Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fire & Fury

“By interpreting freedom as the multiplication and the rapid satisfaction of needs, they do violence to their own nature, for such an interpretation merely gives rise to many senseless and foolish desires, habits and most absurd inventions.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

The elderly of North Korea know fire and fury very well. They survived carpet-bombing by the US Air Force, the dropping of napalm on their towns and cities. War and utter destruction is their history, never to be forgotten. Yes, the leader of North Korea is as nutty and unstable as the leader of the United States, but let’s keep in mind that North Korea doesn’t stage massive military exercises -- war games they are called -- near the border of the United States.  

I keep reminding myself in these days of August that Donald Trump and his band of incompetent kleptocrats and bigots are a symptom, not a cause. The problem is neoliberalism, imperialism and militarism; I keep reminding myself that American capitalism is a failure, a brutal and inhumane system that works -- spectacularly well -- for only a small percentage of the population and leaves the majority insecure, indebted and in misery; I keep reminding myself that the economy is a castle of sand, sure to be toppled by the next big wave; I keep reminding myself that racism lies at the heart of the American experience, and that it takes little to unleash that wicked genie from the bottle. Look at what just happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. To me it was like being shot back in time, to 1955 or 1860 or 1741. We can say, “this isn’t us,” but it’s not true -- this is us. Racist, violent, intolerant and ignorant.

The author Ta-Nehisi Coates, speaking on Democracy Now, placed the inaction of the Charlottesville police in perfect context when he said, imagine if, after the killing of Eric Garner by police, black people had organized a march and flooded into the streets laden with torches, clubs, guns and shields, and brawled in the streets with counter-protesters. Do we think the police would have stood idly by and done nothing? Unarmed black people are gunned down in this ass-backward country for driving a vehicle with a busted taillight.

Fareed Zakaria passes himself off as one of the wise men of CNN, but, like so many of his colleagues, he’s a hack who toils within the narrow confines of what masquerades as public debate. On Bill Maher’s HBO show the other day Zakaria said that illegal immigration has been a long-standing problem in part because it has driven down the wages of working Americans. Maher let this trope pass without challenge. Wages in America have been flat for decades by design. Offshoring manufacturing jobs to China, Mexico, Vietnam, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and other countries where labor is dirt cheap was a conscious decision by American corporations and the allies they bought in government. Trade, tax and monetary policies that favor capital over labor, investors over workers, have also contributed to wage stagnation here. And let’s not forget the effects that union busting have had on wages. Decades of corporate attacks on what once was called Big Labor by corporations, with support from Republicans and Democrats, have done far more than illegal immigration to produce the staggering level of wealth inequality that is not only tolerated in this country, but celebrated.

Every single day King Donald I exposes the deep cracks and fissures in the foundation of our system, the insane and insatiable desire for wealth and power, the complete indifference to human needs, domestically and abroad, the unbridled arrogance with which America deals with the rest of the world. Even if King Donald were driven from his throne tomorrow the system would stumble on toward the abyss, like a blind ogre.

It was 70 years ago that the British partitioned India. Millions of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of arbitrary lines. The mayhem and dislocation and violence that ensued was monumental and the ramifications continue to this day.

Fear and intolerance are powerful things.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Trump Declares War -- On Tacos

“That’s the thing about privilege; those who hold and wield it are afflicted by a maddening tunnel vision, an obliviousness to the forces and needs (beyond corporate board rooms) that shape the world.” Oscar Gonzalez

The White House is a grim, unsettled place these days with a lot of nervous, confused and frightened people scurrying around in a doomed attempt to keep up with President Trump’s mercurial pronouncements and splenetic declarations. There are cocky and belligerent folks too, mostly those who spend a lot of time with Trump. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, routinely belittles the White House servants, complains about the food, and threatens to fire any underling who doesn’t jump high or fast enough. Ivanka, even more of a tyrant than her hubby, has already cycled through four assistants; three of them ran out of the White House in tears. There have also been reports from credible sources that sometimes, in the wee hours of the night, the lights in the residence flicker on and off and an eerie wailing from a source unknown can be heard, but, oddly, this arouses no suspicion whatsoever. One source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he hasn’t experienced such a dark, moody vibe in the White House since the last year of the Nixon Administration.

Late one recent evening, President Trump summoned his new Chief of Staff, John Kelly, and his chief political guru, Stephen Bannon, to the Oval Office.

DT: I don’t like seeing those trucks on the street, especially in Washington D.C.

JK: What trucks are those, sir?

DT: Those taco trucks. They’re everywhere, on every corner, on every block, probably operated by illegal immigrants or other bad hombres. They just pull up and start dishing out tacos and burritos and tortas like they own the street, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re dealing drugs, too. I want this investigated right away by the FBI’s best people. The best! Get them on it! Order them to infiltrate the taco truck cartels. I want them wiped from our streets! They’re a grave threat to our national security, like Iran and North Korea. I want to see good, old fashioned hot dog carts, pushed by real Americans. No dark-skinned foreigners. Nothing is more terrific, more American, than a plump juicy hot dog slathered in mustard and sauerkraut and onions. When people complain that there are no jobs we’re going to tell them to get in the hot dog business. Once this taco truck ban takes full effect all across the nation, it will create thousands, maybe even millions of jobs!

JK: I will have it investigated, Mr. President.

SB: Wonderful idea, Mr. President. It dovetails nicely with our ongoing effort to level the playing field for white Americans. It’s about time America had a president committed to alleviating the oppression of the silent white majority by militant and entitled blacks, spics, and Asians. This move will solidify your base of support and most definitely boost your poll numbers even higher, sir.

DT: How high are my numbers now, Bannon?

SB: I located a rare but highly credible poll produced by a small community college in Alabama that pegs your approval rating at 70%.

DT: That’s huuuuuge. That’s real news. Get that in the mainstream media. Call our friends at Fox and Sinclair. I want this covered, wall-to-wall.

SB: Yes sir.

DT: John, how great a job am I doing? Has any president ever done as much as I have in such a short time? Nobody is even close, am I right? I’ve done more in seven months than Obama did in eight years. And nobody is more presidential, am I right? Maybe Lincoln, but nobody else comes close. I walk into a room at the G20 and everybody stops what they’re doing because they know a strong US president is in the house, ready to do business. I walk in and the other leaders wet their pants, they soil themselves. Sad! I sit down with Putin and he knows he’s dealing with a real man. I go to Poland and the people love me because they know I’m not going to take any crap. Huge crowds wherever I go, adoring crowds, women tossing flowers at me, little kids asking for my autograph. The Saudis think I’m awesome. I’m easily the most respected leader in the world.

JK: You’re a very great, man, Mr. President. You’re single-handedly making America great again.

Melania Trump enters the room, hisses at Bannon and Kelly and gives her husband the finger.

DT: What are you doing, Melania? We’re talking business here, important stuff you wouldn’t understand. I just made a major decision. My decisiveness is unbelievable, off the chart, so much better than Obama’s. I make the best decisions, incredible decisions.

MT: (Looking unimpressed) What decision is that, Donald?

DT: A complete and total ban on all taco trucks nationwide. They will be replaced by hot dog carts. How great is that, huh? How great am I? C’mon, tell me.

MT: Donald, you are an asshole, surrounded by assholes. I’m going to bed. Don’t disturb me when you come up, and if you know what’s good for you, don’t even try to touch me.

Melania exits.

DT: You can see how much she worships me, am I right?

JK & SB: (In unison) Absolutely, sir, no doubt about it.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Gangsta Nation

“In this hour, in this day of conflict, his insights bear repeating, for although some things have indeed changed, we must scream the naked truth that some things remain the same.” Mumia Abu-Jamal on James Baldwin

Who else but Donald Trump could stand before a gathering of Boy Scouts and make a total ass of himself?

That’s the American president, a gigantic asshole who every single hour of every single day demeans the highest office in the land. He is a turd floating in a wading pool. Trump makes war criminal presidents like Richard Nixon and George W. Bush look benevolent and entirely sane.

To be sure, the Boy Scouts of America have always been a creepy, paramilitary organization, designed to reinforce mythical American values, white and Christian supremacy, and imperialism, but the Scouts didn’t deserve that display of madness. Some of those boys may be scarred for life.

And how about Trump’s decree that transgender people will not serve in the empire’s military forces? Anyone willing to be shipped off to fight and die for the cause of American imperialism and hegemony should be welcomed to do so, be they white, black, brown, gay, straight, or transgender. Trump blathered about our military needing to focus on earning a “decisive and overwhelming victory,” but the fool didn’t mention which of our many conflicts this focus applied to. Maybe he meant America’s war on the Muslim world, over which a “decisive and overwhelming victory” isn’t within the realm of possibility. North Korea? Iran? Jamaica? Cuba? A citizen can never be sure with Trump.

Trump is so inept that he would be hard pressed to earn the lowest Boy Scout merit badge. Born with a golden spoon in his mouth and a silver one shoved up his ass, Trump has rarely had to lift a finger to secure his wants and needs, and he’s the last man I would want by my side on a trek in the wilderness. Imagine the whining and whinging, the claims of unfairness when flies and mosquitoes swarm, the moaning about being tired and thirsty and hot and sweaty. Trump swaggers around like a macho man, but it’s clear that at heart he’s a coward; most bullies are.

What a state of affairs. What a monumental cluster-fuck. We raise our glasses in praise of venal men and women, frauds and liars, thieves and perverts. We celebrate ignorance, glorify violence, and pray to a false god. In this climate to think too deeply, to search for and confront the truth is to dearly suffer.  

The black dog comes over me and everything feels very dark and hopeless. I can’t find an antidote. I feel out of step and out of time, weighed down by the stupidity, cruelty and injustice that has been exposed by the emergence of Trump and his band of thieves. I know these traits have always been present, under Obama, Bush, Clinton, Carter, Republican and Democrat, it makes little difference which party is in the ascendancy; from the beginning American rhetoric and American deeds have rarely matched. All one has ever had to do is pull back the velvet curtain and look, see Uncle Sam standing before a map of the world, his hands drenched in blood and his coat pockets bulging with $100 bills.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Fated to Hope

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” Eugene V. Debs

It’s never easy to confront the naked truth. It’s takes a big pair of balls because the truth isn’t pleasant. For instance, to confront the fact that climate change is more serious than even most scientists are willing to admit; that the United States is an immoral and murderous empire; that capitalism is a system of death and destruction. The American corporate media hide the truth behind a solid wall of bullshit and myth, turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the reality anyone can see if they but choose to open their eyes.

This is the thought that haunts me: my children are in for a dark and terrible ride and I can’t do much to help them because we don’t have money, stocks, bonds, real estate -- we’re working class -- living on wages, and my son is already in student loan debt, no fault of his own, he just wanted a shot at an education, and sure, he went about it all wrong, but should this doom him to a life of penury? In America, yes, it should, because this is a cruel and heartless nation ruled by oligarchs who live only to acquire more and more and more. There are 101 ways to make the working poor take it in the shorts: fees, usurious interest rates, penalties, rents, co-pays, all described in fine print written by corporate lawyers for the benefit of their masters. No one fights for the working class anymore. The working class -- white, black, brown, queer, trans -- is the carcass the rich feed on.

Pay attention to the intersection of capitalism, endless war, and environmental deterioration. Connect the dots.

Why do Americans accept that our country is engaged in an endless, futile, stupid war on a global scale? Why? Is it because there are no graphic images on our screens of bodies riddled with bullets or without limbs? Or because we don’t see flag-draped coffins being offloaded from aircraft? Or is it because there isn’t a draft? War is now, by design, out of sight and out of mind, happening elsewhere, far away, nothing at all for us to get worked up about. This isn’t the Vietnam era, college campuses are not seething with outrage; it’s as if our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Yemen and Somalia and Syria are not happening at all. And of course we don’t see the innocent victims.

I never voted for endless war.

I never voted for merciless, predatory capitalism to invade every corner and crevice of American life.

I never voted for a government overflowing with cretins.

This American nightmare doesn’t end with the rising sun. American vampires defy all the rules and hunt when the sun is at its apex, suck the blood of innocents in broad daylight, at the base of the Washington Monument, on the battlefield at Gettysburg, and in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge. At night the moon over America turns crimson and the stars look like molten tears.

How many can draw a sword and stand before the Truth, willing to fight to the death for the downtrodden, the infirm, the elderly and the feeble? How many will engage in a battle that they know is foreordained to end in their own demise?

The point of no return is far behind us. The Joker and the Jack of Hearts fuck with us for sport. And through the acrid smoke and the screams of the dying, we, the living, are fated to hope.  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

When Reality Feels Like Fiction

“If you’re really looking for a scandal, think about that. The United States and Russia, the world’s top two nuclear powers, are both headed by petro-capitalist oligarchs who could give a flying fuck about human survival and who both represent an eco-exterminist system that is choking the life out of the planet.” Paul Street, Counterpunch

I took a break from reading Moby Dick to re-read Martin Cruz Smith’s Tatiana, one in his series of novels featuring the Russian investigator Arkady Renko. The character behind the title, Tatiana Petrovna, is an investigative journalist in the new, post-Soviet Russia, a world of corrupt officials, oligarchs, and gangsters all vying to skim a windfall for themselves. In this nearly lawless world, investigative journalists who expose corruption  become targets for beatings, intimidation, and murder. I was reminded of the way journalists are treated in Turkey under Erdogan, and in Mexico, where reporters who edge too close to the intersection of narco interests and crooked government officials die; and then, of course, I thought about my own country and the way our insane president denigrates the press every chance he gets. Reality feels fictional.

One runs out of things to say about Trump and his gang of incompetent kleptocrats. Crooks. Greedheads. Fucktards. Shitbags. Dickheads. Every day, it seems, there’s another hint of scandal or another batshit crazy Tweet or another absurd statement, like when Trump proclaims that he has accomplished more than any other president after a comparable stint in office. Trump still doesn’t grasp that signing an executive order is not the same as passing legislation. Irreversible damage is being done day after day by Trump and his gang, and by feckless politicians who are more concerned with ideological purity or base opportunism than common sense and the good of the country.

All Trump has managed to accomplish is to embarrass the hell out of the US on the world stage, fan the flames of division on the home front, and make a mockery of his office. As he was a lousy tycoon, lousy husband, lousy father, and all around lousy human being, Trump is a lousy president.

The Russia-Trump headlines, all of them blaring for attention, are now too frequent to be meaningful. All I can say is that if a trail of money can be found, follow it, and it may lead to connections between Russian oligarchs and the Trump Organization. It’s always going to be about money with Trump and his clan, as money is the only thing they really love.

What’s the wealth inequality figure I’m frequently reading about, that 5 or 6 people own as much wealth as the bottom 50% of humanity? Yeah, this is definitely a sign that capitalism is working just fine, lifting all the little boats on a rising tide…of human excrement, Benzene, battery acid, motor oil, and mercury.

I’m trying to stay sane and keep my head above the waterline as I watch my country slide down the drain. I want to live in a country that isn’t insane, that isn’t an empire, and that isn’t the single greatest instigator of violence on the planet. Is this too much to ask? Why don’t we give the idea of doing no harm to other countries and the planet a try? Why not give sustaining rather than destroying a go? Would cooperation rather than competition bring on the apocalypse?

What to do, what to do? Where to seek shelter from the gathering storm?


Friday, July 07, 2017


“Politics used to be a simple, predictable con. Every four years, the money men in D.C. teamed up with party hacks to throw their weight behind whatever half-bright fraud of a candidate proved most adept at snowing the population into buying a warmed-over version of the same crappy policies they’ve always bought.” Matt Taibbi, Insane Clown President

>America’s Afghanistan Scorecard (Courtesy of Robert L. Borosage):

Cost of our 16-year-long war: $117 billion (No wonder we can’t afford free tuition at public colleges!)
Americans killed; 2,400
Americans wounded: 20,000
Cost of equipment for the Afghan Army: $11 billion
Afghan casualties: 225,000 (but who’s counting and who cares?)

>Every time I buy something from Amazon I feel guilty. I hate contributing to Amazon’s dominance, making the company bigger, more profitable and influential because I know how ruthless Amazon is, how bad for manufacturers, book sellers, and workers. It’s the same feeling I get when my son comes home from H&M with a bag of clothes made in India or Vietnam. He sees affordable garments; I see young women chained to sewing machines. I am a participant in a deadly system. Fuck!

>Trump in Poland, protected by bulletproof Plexiglass, banging on about how Western civilization is under attack and in danger of being overwhelmed. By whom, exactly? Anyone who isn’t like Trump, white and ostensibly Christian? Pure Steve Bannon horsehit. Disturbing echoes of the Nazi party too, but apparently music to modern Polish ears. Build walls, hunker down, lock and load, drive out any person who looks, acts, or seems different. Here’s what I know for sure: I’m not worried about Western civilization, I’m worried about civilization, period, and Donald Trump is a real and present threat to civilization.

>When Trump and Putin sit down for a chat perhaps Putin will school Trump on how a real strongman crushes the media.

>The water canons, drones, helicopters and stun grenades came out early for the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Pesky protesters! The world’s economic masters will show them who’s boss.

>Never forget that the elites who rule and run the world have a dim view of democracy. Too messy, too unpredictable. Coming out of the 1960’s, America’s wealthy decided that the hippy freaks had had their day and it was time for corporations and the business community to reassert and reaffirm that the business of America is business, profit-making, unfettered capitalism. For the elites, exploitation of people and natural resources was their birthright. While hippies and Flower Children faded into the mainstream, and the Democratic Party began to abandon its core constituents, the right wing of the Republican Party started staging a corporate coup, now largely complete. Keep an eye on Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State and head hitman on Trump’s absurd election commission. Kobach is a master of voter suppression and he wants to do for the entire country what he did for Kansas, namely, kick eligible voters of color off the voting roles. Journalist Greg Palast has done some good reporting about Kobach. Where does the GOP find these scary fuckers?

>The things he left behind. Six steel tape measures of various lengths. A coffee can full of nuts and bolts. Fishing tackle. Three circular saws, a jigsaw, two portable drills, four socket sets, a telescope, myriad hand tools, pocket knives, safety goggles, two metal toolboxes, a small American flag, a walking stick, an underwater camera, fins, rubber booties, an air compressor, a snake for unclogging pipes, a pair of orange traffic cones, and more, bits and bobs, odds and ends, but none of it told the complete story of the man, my father-in-law, an immigrant from Mexico.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Something Dark and Sinister This Way Comes

“If we cannot respond with swift compassion, this is the beginning of our decline and fall.” I.F. Stone

My wife and I talk about life in TrumpLand, and the strange, vertiginous feeling that although little in our own lives has changed since Trump assumed power, there is something dark and sinister hovering in the background. We know a shock is coming, just not what it will be or when it will hit. It’s like waiting for an earthquake, the Big One.   

It’s difficult to ignore the daily outrages perpetrated by Trump -- his idiotic and juvenile tweets and incoherent statements about serious issues he clearly knows nothing about that send the corporate media into a frenzy -- but it’s far more important to look past Trump at what the people around him are doing, like Scott Pruitt at the EPA, Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department, and Ryan Zinke at the Interior Department. Real damage is in the offing. Long term damage that will be difficult to reverse, damage to the air we breathe, the water we drink, to voting rights, mass incarceration, and on down the line.

I’m astonished, as I have been since it became law, at the GOP’s hatred of the Affordable Care Act, and not because I think the ACA is wonderful, I don’t, but because the Republicans  know that the framework for the ACA was a product of a conservative think tank, and that the law maintained the profit-making position of the private insurance industry. If a Republican president had been the one to sign the ACA into law do you think the GOP would be clamoring for its repeal? The actions of the detestable Paul “Wonder Boy” Ryan in the House, and the callous machinations of Mitch “Turtle” McConnell in the Senate merely expose the pathology of the GOP. All the sound and fury coming from Washington has little to do with health insurance, next to nothing with health care, and everything to do with delivering a gigantic tax cut to people who already have more money than they know what to do with. It’s immoral, obscene, cruel, heartless, and stupid. In short, it’s America, right here, right now.

The only sensible, sane, and moral system of medical care in a complex society is Single Payer. Start with the premise that access to health care is a basic human right, realize that every last human being will, at some time, become sick or injured or disabled and require medical care. Not insurance coverage -- medical care. Give up the perverted fantasy that medical care must be a capitalist enterprise. As anyone with medical insurance who goes for treatment and then receives a bill knows, insurance is one thing and actual care another. Too many people with medical insurance still find themselves saddled with enormous bills, with co-pays, with procedures or drugs that either aren’t covered at all or only partially covered. Insurance companies add zero value to medical care; they are blood-sucking parasites who make money by denying care.

I’m re-reading Moby Dick. It seems appropriate for the times; America is the Pequod.