Perhaps Trump is the bone-rattling wake up call the US desperately needs.

Republicans say a vote for Trump is a vote against Hillary; Democrats say a vote for Hillary is a vote against Trump. This is our choice? How about giving us something to vote FOR rather than AGAINST? Is that too much to ask? I’d rather eat a box of drywall nails than vote for Trump, and don’t even get me started about Hillary Clinton. That woman causes my sphincter to contract and spasm.

Robert Scheer and Thomas Frank, political writers and thinkers I admire, say that vice presidential nominee Mike Pence might ameliorate voter fears about Trump; Pence is bland, relatively unknown outside of Indiana, meets the Christian litmus test, is conservative as hell, pro, pro, pro-life, virulently anti-gay, and could function as Trump’s Dick Cheney, the steady, authoritarian hand on the tiller. Frightening thought. The buffoon and his henchman. The last time the nation tried this we invaded a country on false pretenses and destabilized an entire region. Out of naked fear we traded our civil liberties for a false sense of security.

Almost any Democratic nominee other than Hillary Clinton would wipe the floor with Trump and Pence. Alas, once again corporate Democrats have shot themselves in the foot. Hey fuckers, you got the candidate you gamed the system for, and, instead of cruising to a landslide victory, she may only eek out a win in November.

Hubris and complacency carry a steep price tag.

Welcome to the American Shit Show.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Vote Mickey

“The votes that matter are the votes on the street. Either Trump or Clinton will provoke mass upheaval. The key contribution of the Sanders campaign has been to lay bare for idealistic youth the magnitude of the rot in the system itself…”  Gary Leupp

I wrote on this blog a few months ago that Bernie Sanders would cave and urge his supporters to get behind Hillary Clinton. As predicted, it has happened, and Sanders was as craven as I feared. So much for the “revolution.” I don’t feel terrific about being right: any rookie political handicapper could have predicted that Sanders’ quest to reform the Democratic Party from within was doomed.

As Gary Leupp noted in an article for Counterpunch, Sanders did succeed in one respect: his campaign demonstrated, particularly for younger Americans, how utterly corrupt the American political system has become. No matter how often the mainstream media tells us our voices and votes matter, millions now understand that they matter not at all. The corrupt system has puked up Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, two people despised by wide swaths of potential voters. This is a curse, not a choice.

I will give the Clintons credit for their unparalleled skill at fixing the game, using their government positions to enrich themselves, and the nimble way they skirt the law. Bill and Hillary dance in the gray and never get caught; that they are crooked is not in doubt, but catching them out is another story. How many scandals has this detestable duo dodged over the past three decades? It tells me they know exactly what they are doing, that everything they do is calculated, thought out in advance. The Clintons are masters of corruption.

When I’m not completely pissed off about this dismal state of affairs, or frightened about what it portends, I marvel at how completely the Clintons manage media perceptions. Again and again Hillary is described as capable and experienced and exceptionally qualified to hold the highest office in the land, but peel back the gilded cover and you find a record of mediocrity or outright failure. What did she accomplish as a senator? Squat. What harm did she cause as Secretary of State? Plenty. Honduras and Libya come to mind. Trump scares me because he’s a buffoon; but Clinton scares me many times more because she has the potential to plunge the country into another undeclared war, exacerbate an already staggering level of wealth inequality, and to render our government even more subservient to financial elites.

If partisan politics hampered the Obama government, imagine what the gridlock will be like when Hillary moves into the Oval Office. Even though she’s practically a Republican, the GOP leaders are unlikely to give her much leeway, meaning that the critical problems facing this country will not be addressed.

What did Sanders get for his capitulation? I’ve read in various places that Sanders forced Clinton to move in a more progressive direction, and that the party platform reflects this, but honestly, who cares about the platform? It’s not binding on Clinton, and after the convention will largely be forgotten. And anyway, who’s going to hold Clinton accountable? Remember, she was for the TPP corporate trade giveaway before she was against it, or was she against it before she was for it?

Writing on the Truthout website, William Rivers Pitt summed it up: “Hillary Clinton is a fully owned corporate entity with a faux-populist message drafted on the back of a cocktail napkin at a Goldman Sachs convention. Donald Trump is a punchline who speaks in befuddled half-sentences and who wouldn't know a policy position if it squatted on his face and farted up his nose. These are our alleged options now, a choice between Wall Street and reality TV.”

There is no way I will vote for Hillary Clinton come November. I’ll write in Mickey Mouse before I tick the bubble next to Hillary’s name.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Lock & Load

Black lives matter. White lives matter. Brown lives matter. Jewish lives matter. Muslim lives matter. Christian lives matter. Pagan lives matter.

In many places in our world life is cheap and people, once they have been exploited, are expendable.

My country has been at war continuously since 2001, and the list of nations where US military forces are active is too long to mention.

Before Bush and Cheney it was possible to believe -- even if history proved otherwise -- that US military forces were deployed for legitimate humanitarian or security purposes.

For the US, the entire planet is a battlefield.

In most US cities, the police look like soldiers.

If the political and economic elites allowed it, we could provide universal medical care, free college tuition at public universities, decent housing, and liveable wages. No kid would graduate with a BA and a $50 grand debt collar; no family would declare bankruptcy because someone had the misfortune to become sick.

Our real God is the dollar. Repeat that. Our real God is the dollar. Everything must be price tagged, branded, hawked, sold.

“Free market” is an oxymoron. American corporations want monopolies, not competition. Our government gives it to them under the ruse that doing so benefits us, the people. The people know better, but what we know doesn’t matter.

All governments lie. All governments cover-up their misdeeds. All governments suppress dissent.

Capitalism is destroying the planet.

The senior citizen from Vermont has capitulated as we knew he would. His race is run and his usefulness is no more. The neoliberal queen will be crowned. Faux unity prevails.

We are in trouble.

When mass shootings happen, President Obama appears and makes a solemn speech. Mass shootings continue just the same. It’s only a matter of time and place.  

Thursday, July 07, 2016

When the Veil Falls

Hillary Clinton is too important to be treated the same as everyone else under the law.” Glenn Greenwald

Chase Palm Park on Cabrillo Boulevard resembles a refugee camp at midday on the 4th of July. Tents of blue and green, pop up shades of white, and tarps strung between the palms. Shirtless men surround a BBQ grill that sends white smoke skyward; the smell of charred meat is heavy on the breeze. The fireworks show won’t start for another eight hours. A football arcs over the tents and into the arms of a boy with sunburned skin. Mexican music plays from unseen speakers. The sun is high and shimmers on the water.

The Solstice Parade, 4th of July, and Fiesta are the big summertime markers here in Santa Barbara, the American Riviera, jewel of the central coast. For months I’ve read how European countries are broke or on the verge of being broke, trapped by austerity schemes designed to suck every drop of wealth that can be had in order to satisfy bankers and bondholders, hard times in Greece and Portugal, Spain and Ireland, and yet our streets and bars and restaurants are teeming with European tourists; I can’t afford to take my family there, but they seem to have no problem coming here.

On the 4th we talk of independence and freedom against a backdrop of baseball games and hotdog eating contests, patriotic parades complete with fife and drums, impressive flyovers by fighter jets, and, once night falls, fireworks that rise majestically into the sky and fall back to earth in fiery glory. We talk of a monarch on a distant throne who pushed his subjects too far, we talk of Jefferson and Madison, Hamilton and Washington, the rights of men to self-determination and self-government. On this fruited plain we are raised to believe that the inspired, majestic words of the Declaration of Independence are meant to include all men, but, if we are decently educated, eventually we understand that freedom in America was meant for property holders of pale complexion, not the grubby rabble or females or Negroes. Our white founders had a general fear of democracy, the unpredictable passions of the masses, and so democracy was from the beginning limited.

We are taught to believe that all Americans stand equally before the law, but here, again, the truth is that the hand of the law is extended to some as an ally and protector, and to others as a fist. This truth, one of the hardest to swallow, is illustrated by the FBI’s decision not to recommend that Hillary Clinton be indicted for mishandling classified information while she served as Secretary of State. Less politically potent people such as Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and Edward Snowden were ruined for leaking classified information, treated as criminals, hounded by the arm of the law. Powerful folks, like Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus, get a pass. Same as it ever was. On several well-documented occasions, Hillary flat out lied about her e-mail machinations.

From a legal perspective, the FBI’s decision makes sense; intent is difficult to prove. Perhaps Hillary Clinton and all her enablers are guilty of nothing more than gross arrogance. What strikes me is how the scent of scandal follows Bill and Hillary Clinton the way the smell of death follows a mortician. Whitewater, TravelGate, Vince Foster, Bill’s women, Monica Lewinsky, and Bill’s pardon, just as he was departing the White House for the final time, of Marc Rich. Roll up all of these and you have the reason Hillary Clinton is mistrusted by millions of voters. Add Hillary’s grotesque sense of entitlement and her naked ambition and you have a political figure people love to hate.

Not that public mistrust or outright hatred of Hillary Clinton will keep her from the White House.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

There Will Be More Blood

Men’s memories are uncertain and the past that was differs little from the past that was not.” Cormac McCarthy
I don’t know what to make of the Orlando mass shooting, the latest rampage to occur in this country of guns and gun violence. When the news broke I was sad and disheartened, but also curiously numb; the shooting happened thousands of miles from where I live my life, and none of the victims were known to me or my small circle of family and friends. I did think of the victims, their kin, their friends and co-workers, their acquaintances, and how their lives would be altered from here on. A life can never be the same after a random act of violence. I don’t know why civilians in America are allowed to purchase assault-style weapons. Like other sacred texts, we have perverted the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution beyond recognition.
When I read the news the novel Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy came to mind, one of the strangest and most violent novels I’ve ever read, a story where blood is spilled on nearly every page; I don’t profess to understand the allegorical aspects of Blood Meridian, though it seems to suggest that extreme violence is deeply rooted in the American psyche and our first, most abiding option when dealing with Others is to kill them.
The mainstream media and all its jabbering servants fixated on the radical Islam angle, linking the shooter to ISIS, claiming he self-radicalized via the Internet, and was so incensed about US military actions in the Muslim world that he selected a target – a gay nightclub – to make his final statement. If the man’s intent was to protest US foreign policy wouldn’t it make more of a statement to attack a government building, military base or some other symbol of US power, like a bank? It seems to me that the man was wrestling with other demons and that the ISIS angle is a convenient peg to hang motive on, not to mention a handy justification for the ongoing wars against the Muslim world and for maintaining a massive, unprecedented system of mass surveillance in this country.
Fear strangles liberty.
The morning I read about the Orlando killing, I also read – and saw some videos – of the mayhem in Marseilles caused by what was reported to be Russian and English soccer fans. This was straight mob violence, people running amok, kicking and punching anyone who got in their path; I saw one man get blindsided by a punch, and another hit over the head with a chair. It was horrifying. That morning the seething world felt like it had finally toppled from its axis.
Like all the other mass shootings on this fruited plain, Orlando will slip into memory. Columbine. Newtown. Aurora. San Bernardino. Legislative proposals will be made to curb sales of assault weapons but almost all will fail once the NRA bribes pliant legislators. Money speaks louder than blood and sorrow, so the killing will continue, no matter who the victims are, young, elderly, gay, straight, white, black or brown. White mass killers will be determined to suffer from mental illness; black, brown, Asian, or Muslim shooters will be labeled terrorists or suspected terrorists.
US bombs fall on Syria, US drones swoop over targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen. Turning points are reached, benchmarks achieved, milestones eclipsed, but still the wars continue; they are immune to reason and experience; they are self-perpetuating; and they are futile. Imperial nations must always have an implacable enemy, and if one doesn’t present itself, the imperial power creates one, either by design or happenstance.   

A Dream Dies in Houston

There was plenty of media hype ahead of the US Men’s semi-final soccer match against perennial world power Argentina, lots of rah-rah USA that I found comical. Not that the US didn’t deserve to be in the semi-finals, after all, they beat Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador, but none of those teams are in the same class as Argentina, a lesson the US learned with a vengeance on Tuesday night in Houston.
The way the “experts” on Fox Sports were talking prior to the match, the vapid Alexi Lalas chief among them, you would have thought that American players like Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Michael Bradley, and Alejandro Bedoya were World Class, first-rate, top shelf guys, able to compete against any team in the world. Now, it’s true that Wood, Bedoya and Jermaine Jones were all suspended for the semi-final, but even if that trio had been in the starting eleven it would have made little to no difference.
Dempsey, so effective in the matches leading to the semi-final, was a ghost against Argentina; in fact, the match was nearly eight minutes old before he got his first touch. That is but one measure of how dominant Argentina was; their midfield players stymied the US completely, forcing Bradley to make a number of errant passes. Fabian Johnson couldn’t get forward, and it took nearly 30 minutes for DeAndre Yedlin to make a run and cross a ball into the box. On the night the US managed just one shot, and it was not even on frame. Forward Chris Wondolowski, partnered with Dempsey up front, scores handfuls of goals in MLS, but against Argentina he looked as hapless as a man lost in a foreign country.
Argentina pounced on every loose ball and forced the US to chase and defend. At times it appeared that Argentina was toying with the US, just pinging the ball around the midfield, ever a step ahead of Kyle Beckerman and Michael Bradley.
The match commentary by Fox broadcasters JP Dellacamera and Landon Donovan struck a hopeful tone, even after the US conceded a goal within four minutes of kickoff, Donovan suggesting that Argentina might be tempted to sit back and relax a bit. That made me chuckle. Teams like Argentina, Chile and Germany at the national level, and Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona at the club level, rarely lift their foot from the gas; when they get one goal they want two, and when they have two they want three, and so on, but, given the American audience, Donovan’s comment was understandable; his corporate employers would not have been pleased if he had said that the US was doomed for a very long and very frustrating night and destined for nothing more than a spot in a meaningless third place match.
The quality of soccer in the US is improving and the growth of MLS is a testament to the sport’s rising popularity across the fruited plain, but the US has a ways to travel before the national team can run with the big dogs of this hemisphere. Even the bombastic Alexi Lalas has to admit this now. The US didn’t just lose Tuesday night, it got thumped, no two ways about it.
Argentina plays football the right way and that makes them a fun team to watch. Yes, they have Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, but look down the bench and you see a depth of talent. Let’s not forget that even without Angel Di Maria, Argentina didn’t miss a beat.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Pick Your Poison

“So. The presumptive nominees for the two major parties are among the most singularly despised people on the North American continent. One makes terrible decisions as a matter of course, and the other has no ideas whatsoever beyond a fictional notion of his own greatness.” 
William Rivers Pitt

“You’re gonna’ have to get over it,” my wife told me the morning after Hillary Clinton won the California primary. “I don’t want to hear you bitch for the next five months.”

I thought Bernie would do better in my home state, in fact, I thought he was going to win the primary and delay the coronation of Madam Clinton. I never believed that Sanders could overcome Clinton’s iron grip on the Democratic Party machinery and actually win the nomination -- the table was rigged from the jump. Look at the debate schedule, the one-sided media coverage, the primary rules, all of it tilted in favor of Madam Clinton. But Bernie and his supporters, millions of them young and getting their first exposure to national politics, made a contest out of what was supposed to be a stroll in the park for Hillary. God, how that must have ticked her off, the clear, unassailable fact that millions of people simply don’t trust her or like her.

The mainstream corporate media did its best to ignore Sanders, but when the man started winning states and pulling in huge crowds, the networks and elite pundits had no choice but to take notice. Clinton’s carefully managed campaign stops never approached the enthusiasm and energy of a Sanders event; Bernie’s message and connection with people -- particularly the young -- was genuine rather than manufactured.

Deep in her shriveled, money-grubbing, neoliberal, war-mongering, power hungry, and utterly corrupt heart, I’m sure Madam Clinton knows -- has to admit to herself in a quiet moment -- that Bernie Sanders would have cleaned her clock if the playing field had been level. If the fight had been fair, Clinton would have been smoked.

You can bet that all the Democratic Party honchos and heavyweights, from President Obama down, will now strongarm Sanders to abandon his quest and throw his weight and, more importantly, encourage his supporters to toss their collective weight to Madam Clinton so she can defeat the evil, atavistic Donald. The bigwigs will guilt Bernie, tell him that if his reluctance or refusal to enthusiastically support Clinton helps Trump win the White House, the fault will be his and his alone, and does he want to risk being the man responsible for placing Trump’s finger on the nuclear trigger? C’mon, Bernie, they’ll say, do it for party unity, for your country and your legacy. Clinton’s not the enemy.

Yeah, the honchos will lay it on Bernie heavy and thick.

Meanwhile, the Donald -- deluded by his own myth -- thinks he actually has a chance of enticing Bernie’s supporters into his camp. The Donald can’t seem to grasp that the views and dreams of Bernie’s people are antithetical to his. Bernie’s followers are inclusive, multicultural, tolerant of differences, and forward-thinking, in short, everything that Trump’s supporters are not.

I remind myself that America is a democracy in name only, and that our elections are tainted and fraudulent, which explains why our choice in November will be between a dangerous buffoon and a serial liar who happens to be a woman; I have no issue with the woman part, none at all. My issue is the fact that her name is Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill, the man who, as much as any single political figure, dragged the Democratic Party to the right.

This nation cannot afford a President Trump any more than it can afford another President Clinton. Pick your poison, voters, and cross your fingers.