Friday, February 24, 2017

The Deep End of the Pool

But you cannot have freedom without the risk of its abuse.” I.F. Stone

In December, Lake Cachuma, the main water source of Santa Barbara, was at 7% capacity. Three days ago, Cachuma reached 40% capacity and water was flowing in the Santa Ynez River for the first time in years. On Anapamu Street, near where we live, a trio of century old Italian stone pines, weakened by the long drought, toppled over, downing telephone poles and lifting concrete sidewalks; one poor fellow’s pickup truck was caved in. For the better part of three days the whine of chainsaws was constant.

The heavy rain was a welcome distraction from the latest outrages perpetrated by the Trump regime. It’s unsettling to realize that the President is a man who is proud of his disdain for books and knowledge, and who seems to believe damn near anything he watches on Fox News. What to think about a man who says, “Nuclear holocaust will be like no other”?

Trump is a fool floating on a leaky raft in the deep end of the pool. He represents the psychosis of our celebrity-obsessed consumer culture. He is a member -- albeit one who until now has roamed the fringes -- of the oligarchy that owns this country and seems determined to rob it blind and run it into the ground. Neoliberal capitalism, supported and nurtured by Republicans and Democrats alike for decades now, has corroded and corrupted human values and priorities and we are living through the predictable results; the situation is likely to become much worse for many people before it improves.

Echoes of another dark time, when Americans saw communists around every corner and under every bed, in the halls of our universities, in the State Department, and in Hollywood; the lives of many innocent people were destroyed, not for what they had done, but merely based on suspicion of what they might do. Guilt by circumstance, by association, by rumor and innuendo. Now we fear Muslims, Mexicans, and anyone else deemed an “other.”

According to Trump, hordes of evil people are streaming across our borders intent on mayhem. The fury emanating from Washington about illegal immigration is bizarre. It’s as if we are under attack every day -- as if innocent children are being yanked from their beds in the middle of the night and sold into slavery -- or murdered.

The psychotic Trumpian worldview oscillates between fear and belligerence.

Trump is compelled to hold a “rally” to feed his need for adulation. When was the last time you saw a new American president hold a campaign-style rally within the first month of assuming office? I can’t remember, and I’ve lived through a fair number of administrations, including that of Richard M. Nixon. Nixon, it should be noted, was insecure and paranoid but he was, for the most part, a rational actor. The same can’t be said of King Donald. Trump is not only insecure, paranoid, narcissistic, misogynistic, crude, and vindictive, but appears to be mentally unstable. While I don’t perceive him as a puppet, I do worry about the influence upon him from advisors such as Steve Bannon. Many odious people surround Trump, but to my mind Bannon is the most dangerous of the lot.

For the record: I continue to read, watch and listen with dismay to the hysteria about Russia’s alleged theft or manipulation of our presidential election. As historian Peter Kuznick said at a recent lecture sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Hillary Clinton lost because she was a lousy, over-confident candidate.

What I’m reading: The Master and Margarita and The Best of I.F. Stone.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Incredible Progress

The presidency is serious. The presidential electoral process, however, is a sick joke, in which everyone loses except the people behind the rope line.” Matt Taibbi

Life goes on in Trumpland. Babies are born, elderly people die, children have birthday parties, people get married, divorced, kids go to school. One can almost forget that a con artist slipped through the barriers erected by the oligarchy and became president. Forgetting is easier if one maintains a total media blackout.

But if one is any kind of citizen, a media blackout is next to impossible. My inbox is jammed every day with appeals for action and money to block this and fight that; I’ve given money to Truthout, Truthdig, the ACLU, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Common Cause. I remind myself that there are more good-hearted people than bigoted people. Trump and his band of kleptocrats and Christian zealots, I also remind myself, are symptoms of a diseased system. Even if Trump goes, forced out by scandal or because he is clearly unfit to be president, the system remains; another servant of the oligarchy will either step or be pushed forward. At the moment, Mike Pence is next in line.

It took a long time to get to this place. A lot of dominoes had to fall to make Donald Trump possible. If you watched Trump’s press conference on February 16 you know the man is insane, not within a country mile of contact with reality. “Incredible progress,” said Trump about his first month in office, and all the assembled reporters could do was gasp or text “WTF” to their colleagues. Trump resides in his own hermetically sealed universe, where he is the all-knowing, virile, and infallible leader.

If Trump is still in office a year from now I will be shocked. Another batshit performance like he turned in on the 16th and it’s likely the GOP will turn on him with the ferocity of a cornered wolverine. Trump is ill-mannered and ill-tempered, and so stupid that he makes George W. Bush look intelligent.  

The impact of the Trump regime hasn’t plopped on my doorstep yet, but these are early days and Trump’s fine-tuned machine (try not to burst out laughing) of an administration isn’t firing on all its diabolical cylinders yet. Once the Trump gang figures out how to turn the lights in the White House on, order a sandwich and a glass of milk, and get an extra blanket from the housekeeping staff, the insane ideas and stupid policy proposals will really start to flow, and the ugliness will begin in earnest.

I haven’t seen any evidence that the Democratic Party learned anything from its humiliation on November 8, 2016. As yet no mea culpa for abandoning working people 40-odd years ago in favor of corporate and professional class interests; no public rejection of Clintonism; no honest appraisal of how badly the DNC fucked up. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are still in positions of authority, which isn’t saying much in a party that only operates on the margins. What this shows me is how out of touch Democrats are with the needs, fears, and concerns of ordinary citizens. They don’t listen to us and they sure as hell don’t speak a language we understand.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Compromised Equilibrium

“I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason.” Frederick Douglass

Subtlety isn’t part of the Trump toolbox. First the White House issues a cruel and ridiculous travel ban targeting people from seven predominantly muslim nations, and then they begin to attack the corporate media for not fully covering all the acts of terror (committed by deranged muslims, of course) that occur around the world. The media quickly and easily proves that most of the attacks were reported, some of them extensively, but facts hardly matter in this sad new world.

Trump and Co. whip up FEAR of muslims by design, thus justifying, after the imperial decree, the ban and at the same time further casting the corporate media as lazy, biased, incompetent, and so on. Common tactic of totalitarian regimes: debase the press, make the people look to the strong man for answers. Trust Trump and only Trump.

To justify its existence and share of the federal purse, the US military-security-surveillance apparatus must always have an enemy at the ready, and that enemy must be painted as implacable, lethal, and omnipresent. At the moment the Trumpsters are fixated on ISIS, but when that interest fades (or is no longer useful) there is Iran (always a target) and perhaps, now that making war on Russia appears less likely, China will emerge as our Enemy No. 1.  

Who knows?

The learning curve for Trump’s is steep; he lacks even rudimentary understanding of the Constitution and the system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Trump is accustomed to issuing orders and having them obeyed; he views any dissent -- from the press, the courts, or state governments -- as affronts to both his office and his person. How dare underlings question the CEO of America, Incorporated! Trump has even less respect for democracy or the will of the governed. He is an oligarch who sincerely believes, at his cellular level, that having come from money, or having earned money (no matter by what means), makes one smarter and more deserving than someone of lesser means. In an unmoored, exploitative, and predatory system of capitalism this sort of thinking, however warped and narrow, makes a perverse kind of sense. When every human activity is judged and measured by a dollar sign, having money equals nobility.

I worry about protest fatigue. I also worry that sooner or later a protest will turn violent or destructive and play into the hands of the security state, kept on edge and high alert by Trump’s authoritarian logic, leading to a smothering of all dissent. When a country’s equilibrium is already compromised, it takes relatively little to tip it over. I worry that people will focus so much on Trump that we lose sight of the desperate need to advocate for radical systemic changes that promote the general welfare, shrink the footprint of the US empire by drastically cutting the Pentagon budget, reduce poverty and income inequality, and protect the environment from further degradation.

The early actions of the Trump gang are ominous. As Andrew Levine wrote for Counterpunch recently, “Nearly everyone who is not filthy rich is going to suffer.”

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Smash & Grab Presidency

“The only ones left with any confidence at all are the New Dumb. It is the beginning of the end of our world as we knew it. Doom is the operative ethic.” Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear

The Trump blitzkrieg of cruelty and stupidity makes my head swim and, like many of my fellow citizens, it’s difficult to keep track of every outrage committed by the junta. These are not normal times. Part of me thinks that the flurry of activity by Trump and his minions is designed to keep people on the back foot, off guard, and confused. This would suggest a measure of planning and forethought. I don’t think Trump is capable of such mental feats, but the people in his inner circle might be.

One thing is for certain: like all demagogues, Trump employs fear to justify his actions. The US has not been attacked or threatened by Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia or the other nations Trump singled out in his racist ban, but they are predominantly muslim nations and in Trump’s twisted universe that automatically makes them suspect.

Let me state here that I am not afraid of muslims or Islam. I don’t feel any need to be “protected” from muslims by the US Government. Yes, there are muslims in the world who harbor grievances and carry out violent and barbaric acts; many adherents to radical Islam seem to want to restore a golden age of faith and obedience that never was, and in this they are not that much different from Trump and his gang, who want to restore the America that existed before civil rights, women’s rights, LGTBQ rights, labor unions, and environmental protections. Trump and his minions use fear and radical Christianity as cover for the kleptocracy they have planned.

Make no mistake, it’s vital for citizens to flood the streets in protest, but it’s equally vital for citizens to articulate an alternative vision to the Trump coup. Trump’s methods are more direct, harsh and callous than those offered during the Obama Administration, and what would have been offered if Hillary Clinton had prevailed in the Electoral College, but the common theme that unites Trump and Obama/Clinton is neoliberalism, meaning a permanent war economy, imperial adventures abroad, American exceptionalism, austerity for the poor and socialism for the wealthy, privatization of everything not anchored down, including Social Security and Medicare, and absolute fealty to Wall Street. Think of Obama/Clinton as a kinder, gentler, machine-gun hand, as Neil Young sang many years ago. Trump will ram an extreme form of neoliberalism down our throats; Obama/Clinton did, and would do the same, but with softer, more urbane rhetoric. Here’s another way to think of it: Trump will cut off your head with a single chop, Obama/Clinton kill you by a thousand little nicks, and they smile while they wield the blade.

I have been calling my senators non-stop though I rarely get through; most times the lines are busy and the voice mailbox is full.

Precarious times. My sense is that Trump and his band of miscreants are making a last ditch stand to hold onto white privilege. They know that demography and history are against them, and that the American brand of exploitative capitalism and crass commercialism is not sustainable, but they are determined to loot the country to the maximum extent they can before it all implodes.  

We interrupt this post to bring you the latest from the White House Press room:

Sean Spicer: I never said the Muslim ban was a ‘ban.’

Reporter 1: Uh, yes you did. So did President Trump.

Sean Spicer: No, that’s just the same old mainstream media bias. I never called it a ban and neither did President Trump. Extreme vetting, yes, ban, no. I never said ban; I called it what it is -- extreme vetting of people who threaten the safety of the American people.

Reporter 2: You said ban during an appearance at American University, and President Trump used the word on Twitter.

Sean Spicer: This is another example of you awful people creating fake news. President Trump has been very, very clear, hugely clear, that extreme vetting is our goal, not a ban. We are not banning anyone from any country and for the media to say we are is very, very unfair. You have no right to hold this administration to any reasonable standards of truth.

Reporter 1 to Reporter 2: Does your head hurt?

Reporter 2 to Reporter 1: All the time. Do these people realize there is video evidence of them saying ban?

Reporter 1: I can’t take 4 years of this shit. Are you reading 1984?

Reporter 2: Oh yeah, every night before bed. It’s the new Bible.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Floating Down A River of Sh*t

America is one week into the reign of Trump and his band of corporate hacks, thieves and miscreants. Citizens have already been treated to several Trumpian temper tantrums -- over the paltry turnout for his inauguration, his relations with the corporate media (who adored Trump-the-Candidate and bent over backwards to give Trump free air time), and his address at the CIA, which was either one of the greatest speeches ever made (Trump), or an unhinged, childish rant (according to Anderson Cooper, among others).

And of course Trump has used his presidential pen to sign a flurry of executive orders -- to resurrect the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, to block or slow immigration from predominantly Muslim nations (even those the US has bombed or destabilized, creating a refugee crisis), and to erect the Great Trump Wall along the US-Mexico border.

We have also been subjected to a  blitzkrieg by Trump and Co. of alternate facts, misinformation, false statements, and gag orders  to prevent some federal agencies from sharing information with Congress or the media. This is not a fun time to be working as a scientist for the EPA or the Department of Energy. Facts and reason are about as welcome in Trump-Land as fire ants are at a Sunday picnic.

I feel like I’m floating down a river of shit. I can’t bear to look at or listen to Trump or any of the sycophants that surround him. In my lifetime I have on occasion felt embarrassed to be an American: during Nixon’s fall from grace, through eight years of the bumbling fool George W. Bush, but nothing comes close to the embarrassment I feel today. I understand that Trump is only a symptom of a capitalist system that years ago ceased to work for the mass of people; a system maintained by legal bribery, gerrymandering and elections of dubious validity, a weak judiciary, and a military-surveillance-security complex that devours more than half the nation’s annual budget. Four decades of poorly regulated, predatory and cannibalistic capitalism murdered America’s soul, dulled America’s mind, and now imperils America’s heart.  

I know we have to pay some attention to Trump, but it’s far more important to keep a steady eye on the brigands who whisper in Donald’s ear.

I imagine one of the talking noggins from the corporate media asking Trump about his first week in office. “It was tremendous,” says Trump. “Very, very bigly unprecedented. No president has ever done more in their first week in office than me. Not Washington. Not Lincoln. Not FDR. Certainly not Obama, that loser. People are saying I have transformed the country. Fox News thinks my face will be on Mount Rushmore even before my first term is over. Great week, fantastic week for America, very terrible week for Mexico.”

I am thinking of nicknames for Trump. Here are a few contenders: King Donald I; President Comb-Over; Groper-in-Chief; Supreme (Illegitimate) Leader; The Orange One.

Can you imagine America without Mexican immigrants? Are we to believe Trump’s fantasy that keeping Mexicans out  will in the near future mean that Anglos will be washing our cars at the carwash, picking our fruits and vegetables, cooking our meals in restaurants, and scrubbing our floors and toilets? I’m sure there are many overpaid corporate CEO’s worried about losing pliable, frightened and compliant immigrant labor; Anglos will be harder to exploit and are far more likely to be armed, loaded on opioids, and full of grievance.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Now What?

“The aims of a demonstration, however, are symbolic: it demonstrates a force that is scarcely used.” John Berger

After the massive women’s marches that took place all over the world, it’s reasonable to ask, now what? How can the spirit and energy of the women’s marches be channeled into a political movement that has as its goal supporting candidates who can win elections -- at all levels of government -- and claim power? Because power is what it’s all about. The Democrats never seem to grasp this fact while the Republicans live it and breathe it. If you don’t believe it, look at photographs of Paul Ryan in Trump’s company, look at Ryan’s smug smile; it’s the smile of a man who knows he has power to wield.

The Democrats are as tone deaf today as they were on November 9. The likes of Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi still believe in the Clinton/Obama neoliberal, corporate-friendly playbook. They will never get it, and as long as they and other Democrats believe that the way to win is to behave like Republicans, the party will continue to flounder on the margins.

The Democratic Party needs an enema.

Make no mistake: Democrats will attempt to co-opt the spirit and energy of the women’s marches for their own ends. We can’t allow this to happen. We can’t allow public demonstrations to be solely focused as anti-Trump exercises: demonstrations need to express the desire for specific policy positions like single-payer healthcare, a reduction in defense spending, free public universities, reform of the criminal justice system, civil and reproductive rights, immigration, regulation to smooth the jagged edges of capitalism, and, perhaps most critical, action to combat climate change.

It’s folly to believe the Democrats will take up such causes in any meaningful way as long as collaborators like Schumer, Feinstein and Pelosi are in the mix. Corporate America and the wealthy have two political parties to do their bidding. Who do working people, women, minorities, immigrants, and other marginalized folks have in their corner? OK, sure, there are a few Democrats who still act like Democrats: Sherrod Brown comes to mind, and Elizabeth Warren (most of the time) but one or two or three champions are not enough to move past the inertia of the Democratic party. Just ask Bernie Sanders.

The first days of the Trump regime are living up to the nightmare and travesty many of us anticipated. Trump acts like a monarch, spews lies, disputes indisputable facts, attacks his detractors, and pushes a radical agenda. His inaugural speech was chilling, with echoes of other authoritarian regimes that placed loyalty and patriotism and allegiance above all. Whenever I think of fascism in America I think about Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, which envisioned what might have happened if Charles Lindbergh had defeated FDR in 1940. Here’s what Roth had to say about Trump in the context of The Plot Against America:

“...neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

Well said, Mr. Roth. Every day with Trump will showcase another outrage, another assault, another middle finger to our country.  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March Los Angeles: The Gaze of History

We didn’t march in Los Angeles on January 21, 2017, we shuffled a foot or two at a time because the crowd was so massive. Along the entire march route, which was less than 10 blocks, it was wall-to-wall people -- young, middle-aged, gay and straight, black, white, Asian, Latino, Muslim -- holding signs aloft, chanting, and talking. From Pershing Square to City Hall I saw very few police and not one act of violence or destruction. This was a march of solidarity and controlled outrage at the strange turn America has taken with the election of Donald Trump.

During the shuffle we heard estimates of the turnout. First it was 250,000, then 500,000 and then 750,000. From within the throng there was no way to guess because no perspective is available. Only the people in the helicopters hovering in the sky above the march route could make a guess. All I know is that it took nearly three hours to cover 10 blocks. All I know is that the lines for the porta-potties were 30, 40, 50 people deep. All I know is that my legs ached.

And all I know is that I had to be there, with my wife and her female colleagues from the Santa Barbara Independent, because I believe in social justice, human rights, reproductive rights and immigrant rights. Trump’s twisted vision of white privilege and supremacy isn’t mine -- the orange man is on the wrong side of history. Trump and his stooges, including the detestable Paul Ryan, will do everything possible to wind the clock of history backwards, and the people that I marched with in Los Angeles, and millions more in other American cities, will resist, of this I have no doubt. The spirit I saw yesterday, the diversity, reminded me that people are better than their government.

Trump assumed office with a dismal approval rating of less than 40 percent; it’s likely that this figure will be his apex, and that from here out Trump will become more despised. A narcissist like Trump wants to be loved, adored, and obeyed, and I imagine he has no clue the extent to which he is already hated -- and how that hatred will increase when some of his cruel policies kick in.

Trump is under the misimpression that dissent is unpatriotic. While it won’t happen easily, quickly or without pain, I think we will teach him otherwise. In a real democracy, dissent is essential.